Skeggie's soundtrack; Cleo's tunes for tots
by Carly Carioli
Greg "Skeggie" Kendall -- formerly of Tacklebox, most recently of the
Toughskins, and most famous for being one of the original crew who turned the
Middle East into a rock club -- has been dropping hints about his movie deal
for more than a year now. But even when the press release came a couple weeks
ago informing us that Kendall had indeed composed the music for Drive Me
Crazy -- a new vehicle for the chick who plays Sabrina the Teenage Witch --
and had produced the Donnas' version of REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Lovin' You,"
which appears prominently in the film, we were a bit skeptical. There was only
one thing to do -- take Skeggie to the movies and, in the spirit of teenage
moviegoing, converse through the whole picture.
Kendall, we find out, is somewhat amorphously credited with "Music" -- not as
"Music Director," or with "Score."
"A movie like this, I would say I did the underscore," he says over popcorn at
a Wednesday matinee. "I wouldn't say I scored this film, because the film
doesn't really have a score. I did the music -- the music that isn't songs. I
have no illusions about the work I did on the film, but it was a great gig.
It's fun and creative and I don't have to write any words, sing, or worry about
how my hair looks. Once you get used to the fact that you could spend days or
months or hours working on something that no one's gonna hear because it gets
cut out of the movie or just buried, then you're okay."
We missed Skeg's name rolling by in the opening credits, but we caught his
brief on-screen cameo late in the film. He's one of the alumni attending the
movie's climactic event, a formal dance celebrating the centennial of Melissa
Joan Hart's high school. "There I am in the middle," he points as his fleeting
image flickers past. "I stood around for three hours for that, with --
indignity of indignities -- a fake martini in my hand."
More important, we caught every note of Skeggie's music in the film, from the
opening theme ("See, we went for a Katrina and the Waves kind of thing") to the
final credits, which feature two numbers that ended up on the cutting-room
floor: a jingle for Meteor Burger, a diner the kids frequent in the movie; and
the high school's alma mater. The film, adapted from a teen novel called How
I Created My Perfect Prom Date, concerns Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) and her
next-door neighbor Chase (Adrian Grenier) and how, since they've both been
dumped, they decide to feign a romance to make their exes jealous. The Donnas,
credited as their real-life metal-band alter ego, the Electrocutes, play the
coolest band in town. And it's directed by John Schultz, whose previous indie
effort, Bandwagon, went to Sundance in 1996 and featured music by
As Skeggie details, "Schultz got this gig with Twentieth Century Fox directing
a Melissa Joan Hart vehicle -- it was called Next to You then. It became
Drive Me Crazy when Britney Spears became attached to the film this
summer and her song "(You Drive Me) Crazy" got prominent placement, which ended
up being smart for the film. The film really found its audience that way.
"Even though I was auditioning to score the film all along, my first job was
to write one song for a band that's in the middle of the movie. The Donnas are
in the movie, but there's another band that plays in a club. We never even gave
them a name, strangely enough. So I was first hired to write that -- and also
to produce the Donnas' version of `Keep On Lovin' You' -- and, because they
have these club scenes in the film, to be a `music consultant.' They flew me
out to Salt Lake City twice to make sure that the club really looked like a
club. When I got there, the amps weren't right, so I said, `We've gotta rent
new amps.' Or, `This drum kit's too small.' All kinds of stuff like that. Plus
the band that was gonna play my song wasn't really a band. So I had to actually
show them how to look like they were playing -- I even had to show one guy how
to hold a guitar. It was hilarious. I actually got to yell `Wardrobe!' once.
They sent the band up in these glam-rock clothes, because that's originally
what the script said. But eventually I wrote more of a Hüsker Dü kind
of song, so I had to be like, `Get 'em back up there in T-shirts!' "
That song eventually led to Kendall's being hired to write and record most of
the incidental music. It was all recorded at Zippah studios with a band of
locals -- Mike Leahy and Jake Guralnick (son of Elvis biographer and former
Phoenix critic Peter Guralnick) on guitars, Jeff Allison on keyboards,
and Dave Schlitching on bass, with uncredited vocals by the Gigolo Aunts' Dave
Gibbs and Kendall's brother Bob. "It felt like we were kids getting away with
something," Skeggie recalls. "Like, `Holy shit, we just talked them into
letting us do a movie!' But somewhere along the line we came to the realization
that we weren't just kids getting away with doing this -- that we could
actually, legitimately, do it."
