LOS ANGELES -- The soundtrack to the movie "First Love, Last Rites" won't be your only chance to hear Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan sing a rock song, but it may be the only time you'll hear punk-poppers Shudder to Think as his backup band.
Shudder to Think, tapped by director Jesse Peretz to helm the film's score, also played behind Robin Zander, of the power-pop band Cheap Trick, on a song that recalls the pop-jazz of the Zombies; with Nina Persson, of the sugary Swedish rock band the Cardigans, on a Hawaiian number; and with the late folk-rocker Jeff Buckley, on a tune that evokes the soul sound of Otis Redding.
For his first feature film, Peretz knew he wanted music that sounded familiar, but was hard to place. And he wanted the score to seem as timeless as the story told by "First Love, Last Rites" -- a tale of that first great romance in someone's life.
"I wanted music to be a big part of the movie, but I knew that ... it needed [to be] more sensual and tangible," Peretz said while lounging in his hotel room in the Chateau Marmont last week. "The particular thing about the story is that it's sort of placeless and timeless, and I really wanted the music to not feel [like] the '90s or the '80s."
So Peretz, 30, a musician who also directed such amusing music videos as the Foo Fighters' "Big Me" and Nada Surf's "Popular," went to his friends in the melodic hardcore punk band Shudder to Think, vocalist Craig Wedren and guitarist Nathan Larson.
The director first met Wedren and Larson in 1990 while he was playing bass in the pop-rock band the Lemonheads. The three friends sat down with the "First Love" script, which Peretz had adapted from an original short story by author Ian McEwan with the help of Lemonheads drummer David Ryan.
They came up with the idea to record several different songs, each in a style that fit an era or was modeled after a certain artist, such as the Johnny Cash-inspired country-flavored song "Lonesome Dove," sung by STT's Wedren.
Among the other tunes are Persson's Hawaiian-styled "Appalachian Lullabye," Corgan's rock tune "When I Was Born, I Was Bored" and Zander's Zombies-inspired "Automatic Soup."
They decided the songs would be heard directly in the film -- not just by the audience, but by the characters -- as the female lead Sissel (played by Natasha Gregson Wagner) spins them on her 45-rpm FisherPrice record player.
"We went through every scene and got very specific about what kind of vibe [Peretz] wanted to present, with the intention of making each song sound like a different artist of a different era," Larson said. "But we also wanted it to have sort-of a dramatic function to it and work on an emotional level with what's going on in the scene."
They needed different singers other than the distinctive, often operatic-sounding Wedren. So they lined up an esteemed group of vocalists, including Corgan, Buckley, Liz Phair, X's John Doe and The The's Matt Johnson, for the soundtrack, which will be released later this month on Epic Records.
Shudder to Think not only wrote all the music for the soundtrack, but performed behind each of the vocalists. "We approached it in a really mellow way, like, 'OK, who do we think is great?' " Larson said. "And then we just started calling people -- people who are our friends and also people who we thought, 'Wow, wouldn't it be cool to work with them?' "
"First Love, Last Rites" is an arresting, character-driven film about a love affair between two teenagers, Sissel and Joey (Giovanni Ribisi), that doesn't rely on a conventional plot. Instead, the story is propelled by the way the young couple interacts from scene to scene. Scheduled to be released by the independent Strand Releasing on Friday (Aug. 7), the film is dedicated to Buckley, whose tune on the soundtrack, "I Want Someone Badly," was his last fully recorded effort before his untimely death in May 1997, when he drowned in the Mississippi River.
The posthumous release of Buckley's album SKETCHES, for my sweetheart the drunk actually delayed the release of "First Love, Last Rites," because the late singer's label, Columbia, insisted that SKETCHES precede the release of the song by four months. Peretz considered removing the song from the movie, but Larson and Wedren, both close friends of Buckley, insisted he wait.
Larson asserted that the dedication goes beyond Buckley's contribution to the soundtrack and his untimely death while the film was in post-production. "It's more sort-of an esoteric kind of thing," Larson said. "There's a lot about the river in this movie, a lot about water, a lot about the Mississippi ... a lot of images that, to me, represent this really heavy forecasting. There's a lot of him in the events of the film ... Spiritually, everything I do from now on is going to have a part of him in it."
Though "First Love, Last Rites" marks Shudder to Think's first venture into scoring for the screen, it has already launched a second career for the rock group. The band's knack at ambient tones can be heard on the soundtrack for the film "High Art," starring Ally Sheedy. In addition, STT contributed three "Bowiesque" songs for an upcoming movie on the glam-rock era, "Velvet Goldmine." That soundtrack will also include Radiohead, Pulp and members of Sonic Youth.