The two Academy Awards that A.R. Rahman won for "Slumdog Millionaire" represent a side of him that's no longer playing in Hollywood - his Indian music roots. The change started with his transcendent, hypnotic score to "127 Hours," and it continues with his soundtrack to "People Like Us," the DreamWorks film that Disney will release June 29.
"There's nothing Indian about it," Rahman says of his latest work. "It's purely American. I want to do things that take me on new journeys. It's scary."
Rahman's journey on "People Like Us" included an encounter with longtime indie rocker Liz Phair, who has quietly begun to carve out a career in film and TV scoring by working with veteran TV musicians Marc Dauer and Evan Frankfort. Last year, she scored the 12-episode Disney Family sitcom "State of Georgia" and five episodes of USA Network's "In Plain Sight," while previous credits include working on "90210" and "Swingtown."
"Emotionally, scoring and songwriting are entirely different," says Phair, who first emerged as an indie empress in the early '90s with "Exile in Guyville," a 1993 album that set the gold standard for any female alt rocker with heart-on-the sleeve instincts, soul-scarring lyrical revelations and smart melodic hooks. "When I write a song it's always saying something about me. When I'm scoring, it's about making the instruments speak," she says of her new approach. "Scoring has made me more aware of what I'm playing, especially on guitar, and I find that I'm making the guitar speak again in my [new] songs."
"People Like Us" director/screenwriter Alex Kurtzman reached out to Phair while he was writing the movie and said he'd been listening to "Guyville" and Phair's other '90s albums to shape the female lead character of Frankie. "He asked if I would want to be a part of [the film], and I said 'yes,'" she says. "Then I didn't hear from him for a year."
Phair saw the first cut and was emotionally overwhelmed by the character played by Chris Pine, who is charged with delivering $150,000 of his deceased father's fortune to a half-sister, Frankie, he has never met. A few months after the screening, Kurtzman called again to say Rahman was doing the score and asked if she would come to a session.
"We wanted her voice to be the voice of Frankie, Elizabeth Banks' character," Rahman says. "Each character is classic and beautiful in their own way, so the score had to symbolize that. I had to make sure the score was not very big - it had to be intimate and very American in its structure. It was a completely new experience for me."
After contributing wordless vocals, Phair returned home to start working on the song that would close the film, "Dotted Line," in "a highly emotional state." The Phair-Rahman composition was recorded a few days later. Lakeshore Records released the soundtrack on June 19.
While looking for more scoring work, Phair is also writing songs for a new solo album that she hopes will return her to the guitar-driven rock of her earlier years.
"I want to make a true rock record, something Ryan Adams-y or Jack White-ish," she says. "I'd like to cut down on the glut and really focus on songs that are important. It's easy to write a song that's clever. It's hard to write one that matters."
NOTES: Two-time Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla has signed with Sony Masterworks. First up will be an album from his band Bajofondo, followed by a solo album next year. He most recently scored the film version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" . . . Music supervisors will be eligible to receive Grammy Awards in the category of best compilation soundtrack album beginning with next year's awards. Music supervisors will need to meet a threshold of requirements as defined by the Guild of Music Supervisors and determined by the Music for Visual Media Screening Committee . . . Milan Records' concert series at Largo in Los Angeles - most recently for the music of "Dexter" - will continue in mid-August with Nick Urata of Devotchka performing music from "Ruby Sparks" . . . The premiere of NBC's "The Voice," moving to fall from the spring in its third season, has been set for Sept. 10.••••