Emmett Malloy felt music was so integral to "180° South," the new environmental documentary he produced for his Woodshed Films imprint, that he brought singer-songwriters James Mercer (the Shins, Broken Bells) and Mason Jennings to the Patagonia region of South America to inspire them for the soundtrack -- which comes out June 22 on Malloy's Brushfire Records label.
Malloy tells Billboard.com that "music has always been a way to get our message across" in the surf documentaries he's made with his cousin, director Chris Malloy -- who also helmed "180° South" -- and others, but that "one thing we hadn't done going into this (film) was a lot of original music like you'd do for feature films, score stuff specifically for the film." As shooting commenced for "180° South" -- a recreation of the 1968 journey of clothing magnates Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) and Douglas Tompkins (North Face) -- Malloy says he "knew what the end product was going to be, and that music was going to be a big thing for us in this film. I just wanted to get on it early."
Malloy and the musicians journeyed to Patagonia for what Mercer calls "a life-changing experience, something I'll never forget" in 2007. They then convened to record the soundtrack during July 2009 in Portland, by which time Mercer had roped in Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, who wound up as the dominant creative force in the project with nine songs billed as Ugly Casanova, as well as additional contributions to the musical score.
"He just got into it and got really invested in it and ran with it and did some amazing stuff," Mercer, who performs "Doug's Theme" and a cover of Neil Young's "Journey Through the Past" for the set, says with a laugh. "He's good at creating sort of textural passes on electric guitar, and that was the thing it seemed like Emmett had in mind. So I though maybe a combination of what I would do on acoustic guitar and what Isaac would do on electric guitar would work as well. But really it became more than just a collaboration with Isaac. I was just happy to be involved."
In addition to the Brock and Mercer tracks, the "180° South" soundtrack features a song each by Jennings, Jack Johnson and Love As Laughter. Malloy, meanwhile, says there's "quite a significant amount" of additional score music in the film itself. "I would say 30 to 40 percent of what Isaac and James and the gang did is not on the soundtrack -- different reprises of songs on the record and little instrumental kind of moody, droney stuff -- just because we really had to cut it down to size and make a very tangible record," explains Malloy, who also directed the White Stripes' "Under Great White Northern Lights" documentary and is currently working on a Nick Drake tribute project. "I think we managed to make a very listenable record front to back of pretty much all original material. We're very proud of that."
"180° South," which stars Jeff Johnson, is available on DVD and Blu-ray, while the film is also making the rounds on the film festival circuit.