The punk rock of Shudder To Think and the film and TV scores that band members Craig Wedren and Nathan Larson have created since the band parted ways in 1999 may seem like totally different creative and musical universes. But as Wedren points out from his experiences scoring films like The School of Rock, Laurel Canyon, Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten and the upcoming Role Models as well as theme music for such TV shows as Wrainy Days, Reno 911! and Stella, the two worlds are extremely complementary.
“A full diet of any one of them would probably drive me crazy. But about 50/50 is perfect,” he notes. “On the one hand, you have writing songs, making records and playing shows. And coming out of a punk-rock background, it’s traditionally very much a ‘screw you I’m going to do what I want’ type thing. Which is the opposite of film scoring, which is, ‘Of course I can do that’.”
“You really have to have a certain temperament to be in it,” points out Larson, whose scoring credits include Boys Don’t Cry, Prozac Nation, Choke and Palindromes. “The rock & roll thing is like, ‘Look at me!’ And this couldn’t be further than that. Your role is to sort of to be invisible. It’s a very different job.”
Shudder To Think rose out of the Washington, D.C. hardcore punk scene of the mid-to-late 1980s, eventually recording for Dischord Records, the label headed by Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. “One among the many ways that we stood apart from the other Dischord bands was our ethic, or our goals and ambitions for our music, which were always very, very unabashedly and outwardly commercial,” explains Wedren. “We never, ever — any of us — had any qualms with the idea of our music going global, for lack of a better word.”
The band got that shot when they signed with Epic Records in the early 1990s, and Larson joined the group on guitar after a stint playing bass in the band Swiz. Shudder To Think’s 1994 major label debut, Pony Express Record, didn’t reach a mass audience even if it and its follow-up did earn the group esteem in musical and fan circles.
Both Wedren and Larson began scoring films through what Larson calls “a fluke,” being part of a tight-knit creative community in New York City in the 1990s. Wedren’s work with director David Wain came as a result of a lifelong friendship with him that included attending New York University together. Wedren and Larson also began delving into film work when Shudder To Think contributed songs to and appeared in Velvet Goldmine and scored High Art.
“We just happened to know folks who were filmmakers,” Larson notes. “We sort of stumbled into it.” Both now have long lists of credits to their names as composers for film and television.
Wedren finds that working within two very different musical realms has a positive effect on the creative processes of both. “Because the structure is obviously so different from a two-to-five-minute pop or rock song, it really develops very different skills and gets you out of your usual songwriting habits,” he observes of scoring. “The joy and challenge of a film score forces you out of your own ways. And it brings a whole new bag of tricks to songwriting that break you out of old habits. Then you have to go back to doing film soundtracks to get out of them.
“And the reverse is also true,” Wedren adds. “After working on soundtracks for a while you really do get your bag of tricks and your sound and the way you do things. And going back to a rock band has its effect on the next scores you may do.”
The break Wedren and Larson took from Shudder To Think for most of this decade ended when the band reunited with drummer Kevin March for a New York City club show in September 2007. From August through November of this year the band will have played 10 shows — some with March on drums, others (listed below, on the West Coast) with earlier drummer Adam Wade, while Jesse Krakow handles bass duties and Mark Watrous guitar throughout — from which they hope to come up with the recordings to issue a live album. The shows include dates at the Showbox in Seattle on Oct. 30, the El Rey Theater in L.A. on Nov. 1 and the Fillmore in San Francisco on Nov. 2. Larson will also be releasing an album in early 2009 by A Camp, the group he has with his wife, Swedish rock singer Nina Persson, formerly of The Cardigans.
For Wedren, who won a BMI Film Music Award for his work on The School of Rock, it’s all part of being creative and inspiring others to do the same. “Our feeling was always to make people want to make things, whatever it is: music, movies, light bulbs, anything. As long as people leave our shows feeling that creative spark and a sense of possibility — that was our goal. I don’t know what our musical legacy is or was or will be, but I definitely know that some kids we turned on back in the day are now turning other kids on.”