Craig Wedren

Craig Wedren, a veteran of the Washington D.C. punk scene, has evolved a great deal since his years as the frontman for the hardcore band Shudder To Think (of the famed Dischord Records label). In this time Craig has explored the possibilities of music, releasing solo albums on independent and major labels alike, and lending his talents to the composition of music for film and television, including the TV show Hung and movie School of Rock.

Craig's music ranges from ambient grooves to punk sensibilities; an ever-changing and expansive sound evident on his 2011 album, Wand. Craig's creative endeavors are an immersive experience, fleshed out with storylines, visuals and poetic lyricism. High profile fans include Paul Rudd and Michael Ian Black, who have recorded tributes to Wedren. Craig took the time to tell us about the inspiration for this unusual project, and how it came together.
Maggie Grimason (Songfacts): How did participating in the D.C. hardcore scene influence your later, solo projects? What evidence of your previous work (with Shudder to Think) can we hear on WAND?

Craig Wedren: There are strands of D.C. in everything I do, as there are ghosts of Cleveland (lived there 'til I was 16), New York (spent about 20 years there), L.A. (been a resident now for a couple years), and to a great extent, London (never lived, just worshipped). However, the D.C. hardcore scene hit me smack in the middle of a very formative time, identity-wise. Musically, I don't feel like it influenced me any more than anything else I was listening to at the time (4AD, SST, etc), but in many ways it (the D.C. "scene") was like a kiln that solidified my musical ethics and values. It's not so much the way my music sounds - now or then - but the way I approach making music that shows my D.C. roots. Put simply, I believe in taking the time and mustering the courage to create something wholly distinguished, individualized, and true, no matter what the project. I always strive to make music that I LOVE, and would want to listen to myself. This is a particularly interesting challenge when I'm scoring – say - a T.V. show, or working in a prescribed genre; but I believe honest, great, and wildly listenable music can be made under any circumstances, for any project, and with any materials.

As for WAND, I would say certain of it's songs ("Cupid," "Ladyghost," "Recotory Girl," "Bloodwarmer," "Crush You") are a natural extension of the type of music I was writing with Shudder To Think. There's a peculiar style of guitar playing – certain types of oblique, longing, almost-but-not-quite discordant chords - that attract me, and which I tend toward naturally since first discovering them with Shudder To Think. These pop up a lot – albeit in a slightly mutated way - on WAND. There are also echos - or evolutions - of rhythmic, lyrical, and structural tics that were prevalent in my favorite Shudder stuff which weave through WAND, along with lots of other habits I've picked up since.

Songfacts: There's a lot of range in the songs on WAND - from the heavy groove that opens on the album on "Crush You" to the more soft tunes found on "Poolkiss" and "Heaven Sent" - did you have trouble organizing this diverse set of songs? Does your lifestyle and personal music tastes reflect this same diversity?

Craig: When I started WAND – and up until a few months before it's completion - I was working with about 3-4 hours worth of new material. For the past 10 years or so, I've been making music every day – music for movies, music for me, music for commercials, you name it - and naturally not everything gets used for it's originally assigned purpose; so I had a great stockpile of music which I loved, but which hadn't yet seen the light of day. I though I wanted to make a huge, beautiful, messy sprawl of an album, but in the end I pared it down to a more traditional length. I also knew, from the get-go, that I wanted WAND to encapsulate and express all the different styles I'd been working in, from rock, to electronic, to classical, to whatever it is I do that hopefully resides outside styles and genre. I wanted it to work on a traditional album level, so that listeners could enjoy it as a single piece; but I also thought of it as a collection on individual songs that could go down in any order, iPod-shuffle style. In fact, I most enjoyed listening to the full batch of material in random order, not knowing what might come next. Ultimately, though, I had to commit to something definitive, and I think it plays down pretty well. The variety of songs and styles on WAND barely hint at, but wholly point to, the spectrum of sounds and music I enjoy, which range from noise to silence to metal to opera to literally anything you can name. I believe there is great music everywhere, and am always trying to find the stuff of dreams that I can't quite remember upon waking.

