Directors Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke (of Phoenix bands Less Pain Forever and Runaway Diamonds) are no strangers to "music movies." The pair's documentaries, Moog, The Heart Is a Drum Machine, and Blood Into Wine are all insightful looks at the various ways music plays out in our daily lives.
Queens of Country, the forthcoming film written by Page, Pomerenke, and New Times contributor Serene Dominic may be the most music-centered film from the team yet.
Starring Lizzy Caplan, Ron Livingston, and Tool/Perfect Circle/Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan, the film focuses on a Jolene Gillis, who lives in Dry Creek, Arizona. Gillis lives life as a "queen of country," and when she finds an iPod loaded with classic western tunes, her life takes a strange turn.
Up on the Sun caught up with director Ryan Page, who grew up in Phoenix, and shot Queens of Country on location in Cave Creek, about the film's soundtrack, featuring classic country songs and a score by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse and Ugly Casanova.
"The film is about a woman named Jolene Gillis, who lives in a small Arizona town," Page says. "We call it 'Dry Creek,' but really we shot mostly in Cave Creek...It's a town very similar to Cave Creek, where country-western is still alive and well. She's a small town line dance champion and beauty queen, and she lives her life as a 'queen of country.' She dresses like the ladies of classic country. So naturally, we had to go out and license all these songs. Which was very expensive, but we did it. We have all these amazing country songs, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton."
The film features selections from Wanda Jackson, who actually performed at The Buffalo Chip Saloon, where many of the scenes in the film were shot.
"Wanda came to Cave Creek and performed. It was weird, because it was before this Jack White resurgence. [Jackson released the White-produced The Party Ain't Over earlier this year] We shot this a year ago. Wanda was this great overlooked star of country. No one ever talked about Wanda and that bothered us. So we wrote a thread, and she did us a solid and came out and did it. It was really cool."
The writers' love of country's classic leading ladies inspired the film, and while the 25-or-so songs licensed for the film aren't all from female country stars, Page says the majority of them are.
When the time came for the film to be scored, Page called Modest Mouse songwriter Isaac Brock, who appeared in The Heart Is a Drum Machine.
"He's a friend, [though] he sort of ignored us awhile," Page says. "Really, for a long time. I don't know, all these guys do it. He just sort of didn't answer for six months. So we're literally wrapping, and a month a go -- about six weeks ago -- I texted him, 'This literally is it, this is the last chance. Can you do this thing?' He wrote back -- he was real short -- he said 'Send me your film.' So we overnighted it to him, and the next day he was signed on. He knocked it out of the park."
Page says Brock's sound was particularly suited for the film.
"He has this kind of haunting, desert kind of feel to his music. I don't know why; He lives in the rainiest place in the country, but he doesn't this sort of 'deserty' thing..."
Page couldn't announce details yet, but promised that the film's soundtrack will be released on a major label, and will feature licensed songs along side Brock's score. The film hasn't been sold to a distributor yet, but Page is confident that the film will see release early next year, potentially in March or April.
Though ostensibly a comedy, Page says Queens of Country is funny, but has a dramatic emotional core.
"Our film is not campy. Some people see the trailer and see a John Waters kind of thing, but the story -- it has great comedy, but it's kind of sad. It's got heartbreaking moments, and Isaac really nailed that stuff."