Cameron Crowe Talks Favorite Bands, Return to 'Rolling Stone'

cameron crowe elizabethtown P
Paramount Pictures

The "We Bought a Zoo" director, who is this week's THR cover subject, remains a dedicated fan of bands on the fringe, calling today “one of the greatest times for music in decades.”

Cameron Crowe is back with We Bought a Zoo, his first movie since 2005's Elizabethtown, and with its release comes new insight into the journalist-turned-author-turned-director’s musical taste, which has always been a key component of his filmmaking.

In this week’s Hollywood Reporter cover story, writer Kim Masters reveals that, when it comes to a Crowe picture, music begins to play a role long before the first frame is filmed. For instance, to woo Matt Damon to sign on for We Bought a Zoo, Crowe burned a CD of songs that illustrate the essence of the story and its emotional arch. It included songs by Wilco, Ryan Adams, Pete Townshend, Eddie Vedder and Beth Orton (see full track listing below). “Even if it’s not music that ends up in the movie, it’s the feeling that counts,” Damon tells THR.

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Music was also a constant on set, with Crowe sometimes playing snippets of songs before a scene was shot. “It was a technique I’ve never seen before,” says Damon, who adds that it helped prepare him for emotionally charged scenes. “Music changes your mood and can bring you places that a lot of analysis and talking can’t.” 

As for the film’s soundtrack and score, Crowe recruited the reclusive Jonsi of Sigur Ros to create a 52- minute soundscape that the director describes as “a complete musical journey, meant to be listened to from beginning to end.” Crowe also contributed lyrics to the movie’s end-title track, called “Gathering Stories.”

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And he has another somewhat unexpected writing project lined up: an interview with Neil Young for Rolling Stone, the magazine that gave him his first break at age 15 (famously fictionalized in the 2000 film Almost Famous), which is slated to run next year. He’s also gathering interviews he conducted with many of rock’s greatest -- “from Zeppelin to [David] Bowie to Joni Mitchell” -- for a compilation called Hamburgers for the Apocalypse

And even decades after Crowe helped invent rock journalism, he remains a fervent fan of bands on the fringe, calling today “one of the greatest times for music in decades.” In heavy rotation on his playlist: Civil Wars, Frightened Rabbit, the Belle Brigade, Dawes, Avey Tare, Sigur Ros, Radiohead and frontman Thom Yorke's solo work. 

Crowe recently directed the documentary Pearl Jam Twenty, which premiered on PBS on Oct. 21. 

Cameron Crowe's Mix for Matt Damon

1. "Save it for Later" - Pete Townshend
2. "I'm Open" (Live) - Eddie Vedder
3. "War of Man" (Live) - Neil Young
4. "Soul Boy" - The Blue Nile
5. "Mohammed's Radio" - Jackson Browne
6. "Sanganichi" - Shugo Tokumaru
7. "Airline to Heaven" - Wilco
8. "Buckets of Rain" - Bob Dylan
9. "The Heart of the Matter" (Live) - Don Henley
10. "I Will Be There When You Die" - My Morning Jacket
11. "Ain't No Sunshine" - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 
12. "Child of the Moon" - Rolling Stones
13. "If I Am a Stranger" - Ryan Adams
14. "Concrete Sky" - Beth Orton
15. "Helpess" (Live) - Neil Young
16. "Don't Be Shy" (no piano) - Cat Stevens
17. "Nerstrand Woods" - Mark Olson and the the Creekdippers