Hem to release Twelfth Night Soundtrack

, Editor on September 4, 2009 | genre: pop

On October 27, Hem's original score for the summer's most talked about production will be released on Waveland/Nettwerk Records. The Brooklyn-based band received critical acclaim upon the debut of their original music set to The Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park production of 'Twelfth Night.' "Lovely original songs," wrote the New York Post, while the New York Times raved that Hem's "handsome" music added "color, wit, life to almost every scene...the sound evoking a distant era without straining for period authenticity," and Newsday declared, "this exceptionally musical production has beautiful folky-Elizabethan-Irish-Scottish-doo-wop songs...someone, please, ask Hem to write a show." In addition, New York Magazine called it "triumphant," Variety called it "soul-stirring" and The Hollywood Reporter said the music is "hauntingly memorable."

Artist: Hem
Title: Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Release date: 10/27/09
Label: Waveland/Nettwerk Records
Buy at: Amazon

Hem collaborated with 'Twelfth Night's' all-star cast and using a palette of original orchestral cues, traditional reels, and their own uniquely cinematic sound, Hem created each of the 28 tracks on the record, which features vocals from Anne Hathaway, Audra McDonald, Raúl Esparza, Dave Pittu and Jon Patrick Walker. Hem worked closely with director Daniel Sullivan to ensure that the music was fully integrated into the production, including having Hem band member Steve Curtis perform onstage alongside the cast. Hem, whose musical credits include four previously released studio albums, created a dazzling interpretation of the Shakespeare classic, skillfully combining the whimsy of the live production with both classical and modern musical arrangements.

Hem's 'Twelfth Night' is a perfect way to relive one of New York's hottest summer productions. The record features The Illyrian Marching Band and The Gowanus Radio Orchestra and a wide array of string and percussion instruments, and woodwinds. Hem is Dan Messe (piano), Steve Curtis (guitar, harmony vocal, percussion), Gary Maurer (mandolin, guitar), Sally Ellyson (vocals), Mark Brotter (drums) and George Rush (bass).

Hem have been in the studio recently completing their next studio album titled 'Departure and Farewell,' which will be released in Spring 2010.

Interview with Hem’s Dan Messe
1. How did you all come to work on the 12th Night project?

We’ve been working on our new album “Departure and Farewell” for about two years now (a new Hem record for time spent on a single, albeit large/ambitious, album). And we finally made a pact that we would enter the studio and not exit it until the album was completed. After a couple of weeks, we had hit our stride – song after song was being moved from the “incomplete” wall to the “mix-ready” wall; we have a wall for every stage of a song’s production (which is why we only work in octaganally-shaped studios). In any case, during a particularly productive session, we received a call from Jenny Gersten (the Associate Producers at the Public Theater). She mentioned that everyone at the Public was a fan of our work and that she couldn’t walk down the hallways without hearing a Hem song coming out of someone’s office. Then she asked if we might be interested in working on their summer production of Twelfth Night. Our album-completion vow was quickly affixed to the “broken promises wall” as we said, of course, “Yes!”. Apparently, Ted Sperling (The Director of The Musical Theater Initiative at The Public) was the man who originally suggested we would be a good fit with Daniel Sullivan’s vision of Illyria, and after meeting a few times with Dan S., we agreed that our music was just right to carry both the lovestruck comedy as well as some of the darker, more elegaic undercurrents that ran in and around the play.

2. Had Shakespeare influenced your work before you began working on the score for 12th Night?

We can’t say that Shakespeare has influenced our music per se, but there is one way in which the Bard has played a part in our process of creating music: When we enter the Studio, Gary and I (Dan) tend to communicate in a sort of short-hand based on quotes we love from films and books. For example, for a small problem I might say we are “encountering ob-stack-les” (from the blind seer in “O Brother…”). When things go horribly wrong (as they sometimes do before we achieve our very particular vision), Gary might utter “The plane has crashed into the mountain” (from “The Big Lebowski”). The books most often quoted are “Huck Finn” (of course) and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”; for example, if a session is particularly fraught and one of us is losing hope, Gary might say “Shall we give o’er and drown? Have you a mind to sink?” which either has the effect of bolstering our resolve, or send us fleeing to the nearest bar…

3. How did the recording process with the cast work? Were they in the studio with you? Did they have any input into the recording?

Yes , the cast were in the studio with us – sometimes recording live while we recorded whatever ensemble also happened to be present at the time, and sometimes singing to existing tracks (we tried to work around these incredibly busy performers’ schedules, and we took them when we could get them.

It was our goal to both capture the live energy of the Delacorte production, and at the same time create an idealized version of the score. In order to best achieve this balancing act, we tried as much as possible to have the singers there together with either the band from the show (The “Illlyrian Marching Band” as we dubbed them) or some semblance of Hem and the Gowanus Radio Orchestra. In some cases – especially with the extra songs we wrote for Audra, Anne and Raul – we were really flying by the seat of our pants, and it would have been impossible had it not been for the incredible musicianship of these artists.

4. Did the recording of 12th Night take you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to rethink how you develop your music?