Songfacts: What are the similarities and differences between composing for film and movies versus composing a purely musical album? Do you find yourself in a different state of mind as you take on each different set of work?

Craig: Composing music for movies and T.V., you must satisfy multiple masters: the story, the director, in some cases producers and financiers, and of course, oneself. Making an album is the opposite, in that it can be a purely selfish (in the best way) endeavor. In certain ways, hearkening back to the D.C. punk ethos, making one's own music is about saying "fuck you" to other masters. I find them both to be challenging and exhilarating, and highly complementary. I get a lot of new ideas that would be outside my usual comfort-zone when working on movies and T.V., which I can then bring into my more personal stuff, and vice-versa. The two approaches to writing feed into, and nourish one another, both adding to my (hopefully) ever-expanding bag of tricks.

Songfacts: What nourishes your creative self? How do you maintain your enormous productivity?

Craig: Increasingly, I try and make time for only the things that are MOST important: family, friends, music, community; and I'm learning to be more organized in general so I can fit everything in. Certainly meditation, exercise, reading, listening to music, making love, and honesty help keep the pipes clean, and the river flowing.

Songfacts: Seeing as you write so much for film, what are your favorite movies (not necessarily that you worked on)? What is so compelling about film?

Craig: I've always been wild about movies. Obsessed. Maybe as much as music, or almost anyway. I don't have a definitive favorites list, but off the top of my head I LOVE Almodovar, David Lynch, The Incredibles, A Little Romance, and I Love You, Alice B Toklas.

Songfacts: It seems that you are taking music in a new direction with the opportunities to stream your album for free, the interactive videos on your site and the integration of your other art (photography, etc.) with your music. What are your highest aspirations for your music and for all music?

Craig: I would love for folks to eventually distinguish less between the disciplines, and to enjoy wholly immersive, Total Art experiences which include music, visual art of all kinds, theater, fashion, outstanding writing, and which trigger the viewer/listener's own creative spark. Film covers a lot of this, but it's still a bit passive, and story-oriented, so that you don't necessarily notice the music, or the art direction, or whatever (nor should you). Visual art is still pretty ghettoized by the museum experience, but certainly there are lots of installations, interactive pieces, and art on the street which blur traditional lines. I find the live music experience to be a lot like TV -folks standing with their arms folded watching (and even loving) what is happening live, right in front of them. This is certainly not always the case, but WTF people?!? I guess my goal is to integrate all of the creative work I do, and love – music, words, performance, film-and-video - into a fully integrated, music-based, but ultimately disorientingly dreamlike and dazzling whole, so that people can swim in a world who's creation I initiate, but which is completed by their own imagination/creative impulse. The most important thing about art and music is that it incite more art and music – that it cracks people open, break hearts then set them free. Truth begets truth, so make true music in a stunning, inspiring context and set it loose on unsuspectors.

Songfacts: Can you explain some of the imagery found in the "Are We" video?

Craig: The images from "Are We" are scenes/clues from the larger WAND movie. While writing music for WAND, I decided I wanted to make an accompanying feature film, sort of the reverse of what I normally do, which is to add music to preexisting images. In this case I wanted to add images, and a simple, effective story to my preexisting music. I thought it'd be a good way for folks to hear music in a new and fresh way. So I spent a week or so and went for it – wrote an entire movie around the album I was making. When my friend Tim Nackashi got involved (great director: OKGO, TVOTR, Neon Indian), he brought the 360-degree/interactive aspect to the table, and we decided to roll my story out as a series of videos. "Are We" was an experiment in the medium, where we staged and shot a handful of scenes from the story and then tried to figure out how to use the newfangled tech. It's basically a trailer for the larger project/story.

