Friday, May 26, 2017

Cameron Crowe on the 'Singles' Soundtrack, Chris Cornell

In 1986, Cameron Crowe, in love with a Pacific Northwest girl, and frustrated with the craven scene in L.A. ("hair bands ... guys who lived off their girlfriends") moved to Seattle to make a fresh start. That girl was Nancy Wilson of hard-rocking sister act Heart, so Crowe was soon immersed in the city's scrappy music scene, frequenting the clubs and getting to know the young music geeks who, often laboring in coffee shops, "worked a nine to five and then played music all night." Crowe fell in love with the sounds and the ethos, and the idea for Singles, which he saw as a love letter to Seattle akin to Woody Allen's Manhattan or Spike Lee's many paeans to Brooklyn, was born.

In many ways, the film's story is in service to the music. Singles not only featured live performances by Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, but employed a newly drafted Eddie Vedder – just called up to the majors of Pearl Jam from California himself – as well as Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard in acting roles as members of Citizen Dick, the fictional band fronted by Matt Dillon's lead character, Cliff Poncier. "The first time the cast all got together was at the Off Ramp, a club just off the main freeway in downtown Seattle," Crowe recalls. "It was the second time Pearl Jam played in public with their new lead singer – Eddie from San Diego. Eddie had read the script, and wrote a new song for the movie, about relationships, called 'State of Love and Trust.' It became the soul of the movie in many ways."

Warner Bros. held the film at bay, unsure what to do with it, for almost nine months, until the explosive success of Nirvana's Nevermind put all things Seattle on the map. Suddenly the Singles soundtrack, packed to the gills with choice material by almost every other significant act on the scene, was rushed to release on June 30th, 1992, almost three months before the film itself saw light. On Friday, just short of 25 years later, the soundtrack will be reissued with an 18-track bonus disc of demos, live recordings and alternate takes. Crowe talked to Rolling Stone about putting together his ultimate mixtape.

What was your initial concept for the soundtrack, and how did that evolve over time?

Well, so much of the enthusiasm came from meeting and falling in love with a Seattle, Pacific Northwestern native. And when I started going up to Seattle, and ultimately got married in Seattle, part of the whole kind of wonderful feeling of love and community that was so different from L.A. to me was there was this great radio station called KCMU. It was kind of the college station, and it was way to the left of the dial. They played a lot of what would later be called the "Seattle sound," but they mixed it in with all kinds of stuff, like old blues. What in L.A. would have been called "cheesy R&B" was mixed in with Blood Circus or Mudhoney, and I just thought it was the greatest programming ever. Or somebody would tape Kurt Cobain half asleep having a phone conversation and they'd put that on the air. So I fell in love with the whole mix of genres, and I thought, "If I get to make a movie up here, it's going to sound like this."

Right, the soundtrack is not just about Nineties Seattle. You have a Jimi Hendrix tune, "May This Be Love," and he's a Seattle native, so you're dipping back into history a bit.

So much of it came from wanting to do a mix of Jimi Hendrix or Muddy Waters or Junior Wells, along with Mother Love Bone. We'd started to do a little bit of that in Say Anything, the movie before Singles, which was also partially shot in Seattle, and Mother Love Bone's "Chloe Dancer" is in Say Anything. So it was kind of like I was starting to be able to use some of this music that felt like it was only for those people that lived up there, and I was lucky to have gotten a taste of it. And Ann and Nancy Wilson are big music geeks and they were always surrounded by local musicians, and Kelly Curtis who was their publicist was managing Mother Love Bone, so I was immediately getting thrust into a community of great music and great people.

What came first, the music or the story?

They're intertwined for me: The music and the city and the people are all kind of beautifully twisted roots around each other. But the music was always there. I used to make cassettes of KCMU so that when I had to come down to L.A. for something, I could still be listening to KCMU. Now of course you can just stream it, but I still have all these cassettes, and they're filled with the greatest segues ever. ... I think it's called KEXP now, but it used to be called KCMU, "Music That Matters." And it was. (...)

One of the best bits of Singles lore I've heard is the story of the Poncier tape that Jeff Ament designed – which is coming out in full on this new edition of the soundtrack – and how all these actual songs were birthed out of it.

It's kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon's character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there's a period where he's on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.

And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.

Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like "Flutter Girl," and "Spoonman," and just like a really true-type "I've lost my band, and now I'm a soulful guy – these are my songs now" feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy, we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, "Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you." And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, "That's funny, haha." And then she said, "You should listen to it." So I put on the cassette. And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it's fantastic. And "Seasons" comes on. And you just can't help but go, "Wow." This is a guy who we've only known in Soundgarden. And of course he's incredibly creative, but who's heard him like this?

by Alexis Sottile, Rolling Stone | Read more:
Image: markk
[ed. I still watch Singles a couple times a year, its one of my favorite movies. For an alternate (and, in my opinion, bullshit) take on Grunge, see also: Was Grunge Good?]