Between 1964 and 1966, Andy Warhol created nearly 500 “screen tests” — short, silent, filmed portraits of the famous and unknown personalities who made their way through the Factory. In 2008, the Andy Warhol Museum and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust commissioned the dreamy folk-rock duo of Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (former members of indie-pop band Luna) to provide music for 13 of these silent clips and perform the songs as part of a live, multimedia presentation of the shorts.
Wareham and Phillips viewed hundreds of the screen tests in the museum’s archives and chose 13 subjects, including Lou Reed, Nico, Edie Sedgwick and Dennis Hopper. Sponsored by the museum, the project has toured since September 2008 and released a DVD last year, but now Dean & Britta are responding to demand for the music itself. A double-CD package, “13 Most Beautiful Songs… ,” including a second disc of remixes and a 12-page booklet of essays by Wareham, will be available July 27 from the duo’s own label Double Feature Records in a limited run of 3,000.
Wareham says that creating the songs presented a new kind of challenge, as each was beholden to the parameters of the shorts.
“It was kind of like scoring a film in that you’re subservient to the picture,” he says, “but in a way it was more like making a music video backward, because of the length — each film was four minutes, 16 seconds. We also had to be very mindful that we were creating these soundtracks to perform live, and that was tricky. There are a couple of songs I have to run a stopwatch on.” Wareham also says that he and Phillips played the films on their computers while recording each song for the album.
The album comprises brand-new, unused or unfinished Dean & Britta songs, plus two covers — Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and the Velvet Underground’s “Not a Young Man Anymore.” Dean & Britta released their 2007 album “Back Numbers” on Rounder, but “they didn’t really want this, because it was a soundtrack, and traditionally they’re harder to sell,” Wareham says. “They said, ‘We’ll do your next “real” album.’ ” Double Feature has distribution through Red Eye and has released music from other acts including My Robot Friend, as well as Dean & Britta reissues.
Physical distribution will focus in part on museum stores, as most performances of the multimedia show are booked in museums or affiliated venues. Wareham says they’re considering issuing single-disc versions of the album beyond the run of 3,000 deluxe editions, as preorders have been high — fans who purchase the album on the duo’s website receive a free poster designed by graphic designer/illustrator Frank Olinsky. Tracks will also be available from digital outlets including iTunes, and Wareham says a promotion will target about 70 triple A and college radio stations.
Dean & Britta will continue the Warhol tour into 2011, playing venues and museums across the United States and Europe. Interspersed with these dates, Wareham will make stops with members of the Dean & Britta band to play the songs of Galaxie 500, his former Cambridge, Mass.-based dream-pop band that broke up in 1991.
Wareham says that in addition to the honor of being selected for the project, “13 Most Beautiful Songs…” has provided performance opportunities that few pop musicians will ever experience.
“I never in my life would have thought I’d play at the Sydney Opera House or a 16th-century church in Paris,” he says. “I was kind of shocked they let us in…but apparently someone liked that Warhol was a Catholic.”