Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beautiful Girls

My article on Beautiful Girls appears in the Charleston City Paper.

Australia's Beautiful Girls try to woo America

Beauty and the Beat

After almost a decade of toiling and climbing the charts in their native Australia, the Beautiful Girls (actually a trio with nary an XX chromosome between them) are ready to hit the big time in America. Their strategy is reasonably sound: release the quintessential summer album and make it heavily reliant on reggae beats, trumpets, and gentle surf 'n' sandals rock.

It's a notable departure from the Girls' earlier records, most often labeled roots-rock, but singer-songwriter Mat McHugh feels the shift on the latest disc, Spooks, is organic.

"We all grew up with reggae and punk rock as part of our musical education, and it's been a part of our music since day one," McHugh says. "Being from Australia, where reggae isn't the best way to pay the bills as a musician, we've kept that side of ourselves fairly subtle until now. This time I think we realized we've reached a place where we could start doing whatever we felt like, and this record is the result."

The sound of Spooks might be summery, but the album's inspiration was anything but. McHugh secluded himself in his home for more than a year following the end of his solo tour in 2009, ultimately crafting the songs that would become Spooks, which evokes everything from the rhythmic pulse of the ocean to the opening credits of COPS. Even the song titles, like "My Mind is an Echo Chamber" and "Home/Family," offer revealing glimpses of the man as an artist.

"In my opinion, all the records we made before these have been about finding our feet," McHugh says. "This time around, I just wanted to talk about things I cared about in the way that I wanted to talk about them. I have to be inspired to write lyrics, and, in that sense, every song I write is somewhat cathartic. I'm always getting things off my chest to varying degrees, and I don't see any other way around it. The alternative is just writing down a bunch of words that have no meaning to me, and I honestly wouldn't want to waste my time."

And while certain songs, like the slickly-produced "Rockers!," do little to support the notion of catharsis, other songs ring so genuinely true they become impossible to resist. "B Some Melody" is humble and simple, a sweet ukulele number that tiptoes its way into your heart. But probe too deeply and McHugh's quick to retreat behind his well-crafted wall of words. On his own website, he acknowledges that taking responsibility for his own "fuck-ups" was the inspiration behind the album's sole ballad, "My Latest Mistake," but he's not eager to elaborate during our interview.

"I think every single human being on earth is a constant fuck-up," McHugh says. "Contrary to some people's opinion, nobody is perfect. I think the song is about realizing that fact and finding out a way to move forward. I have absolutely no intention of sharing with you my biggest mistakes. I'm a real person with real relationships in my life, and I value them too much to trivialize them. Besides, everybody has their own mistakes to deal with."

McHugh seems ready to put whatever mistakes he's made behind him and focus on the Beautiful Girls' future. He admits that the last decade's been "a long, slow climb," but stands behind the band's decision to start independent and stay that way.

"Sometimes it's difficult, and we've come up against obstacles, but I think that is to be expected when we have to compete against big labels and their large marketing budgets," McHugh says. "I think that having a deep love for music and an in-built outsider mentality have kept us motivated to take the big corporations on at their own game. We've always relied on the connection we make with people and the word of mouth that comes from it. No amount of money can buy that. We're super lucky."

This North American tour will be the first time the band's had the chance to play the exact same show they would in Australia, with five members taking the stage every night, including a keyboardist and a DJ. Though McHugh's confident that this will be the tour where his band really breaks out, he also knows that even if that doesn't happen, it will be easy to stay motivated.

"I think we all just consider ourselves musicians, and what we want to do with our lives is play and contribute music," McHugh says. "In that spirit, I believe we'll just keep doing what we do, more records and more touring. We're especially committed to spending a lot of time in America and growing our band over there. I think America and the Beautiful Girls are in the early stages of a beautiful, blossoming love affair."

Now the only question is, will America reciprocate?

Xavier Rudd

My preview of Xavier Rudd's show in Charleston appears in the Charleston City Paper.

Xavier Rudd amplifies his worldly grooves

Rudd and Izintaba: From Australia to Africa

It's thought that there's not much love for a man wielding a didgeridoo, let alone three, but Australian singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd has built an entire career on confounding expectations.

