Jeremy Messersmith, Grant Cutler, Ben Weaver pen songs for new project

In anticipation of their upcoming production of Unspeakable Things, a play based on the lives of eccentric St. Paul natives Donald and Howard Wandrei, the Sandbox Theatre has unveiled an online album of six songs penned by local artists just for the project.

[jump] One of the highlights of this new project is a unique collaboration between Lookbook producer-turned-solo artist Grant Cutler and singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith, an atmospheric and sort of creepy track called "Crystal Bullet."

Listen and download that track here:

Grant Cutler & Jeremy Messersmith - "Crystal Bullet" by Sandbox Theatre

Intrigued by the mysterious project, we called on Unspeakable Things curator Matthew Glover to shed some light on his new collaborative, ensemble production, which opens at the Red Eye Theater on November 5, and tell us where he got the idea to put together such a unique and locally rooted compilation album.

Gimme Noise: From what I understand, the Unspeakable Things production is based on the lives of Donald and Howard Wandrei. Where did the idea come from to create a project about these brothers?

Matthew Glover: Unspeakable Things is based on the lives of Donald and Howard, yes. Since we create our shows from scratch as an ensemble -- that is, without pre-existing scripts -- we do extensive research to find subjects we can really dig into, so that we have a basis on which to build a show. In this instance, one of our founding members, Lisa Moreira, saw an article in a TC newspaper about Donald roughly 10 years ago, and it just sparked her interest. It's been in the hamper in one way or another ever since. 

One thing we were drawn to regarding the brothers is how though "masters" of horror and fantasy themselves, they were eventually brought down by their own real-life fears. Howard in part by depression and drink, Donald by decay (he died virtual shut-in and hoarder). The concept of fear and its role in the world today - specifically letting it run your life - is also prescient as we come to another election cycle. Fear is very big in elections. Lastly, they were local. The house the lived in for nearly their entire lives still stands.

How did you decide which musicians to approach for the project?

After hatching the idea, we began as a company to compile lists of artists we had some connection with, who we were fans of, who we thought might enjoy this project. Grant is good friends with Joe Johnson, who produced and arranged most of the tracks, and Jeremy, whom we knew as a self-proclaimed nerd, was purely an e-mail solicitation. Jenna (Poor Nobodys) and Tim (Eclectic Ensemble) are Sandbox ensemble members. Bill Caperton (Ten Centuries) is a friend of Artistic Director Ryan Hill. Ben Weaver's girlfriend knows founding member Andrew Schiff. James Rone (Robinson Caruso Organization) is a personal friend of mine. Initially we had maybe 30-35 bands on this list, it just happened that the first eight we asked all said yes. (One band did not complete the project.)

After we had the bands, we had other musicians asking to be a part of it. We would havoved that, but our production budget just didn't allow it.

Ben Weaver - "Coldest Winter 1944" by Sandbox Theatre

Will the musicians be part of the performance itself?

No they won't. The way it was designed, and the way it fits into our method of show creation, is that these songs will be used in the same way Howard's poems or Donald's short stories would be; as creative catalysts. We're already using the songs in our workshops, and they are inspiring movement and tempo and shape. Using these songs as creative building blocks allows them to be more than just a soundtrack, but an actual integral part of the creative process.

Were there any specific guidelines given to the musicians before they wrote the songs?

Each of the artists were given a packet of materials to use as inspiration in some way; two short stories from Donald Wandrei, and some poems and illustrations by Howard. They were instructed only to let these materials inspire them. We wanted their work to be from their own mind's eyes, original to the last. It's cyclical (and nerdy, I know). They created these songs through inspiration from specific source materials, and we will then, in part, take inspiration from these songs to create a show about the men who provided those original source materials. It's pretty trippy, but it's collaboration in the truest sense. Nothing is left out.

Will the album be released physically?

No. I suppose "online album" would be more appropriate. We're a non-profit theater company, and we really just wanted to share with everyone the generosity of these artists. It's within our mission to collaborate and foster all of our artists' advancement; so putting it online seemed the best, and least expensive option. There were expenses for the recording, but each of the artists donated their time and songwriting for this. It's terribly cool of them.

Another part of our use of the songs is, once the show's run is over, they become the sole property of the artists to do with as they please. We wanted the artists to have whatever chance there might be at a monetary payoff, so some of these may end up on physical albums/CDs at a later date.

Track listing for Unspeakable Things: The Album:

Ben Weaver, "Coldest Winter 1944"

The Eclectic Ensemble, "Subconscience"

Grant Cutler & Jeremy Messersmith, "Crystal Bullet"

The Poor Nobodys, "Ether Eaters"

The Robinson Caruso Organization, "Baby Won't You"

Ten Centuries, "Crystal Bullet"

Stream, download, and share the whole album on the Sandbox Theatre site.

UNSPEAKABLE THINGS opens at the Red Eye Theater on November 5 and runs through November 20. Tickets go on sale Monday.