“Scrapple” features what I think is one of the greatest soundtracks ever produced. In their directorial debut, brothers Chris and Geoff Hanson scored a major break when they landed veteran blues legend Taj Mahal, who produced the soundtrack, rerecorded versions of his favorite songs and added some originals. The soundtrack is really the underlying narrative of the movie and also features JJ Cale, John Martyn, Cymande and Widespread Panic.
“Scrapple” follows a summer in the life of ski bums in the fictional town of Ajax, Colorado in the late ’70’s. Geoff Hanson stars as the low-level drug dealer Al Dean. Another star was a pig called Scrapple, named after the pork delicacy, which led The New York Times to coin the film “Babe on Acid.” Geoff and Chris also directed and produced “The Earth Will Swallow You”, which documents the summer 2000 tour of Widespread Panic.
R&G: Congratulations on the ten-year anniversary of “Scrapple.” How much do you think the soundtrack contributed to the longevity of the film?
Geoff: We hear all the time from people it’s the best soundtrack they’ve ever heard. I think the movie kind of circulates as much as a CD, and I think a lot of people come to the movie for the music. We’re just happy that people still watch it ten years later.
R&G: Keller Williams recently recorded a song called “Nepalese Temple Balls” based on a scene from the movie. How did that come about?
Geoff: The lyrics from the song are pulled from the movie pretty much verbatim. It’s the scene in the movie where Al Dean, the character I play, tells his friends about this drug, this thing that he’s got coming in. It starts off, “If you like this stuff, you’re not going to believe what I got coming in”. They are these Nepalese Temple Balls, these crazy things from the shadows of Mount Everest made by monks.
In 2007, I was DJ’ing at a radio station in Wilmington called 106.7. The Penguin and Keller Williams came into my studio and played some songs. I knew Keller would like “Scrapple.” He loved the Grateful Dead, and he’s kind of a hippie at heart. That’s what our movie’s about, and those are our fans, so I gave Keller a copy of the DVD; we were always trying to turn musicians on to our movie. About ten days later I got a call from his manager, and he said Keller really loves the movie.
In May of 2008 his manager emailed me a MP3 file that said “Nepalese Temple Balls.” I was surprised and touched that Keller liked our movie enough to write a song using our lines as lyrics. I’m actually getting a writing credit on the record, which is cool for me because now I get to say I’m a songwriter.
R&G: Any royalties involved?
Geoff: Who knows? I’ll tell you in a year. Maybe I’ll get a check for $80 bucks or something [Laughs].
R&G: [Laughs] You and your brother Chris were first-time independent directors, producers, writers and actors. How did you get Taj Mahal on board to score the movie?
Geoff: I was living in Telluride, Colorado and I was writing a music column for the newspaper Sound Advice. In 1991 they announced that Bill Graham was going to do the Midsummer Music Festival, and that’s what really made me decide to stay in Telluride. The paper asked me to be the editor of the magazine that we were going to do for the Festival. I was just a 22-year-old kid. The artists on the line-up were Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, Jackson Brown and Taj Mahal.
The first time I ever met Taj was backstage at the Festival. I was instantly blown away by the guy. I was in a room with him and four other writers, but nobody else knew anything about him. They were just going off what the press release said. I was talking to him about rerecording “Giant Step,” so he got that I was hip to what he was all about and we ended up talking for about 45 minutes. That was the beginning. I was so into him and at that point began collecting all of his music. I was an aspiring filmmaker even then and decided that, wow, wouldn’t it be cool to make a movie with Taj. I had a concert promoting business on the side, and in 1992 I got Taj to come to Telluride and play. I got to know him even better and also got to know his manager at the time, Carey Williams. I asked Carey if I make a movie would Taj do the music for it, and he said, “Sure, if you ever get it done, we’ll do the music.”
R&G: When did you finish writing the script?
Geoff: We finished it in ’95. Afterwards, Chris and I went to work at the Sundance Film Festival as volunteers because we were trying to absorb as much of the whole independent film thing as we could. We sent the first draft of the “Scrapple” script, which was at the time called “Spam,” to Carey and he gave it to Taj. It didn’t take them long to say they would do the music. The first scene of the script is a guy riding down the highway on a motorcycle with a pig in a sidecar with Taj Mahal singing “Further On Down The Road.” They thought that was cool so we were on. He was critical to the whole thing and we recorded the music with him after we shot the movie, in January of 1997; it was one of the coolest things about the whole project.
R&G: Were you intimidated working with Taj?
Geoff: I don’t think it was intimidating working with him, it was just really exciting. We had just finished our movie and we were doing the music with Taj Mahal. It was a dream come true.
R&G: Tell me something interesting that the general public doesn’t know about him?
Geoff: Well, here’s my favorite thing about Taj. When I first interviewed him in 1991, he said something that is one of the favorite things I’ve ever heard. He said that people are always so preoccupied with other people and what they do and their jobs. Taj said, “I am a job.” I just love that. He’s also a musicologist. He knows more about music than anyone I’ve ever met, and all kinds of music: polyrhythmic, Caribbean and Hawaiian. He’s just a great guy and agreed to do the music for our movie on a handshake.
Geoff: The music in the movie is the narrator. It’s either commenting directly on what’s happening or it’s hitting on a subtext of what’s going on.
R&G: Were there other movies that inspired you to use music as the narrator?
Geoff: “Fandango” used music in the same way. Quentin Tarantino uses music very dramatically, as well. “Scrapple” was right on the heels of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.” Our biggest influence was “Easy Rider.” Men’s Journal paid us a huge compliment when they called our movie “the ski bum’s Easy Rider.”
R&G: Do you have any advice for young filmmakers who are trying to score low-budget films with well-known musicians?
Geoff: The first thing would be to go after the deep cuts. Stay away from the really popular stuff because it’s too expensive. But, if you’ve got tastes that are a little bit offbeat, then go for your favorite stuff because most of these people are approachable. The thing is not to come in the front door. Try to figure out a way in the back door. We never would have been able to work with Taj Mahal if we went through the label.