Saturday, September 16, 2006

Crashing Into Yourself: A Chat With Seattle Filmmaker Lynn Shelton

Part One: On Laura Veirs and the We Go Way Back Soundtrack

In July, I interviewed Lynn Shelton regarding We Go Way Back, which opened at the Varsity Theater on Friday. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. In an email message, Shelton adds, "It's been a good week for WGWB; nice reviews from several corners... What a surreal feeling to see the name of your film on a marquee. Weird and wonderful. The first screenings went well and the Q&As were fun." Shelton will also be at the Varsity on Saturday and Sunday at 7 and 9:15pm.

Could you tell me about Laura Veirs's score? I under-
stand that most of it comes from her studio recordings.

We used two pieces from "Raven Marching Band" [The Triumphs and Travails of Orphan Mae] as little instrumental sections of songs incidental music in the soundtrack, and it worked really well. The main songs came from Carbon Glacier and Year of Meteors, both of which are on Nonesuch Records. Two came from Carbon Glacier and two came from Year of Meteors. There's one section in particular--the last time that Kate [Amber Hubert] has sex...that is an entire piece. It's amazing. It just works so beautifully as soundtrack. We cut to that piece. It sounds like movie score.

That's why I asked if she wanted to do more scoring [I conducted a separate interview with Veirs via email]. I wasn't surprised she said yes. And she works with a lot of people that, I mean she does vocals and lyrics, but she's worked with [jazz guitarist] Bill Frisell. That whole group of people just seem like naturals. I don't think Frisell has done any soundtracks.

He seems like he should.

He has a CD, a double-CD of music for Buster Keaton films, but I'm not aware that there are actually films with his music. So, how did you first hear Laura?

It seems like I've seen his name, his credit.... Yeah, I was really excited to find her voice... I was starting to write the script, and I was at my dad's house in Eastern Washington. I was just trying to come up with, to formulate the [script]--it was very vague at that point. And he came in and checked his email, and turned his music on, and her voice came up [it was pre-loaded on the computer]. It was the very first song on a compilation that I heard, and I was typing and going...God.

That's bizarre.

I listened to the lyrics--it was the combination of the lyrics and the quality of her voice. Little bits of the lyrics started coming through, and I just couldn't believe it. I didn't know who she was--I didn't know who was singing, much less that she was local. I really immediately became obsessed and thought, this woman's voice has to be in my movie somehow, because it was... everything. The quality of it was capturing the same tone that I wanted to capture. I love how she doesn't use vibrato; it's very straightforward. It's achingly vulnerable, but it's not prettied up. It's very difficult for me to articulate what's go great about it...

So she ended up influencing the script, the tone.

Yeah, she totally influenced the script. In fact, there were several--the second song on that album [Carbon Glacier] is called "Icebound Stream," and it' just have to look at the lyrics. It's incredible. I literally became obsessed and listened to it all the time. And there's actually a line in there about crashing into yourself. That was what it was called for awhile--my script was called Crashing Into Myself, Crashing Into Yourself--I can't remember which, but it was totally derived from that song.

At one point I remember being so frustrated with the script that I remember throwing up my hands and thinking, Laura's already said everything that I want--it's just better, the medium of music. I should just let Laura write her songs and forget this whole movie thing! I could never do it as well as she can. It was interesting, too, because for awhile all the songs that inspired me, I was hoping to fit one of them in, but it was too redundant. It was just too close somehow. I was a little bit worried about whether she was gonna get onto the soundtrack or not, so she started out influencing me as I was writing, but it wasn't immediately apparent which songs would be working. Then she gave me the rough mixes for the new album, which didn't come out until a year ago, and still I wasn't really sure what was gonna be work-
ing. I think it was my co-editor, Michelle, who was the first to find a Laura song that worked. Because when I first listened to the record, nothing was grabbing me, so it just kind of happened organically while we were working.

That's one of the collateral effects of making this movie that I'm most grateful for--is now having this friendship with her--and even if we don't work together again, I have this friendship, but I think that we will work together again, too.

Since collaborating on We Go Way Back, Shelton directed the video for
Veirs's song "Magnetized." Click here to watch the QuickTime video.

Up next: On Jonathan Glazer, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry.

Image from Methow Arts (Lynn Shelton on the set).  

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