Flickering Myth chats with James Iha about composing the score for James Franco’s Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? and more…
After being in the Smashing Pumpkins for so long how did you originally get into film/TV scoring?
I was in the Smashing Pumpkins for 12 years and actually recently did some shows with them. Then I was with a band called A Perfect Circle, and I had a recording studio in New York. I did about three indie films, and then moved to LA two or three years ago. Obviously, LA being the land of TV and film, I started hearing about shows and films being made out here, so I started pursuing it. It’s been a different way of doing and thinking about music, it’s been really cool.
What was your biggest challenge with creating the “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” score?
The music came to me pretty easily. I got a lot of good direction from James [Franco] and the people working on the production. It seemed to go really smooth and I liked the movie a lot. It was a little crazy and evil, so it made for a good time.
What genre would you like to score that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
I’ve done about four movies and a couple of TV shows. One of them was Hulu’s “Deadbeat”. I did the first season. I like all different kinds of movies and TV genres. I’m pretty open, I’m sure there are some genres that are more in my wheelhouse than others, but so far so good. Everything I’ve done I’m really happy with. It’s been great working with different directors, styles and aesthetics. It’s really rewarding music to do.
Your go to instrument is the guitar. Is the “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” score heavy with guitar?
There is one theme that’s pretty guitar driven. It’s a heavy, evil sounding tribal theme with chanting vocals that is at the opening of the movie and reoccurs in transitions that feature the vampires. There was also another theme that was more programmed and used a lot of glitchy beats, atmospheric keyboards, and ethereal vocals. This was used in the quieter scenes. The beats and vocals helped give these romantic scenes an edge. Then, there was another theme where I used violins. I used a GuitViol (a six string “violin” tuned like a guitar that is bowed) made by Jonathan Wilson for the fight and chase scenes and tried to keep it to 1-2 violins for a raw, scary sound.
Besides guitar, what is another instrument you really enjoy playing?
It really depends on what’s available. It can be anything. Obviously, with computers and plug-ins, you can play anything you want within reason. I try to use real instruments a lot for most of my projects, but can also use virtual instruments, as well. But it mainly just depends on the movie or the TV show.
Did Franco and the other producers have a distinct sound they wanted for this film or did they give you a little more creative freedom with coming up with the tone and themes?
It was a combination of both. James [Franco] had a reference for a softer side of the score that is organic, but also uses a drum machine and glitchy beats. It’s a little more romantic, but romantic with an edge. There was a theme that happened two or three times in the film where it’s kind of like a haunting quiet sound that has keyboards and some ethereal background vocals, and that was a Franco reference. Other themes, like the opening theme that was guitar driven, I did on my own.
There’s definitely a specific style you’ve created with both Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle but can you see that reflecting into what you’re putting behind TV and Film?
Those bands and my musical education are definitely part of who I am, but I don’t really write songs with those bands in mind. It’s not really a place where I start in any kind of score work. The bands I play with and my musical education is always rooted in that, but when you start scoring it doesn’t really have or isn’t easily identifiable as, “Oh, that’s very Smashing Pumpkins sounding.” It’s part of me, but I never really used that in my work in an obvious way unless it comes up in scoring.
Are there any kinds of projects you would love to see come your way?
There’s a lot of TV and film that I really like and that I am working towards. But you know, I am a fan of a lot of things like Jim Jarmusch movies and Wes Anderson movies, but it’s not like I am actively pounding down their door.
Listen to a track from the score here…
“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” premieres this Saturday, June 18 on Lifetime at 8/7c.