Craig Wedren has quite a résumé. He was the vocalist/guitarist for Shudder to Think; he wrote the score for School of Rock and composed the music for the Comedy Central series Stella. He's overcome Hodgkin's disease, and more recently, released his first solo record, Lapland, on Conor Oberst's record label, Team Love. Despite the eight years it's been since Shudder to Think broke up in 1998, Lapland (the name comes from the Philip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials) is Wedren's first solo release.
"I definitely wanted and needed to start making records again and make them under my own name," explained Wedren from his home in New York City. "Not an assumed name, not under Shudder to Think, not under my other band, Baby. There's something about this collection of songs which were just very warm and traditional and sort of song-y--not very conceptual. It seemed like a really solid foundation from which I could make records under my own name in the future, that could sound and feel and encompass any and many different styles of music."
Lapland shines with the same pop melodies Wedren perfected in Shudder to Think, but with a more subdued tone. It's definitely softer than early Shudder to Think, but not so far from songs like "Red House" from Shudder to Think's last real album as a band, 50,000 B.C. (Epic, 1997).
"I happened to have all of these songs, some of which I'd written for movies, which tend to veer more toward simplicity, because in a movie, you sit down in a movie theater; you hear a piece of music once, and you need to understand it. So, there were some songs from Lapland that were for movies, and there were some songs for Lapland that I had started writing toward the end of Shudder to Think when Shudder to Think was headed in a sort of mellower, warmer direction, and so there's a little bit of that in there, too, and it all just sort of came out Lapland."
Nonetheless, Wedren was nervous about the reception it would get from Shudder to Think fans.
"Even though I love the songs, I knew there were going to be a lot of Shudder to Think fans who were going to be like, 'Oh, adult contemporary wussy sellout,'" said Wedren.
But that's part of the danger of being a solo artist--there's no band to turn to for support.
"It's solely my responsibility/balls on the chopping block," said Wedren, "which is why it took so long for me to put a record out after Shudder to Think--because it's so scary. ... It took me a few years of doing things under different names, doing things for movies, and not releasing any proper albums, to muster the courage to make Lapland, and now that I did it, it's totally like, the floodgates are open; the dams have burst, and that's all I want to do."
Lapland is anything but wussy. Some songs may be quieter, but there are some full-on rockers as well, like "Love Among Ruins." "Born Curious" starts out with muted guitar chords, and then the chorus breaks into a full band and Wedren singing "oooh oooh"--this is what sheer glee sounds like. The chorus in "Night Is Over" is hypnotic, the melody echoed by a slightly buzzing guitar. Each song adheres to Wedren's high artistic standards.
"I picture this little button or little hole right in the back of your head, where your skull ends, and there's a little divot right beneath there. That's where the music and the art that I love sort of get me," said Wedren. "It's not through the front; it's through the back, and I don't get it at first, but when I do, it floods my heart cavity, my head cavity, and it inspires me to make stuff. That was where (Shudder to Think was) determined to make music from all the time."
Wedren's solo material comes from that same place. "I think that when you're an artist, you make something, and hopefully you love it at a certain point, and then you hope and trust that other people will have the same feeling about it."