Over the last decade, Rudd has built a loyal, if laid-back, following, capitalizing on the surf 'n' sand folk-rock phenomenon led by acts like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, and the Beautiful Girls. The 32-year-old environmentalist has also become a popular fixture on the festival circuit, famed for his live shows where he often acts as a one-man band surrounded by a mind-boggling arrangement of instruments.

Rudd shows just how eager he is to keep revolutionizing his sound on his most recent album, Koonyum Sun. The collection is the first effort to feature his new band, Izintaba, which is essentially a South African rhythm section comprised of Tio Moloantoa and Andile Nqubezelo (formerly of the late Lucky Dube's band). Charleston actually enjoyed a preview of this collaboration last summer, and the response to the group's funk-filled jams was overwhelmingly positive.

After playing together for more than a year, the trio is tighter than ever, proudly showing off their well-reviewed Sun. The album's buoyed by unrelenting drum beats, Rudd's soaring, scratchy vocals, and some epic world rhythms. "Set Me Free" calls to mind early Peter Gabriel, while "Fresh Green Freedom" embodies the loose, carefree vibe of a sunny day, masking the song's earnest environmental message. "Love Comes and Goes" earns its Paul Simon comparisons and offers a gentle and sweet take on fleeting romance.

Possibly the best song to get the crowd revved for a night of nonstop hands-and-hips waving is the electric "Badimo," a crazy-cool amalgamation of haunting sounds and muttered musings. It's a truly original, mind-melting tune that begs to be recreated live in a sea of sweating, happy music aficionados who love to be surprised.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hugh Hefner documentary

My review of Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is in this week's WE.

The Playboy founder and icon of the sexual revolution is the subject of Brigitte Berman’s new documentary, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel.

The Playboy founder and icon of the sexual revolution is the subject of Brigitte Berman’s new documentary, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel.

Credit: Supplied


Directed by Brigitte Berman
The morality of Hugh Hefner’s social influence has been debated ad nauseam — after all, the Playboy founder has built an empire on the objectification of women. Brigitte Berman’s documentary, Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, argues he’s also promoted an open dialogue about sexuality, fought censorship, and been at the forefront of liberal activism for civil and women’s reproductive rights.

So, the question is: Filthy pornographer or revolutionary?

With its objectives listed plainly in its title, it’s obvious what side Berman’s film takes. Savvy audiences, however, may want more than an overly fawning — though thoroughly engrossing — account of this iconic octogenarian’s cultural impact.

Berman’s range of interview subjects adds interesting details to Hefner’s fascinating life, and are themselves a delightfully strange assortment of people. From Pat Boone, the former singer-songwriter turned Christian activist, to KISS bassist Gene Simmons, to famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth, Berman moves in a linear fashion through the publishing magnate’s personal and professional development. She also makes a strong case for both his rebellious and activist natures, including founding a jazz festival in the 1950s, prominently featuring African Americans in print and on TV before the Civil Rights Movement, and waving a middle finger at the Communist blacklist.

An artful mix of archival footage and stills from Playboy, the doc falters when brief, animated sequences are used to clumsily segue from one subject to the next. Additionally, its lack of substantive objectivity makes for a very lopsided experience that reveals less about Hefner and more about Berman’s shaky self-confidence as a filmmaker. We’re offered soundbites from a smattering of feminist authors about the dangers of Playboy, but the gulf between Hefner’s vision and the reality of that vision is largely ignored. This is more of an exercise in infotainment than in journalism. —Andrea Warner

Margaret Cho

My interview with Margaret Cho appears in this week's WE.

A host of Canadian indie-rock luminaries graces Margaret Cho’s first music album, Cho Dependent.

A host of Canadian indie-rock luminaries graces Margaret Cho’s first music album, Cho Dependent.

Credit: supplied

Margaret Cho’s musical career is no joke

Because ‘comedian-actress-author’ wasn’t enough of a hyphenate nightmare, Margaret Cho officially adds musician to her lengthy list of professional descriptors with her new album, Cho Dependent. This isn’t a typical comedy album, heavy on jokes and low on musicality. Instead, Dependent is a lushly produced collaboration between Cho and a variety of established indie-rock musicians, including Tegan and Sara, Fiona Apple, and Andrew Bird. Cho spoke with WE about making music, her ode to dicks, and the murder that motivated the album’s darkest song.