I think most of our songs our ultimately lyric-driven; in that, it’s the interplay between the lost images of our past and the longing that memory creates (especially as they are carried along by a sweet melody and sung by the most comforting voice I’ve ever heard) that creates what I consider the quintessential Hem song…
So right away, the idea that we would be setting someone else’s lyrics (i.e., Shakespeare’s) took us right out of our comfort zone. Not to mention that these weren’t necessarily about typical Hem subjects. It’s no wonder that the most Hem-Sounding song in the show turned out to be “Come Away Death” which is very much about a memory of life and love that is long lost. Also, the fact that these were William Shakespeare’s words – that had been musically situated many hundreds of times before – was always present somewhere in the backs of our minds). We wanted to make these words our own somehow, but we weren’t quite sure how to achieve that and serve the interests of the play. Ultimately, it was this loss of control that took us most out of our comfort zone. This production was a more intensely collaborative work than we’d ever embarked on before, involving discussion and interpretive input from actors, other musicians, sound designers, and most significantly Daniel Sullivan’s direction. Sullivan was a thrill to work with, and his evolving vision of the production continually opened up our own composition as both came into focus. We had never worked in a relationship like this before, and this loss of control that’s required in having your music serve a director’s vision was a new thing for us, as was the satisfaction in having taken part in something so dramatically further reaching than the scope of a normal music recording.

As far as recording, I’m not sure we have ever had a comfort zone per se – or when we start feeling like we do, we try our best to attempt something new . The important thing here was to devise and maintain a recorded sound that fit in with the director’s vision of this specific world of "Illyria". Daniel Sullivan gave us a lot of latitude to come up with a recorded sound that both fit in to the dramatic production and was representative of what Hem really sounded like. We did use the same ensemble that we use for other Hem albums, which is a comfortable place for us to start . And of course , instrumental , cinematic music is part of what we do - that combined with Dan Messé's knowledge and experience in the theatre world made this challenging certainly – but not necessarily too daunting . It was a fantastic , whirlwind experience and I think expanded our impression of what Hem is capable of creating.

5. What was it like performing the music during the play with the actors?

Steve Curtis: "A complete joy – and an unexpected one: this development (having a Hem ambassador join the musician/actors on stage) came about in only the last few weeks of rehearsal, and it was like jumping on speeding train in a country where you don’t speak the language. I was pretty disoriented, having not stretched a single theatrical muscle since high school, but the company all welcomed me in and along. There was such support and enthusiasm among everyone for Hem’s music in the play, and this, combined with a real mutually supportive spirit and a developing sense that we were all in on something pretty remarkable here, made it feel comfortable right away. The actual performances were honestly very moving – to stand in and among such truly great actors, and watch them and their characters react to the music that you and the rest of the band are creating, and to be able to fall into the sway of this music yourself in a full and spellbound theater – it was such a singular opportunity. I feel really so fortunate…"

6. Were there any songs that didn’t make the album?

We are like primitive hunters – no part of a kill (i.e., song) ever goes to waste. There were plenty of songs (both sung and instrumental) that didn’t make the actual show, which is one of the reasons, we needed to make this album. The entire rehearsal process (especially during tech week), is basically about paring things down to their essential elements. Anything that got in the way of the story moving forward at a good clip was cut. This was, of course, painful on one level, but clearly necessary on another. We have always tried not to be too precious about any one idea in a song production (e.g., the coolest guitar lick could actually get in the way of a song’s emotional effectiveness) and the same proved true of course for theater. After one particularly favorite cue was cut, I (Dan) did shout out from my perch in the stands “You’re breaking my heart!” and Dan Sullivan calmly shouted back “The story needs to be told”. Sure enough, when I watched that scene with the cut, it was better. There were a million of these sorts of lessons that we learned (or re-learned) while working on this production.

7. What should listeners expect when they hear ‘Departure and Farewell’? How is it different from your previous studio albums?

Sonically, “Departure and Farewell” is our most wide-ranging and ambitious work to date. At the same time, Hem fans will definitely not be disappointed in the slightest, as all of these songs and sounds have grown out of our past work. In fact, many of these new songs are really having a kind of “conversation” with older Hem material. Lyrical and musical “quotes” from our past albums play an important part in almost every track –commenting on far we’ve come, and perhaps on how much we’ve lost. So, it seems we’re sort of moving forward by looking back. I know, I know – you’re not supposed to “look back” – there are warnings about doing that everywhere from the Bible to Bob Dylan – but I (Dan) can’t help it. I’m addicted to “the past” in so many ways (both in a very personal way in terms of my own memories, and also as a band, with our unending fascination with the history of American music). It’s one of the reasons why addiction continues to be a theme in some of our work; it’s such a perfect metaphor for both the inescapable pull of the past – the dangerously strong hold it can have on a person; strong enough, at the very least, to keep you stuck in one place – and perhaps even strong enough sweep you out to sea to drown. At the same time, like any drug, a memory can sustain you – providing intense comfort during dark times. In any case, we can’t stop looking back as a band – we’re all pillars of salt here in Hem...

"Twelfth Night Soundtrack" by Hem - release date: 10/27/09..

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