HOW DOES ONE create the musical soundtrack for a film about the most popular band in the world?
Grammy-winning producer Don Was was faced with just that challenge for Gramercy Pictures’ early Beatles saga “Backbeat”– and to make for even more sleepless nights, it was his first film project as scorer as well as music producer.
Having worked with everyone from Bonnie Raitt to the Rolling Stones, his well-honed instincts instantly told him to (1) avoid any similarities to “Beatlemania” at all costs, (2) do his best to create a worthy addendum to the Beatles myth, and (3) heed his friend Ringo Starr’s advice to not hire session musicians, but rather “just get some guys who’ll bash out the songs.”
That matched the musical vision of “Backbeat’s” director Iain Softley, and created the same sound that, Was said, “was at the heart of punk 15 years later and inspires grunge today.”
So Was and his wife, Virgin Records’ A&R VP Gemma Corfield, compiled a band from grunge’s all-stars: Afghan Whigs singer Greg Dulli, Gumball guitarist Don Fleming, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner.
Because the musicians had no previous experience recording with each other, they couldn’t rely on cliches or formulas.
The result, Was attests, “is clearly not an impersonation of the Beatles; the spirit was really what we were going for. McCartney was a shouter and Dave Pirner shouts, but that’s where it ends. Greg Dulli does the John Lennon vocals and at times he comes remarkably close to John, but if you check it with a frequency analyzer it’s not at all like John’s voice. It simply evokes the spirit of what Lennon was about.”
The makeshift band recorded 15 songs in three days with virtually no overdubs (except Pirner’s vocals, recorded on separate dates) and no more than two takes. “The self-imposed deadline was one of the devices that I used to keep it raw and spontaneous, so we wouldn’t scrutinize too much,” Was said. “Because at that stage the Beatles were a wild teenage band that compensated for their lack of finesse with a tremendous amount of energy.”
Of those 15 songs, 12 made it to the screen and to Virgin’s soundtrack CD, featuring the current single “Money,” soon available as a promotional video clip with two edits catering to different demos, one wholly comprised of film clips, the other highlighting the hit-making alternative band lineup.
“The ability of these musicians, who are considered cutting-edge, to adapt immediately to that pioneering style demonstrates the fact that there’s a DNA code that links Little Richard to Sonic Youth,” Was said.
Having a ready-made soundtrack for lip-synching provided the actors with an excellent rehearsal tool as well as an unexpected source of frustration.
“We’d have preferred to perform live because it’s part and parcel with the roles and we wanted to do it right,” said actor Ian Hart, who portrays Lennon. “For me, if I’m going to play a musician and singer, then I’ve got to play and sing. So I actually do in the film. It didn’t end up on the soundtrack, of course. You can’t hear me, but I did it. So I was satisfied in that respect.”
On April 19, Virgin will also issue a second “Backbeat” album featuring Was’ regional jazz score performed by a combo including Terence Blanchard on trumpet, pianist Eric Reed and Was on stand-up bass.
IMAGINE POPULAR music artists such as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, INXS, Ry Cooder, Jon Bon Jovi and Queen’s Roger Taylor sharing a stage with a choir of 150 Buddhist monks, 10 masters of traditional Japanese drumming and some of Japan’s top starts under the masterful direction of stellar producer George Martin. Now picture that lineup at Todaiji, an 8th-century Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, and you have the Great Music Experience.
It’s the brainchild of Tribute Management’s Tony Hollingsworth, exec producer on the event; he spent the last two years in discussions with the monks of the temple, sorting out the details of an “ancient Oriental world meeting the modern international world.”
The project was arranged with the cooperation of UNESCO as part of its world Decade for Cultural Development.
The event will be held over three days in front of an audience of 15,000 and has been sold to 20 countries, with expectations of reaching 60 by the time of its May 22 transmission.
The artists’ preparation will involve two weeks of rehearsals, during which they’ll collaborate with native musicians to reinterpret their own music.
“We’ll take internationally classically known pieces of music and rearrange them with a slight twist toward the country which we are in,” he noted.
Future historically and culturally rich sites of the annual event, scheduled to last till the end of the century, are the Pyramids in Egypt, the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico, the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Taj Mahal in India.
LA SEEN: Los Angeles’ funky floating club Fuzzyland, named after a sleazy Tijuana bar and run by journalist Jac Zinder, recently popped up at Mr. T’s Bowl in Eagle Rock, with “White Trash Night.” The featured band was called the Geraldine Fibbers, and played a unique blend of country cacophony.
What makes them stand out is their non-country lineage. Lead vocalist is husky-voiced Carla Bozulich of the industrial dance-alternative group Ethyl Meatplow, whose debut “Happy Days, Sweetheart,” released last year on Dali/Elektra, made quite a stir. Bozulich is not abandoning Ethyl Meatplow, just stretching her range.
Opening was Doo Rag, a Tucson, Ariz.-based duo who were one of the buzzing-est bands at this year’s South by Southwest Conference in Austin.
Across town, Dr. Dream artists Dash Rip Rock played a raucously wild set, with audience members — and even a few rock writers and publicists — getting up onstage to join the band. Jack’s Sugar Shack was packed that night, and one of its bookers, Anita Rivas, said that every Wednesday will be a BMI-sponsored showcase night for touring as well as newer local combos.
LANDMARK Distributors, one of the biggest independent record distributors in the country, closed its doors April 8.
Landmark was sued in January by Tommy Boy, Select and several other accounts, and had an involuntary bankruptcy petition filed against it. Landmark contested the action and had the petition dismissed in March.
But despite its court victory, Landmark lost many accounts during its legal squabble, forcing it to cease operations.
The company had 30 employees and generated an estimated $ 25 million in annual revenues, according to a company source. Landmark was a part of the Profile Records empire.
Profile is expected to continue operations, with Landmark president Burt Goldstein joining the label. Landmark will continue to process returns at its Carlstadt, N.J., warehouse, and its accounting department will continue to handle account inquiries and collect payment.