Looking through the list of collaborators on Cho Dependent, there’s Tegan and Sara, and I see AC Newman. I know you’re also working with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. The truth seems pretty obvious: Margaret Cho loves Canada.
I have worked with so many different Canadians, I wonder if I qualify for a Juno? (Laughs)

The fact that you even know what a Juno is means you should get one.
I love the New Pornographers. They’re, like, the greatest band, and also Broken Social Scene. I have an affection for giant Canadian supergroups. And, of course, Tegan and Sara are phenomenal.

AC Newman co-wrote “Your Dick.”
It’s so funny that a straight guy wrote the most beautiful song about a guy’s dick. And it’s very much his style — that orchestral pop — and Ben Lee produced that track.

When you’re writing a song called “Your Dick,” is there a particular inspiration?
I wrote a really long poem, and it’s not really about — we’re so hard on men all the time; I wanted to do something that was just really celebratory. And it can also apply to anyone who’s a top. It’s also for lesbians, too; anyone doing the topping... We didn’t have a recorder when we made the demo, so we recorded it on my BlackBerry in one-minute increments. We had to do, like, five of them.

The song “Intervention” really captures the bizarre impact of reality television.
What’s weird about Intervention [the reality-TV show] is that the people don’t know they’re going to be intervened, you know? They’ve agreed to be in a documentary about addiction. I mean, what other documentary about addiction...? These people must be fucked up. They have no idea what’s going on... I like it the more crazy they are: It’s not enough for people to just be drunk or smoke crack; they have to inhale some sort of weird compressed air. That kind of shit, to me, is so awesome. Going to the Office Depot to get her drugs is so crazy!

How did the process of writing music differ from writing stand-up material?
In a lot of ways it was the same. I try to sit down every day and just hammer something out. This was just more rhyming couplets and stuff.

Do you think you’re telling stories about other people in the music process, or is it still intimate for you?
It’s very intimate. All the songs are very honest in their own ways, and they’re talking about really truthful things. In the Andrew Bird song, “I’m Sorry,” I wrote that because I had something weird happen where I was in love with somebody and he ended up killing someone; he killed her and stuffed her body in the attic of their house and she had partially mummified. I was so horrified, you know — I’d been in love with him for 17 years. He never left my heart, and you idealize somebody and then they do something so hideous you can’t even believe it. I was so mortified and I didn’t really know how to process it, and I wrote the song because I just didn’t really know what else to do. And sometimes dark humour is the only way we can overcome really horrible tragedy.

What are some of the major topics at the front of your mind for your stand-up material?
Well, I’m so mad about this gay-marriage ruling in California. They overturn Prop 8 because it’s unconstitutional, and then they have a stay of gay marriage, so I want to talk about that. It’s also a lot about my family history and coming from a family of immigrants and my relationship with my grandparents — all stuff I haven’t talked about very much, like Asian-American identity. And, lots of dick jokes. (Laughs)

Margaret Cho performs Saturday, Aug. 28, at Queen Elizabeth Theatre (Hamilton & W. Georgia), 7pm. $35.50-$49.50 from Ticketmaster.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Expendables' Dolph Lundgren

I spoke with Dolph Lundgren for WE. Apparently afterward he said I seemed cool. And then I almost shat myself.

Dolph Lundgren stages a comeback in old friend Sylvester Stallone’s action flick, The Expendables.

Dolph Lundgren stages a comeback in old friend Sylvester Stallone’s action flick, The Expendables.

Credit: Supplied

Dolph Lundgren still has fight left in him

Dolph Lundgren’s publicist calls to let WE know his client is terribly sorry for running late: For the first time in almost two decades, the actor is a hot commodity, and everyone wants a piece of him.

Best known for his 1985 turn as Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who took on Sylvester Stallone’s American underdog at the height of the Cold War in Rocky IV, the all-but-forgotten brawny blond is back in the limelight with an upcoming guest role on TV’s spy series Chuck and shares top-tier billing in The Expendables (opening Aug. 13).

Written, directed by, and starring Stallone, the balls-out, testosterone-fueled flick features action heavyweights from the past three decades (plus cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis), countless explosions, and some of the bloodiest, most bad-ass brawls and stunts ever choreographed on celluloid. For Lundgren, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime career resuscitation. “I’ve not been in a big movie for 15 years, so... the audience is like, ‘Oh, there’s the Swedish guy — thought he was dead,’” Lundgren jokes.

