What starts off as friends attending an underground music festival, quickly turns into a 48-hour whirlwind of violence and mayhem in Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Dreamcatcher. As the story unfolds, the big question becomes, who is the killer? The mystery horror film stars Niki Koss (Famous in Love), Zachary Gordon (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), Travis Burns (The Christmas Listing), Blaine Kern III (Happy Death Day), Olivia Sui (Smosh), Emrhys Cooper (Mamma Mia!), Elizabeth Posey (Euphoria), Nazanin Mandi (Twenties), Lou Ferrigno Jr. (S.W.A.T.) and Adrienne Wilkinson (Star Trek: Renegades). The film was written and directed by Jacob Johnston, who is no stranger to the horror genre, he wrote episodes of CryptTV’s The Look-See and Sunny Family Cult. Also adding to the bloody good time is the original score by Alexander Taylor. Some of Taylor’s other credits include the hit documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, The Dead of Night and Hunter’s Moon. Taylor explains that he got to go back to his “garage rock roots” for the Dreamcatcher score and also got inspiration from Joe Perry’s tone in Aerosmith’s Dream On. In the below exclusive, Taylor goes in depth about the process for crafting the perfect sound for Dreamcatcher.
You have scored several horror films. How would you say your score is different for Dreamcatcher, than others you have worked on?
I actually go out of my way to score horror. It’s my favorite genre, and certainly my area of expertise. I honestly try to make all of my scores sound different, you know? When someone listens to a track from Dreamcatcher, I want them to immediately recognize it’s from Dreamcatcher. Same with Scream Queen, The Dead of Night, Arkansas, Hunter’s Moon… Each score has a totally different sonic language or palette, and that’s by design. Like, if a chef only uses the same five ingredients in every meal, after a while, it all starts to taste the same. I don’t want that.
For Dreamcatcher, I had a unique opportunity where electric guitar could be a main element in the cues. I got to go back to my “garage rock roots” and really hone a guitar tone that’s kind of becoming a signature sound. It’s fun talking about this because I didn’t realize how much it evolved from my initial idea. I initially wanted to mimic Joe Perry’s tone in Aerosmith’s Dream On. That was certainly no easy task, but after fiddling around, I go close enough. From there, I ended up drowning it in various guitar pedals until I found something I just really loved. Something unique to itself. Dreamy, dark reverb, but still had bite in the distortion.
I also got to play with a lot of synth elements. For Dreamcatcher, I bought a Korg Minilogue XD, which I was able to explore during the writing process. A company out of the UK actually sent me a couple synths to use on the score as well. Dubreq. They make a cool pocket synth called the Stylophone. They also sent me a more substantial synth called the S2. You can hear a lot of the S2 in Agent of Chaos and the Phantom cues.
Aside from being in my synth/rock comfort zone, I still had to do some homework. The entire film takes place in the world of electronic dance music, so naturally the score had to reflect some of that as well. I had a crash course in EDM from my older sister Amanda, so I was able to add little EDM flavors here and there. Jacob (director) gave me enough time and room to be indulgent with this score, so I certainly took advantage of that.
Can you talk about your collaboration with the Dreamcatcher director Jacob Johnston?
Oh yeah! Jacob is fantastic. Honestly kind of mysterious, too. I remember when we first started talking about Dreamcatcher. He sent me the screenplay in December, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to do it. Music was an integral part of the flick, so I knew I’d have a good time IF I got it.
I’d reach out every now and then, poking and prodding to see if he had anyone in mind. By summer, they were into production. From what I understand, he had spoken with some pretty big composers at that point, so I just assumed I didn’t get the gig. Then one day while they were filming, he asked me to shoot his team a demo track. I booked it to the studio, hammered one out in about 7 hours, and shot it over to his team. Then… silence. I didn’t hear back for a while. Once again, I assumed I didn’t get it.
About a week later, Jacob shoots me a text and tells me he actually played it for people on set. The actors, in particular, to get them in the right mindset for a particularly trippy scene. That’s when I safely assumed I landed it.
Working with Jacob was awesome. He really pushed me to do something different. Like I mentioned before, I don’t like using the same palette twice from film to film. Well, Jacob wanted me to use a different palette from cue to cue, which at first was really scary. It’s common for us to reuse the same basic template for multiple cues in a score; it saves a lot of time, and can further ensure that the entire score is sonically consistent. I thought starting from scratch at every cue would slow down the process, but it was honestly really liberating. I never used the same template twice in that score, and ever since, I look at a blank cue session totally different now.
There’s some new stuff in the works, so thankfully, I’ll be working with Jacob more and more.
Jacob Johnston not only directed Dreamcatcher but he also wrote it. When he was writing the film, was he already envisioning what he wanted the score to sound like? Did he come to you with ideas when you first began?
Oh yeah. We chatted about the music long before I knew I got the gig and signed any paperwork. He knew he wanted something electronic, considering the setting of Dreamcatcher. We wanted to avoid a “throwback” score, which people tend to think of when they head down the synth highway these days. He wanted something clearly contemporary, but with its own unique attitude.