Songfacts: One of my favorites on this album (which is truly, full of stand outs) is the closing track "In School"- can you describe the emotional space from which you wrote this song and the story behind its inception and recording?

Craig: It was written based on a loop of whale sounds that I made, and which, lyrically, became into a dream-memoir of having a crush in high school ("In school I learned to watch you blush, all gentleman – no touch... in school I loved you"). That's one of my faves. I can picture a classroom at The Field School in D.C., where I spent a blessed Junior and Senior year. Most of my songs and lyrics I connect with visually, like a Polaroid or frame of a film.

Songfacts: What's going on in the track "Come Over"?

Craig: The track "Come Over" is the fairly short loop at the end of the record, where I sing "come over…come over…come over…" over and over. It was written while I was helming a synth band called BABY at the beginning of the century. Brad Vander Ark, the bass player, had a beautiful instrumental track which ended with the haunting synth bit that became "Come Over." I was inspired, wrote vocals, harmonies and a couple other bits, and voila! There's something longing – latenight and feverish and aching/ecstatic about it, that I'm attracted to in all music and art.

Songfacts: How have the many label changes you've made as an individual and with your previous band Shudder To Think impacted your music and its reception?

Craig: On Dichord, hardcore kids would come to our shows and expect something, then generally hate us for being who and what we were. Eventually, folks caught on, which led us to Epic, who ironically signed us on the basis of Pony Express Record material, but were then frustrated when it didn't produce any hits. With 50,000 B.C., we tried to make a more accessible record, but it turned out kind of transitional (and AWESOME), somewhere between Pony Express Record and Lapland. With Lapland, I was determined to complete what we had started on 50,000 B.C. – that is to say, attempting to write perfect, traditional song-songs. But I think that was an anomaly for people, too, especially on an indie label like Team Love, or for people expecting something Shudder-y. I'm kind of used to being a misfit no matter what label I'm on, but it still mystifies me why more people don't know my stuff. I think it's all pretty catchy. Fortunately, neither my livelihood nor self-esteem depend too heavily on record sales (not that I don't want to sell a zillion copies of WAND).

Songfacts: Any favorite memories from your years in the D.C. scene? Do you remain inspired by the punk ethos prevailing at that time?

Craig: The punk ethos informs everything I do, but it's always been my own interpretation of what punk means; that is to say, "do your own thing." Find your own voice, march to your own drummer, etc. I also get this from my father, a fairly staunch individualist. One fond memory of my D.C. punk years is of having extremely long, thick hair. I also remember feeling both free and tortured at the same time. Wandering, dreamy, through the steamy swamps of possibility. Cocky and insecure. Strange dichotomies. Lots of girls.

Songfacts: I notice that your Twitter makes frequent reference to the Occupy movement - any thoughts you wish to share on this?

Craig: I'm impressed that folks have gotten off their ass-couches and begun to gather. I'm encouraged that they've not just congregated, but conflagrated. I hope that some positive, progressive, compassionate, and fundamental change is unavoidable.

Songfacts: Your life seems to have been full of twists and interesting turns. How would you describe this moment in your personal history surrounding the release of Wand?

Craig: Ecstatic and truly, deeply happy, while still not entirely content.

Songfacts: What is the significance of the album title?

Craig: My wife and I were in Mexico a few years ago for a wedding, and we went to a flea market there in the jungle. Most of the tables featured plastic crap, but there was one oasis amidst the garbage. A Brazilian artist had handmade all manner of jewelry, shakers, and adornments entirely out of found dead things (snakeskins, shells, fur, etc), and among the booty was a gorgeous shaker that bewitched me. It was true voodoo, and I had to have it, but the man wouldn't sell it to me on account of he was afraid it might fall into the hands of the Bush Administration. I assured him I would protect and keep, and he reluctantly relented, as the local police escorted him off the premises (only Mexican vendors allowed). At the time, I knew I wanted to make a movie out of my then-untitled record-in-process, and almost immediately the story, and the title – WAND - came to me.

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