Over the course of the conversation, the hulking 52-year-old proves witty, humble, and soft-spoken. It’s a marked contrast from his character, Gunner Jensen, the loose-cannon member of a gang of honourable mercenaries who call themselves the Expendables, a damaged collection of men scarred emotionally and physically by the carnage of their work. Lundgren culled from his own personal experience in the Swedish military to help bring authenticity to his role. “There’s a certain discipline, inner-strength, and perseverance that comes both from martial arts and from being a soldier,” he says. “It’s all about being a warrior, about putting your life on the line for something you believe in. Or, at least something you’re told you’re supposed to believe in, and to do it without fear, or to overcome your fear. Stallone knows a lot about that; overcoming fear is his whole life.”

Lundgren has plenty of admiration for his mentor and boss, calling The Expendables a welcome return to “square one.” But a 25-year friendship with Stallone didn’t spare him from the writer-director’s artistic temperament on the set. “Being directed by a friend is both good and bad,” he says. “If it doesn’t turn out after a few takes, he might blow his cool and start yelling at you. Like, ‘C’mon! You gotta get this right. I wrote this for you. We gotta move on.’ That’s what happened in one scene we did.”

A few bruises to the ego are nothing compared to the long tally of physical injuries incurred while filming. Lundgren admits the battle scars can be partly attributed to the macho posturing between the aging athletes, though he escaped relatively unscathed, having undergone only one surgery (on his elbow) during training. “I got clipped by Jet [Li] in the face a few times, but that didn’t hurt too much, and my face is one of my least vulnerable parts,” Lundgren says, laughing. “Stallone got his neck broken, and hurt his hand really bad, and I think he had surgery on his shoulder, and another surgery as well. The guy’s over 10 years older than me and did twice as much action as I did in the movie, and he was directing on top of it, so no wonder he got hurt. It’s amazing he pulled it off.”

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

My review of Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Michael Cera kicks ass for the girl he loves in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Michael Cera kicks ass for the girl he loves in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Credit: Supplied


Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Edgar Wright

Fans of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s six-part graphic-novel series, Scott Pilgrim, have been nervously anticipating its film adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, for over three years. Reasonably enough, there were some legitimate questions, including: How does one condense six books that rely heavily on video-game references, metaphor, and music-geek culture into a two-hour movie? The answer, it seems, was to hire director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), who brings O’Malley’s deceptively simple novels to vivid, eye-popping life.

Scott Pilgrim (a surprisingly physical Michael Cera), the titular hero, is a 22-year-old slacker bass player in a Toronto-based garage-rock band called Sex Bob-Omb. He shares a bed with his gay roommate, Wallace (Kieran Culkin), is unemployed, and has a 17-year-old girlfriend, Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), who’s still in high school.

Scott first sees his soulmate, Amazon.ca delivery girl Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), in a “dream” (it’s actually a portal in his brain) and finally asks her out after running in to her at a house party. Before they can be together, however, Scott learns he must defeat her seven evil exes, brought together by her latest ex, music executive Gideon Graves (Jason Schwartzman).

Translating the stylized “graphic” elements of the original graphic novel from the page to the screen is a daunting task, but Wright and his team provide a look that’s positively fierce. Whether it’s the remarkable cinematography (ho-hum Toronto is practically picturesque), CGI video-game homages (as exes are felled, their bodies dissolve into coins), or the frequent nods to O’Malley’s art and design, Scott Pilgrim is a visual tonic for the ADHD generation — in the best possible sense.

As a fan of the graphic novels, Wright makes some intriguing decisions about how to condense the series. The opening 20 minutes are almost entirely faithful to the first book, but, out of necessity, he moves away from O’Malley’s narrative structure without losing the story’s heart. Even those going in cold are likely to be wooed if they allow themselves to be.

Scott Pilgrim is the kind of movie that could very well define a generation, perfectly capturing that potentially lethal combination of naivete, cynicism, fear, and apathy that gets in the way of growing up.—Andrea Warner

Robin Hood at Queen Elizabeth Park

My review of ITSAZOO's wonderful Robin Hood. Go see it now, please.

