Interview: Jason Dodson of The Maldives on scoring Riders of the Purple Sage

photo by Caitlyn Mirete

photo by Caitlyn Mirete

After Seattle band The Maldives performed their live soundtrack to the 1925 silent western Riders of the Purple Sage Tuesday night at the Triple Door as part of SIFF’s Face the Music series (read the review here), KEXP blog contributor Leigh Bezezekoff talked to Jason Dodson, lead vocalist and guitarist of the band:

How did you get involved with this project?

Jes Toon, at the festival, invited us back in March to choose a film and score it. We all like movies, both Ryan and Kevin and I have backgrounds in film, so it seemed like a good thing to do. A good way to express ourselves.

Had you ever thought about scoring a film?

Of course! But it was always just funny little pipe dreams. Sometimes you watch a movie and the music can be so mismatched and ya get to thinking, man, I could have done that better. Well maybe not better, but at least a little different. I always wanted to score a Western. Like Dylan did for Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. That’s a lofty goal! I was always impressed when popular musicians score films. Not so much the use of popular music in films, but when a musician actually writes the score to a movie. Nick Cave’s film work comes to mind. Especially, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. And of course, there’s Neil Young’s score for Dead Man. That’s a piece of work! Kevin Barrans has scored films before, so he was a great help in keeping us all organized.

What is your usual songwriting process? How do you pair your lyrics to the music, is it pretty collaborative or do you do most of the songwriting and arrangement?

I’m not a fan of talking about process. Not like it’s a big mystery, or a secret or anything I like to keep. I just don’t know quite how to write about it. I write the music and lyrics, and the band as a whole arranges each song. I’m pretty particular about keeping the structure of each song fairly simple.

How was the process different for this?

The process for the film score was different than the regular songwriting process, because we weren’t writing songs, per se. For “Riders” we were dealing more with themes and moods. We had a “hero’s” theme, a “villian’s” theme, an “action” theme, and so on. I had ideas about where I wanted to take the film musically, but I missed the practice where everyone watched the film and started working on it. The whole thing, then, was integrating the stuff the boys came up with at practice, and the stuff I had been working on at home. It all came together pretty naturally.

Your songs typically tap into deep wells of emotion for your listeners. How do you incorporate emotion into your songwriting? Did that process help you with scoring this film?

Oh, I don’t know. We all carry emotions with us, it all really depends on how you wear them.

How many times have you seen this film?

Way too many times! Just joshing. Realistically, we’ve probably seen Riders about two dozen times. I’m still not too sure about what exactly happens in the plot of the film.

Did you know how to tackle the score for this or was it more challenging than writing a traditional Maldives song?

Like I said earlier, Kevin has worked scoring films before, so he was immensely helpful in keeping us organized and making sure we weren’t making the compostions too complicated. SIFF had originally suggested we do a longer movie, like John Ford’s “Iron Horse.” That movie’s almost 3 hours long! Kevin was saying that most feature films only have about 30 minutes of original score, that is then re-cycled throughout the duration of the movie. “Riders” is about an hour long. So, the way I figure it, we wrote enough music for two movies!

Were there any scores in films that inspired you or helped you with this?

Neil Young’s Dead Man, that’s for sure the one we would all agree on.

It seemed like you had different themes for the characters in this film, or at least for the different types of events. Was that something you thought about ahead of time?

Yes.

For most of the film it was just instrumental, what about the end of the film made you want to incorporate vocals into your score?

In the title credits for “Riders” we incorporated the opening riff of “Time Is Right Now.” It felt natural to bring that song back towards the end, and I always felt the lyrics had a kind of heroic, Western bent to them. It fit nicely heading into the showdown and the climax with the avalanche at the end. Plus, I just like singing.

Were there differences between the performances?

The biggest difference I could tell was that I was a hell of a lot less jittery playing the 9:30 show! I think we all felt a lot more comfortable and had a lot more serendipitous moments when what we were playing synched up with the action on screen. And it was nice having Mayor McGinn there. The first show had its fine moments too.

Would you do something like this again?

Of course. I loved it.

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