There was a time, in the annals of DIY rock, when band battles meant something above the perfunctory, fleeting prize. They meant immortality. I don't know when that time was exactly - maybe I just saw a movie once where everything was riding on one competition (you win, you get the record deal and the girl). The point is: BoBs in this town are commonplace to the point of sterility.
Last July, though, the folks at the Blvd and North by Northwest made the music competition format mean something again. Theirs was an event with high stakes wherein myriad bands and songwriters from every conceivable genre competed throughout the summer for five slots in a film called Stuck in Neutral. That's no empty victory. The film centers on a boy, Shawn, who has cerebral palsy. His parents, doctors and siblings think he's basically a vegetable, but the young Shawn leads a vibrant inner life (for more on the film itself, see The Inlander, 6/29/05). Director Juan Mas said he wants these songs to be more than simple background fodder. "The music plays an important part," he says, "this is the horse that's going to pull the movie along." If a song strikes the right chord, it might even be used as a recurring theme throughout the film. To that end, Mas gave each band a section of plot and a deadline in December. I caught up with the bands after they'd been given their scripts and prompts and had begun to compose. The songs, now, in their own words.
SEAWEED JACK & r & Geoff Doolittle (vocals, assorted instruments), Anthony Stassi (drums), Brian White (guitar) & r & The Sound: (Brian) "We write very thematic music, just in general, that goes through lots of different phases." (Geoff) "The kind of music we write is really conducive to haters. The thematic thing we like to do - we're going for a certain feel, and if you don't like that feel, then it's frustrating. As opposed to playing like Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's pretty hard to hate that."
The Plot: (Anthony) "He gave us the scene where the dog gets killed. It's one of the darker points of the movie, I think that fits well with our music." (Geoff) "And it will possibly be like a recurring theme. Where they'd put it would be up to them, but it might pretty well describe [Shawn's] thoughts that he comes back to a lot." (Brian) "Like in the darker, more dramatic points in the movie."
The Progress: (Geoff) "It's pretty slow." (The song, not the progress.) (Brian) "It's a 3/4 waltz." (Geoff) "Yeah, a sadder style that has a couple really intense parts in the choral section. Generally the theme of it is pretty sad, but then it gets pretty loud and pretty intense. That's kind of like our style of writing anyway. It's hard to think of the scene and write for it. We'd been working on a song kind of like it before."
NATE SCHIERMAN & r & The Sound: "Very passionate. Very deep. Very moody. It's an acoustic alternative feel with a nice mixture of some bright piano melodies."
The Plot: "We got the part where [Shawn] has his seizures. That's when he goes into his paradise. It's like that magical and erotic state where he can do all the things he can't do [in real life]. It's gripping - not necessarily the scariest or trippiest part. It's the part of the movie that grips you the most because you can see how passionate he is."
The Progress: "This was something I felt passionate about. I had read the book, and going into the competition, I had already started writing a song for the movie ... When life unfolds, you have to write about it on the spot. After I read the book, I couldn't just wait, I had to get it out. Thankfully the part I was moved by is the part I was ultimately asked to write for. It came out very Coldplay-ish. Which is surprising, because Coldplay isn't even an influence. It has that piano intro thing, like 'Clocks.' That's kind of how this song is. We were like, 'Wow, this could be a Coldplay song.' The writing is different and my voice is different, though. It goes from acoustic to distorted. That's something Coldplay never really does."
THE HIGH HOLIES & r & Aaron Bocook (guitar, vocals) & r & The Sound: "True rock 'n' roll. We're not trying to fit into one genre or be limited stylistically, like it's punk rock or it's heavy metal. So, I don't know. We like the Beatles."
The Plot: The older brother has really bad anger problems. [We got] a scene where some guy flips him off in a car and the brother turns around and beats the crap out of the guy.
The Progress: The song we're writing will fit into the scene perfectly. It happens when they're driving cars, so it's kind of a fast song and angry, but not heavy-metal angry. Just like an emotional chord progression. It'll fit in well. We have the song written, the lyrics and music -- we just have to get it together. Now all that's done, we can bust it out."
THE CARCINOGENS & r & Jim Fleming (guitar) & r & The Sound: "We're a rock 'n' roll band ... but really it's a mixture of a lot of different genres. A little bit of country and blues sometimes. A little bit of funkiness."
The Plot: "I don't remember specifically. Apparently there's a scene in the film where his sister Cindy is watching him and his friends play basketball through her bedroom window."
The Progress: "We've started working on ideas. Everyone in the band is very much a capable songwriter, so we're all coming with our independent ideas and then we may do three or four or more songs and let Juan listen to all of them. I think the song needs to be a bit upbeat, almost danceable. That fits in with our style."
CRISTOPHER LUCAS & r & The Sound: "Since I've been all over the country, I've been widely influenced. I call it 'eclectic soul.' You'd probably say more roots rock-ish, but I have a lot of urban stuff in me as well. More commonly, people would just equate me to one of many of those guys who play guitar. I don't even like to name their names. But I don't. I just don't. ... I take moods and I write to them. I grew up listening to catchy songs, so I write songs that kind of get caught in your head."
The Plot: "It's kind of like Cindy, the sister's, theme. It involves her. Like a soundtrack to Cindy and the depth of her character, even though that doesn't start to reveal itself until later in the movie."
The Progress: "Once I got to that part [in the script], I was already hearing stuff. I've already put something down for that ... I hear pianos, almost melancholy, but then all kinds of delayed guitar soundscapes in the back. Something that has plenty of motion to it, but then plenty of emotion to it, rather than just one or the other. But then, that's just the beginning of it for me. I just know it's gotta have a deep, contemplative quality."