“SONG FOR EWE”
with CRAIG WEDREN of
SHUDDER TO THINK
“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists and music peeps beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day.
Today it’s the turn of a man recently chosen as someone else’s “song for ewe”, a virtuoso of a voice that made his band on the Dischord label from Washington DC truly stand out. When it comes to the “League of Bald Headed Men” as sung of by The Fall, this man is the champion. He’s also got side-burns to die for. It’s almost like looking in the mirror! Except the high notes he can reach can crash a mirror to a million pieces. His style is provocative and theatrical, his music rhythmic and angular, like Freddie Mercury fronting The Birthday Party. I was lucky enough to interview him for the original Velvet Sheep fanzine with his band Shudder To Think, then able to play his videos first on MTV Europe Alternative Nation, then later while Channel Manager of MTV2.
On a visit to MTV NY I caught a later band of his, Baby playing the Bowery Ballroom. Since that he’s been composing and curating music for film and TV including “School of Rock” (the former) and “Reno 911” (the latter). Given my TV day job it’s about time I commissioned him!
I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with him, one of my favourite ever frontmen, and although the publication of this piece is a little tardy, I greatly appreciate his “song for ewe” it truly made me go back and rediscover (and love) his choice (which is the point right?). It’s the peerless and unique Craig Wedren!
I first got into Shudder To Think when I bought a copy of “Get Your Goat” from Rough Trade. Compared to the “Flex Your Head” crew of Dischord, this wasn’t so much screaming at a wall, as singing operatically at it (Craig) while guitarist Nathan Larson got the tautest sounds ever to emit from a guitar. The lyrics were first person, heart felt, ambiguous and poetic – “shake your halo down, like snow” – how could a sexually frustrated short haired wannabe punk resist?
A few years later, circa their major label debut, 1994’s “Pony Express Record”, I was lucky enough to interview Craig for Velvet Sheep zine (their pluggers Big Cat were regular suppliers and I was made up the stars had aligned). His band had been signed in the post Nirvana alternative rock gold rush, and along with the slab like swathes of Helmet, the perpendicular punk prose of Shudder To Think was brave, and forward thinking, but probably ahead of its time. There were plenty of pop barbs and I was definitely hooked. If they were to stay a cult concern I have been happy to follow.
I distinctly remembered sitting on the wooden parquet flooring outside Dingwalls in Camden with a dictaphone and Craig while skateboarders ollied (it seemed) over our heads. I was enthralled in particular by the lyrics on “Pony Express Record”. I’d often misheard or misinterpreted, but that was part of the joy. It’s hard to beat lines like:
“Hey Mr. Dancing, my drink is on a short leash
My mouth is a cold sore display case
Here’s a tip, you could take a lot of abuse
If you exchange your skin for leather”
(from “Gang of $”)
or, some pearlers from this one, “Hit Liquor”, with it’s saucy pirate grunge video…a 90s classic. Like Nelson (not Prince) being kissed by Jean-Paul Gaultier rather than Hardy
When I joined MTV Alternative Nation as an intern and helped producer Katelijne De Backer and VJ Toby Amies put together the show, I was always stoked when we got the chance to play Shudder To Think, and often suggested it. I was a massive fan of all the Dischord bands, they had inspired the early incarnations of the fanzine but of all of them it was Shudder To Think that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. More often than not we played the voyeuristic and lurching “X-French Tee Shirt”.
When I asked my great mate and mentor Toby Amies to choose his “song for ewe” recently, he chose a Shudder To Think song…much to my delight. And also to Craig’s who I was chuffed tweeted the following mirthsome missive: “Heyyyy Apalacian Lullaby! Now that’s realniiice. Thanks fellas! attn @theninapersson @natoism”
Fortuitously but somewhat tardily, I thought it about time that I published Craig Wedren’s “song for ewe”!
In the early 2000s he was still absolutely owning it live. When I went to visit MTV New York while producing a pilot called “Carmen Electra’s Red Carpet Remix” (yep!) with the MTV Cribs team, my MTV International Colleague Scott Mackenzie kindly took me out for a burrito and a band at the Bowery Ballroom. Turned out that the band Baby was fronted by Wedren and I was made up (cheers Scott) as they were suitably fantastic.
Since that heady time, in amongst work for TV & film, Craig has released a solo record called “Lapland” on Conner Oberst’s Team Love Label, which he toured while supporting Foo Fighters & Greg Dulli of fellow 90s legends Afghan Whigs. The follow up “Wand” was an immersive music and video installation project. Most recently Craig’s composed with Jefferson Friedman for the ACME chamber ensemble on an album called “On In Love” which had its live debut this January past with the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall.
Although I’ve taken my sweet time about it, it Disney (dis’nae) matter as Mr. Wedren made a super sweet choice, for another unique and oft-underrated singer…so without further ado…
IT’S OVER TO CRAIG:
“I’ve been deeply appreciating Joe Jackson lately. My most recent fave/obsession has been ‘Different For Girls’, which I was aware of as a kid…
…but not as thoroughly as some of his other ‘hits’:
I love the song, and the production -particularly the snare/drums, so stark and clear.
I was talking about the song with my friend Jherek the other day, and he was wracking his brain trying to remember a Joe Jackson song he’d been thinking about lately that seemed ripe for covering.
This morning he (Jherek) sent me the following link, for the song ‘Real Men’:
This was a single, mind you, with the incisive lyric (one among many) ‘don’t call me a faggot unless you are a friend’.
That’s some evergreen Cole Porter Punk.
What a beautiful writer, and iconic voice.
THANKYOU TO CRAIG WEDREN, THE MAN, THE VOICE, THE LEGEND. NOT JUST FOR SONG FOR EWE BUT ALL THE ALBUMS INCLUDING 50,000 BC WHICH I STILL LISTEN TO ALL THE TIME.