Kaitlin Williams and Chris Cook star as Marion and Robin in ITSAZOO Productions’ unique take on Robin Hood, which is set in a dystopian Vancouver.

Kaitlin Williams and Chris Cook star as Marion and Robin in ITSAZOO Productions’ unique take on Robin Hood, which is set in a dystopian Vancouver.

Credit: Supplied

Newfangled ‘Robin Hood’ a biting satire

In the three years since ITSAZOO Productions first staged co-founder Sebastien Archibald’s Grimm Tales at Queen Elizabeth Park, the Olympics have come and gone, homelessness in the city has continued to spread like a cancer, and provincial arts funding has been slashed. And while this never-ending quagmire of hopelessness feels rather suffocating, it’s proved to be just the material Archibald needed to write Robin Hood, his most incisive and cathartic work to date.

Loosely arranged around the familiar premise of the original Robin Hood, which detailed the uprising of the working class against the rich, this production is set in a not-so-fictionalized Vancouver where Mayor Nottingham (Archibald), evil MLA Rich White (David Benedict Brown), and power-hungry, Taser-happy Chief Gisborne (Julie Church) plot to strip citizens of their civil liberties and pump wads of cash into landing the “International Big Deal.”

Robin Hood (Chris Cook) and his band of merry thieves steal from the rich to give to the poor, ultimately kidnapping MLA White’s daughter, the spoiled Marion (Kaitlin Williams), in the hope that her ransom will fund Robin and Little John’s (Colby Wilson) dream: a huge mansion with beds and resources for homeless people. After she’s roughed up by Chief Gisborne’s cops simply because they think she’s homeless, Marion joins Robin and the group to help defeat her father and the Mayor.

As this is a roving-theatre experience, the audience is led throughout Queen Elizabeth Park by Alan (Joel Stephanson), a minstrel-busker whose own story is heartbreakingly familiar: he has kids, loses his job and can’t find another one, which leaves him grappling with a depression that, in turn, manifests as substance dependency. It’s a dark, vicious cycle, and one that’s likely all too real.

The cast is energetic and youthful. Cook excels in his role as leading man, with a cocky charm that doesn’t detract from Robin’s believability. It’s also almost impossible to keep one’s eyes off Wilson in any of his scenes, so compelling is his line delivery and presence.

There’s plenty of bleak humour to be mined from this oft-unfortunate reality, and Archibald is fearless in turning scathing indictment into incisive satire. At times he branches into preaching territory, particularly with Marion, who’s often saddled with spelling out the obvious (i.e., poor people are no less deserving than the wealthy). What Archibald and ITSAZOO accomplish recalls their efforts with last summer’s Canterbury Tales, which also used theatre as a venue in which to call for social change. For those stymied by Vancouver’s seemingly insurmountable social ills, Robin Hood is both a breath of fresh air and a fire under your ass.

Robin Hood runs to Aug. 19 at Queen Elizabeth Park (Main at 33rd; audience meets at Bloedel Conservatory), 7pm. $13-$17 from ITSAZOO.org or 778-888-2435.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim's Musical Little Life

My cover story for August's Exclaim! features Edgar Wright, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Jason Schwartzman, and more talking about the music of Scott Pilgrim.

Scott Pilgrim's Musical Little Life
By Andrea Warner

Scott Pilgrim will knock you on your ass. His superpower? Being awesome. Thanks to Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-part graphic novel series, the 23-year-old slacker musician has become the unlikely literary hero for a new generation ― a jobless bass player in a band called Sex Bob-omb who transforms into a lover and a fighter when he falls for ninja delivery girl Ramona Flowers and learns he'll have to defeat her seven evil exes.

This month he embarks on the coveted, if rocky, path set out before him by the likes of Batman and Spider-Man when director Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World hits the big screen on August 13. A live action adaptation of all six books, filmed and set in Toronto, the movie features Brampton-born Michael Cera, the young prince of awkward comedy, in the title role, Jason Schwartzman as a big bad evil ex, and a host of high profile Canadian bands in the background.

