Mac McCaughan has pretty much done it all in his two decades in the music industry â€” he fronted seminal indie rockers Superchunk, found success again with Portastaic and launched the Arcade Fire and Spoon’s careers on his Merge Records label. But, it wasn’t until he teamed up with a little know Canadian director did McCaughan add film composer to his CV.
In 2002 the venerable songwriter was approached by Matt Bissonnette, a budding Montreal filmmaker, at a show. He handed McCaughan a script and asked him if he could write music for it. “He contacted me out of the blue,” says the still-active musician.
He jumped at the chance to write original instrumental music for Looking for Leonard. Until that point McCaughan’s non-band composing experience was for a few commercials his friends directed. Eight years later, McCaughan’s only added two more movies to his film scoring oeuvre â€” 2006’s Who Loves the Sun and the soon-to-be released Passenger Side â€” both Bissonnette films.
But just because he hasn’t done more movie work doesn’t mean he won’t in the future. “I haven’t put myself out there as a composer for hire,” he admits. “But if someone wants me, they have to be fans of Superchunk or Portastaic.”
Passenger Side revolves around two brothers driving around Los Angeles. While McCaughan wrote one song for the soundtrack, his job this time around was to find other people’s music that would fit the road trip scenes.
“Matt basically said come up with a dream list and see what you can get,” he says. “He gave me a list of the type of stuff he already had in mind and I add a whole other list.”
In the end, McCaughan, who is playing a rare set of music tomorrow night at the Royal Theatre after a screening of Passenger Side, came up with a soundtrack that any indie rocker should love. It features songs by Leonard Cohen, Wilco, Chad VanGaalen, Silver Jews, Islands and more.
Securing all this music wasn’t as easy as you might think. “It was just a matter of getting people’s attention,” McCaughan explains.
“A lot of stuff comes down the pipe for a band like Wilco. The same thing happens for our bands â€”people say we would love to have a song in this movie but we don’t have money, so it’s a matter of which things does a band pay attention to.”
Luckily, having the popular artist in charge of the soundtrack prodded a number of acts to jump at the movie. “I think having me on board helped for a certain extent,” he says.
“I can say I like the movie, I’ve worked with the director before and it’s not something cheesy.”