Vanilla Sky – R.E.M. HQ

Exclusive Interview with Cameron Crowe

R.E.M. HQ recently interviewed Cameron Crowe, Director of VANILLA SKY. Here’s what he had to say about music, soundtracks, and R.E.M.

HQ: Well let’s talk about the “Vanilla Sky” Soundtrack. It’s super eclectic and seems to offer everyone who is a fan of music a little something from rock to pop to big beat electronica. Whereas (out of necessity I’m assuming) the “Singles” and “Almost Famous” soundtracks had to be more authentic to the music in the period in which they were set (being about grunge and a 70’s band that almost made it) what were you aiming for in putting the “Vanilla Sky” soundtrack together?

CC: After making “Almost Famous,” which was pretty strictly scored with music from 1969-1973, I had a real desire to fill “Vanilla Sky” with modern stuff… a lot of semi-unknown new bands… and maybe even our first traditional score. The new movie was always supposed to feel like it was set about five minutes into the future, so we proceeded with stuff that sounded fresh and also felt like it was the music that David Aames (Tom Cruise’s character) would listen to or hear in New York City. That opened the door for a lot of different stuff, and in the end we even dipped back into stuff that would have worked in “Almost Famous” — Bob Dylan, Todd Rundgren — alongside newer stuff like Underworld and Looper — and, of course, R.E.M.

HQ: Is a soundtrack an opportunity to be really self-indulgent when it comes to your own musical tastes? In other words are you generally a fan of the artists you feature on soundtracks?

CC: From the moment I heard Neil Young’s “The Loner” used in the 70’s movie “The Strawberry Statement,” I was hooked on the idea of hearing my favorite music in a movie I loved. It’s tricky, though, because a lot of times music is so much more vivid and cinematic than movies. Music is the movie you get to hear in your head. so it’s hard to find visuals that marry well with music. That challenge is one of the best parts of the job, though. It’s sort of a joke with my friends. On those freezing days when you’re filming, and nothing’s going right… i always say, “Soon i’ll be in a dark room with all this film and a thousand CD’s and all will be bliss.”

HQ: R.E.M. has two songs, “Sweetness Follows” and “All the Right Friends,” on the “Vanilla Sky” soundtrack. Can you tell us how those choices came about?

CC: “Sweetness Follows” was always in the script of “Vanilla Sky.” It’s a real favorite of mine, as well as all the actors. We rehearsed with it playing, we shot scenes with the song playing, most of Cameron Diaz’s scenes were filmed while the song was playing. Late in the movie, when she’s reunited with Tom Cruise’s character, leaning over him with her eyes filled with tears — she’s actually listening to “Sweetness Follows.” It’s one of the great modern songs, so atmospheric and powerful, and it never fails to create a mood when the song is played. “All The Right Friends” came about when Danny Bramson, my co-conspirator in putting together all the soundtracks, called his friend Bertis Downs (R.E.M.’s manager) and said we were stuck. We had a long driving scene at the beginning of “Vanilla Sky,” and needed something to set the tone for the whole movie. Danny sent Bertis and the band a copy of the movie’s trailer, and from what I’ve heard, Peter and Mike and Michael watched it and immediately thought of “All The Right Friends.” We were sent the band’s early demo, it sounded perfect, and later they recorded the song in Seattle–this all happened in the space of about a week. The track came in, and it immediately went into the movie. I knew a little bit about the legend of the song, and its roots in the band’s early days. I’m honored the band dipped into their rich archive for that one.

HQ: You’ve written numerous articles for “Rolling Stone,” done the liner notes to the Led Zepplin Box Set “Light and Shade,” made two movies–“Almost Famous” & “Singles”–about specific moments in rock history and are obviously a big fan of as well as a historian/student of music. Is all that knowledge an advantage you think when you’re compiling a soundtrack?

CC: My background as a rock journalist isn’t background at all, it’s probably foreground. I think of everything musically, and write scripts with the music in mind. I direct with the music in my mind too. It’s a good frame of mind to bring to the movies.

HQ: I don’t think you’ve ever written an article about R.E.M. among the many you’ve done. If you could describe them in a short sentence or two, what would you say?

CC: I never wrote about REM, though i’ve always loved them from afar. They are one of the great soulful/powerful American bands–equal masters of both killer albums and killer singles. They’ve always been a band in the greatest sense, each member is pivotal and totally unique. and, of course, they were the first band to ever mention Lester Bangs in a song… so they’ve always had one foot in heaven just for doing that.

Courtesy of R.E.M HQ – January 3, 2002