By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Says Keenan, "This is my first film, so I had no idea what I was doing. The cast, Joe Lo Truglio, Matt Walsh [founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe], Ron Livingston [who also had a Sex and the City role], and Lizzy Caplan — you can't miss out on a chance to work with these artists. They sent me a script, and I had some ideas about which part I'd be playing, and we just kind of went with it."
Keenan's musical background was essential to the directors, especially to Pomerenke, who played in Phoenix-based indie rock bands like Less Pain Forever and Runaway Diamonds. Though he's happy to go on about spiritual concepts and the evolutionary process, he wanted to make a film that was ambiguous about its underlying themes but chiefly funny and enjoyable to watch.
"Theme used to be something I really wanted to drive home, but over time, I've become less and less interested in making theme clear," Pomerenke says.
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Thankfully, the film relies on comedic touches to gently poke at Pomerenke's ideas about ego and identity.
The movie's genesis lies in a chance encounter Pomerenke has with a lost iPod he found outside the Apple Store at 24th Street and Camelback Road.
"I know it sounds like some sort of lie or fable to get attention, but it really is the truth. So we walked out of the Mac store, and you know, we're walking in the parking lot, and on the asphalt, there's this little iPod Nano, the type that doesn't have a screen," Pomerenke says. "So when I got around to plugging it into my computer, it had someone's first name and it said 'happy birthday.' I don't remember the person's first name; I want to say it was Jennifer. I don't recall it having any songs, but it just dawned on me, 'What if Jennifer had the most awesome taste in music and I had to go find her?'"
With no information to go on, Pomerenke didn't strike out to find "Jennifer," but the idea stuck with him, and discussions with Page yielded ideas for a romantic comedy. It didn't take long for the film to evolve into something else. Inspired by filmmakers like the Coen brothers and Quentin Tarantino, who use music to shape their scripts, Page and Pomerenke focused on the sounds of classic country to influence their ideas. Indeed, they threw themselves into the C&W style.
"When Chris discovers something for himself — like a love for country music he didn't realize he had — he goes all in," says Serene Dominic, a contributor to New Times' music section who was hired to help write dialogue for the movie. "I suggested certain cuts to listen to, some by neglected queens of country music — like Sandy Posey or Bobbi Gentry — and I'm sure they informed the love of country he already had."
Pomerenke brought a number of songs to the table, like "Islands in the Stream" (by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton), which gets prime billing in a particularly strange dream sequence, and he even introduced Dominic to songs like "Your Squaw Is on the Warpath" by Loretta Lynn.
"Everything Christopher and I do is musically based," Page says. "Every film has had some strong musical component."
In addition to country greats, such as Kitty Wells, Dottie West, Donna Fargo, the Carter Family, and Wynette, the film features a skeletal soundtrack by Isaac Brock of Portland indie-rock band Modest Mouse. Page and Pomerenke met him while conducting interviews for The Heart Is a Drum Machine.
"We thought his sound . . . he does this haunting desert kind of feel with his music. I don't know why; he lives in the rainiest place in the United States," Page says. "Our film is not campy in the way that you might think. Some people have seen the trailer, and they do see a John Waters kind of thing, but the story has great comedy bits, but it's kind of sad. It's got some heartbreaking moments, and Isaac really nailed that stuff."
Brock also corrected the crew on a musical misstep.
'You can't say 'new country,'" Page says, laughing. "In our movie, we pit 'new country' against 'old country,' but Brock scolded me and told me, '[In the industry,] you call it young country."
Regardless, the "old country" contingent couldn't ask for a better performing representative. Wanda Jackson, the 74-year-old "First Lady of Rockabilly," appears for a musical number on the Buffalo Chip's outdoor stage.
"It was flattering to have been chosen," Jackson says. "It seems like the last several years — the last 15, at least — I've been known mostly for rock 'n' roll or early rock. But I had a long career in country music."
That's not to say she particularly cared for the film — at least not the language used (Queens undoubtedly will receive an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.)
"Well, yeah, I got a copy of the script, and I read most of it," Jackson says. "A lot of it I didn't care for [laughs]. But that's me; being a Christian, it's hard for me to listen to those words and things."