Scott Pilgrim's ascent to the top of the pop culture pyramid is the culmination of six years of slow-building buzz. The series is perhaps the first to successfully meld all aspects of geek culture, from videogames to comic books to music, in a humorous and heartfelt way. The story also flirts with a slightly alternative reality: a Toronto with subspace travel, where defeated exes dissolve into coins the hero can collect. Think of it as the precursor to the popularity of The Big Bang Theory and a further indication of the importance of San Diego's Comic-Con: geeks have inherited the earth, they are the harbingers of cool.

What really attracted me is that the books are amazing and the central premise is really interesting," director Wright says. "It was a chance to make a comedy that was really magical and fantastical. It has a great sense of metaphor and there's this fantastic chance to be really visually interesting with it."

If the British filmmaker (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) is successful, he will have accomplished more than just making a hit out of his biggest film to date. Wright will be presenting a new blueprint for the Hollywood blockbuster: make it all about the music. "I'd done comedy and action before, but I hadn't really had a chance to do a film that indulges my passion in music as well," Wright says.

The writer-director got his wish when he was recruited to adapt Scott Pilgrim. Both the film and the books are in essence a love story set to music; the universe of O'Malley's creation was ultimately inspired by just one song: Plumtree's "Scott Pilgrim." And like all the best love stories, this one started with a mixtape.

"I made this mixtape called Scott Songs before I even started writing [the books], so I had this mood board I would go back to all the time," O'Malley says. Scott Songs became the sonic foundation for the architecture ― thematic, visual, and narrative ― of Scott Pilgrim's "precious little life." It included everything from '70s AM gold to '90s Canadian indie rock, including Plumtree, the relatively obscure and long defunct, all-girl Halifax band. (See sidebar.)

Plumtree's songs are way more complicated than they seem," O'Malley says. "They seem like harmless pop songs, but there are complicated guitar parts and the lyrics have a lot more shading. Obviously I listened to them in high school and that was a big influence on the way I view the world and the way I write."

The band also featured prominently on the first mixtape O'Malley gave Wright, and their shared penchant for playlists helped forge their initial bond. "Scott Pilgrim's" lyrics ("I've loved you for a thousand years") are a faint blueprint for the series, which follow Scott and Ramona's tumultuous relationship and the ongoing fight against her evil exes.

As their collaborative relationship deepened, Wright and O'Malley bonded further over music. According to O'Malley, songs from those initial compilations were played on set during filming, and several became the bones of the film's soundtrack, itself the last word in Scott Pilgrim mixtapes. An energetic explosion of indie rock, snarling garage punk, and Britpop, the album features a diverse group of award-winning musicians, from Beck to Broken Social Scene.

Wright wanted to stay true to O'Malley's books by filming in Toronto, though as of press time we can't confirm which local haunts made it into the movie. We can confirm that it was Canadian filmmakers and music aficionados Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar who pointed Wright towards Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning of BSS to help authenticate the film's Toronto vibe.

"Someone arranged for Edgar and I to go have dinner and we kind of went on this blind date," laughs Drew. The "date" went well, and BSS ended up working on the film's score with music supervisor Nigel Godrich (famed Radiohead producer), as well as writing the music and performing as rival punk band Crash and the Boys with actor Erik Knudsen.

"In the book there's this joke that Crash and the Boys do songs that are 0.4 seconds long and stuff," O'Malley laughs. "Kevin and Brendan, they really embraced that. Like, really ridiculous, songs that are only one note. Their longest song is, like, 50 seconds... It sounds kind of like the shitty bands I used to play in, but way better obviously."

Grammy-winner Beck wrote the music for Pilgrim's fictional band Sex Bob-omb, as well as writing and performing an original song. "When I first heard Beck was doing it, I was like, wow, that's really weird," O'Malley admits. "I was a fan of his Mutations, and his singles, like the crazy over-the-top stuff, but I didn't know the breadth of his work."

Wright was convinced that Beck was the right choice, particularly when he revealed that his inspiration for Sex Bob-omb's songs came from the first book where O'Malley had scrawled 'The Archies' across a drum riser. He ended up turning the songs around in just 72 hours.

"I think it goes back to some of his earlier, more punky garage stuff," Wright says. "The Sex Bob-omb songs are very much in that raw and rough sounding garage-bubble gum mode."