By the same token, to have the Donnas covering REO Speedwagon in a Melissa
Joan Hart/Britney Spears vehicle probably qualifies as getting away with
something. Kendall gives a lot of credit to Schultz, whose musical tastes jibed
with his own, and who was enough of a music fan to give a bit part to the
Connells' Doug MacMillan. "My relationship with the film is different in that
the director and I are good friends," Skeggie explains. "It's easier, because
he tells me what he wants and I give it to him, as opposed to me guessing what
he wants and him saying no.
During a scene in which Chase phones his ex-girlfriend, Skeggie points out
that "Schultz is a big fan of the Velvet Underground's third album -- `I'm Set
Free' and `Jesus' and `Candy Says,' songs with that wiggly Sterling Morrison
guitar line. So I got to sneak these Velvetsy parts in here and there." Schultz
also chose to end the film to the strains of Sweet's "Wig Wam Bam"; and before
they'd scored the scene where Chase is introduced, he had temporarily pasted in
the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog." (Kendall echoed the nasty tone of the
Stooges tune in the music he wrote and recorded for the scene.) Even the high
school's marching-band songs had some fairly punkish inspiration. "I never
really envisioned that I'd be writing songs for marching bands," Skeggie says,
"but it's a lot like writing a Lyres song; it's like garage rock. Really! It's
the same chord blocks. Especially `Go, Fight, Win,' which is sort of the film's
über-marching-band song. It's real Kinksy."
Of course, you can't score a teen-pop soundtrack using proto-punk alone. The
soundtrack CD, which includes the Backstreet Boys, Less Than Jake, and
Barenaked Ladies in addition to the Donnas and Britney Spears, was still being
assembled this summer, well after Kendall's contribution had been completed.
And then, at the last minute, those songs had to be crammed into the film
itself. In fact, Skeggie didn't even hear most of the songs until the premiere
in New York City a few weeks ago.
"Were any of my songs replaced? Yeah, sure. But it goes both ways. There's
places where they have songs temped in and decide that they aren't gonna pay
whatever licensing fees for that song. So I would have to write music that
sounded somewhat similar -- at least the beats would be the same." Listen
closely and you'll hear Kendall-penned knockoffs of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic
Trees," Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy," and some Semisonic song he
can't remember the name of.
While Letters to Cleo were in Los Angeles last year working on the teen
flick Ten Things I Hate About You, they were approached by the producers
of an in-development animated children's TV show called Molly O that
follows the adventures of an eight-year-old rock star -- a Josie and the
Pussycats for post-Hanson adolescents. The band were excited about the
project but didn't hear back about it until this past May. "At that point I was
eight months pregnant," says Letters frontwoman Kay Hanley, who gave birth to a
daughter, Zoe, this past July. "They called on Friday and said they needed a
song by the following Thursday. We wrote it on Saturday and Sunday, recorded it
at Q Division on Monday, mixed it on Tuesday, sent it out on Wednesday, and it
got there on Thursday. They were really happy with it, and that sort of
solidified our place in the project."
The timing turned out to be perfect for Hanley and husband/LTC guitarist
Michael Eisenstein, who, needless to say, aren't planning on touring anytime
soon. "It's a neat little project we can do at home," says Hanley. "Since we're
pretty good at the three-minute pop song -- that's sort of our specialty --
this isn't such a stretch. And since we're not performing the songs on the
show, we don't have anything major riding on this, which is a freeing kind of
thing. The scriptwriters write lyrics for about 75 percent of the songs, so
it's not like we had to write 26 funny songs. We write the music and the
melodies, and we can have our way with the lyrics if we want, but usually
they're right on the money. Obviously, we wouldn't play stuff like this out,
but there have been times -- maybe one of the last songs we wrote, `One Me to a
Customer' -- where I'd think, `Hmmm . . . I'd rather save this
melody for myself.' "
The producers of Molly O are in the middle of negotiations with the
networks. Hanley reports that "the first season is totally done, so we're all
just waiting to see what happens. And with that comes the fear that this whole
thing could fall through any second now -- being familiar with the music
business, you just assume something will always gets fucked up. It's a really
cool show, though, and all the characters are really funny. It would be a shame
if it never saw the light of day."
Although there were no Molly O tunes on tap, Hanley and Eisenstein did
break out a couple of new Letters to Cleo numbers last week on the first night
of their month-long Tuesday-night acoustic residency at the Kendall
Café, including "Galapagos," "Happy To Be Here," and a cover of Paul
Simon's "American Tune." The full band return to the stage with a November 19
show at the Paradise, and they're hoping to have a new record out by next