Jefferson Friedman, 34, is the Julliard-trained composer known for his alternately raucous and elegant compositions. Craig Wedren, 39, was the vocally acrobatic lead singer of seminal nineties post-punk band Shudder to Think. Their collaboration, On in Love—songs Friedman wrote for Wedren and chamber ensemble—isn’t as unlikely as it sounds. They talked about their performance, premiering Thursday at the Miller Theatre; Wedren will repeat the show Friday at (Le) Poisson Rouge.
J.F.: I grew up in Boston, but the music I liked was from D.C., and Shudder to Think was my favoritest [Laughs]. They took the immediacy and uniqueness of the D.C. scene and applied a higher-level aesthetic to it, which was appealing to someone who grew up playing Beethoven.
C.W.: It turns out [Shudder to Think] had a classical ambition to what it was doing, though everything was sort of through the back door. When I heard Jefferson’s music, there was a similar point. Here was classical music that felt dark and weird. It had blood pulsing through it.
J.F.: For On in Love, I’d send Craig music and he’d send me lyrics. Opening up my process to someone else was exciting but definitely difficult.
C.W.: It’s melodies I’d want to sing—he really got [my voice].
J.F.: I had plenty of practice, from driving around with my friends in Boston, singing Shudder to Think songs, trying to sound like Craig.
C.W.: Usually I’m the one imposing my idiosyncrasies on the rest of the band. It’s great to have Jefferson’s idiosyncrasies imposed on me, with me in mind.
J.F.: The songs are meant to depict three different aspects of love. The first is … physical love, I guess?
C.W.: It’s about fucking. I’m in a rock band. I can say that.
J.F.: I … can’t say that. The second is about a father’s love for his son—my father passed away a few years ago, and Craig became a father recently. The third song is more a spiritual love. There came a point, with the middle song, when I stopped trying to do anything but writing the most beautiful melody. Being a contemporary composer …
C.W.: You’re taught not to do that, right?
J.F.: You’re taught to mess it up or make it not as straightforward. But I realized all I needed to do with this song was to write the prettiest thing I could. There was a point in my compositional career when I lost my way a little—I felt I had to be cold, or not wear my heart on my sleeve.
C.W.: Ironically, I struggle with the same thing in rock. The overwrought, histrionic thing … like, can’t we please just cool it? Though my vocal style tends to be a little theatrical, some might say histrionic.
J.F.: I wouldn’t say histrionic. Maybe operatic.