The actors portraying Sex Bob-omb also needed to know how to play, so Wright hired Sloan's Chris Murphy to run his own school of rock on set, working tightly with Cera, Alison Pill, and Mark Webber. "Michael can play guitar and he's a multi-instrumentalist, but Mark and Alison both had to learn their instruments," Wright explains. "The Canadians in the cast ― well, like, Alison was extremely dumbstruck that Chris Murphy was going to be her teacher."

According to Wright, music became such a huge part of the process that everyone kept rocking behind the scenes, thanks in part to the numerous actors who happen to lead double lives as musicians.

"Michael's a really good guitarist, and you can see he really goes for it," Wright says. "There are two scenes in the film where he's playing live and he sings the Beck 'Ramona' song himself live on guitar, and he sings the whole thing in one shot. He was completely on top of it. There was a lot of music on set. Even people not playing [in the movie], like Jason Schwartzman ― there were all these guitars around, either prop guitars or people just bringing them in, so there was a lot of music in between takes."

Schwartzman, a long time fan of Wright's work and a musician himself (The O.C. theme song "California" is by his former band Phantom Planet), plays Gideon Graves, the leader of Ramona's evil exes. He bonded with the director the same way O'Malley did: through mixtapes and play lists.

"We met in Los Angeles, and we found a lot of the same things funny and liked a lot of the same music and it just seemed like, you know, we could be friends," Schwartzman says. "My dream was to work with Edgar one day and we became friends after having that meeting, emailing each other movies to see and records to listen to and it was an exciting friendship. One day he called me and we had a Scott Pilgrim discussion. He described the movie, gave me all of the books, and he gave me the script. It was very unusual. That's not usually how ― or at least for me ― that seems like how a lot of the big stars get a movie, you know what I mean? I'm used to auditioning ― and failing ― a lot."

The sixth and final book, which came out July 20, is the first one to prominently feature Schwartzman's character. It hadn't even been written when filming began, though O'Malley provided an outline to help finalize the script. Schwartzman says he relied on music to help him flesh out the character. It's a practice he's come by honestly after a long working relationship with filmmaker Wes Anderson.

"When I first met Wes, right after I got the part in Rushmore, he gave me a cassette tape of the soundtrack to Rushmore," Schwartzman says. "We would shoot the movie with the songs actually playing on set, and I think that just kind of spoiled me or conditioned me to make music so much a part of what I do. One thing that I find really helps ― well, it's a really dumb thing, but, like you hear about Robert DeNiro gaining all this weight or Christian Bale losing all this weight ― I like to make iPod play lists for my characters. So it's not as in-depth, but I make these play lists and then I listen to that music exclusively." (For the record, Gideon's play list includes Pulp, Stereolab and Blur.)

And, also just growing up in the '80s and then the '90s, and watching really cheesy TV shows and the girl walks away so queue the song," Schwartzman laughs. "When I was in high school and a girl would leave me, I would queue the song in my own head. I've always done everything to music."

Exactly like something Scott Pilgrim might say.

Who is the real Scott Pilgrim?

Carla Gillis of folk-pop group Sister is a little floored. Her former band, Plumtree, a female power pop quartet from Halifax, broke up ten years ago, but suddenly they are the second song on a soundtrack to a movie they inadvertently inspired, sandwiched between Beck and Frank Black. "It's crazy!" Gillis laughs. "Never in our wildest dreams did we ever imagine something like that would happen." It's all thanks to their song "Scott Pilgrim," a catchy ditty with driving guitar riffs, an earnest low-budget video heavy on cheesy charm that has over 40,000 views on YouTube.

There isn't really a Scott Pilgrim," Gillis reveals. "It's just a general feeling of pining for people but feeling a bit helpless on acting on those feelings."

In fact, the song title came after the song, the result of an inside joke. "We had a friend named Scott Ingram, and someone was telling a story about him at practice," Gillis explains. "We'd also been recording with a guy named Philip Pilgrim, and whoever was telling this story about Scott mixed up the two names and said Scott Pilgrim and we thought it was the funniest thing, just trying to imagine these two guys merged as one, and we were like, okay, that'll be the name for our new song."

The real Scott Ingram, himself a former Exclaim! writer, has another "starring" role in the book series: after author Bryan Lee O'Malley met him, he named Ramona's third evil ex Todd Ingram. "I read online that he chose Todd because it's a bigger, more bad-ass version of Scott," Ingram laughs.