The Maldives play a live soundtrack to "Riders of the Purple Sage" at the Triple Door on May 25. It's part of Seattle International Film Festival's Face the Music series.

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Back in January, during Mayor McGinn’s inauguration party at Showbox SoDo, McGinn was introducing the last band of what was a supremely diverse, Seattle-ish night of music. The Maldives, he said from center stage, a group of country-rock barnstormers based in Ballard and one of McGinn’s favorite local bands, reminded him of New Riders of the Purple Sage, a lesser-known country-rock group that emerged out of San Francisco’s psychedelic scene of the late 1960s.

This comparison provides a couple salient points:

1. The mayor of Seattle is a Deadhead (the New Riders often featured Jerry Garcia and other members of the Grateful Dead), and

2. The New Riders were named after the 1912 novel “Riders of the Purple Sage” by famed Western author Zane Grey.

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So when Seattle International Film Festival called upon the Maldives to pick a silent film to soundtrack — the fifth time SIFF has commissioned a live band/cinematic collaboration as part of their Face the Music series — it didn’t take long for band members to make up their minds.

“We knew we wanted to do a Western,” says Maldives bandleader Jason Dodson. “We’ve been listening to New Riders for years, but when McGinn mentioned them, that was the first little knock at the door.”

Then during a March tour to Austin, Texas, guitarist Tim Gadbois was reading Grey’s novel. Later, as Dodson was deliberating which silent Western the band should score, a friend suggested they try a film featuring early Western star Tom Mix. Of the few silent “Purple Sage” films made, Mix’s 1925 version was Dodson’s choice.

“Tom Mix was the original John Wayne, a huge movie star,” he says. “He’s kind of walleyed and Neanderthal, but back then he was like Colin Farrell or Johnny Depp.”

The band has long been oriented toward the cinematic: Dodson was a film-studies major and works at the U District’s Scarecrow Video, and the Maldives were recently central figures in Lynn Shelton’s Sundance-screened “$5 Cover,” a series of shorts featuring members of the Seattle music scene.

“I told the guys this is a great opportunity to show another side of what we can do,” Dodson says.

In the last two months, the band watched “Riders” more than a dozen times and practiced twice a week, honing their cues, developing an original score Dodson says is influenced by Neil Young’s dark, reverb-drenched soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 Western “Dead Man.” Theirs runs the film’s entire 56 minutes — climaxing with footage of an actual avalanche (“there’s no special effects,” Dodson says) — and closes with a reworked Maldives favorite, the only time Dodson sings.

“People say silent film is the purest form of cinema because you get to see the language being formed, the cinematic language,” he says. “You’ve gotta put yourself in 1925.”

Jonathan Zwickel: 206-464-3239 or

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