Dark Dark Dark's Marshall LaCount talks about composing the soundtrack to 'Spies'
Tonight, the Walker Art Center will wrap up the beloved Music & Movies series with a bang: local folk collective Dark Dark Dark will perform a score they wrote for Fritz Lang's 1928 film Spies while the movie plays. Unlike the past few Mondays in Loring Park, this performance happens in the Open Field next to the Walker, and the band will perform with the movie, not before it.
For this one-time performance, Dark Dark Dark has pulled out all the stops and embraced the flexible size of a "collective": joining the sextet will be the Modern Times Spychestra, a crew of nearly 50 other people playing all sorts of roles in the composition. Naturally, the band is leaving some room for improvisation in this instrumental performance -- how else could they cover 88 minutes of film?
In between his stops at Kinko's to make color photocopies of notes and final rehearsals at the Nick and Eddie warehouse, Dark Dark Dark's Marshall LaCount spoke with Gimme Noise about the band's approach to writing for a film.
I've never actually seen the band perform live, so what instruments do you play?
I play electric banjo and clarinet.
Was writing for this performance with Spies a collaborative process for the band? Was it different from your normal songwriting?
We're doing it quite a bit differently than we normally do, because it's instrumental and we've written it specifically for the film project. We also included about 40 or 50 additional people. The way that the band, the six people playing actual instruments, is happening, is that each person has chosen a scene within the movie, and they're responding to the film with their ideas. For example, Adam Wozniak is playing bass and he's writing some themes and teaching them to all of us. Jonathan Kaiser has written for it, and Robert Skoro has written for it, and the rest of us have done the same. It's quite a collaborative process. There's so much going on that I'm really excited that it's become so collaborative and that people have taken on so much responsibility. There are so many people to wrangle for this one thing and so many layers to arrange, and that's what most of my role is. Sort of organizing and arranging all of the people and what everyone is doing and how it's all arranged in the end.
Have you ever done any large-scale compositions like this before, or is this a first?
With this many additional people, it's a first. We've responded to a film before. We've done a film score for one of our immediate friend's films actually, and we performed live in some museum settings, so there's been some kind of high-pressure settings for film scores and stuff, but this is a definite first. We didn't make the movie, we're just responding to a movie that already existed and has its own history and place, and that's new. It's 88 minutes, which is relatively long for a silent movie. There's a lot of freedom to decide to what to do with it.
Were you familiar with Fritz Lang's work before this commission?
Of course with Metropolis and a little bit with a couple of the others, but certainly not this familiar.
I didn't know this one either.
This one may be one of the more obscure of a couple of spy films he did, sort action adventure films.
And it's pretty early for film too. How did this opportunity come about for the group?
The performing arts curator at the Walker, Doug Benidt asked us, and he didn't tell me exactly how he found out about us, but he thought it would be appropriate. We've been on tour pretty much all year long, doing what we usually do, and I saw it as an opportunity to do something different, something new, and something with more people, besides the ones I'm in the van with constantly. So that's where it started turning in to this slightly larger cast of participants and everything.
I remember seeing posters around Uptown asking for people to help out with it. How many are involved?
I think we'll end up having the 40 people I was looking for. So there are six of us in the band, maybe eight to 10 in the choir, and maybe 35 to 40 in the other section. We've had a couple of rehearsals with a good majority of the group being there, and it's going pretty well.
So do you feel ready for the performance?
We will be, yes. One more dress rehearsal on Sunday.
How long did it take for you guys to get everything together?
We've done it all essentially this month. We were in Europe for a couple of months, and we had to go do a film festival in Canada, and we really weren't back and working hard until late July. I definitely already started thinking about how it could be organized in June and July, and hoped to have everything in place so that it would fall together easily in three weeks. I'm sure Adam and Jonathan were brainstorming themes, but we knew that we didn't have any real time to start until this month.
On a different note, do you have plans for a new album anytime soon?
We just did five songs at Crazy Beast Studios, which is in Northeast, with Ben Durrant. Whether or not those will actually go on the new record is a mystery. They were actually for another project, but we're not going to announce anything there yet. We've got these five songs that we're all super excited about, and we're ready to start shaping the rest of the record up. The recording process and everything felt really good with those five songs, and I feel like there's tons of room to make a great record, like no other we've ever made. It's kind of my job to talk that way [laughs]. No one else talks that way about it.
You guys record live don't you?
Yeah, and I guess I wouldn't have said that's we do or that it's our thing, but after we've done an EP and an LP and now these five songs, it just doesn't really make sense for us to work other ways right now. We do some overdubbing of course, but almost everything is live, including vocals. And I think it's because we spend real specific time rehearsing first, and we know where the room for change is, and what's going to stay, and we go in ready. We find that tracking alone and separately just doesn't feel like what we do anyway.
Are you mostly based in Minneapolis now, or is it still all over?
We have a New Orleans member, and a Chicago member, and I'm about to be in New Orleans as well. So we'll have three cities. Historically, we've had a New Yorker as well who is not working with us right now. But there's always some flights required, and a lot of scheduling in general.
The final Music and Movies event happens on Monday August 22, and begins at 7pm with a DJ set from The Current's Barb Abney. Dark Dark Dark will perform at 8:30 with the film, and the event takes place in the open field next to the Walker.
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