How 'Juliet, Naked' Creators Made a Classic Soundtrack for a Fake Rock Star

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Alex Bailey/Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions
From left: Hawke, Byrne and O’Dowd in Juliet, Naked.

When Jesse Peretz set out to direct the big-screen adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 2009 novel, Juliet, Naked, he faced a unique challenge: How do you create music for a cult classic album by an artist who doesn't exist?

“You have to have something that [understandably] makes the music alienating to some people,” says Peretz, 50, a former music video director who pivoted to film. Juliet, Naked, a comedy-drama that debuted at Sundance in January and will open on Aug. 17, follows Annie (Rose Byrne), an English woman stuck in a relationship with Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), a professor whose spare time is spent obsessing over Juliet -- the singular album from reclusive singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). When Duncan receives a stripped-down demo version titled Juliet, Naked, Annie posts a negative review on Duncan’s message board, and it throws the couple into disarray and brings Crowe into their lives.

To craft the songs on Juliet, of which Peretz estimates “five or six” short vignettes are played throughout the film, he turned to collaborator Nathan Larson, 47, who wrote music for Velvet Goldmine (1998) and worked with him on Our Idiot Brother (2011). Over nearly three years, they drafted originals and solicited demos from roughly 35 artists including Conor Oberst, Robyn Hitchcock and Ryan Adams, some of which appear on the movie’s soundtrack. Larson drew inspiration from Big Star’s polarizing 1978 set, Third/Sister Lovers, and friend Jeff Buckley, channeling the mythology around each for songs on the Juliet LP.

“You’re trying to portray that this person is a genius, and you need to understand why,” says Larson. “To do that convincingly, you get about 10 seconds of a song. You really have to consolidate it and hit people with something great.”

To Peretz, inventing a faux legendary project isn't about capturing artistic intent so much as fandom itself: “It’s about the small group of people who love that record,” he says, “who keep it alive and relevant, teaching and bringing it to new generations of people. That’s all it is.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 11 issue of Billboard.