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For one Pittsburgh-area band, the 'Promised Land' came to them

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Members of the band Slant6 enjoyed rubbing elbows with actors and performing in the movie 'Promised Land.' Shown outside Steve Craven's Bethel Township home and music studio are, from left, Justin Cook, Gene Williams, actor John Krasinski, Steve Craven, Matt Ferrante, former band member Bruce Craven and movie director Gus Van Sant. Submitted

When Matt Ferrante told his Slant6 bandmate Steve Craven that some “movie people” wanted to talk to him about recording a few songs for a film, Craven didn't think much of it.

“I thought it was some B movie or a college thing,” Craven says.

He set up a meeting in April at his house in Bethel Township, where he has a full recording studio, and looked out the window when the “movie people” arrived. He was surprised to see “Promised Land” director Gus Van Sant, who has directed films such as “Milk,” the 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho” and “Good Will Hunting,” among 30 other titles.

The director was not alone on Craven's doorstep. He was with “The Office” television star John Krasinski, who acts in and co-wrote the film, and the “Promised Land” sound-engineering crew.

“They came in, looked around, and were blown away that I have a full-blown recording studio,” Craven says.

From there, the relationship between the band and the Hollywood crew only grew.

The four-man band, which recorded three songs for the film and appears in a pivotal scene, consists of Craven, a bass player from Bethel Township; Ferrante, a drummer from Avonmore; Gene Williams, a guitarist from Apollo; and Justin Cook, the main vocalist and guitarist, also of Apollo.

To round out the sound that Van Sant and Krasinski were looking for, Craven's girlfriend, Jennifer Heymers; sang the female vocals in the songs they recorded.

Slant6 recorded Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark,” Bill Monroe Jr.'s “I Saw the Light,” and Miranda Lambert's “Hell on Heels.”

“We stuck to the original but put our own twist on it,” Craven says. “Whatever they needed to be done, we could do. Gene (Williams) played keyboards on ‘Dancing in the Dark,' and he doesn't even play keyboards.”

The band worked with the film director and crew pretty regularly until about June. Part of that work consisted of them appearing in a bar scene with Krasinski and actress Frances McDormand. In the film, the bar is hosting an open-mic night, and the band is onstage, ready to play any song someone wants to sing.

In November, Craven got a call asking him to send some audio mixing he had done for the film.

Overall, the experience has been amazing, he says. He'd love to see his modern rock and pop band — which has opened for national acts like Bret Michaels, the Jackals and Days of New — doing more film work.

“The money's good,” he says with a laugh. “And it's a pretty neat experience overall. We were dealing with Hollywood — Van Sant, Matt Damon, Krasinski — they're really down-to-earth.”

Craven lists a few experiences that stood out to him as somewhat surreal. The band had lunch with Damon the day they spent on the set, and got to play at the film's wrap party. Krasinski came to Craven's home studio to practice singing the Springsteen song and was oddly uncomfortable performing.

“He's been in all these movies, and he's actually scared to sing a song,” Craven says, laughing. “You could see him sweating.”

Craven teased Krasinski about it, and the actor replied that he had never sung a song in his life. Craven offered him a beer “to mellow out” and advised him to just go for it with the song.

“He got into it, and didn't do bad at all,” Craven says. “Our drummer kept him in time, and then after that, he got it after the second or third time.”

Thursday night, the band attended a private viewing of the film in Pittsburgh.

“It's all been a really cool experience,” Craven says. “They've gone out of their way to make us feel that we're really part of something special.”

Tamara Girardi is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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