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The Hottest State Soundtrack: A Showcase for Jesse Harris

Hottest State Soundtrack CD cover art


Jesse Harris’ Big Score

Willie Nelson, Feist, Cat Power, Bright Eyes And Others Cover Harris’ Songs For ‘The Hottest State’ Soundtrack

With the soundtrack to the feature film The Hottest State (coming Aug. 7 on Hickory Records), Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Jesse Harris and the movie’s writer, director and supporting cast member Ethan Hawke have done something completely different — and quite possibly unprecedented. They’ve chosen the music exclusively from the songbook of one writer — that would be Harris — matching up the selections with a diverse lineup of renowned performers including Willie Nelson, Feist, Bright Eyes, Emmylou Harris, The Black Keys, M. Ward, Norah Jones, Brad Mehldau and Cat Power. All are at the tops of their games on this scintillating soundtrack, which doubles as a captivating showcase for Harris’ songs.

Harris describes the experience of working with each of these artists below:

1. “Ya No Te Veria Mas” (Never See You), Rocha
Rocha sings the song accompanied only by Harris on acoustic guitar. “It was Ethan’s idea to have Rocha translate the song into Spanish,” says Jesse. “When the film starts, Sarah’s singing her new song in Spanish with William (the main character) in the room but she’s singing, ‘I’m never gonna see you again,’ and giving off a sense of foreboding that most of the audience won’t even be aware of at that point.”

2. “Always Seem to Get Things Wrong,” Willie Nelson
Norah Jones is on piano and Tony Scherr plays rhythm guitar behind Nelson’s lead part on this track, produced by Harris and recorded in New York. “That song was a no-brainer for Willie Nelson. He showed up with his guitar and long-time harmonica accompanist Mickey Raphael, and we did three live takes with everybody in the room together–no overdubs–and the one that’s on the record is the third take.”

3. “Somewhere Down the Road,” Feist
Recorded in Paris by the artist and her band. “When I opened for Feist in Europe, I sang ‘Somewhere Down the Road’ every night. She loved it and asked me to teach it to her–she wanted to cover it. So when this project started, there was never any question what song she was going to record.”

4. “Big Old House,” Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst recorded the track in New York with his band and longtime studio collaborator Mike Mogis, who engineered and mixed as well as playing pedal steel. “I’ve been friends with Conor for a number of years; he was a big fan of ‘Big Old House’ and the album it came from, Without You. When we started this project, I picked another song for him, and he said, ‘Well, I’d really like to do ‘Big Old House,”‘ which I thought was great. They tracked it in New York, but when I asked if I could come to the session, they said no,” Harris recalls with a laugh. “They wanted to surprise me.”

5. “The Speed of Sound,” Emmylou Harris
The renowned song interpreter cut the track in Nashville with her original producer, and former husband, Brian Ahern, who also played what he called “earthwood” bass. “Ethan picked the song for Emmylou, and it was a good call.”

6. “It Will Stay With Us,” Jesse Harris
This newly written song is the first of three tracks recorded specifically for the soundtrack by its author. “Later in the process, Ethan decided he wanted me to do a solo acoustic song for the end credits, so I came up with this tune.”

7. “If You Ever Slip,” The Black Keys
“We picked a bluesy tune for them, which they took and just turned upside down. We were really shocked when we first heard it, but then it grew on us so much. It’s used in this scene where the character’s really amped up and angst-ridden over the girl, marching down the street in Williamsburg, and it’s a perfect fit.”

8. “Crooked Lines,” M. Ward
On this Ward-produced track, which evokes Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys album, Jones plays piano and sings background vocals, with her musical and life partner Lee Alexander on upright bass and lap steel. “Ethan had never heard M. Ward before, and as soon as he heard him sing, he said, ‘He should do “Crooked Lines,”‘ and I completely agreed with him.”

9. “World of Trouble,” Norah Jones
This song was one of the Harris-written tunes Jones picked for her debut album, Come Away With Me, including the Grammy-winning “Don’t Know Why,” but she decided not to record it after realizing, according to Harris, that “she was too young to sing it. But this time she felt like she was old enough to put it across, so she decided to do it for the soundtrack.”

10. “Never See You,” Brad Mehldau
Mehldau plays solo piano on this instrumental version of the movie’s key song. “Ethan thought it would be really cool to do a jazz version of one of the tunes. Brad cut it in New York, but he wouldn’t let me come to the studio either, at least until after he had already recorded it and was listening back to the various takes of the song in 3 different keys. He told me, ‘Please don’t come until after–it’ll make me self-conscious.'”

11. “It’s Alright to Fail,” Cat Power
Harris produced the track, as well as accompanying the artist on guitar and banjo. “Again, that pairing was Ethan’s idea. It was quite an ordeal just getting in touch with her; she’s a woman without an email address, she doesn’t answer the phone, she doesn’t have a manager and she only text-messages. I only talked to her once before going to Miami to record the track. We did it live in the studio, sitting across from each other, and then I added some banjo and she sang some backing vocals–that was it. She was really fast in the studio, and really great.”

12. “One Day the Dam Will Break,” Jesse Harris
A more elaborate version of a song Harris recorded for his album While The Music Lasts featuring the instrumentation Hawke had chosen for the band in the film–upright bass and piano, drums and acoustic. “Ethan picked that one for a scene in the movie that he felt needed a medium-tempo rock song.”

13. “You, the Queen,” Tony Scherr
A solo performance with vocal and acoustic guitar from Harris’ cohort. “Tony was there at Stratosphere Sound on the day we recorded the Norah and Willie tracks because he played on both of them. He was out in the studio, singing to warm up; Ethan heard him and asked if he knew any of my tunes. He said yes and started singing ‘You, the Queen.’ We recorded it right then–and it just works beautifully in the film.”

14. “Morning in a Strange City” (score)
This score piece is given its earthy Latin texture by accordion, marimba and trumpet. “That melody is a theme that runs through the entire sequence of the film that takes place in Mexico. We did five different versions of the melody, and this is the mellow version where they’re having dinner in a restaurant, drinking tequila, and then the trumpet comes in when they go to the bathroom together.”

15. “No More,” Rocha
“In the last scene, William goes back to see Sarah perform, and she sings this song. Ethan thought it would be perfect for that scene because it has such a looking-back lyric.”

16. “Dear Dorothy,” Jesse Harris
“That song was an outtake from my While the Music Lasts album. We re-recorded it because Ethan wanted an upbeat shuffle for a particular scene.”

17. “Never See You,” Rocha
The English-language version of the film’s central song. “The lyric is somewhat abstract, but the movie has so much longing and loss in it, and the song is saying, ‘We’re having this close moment, but that’s it–it’s fleeting.’ Ethan thought the song really matched the tone of the film.”

18. “There Are No Second Chances” (score)
This cue features Harris and Scherr’s guitars–along with the clearly audible sound of Scherr breathing, a la James Gandolfini in The Sopranos. “Tony had terrible asthma that day–he sounded like a dying dog!–but it adds a real texture to the track. It’s only two guitars, but it’s probably the noisiest recording I’ve ever made.”

The Hottest State will be released August 7th on Hickory Records, an imprint of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The Hottest State soundtrack follows the debut album from American Idol finalist Elliott Yamin, released on Hickory earlier this year.