Early on, he sent me a playlist he was listening to while writing the screenplay. That really helped me understand where he was wanting to go with it. Jacob knew what he wanted, but also let me discover and experiment on my own to find something truly distinctive to Dreamcatcher.
Dreamcatcher is a slasher film. With slasher films, comes a lot of jump scares. How did you approach these sequences? Do you think bigger is better?
See, horror is unique in that way because it’s the only genre where you try to mislead or trick the audience. The same can be said with character themes. You may want to throw suspicion onto someone, so you make their theme a little darker in one scene. Then in the next scene you want to shift suspicion onto someone else, so you augment their theme. It’s fun, and I really can’t think of another genre that encourages deception in the writing process. As for jump scares, it’s always fun to tweak the formula.
There’s the inciting incident, usually dressed up with a musical stinger. Then the quiet, tense mystery of “where did that noise come from?” For me, that’s where the fun happens. You can subtly ramp up to trick people into thinking it’s about to happen, and then bring it back down really quick. Like a roller coaster. Is the killer under the bed? Let’s look. Is he in the closet? Let’s take a peek. The music has to follow all of that. It’s actually the subtleties before the big drop that I find the most fun to write.
Are you going to be releasing the Dreamcatcher score?
Yes, we are! I’m very excited to say that we partnered up with Matthew Chojnacki’s 1984 Publishing to release the soundtrack for Dreamcatcher! The team over there is absolutely incredible, and it’s so great to work with them again.
I was fortunate enough to work with Matthew on our vinyl release of Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. That was my first vinyl release, and as a musician, 1984 made a dream come true. I can’t sing their praises highly enough.
You scored the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. What scene, musically, was your favorite in that film? Why?
That is honestly a tough question. I really loved that whole film, and it’s very close to my heart. But if I had to choose, it might be a tie between the Mark’s Childhood block and the final ten minutes.
The childhood section was my audition piece for the film, so it’s very special to me. The music itself is very innocent, warm, and fairly playful at times. Like, the world hasn’t beaten it down yet. Not that Mark would ever let the world beat him down, but for a narrative sense, I really wanted that idea to shine through.
The closing block always gives me goosebumps. The section with People Like Me is the section I’m most proud. It not only shows Mark’s denouement, but it also serves as a call to action. When he says “I’ll be god-damned if I let it happen to another person”…. It always gets me. And musically speaking, it’s just a very textured, layered, and emotional track. I feel like the track reflects Mark’s journey the best.
There are 30 tracks on the Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street album, so it’s safe to say the film is very music heavy. How long did it take you score this film?
That’s a funny story, actually. I started writing probably a bit too early; long before Roman and Tyler (directors) had a final cut. Scenes were changing, moving, or outright being cut, so I scored tons of versions of the documentary, which is why I have so much unused music from it lying around. To be totally clear, this was my fault. They always wanted me to wait until they were closer to a final cut, but I was just so pumped to be on that project. Plus, I just liked talking with them, so it was my excuse to get their attention. So the process started in late 2016 and went all the way until late 2019, so about 3 years or so?
It’s interesting listening back to this score because it kind of serves as a time capsule or musical diary for me. So much happened in my life in those three years, and listening to the music brings me back to a lot of those moments. Parts of my life where I had those melodies stuck in my head just rush back.
Did you always want to compose for film or was it something you discovered after hearing a specific film score when growing up?
Growing up, I just knew I wanted to entertain. I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid, a rock star when I was in high school, and a director when I was in college. Then I moved out to LA, and it showed me that I was meant to be a composer.
I majored in Motion Picture Production at Wright State University. I was determined to be a director because I loved acting and working with actors so much. At the time, budgets weren’t great, so I ended up scoring most of my thesis work. Eventually, other students heard, and since I was the only one that had any musical background, I ended up scoring about 15 short films before I even graduated. I never thought you could make a career out of it because it was so much fun, and now it’s all I do.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
My first real writing partner was a very close friend of mine named Griffin Ritze. We were in a band for years, and later scored some short films. Actually, my first three scores were written with him. He was very serious about the whole process, and I think that work ethic rubbed off on me. I caught the bug for film scoring with him. Those nights we would stay up, chugging coffee or wine, and just write. It was my favorite part of the filmmaking process. We were friends with a ton of musicians too, so we’d have them come in and lay down tacks. Like I mentioned before, it was so much fun that I couldn’t possibly imagine making a living off of it. Griffin taught me a ton about song writing, scoring, mixing, recording, and really shaped my musical taste. I’d like to work with him on another project someday.
Other artists like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse, The White Stripes, Radiohead… They were all very influential. I was always attracted to unique or broken voices. And something unpolished and raw about the music. As of late, it’s been a lot of Cigarettes After Sex, Orville Peck, and Leonard Cohen’s newer stuff.
As for film composers though, that list is also virtually endless. Jon Brion. John Carpenter. Philip Glass. Thomas Newman. Benjamin Wallfisch. Bernard Herrmann. Clint Mansell. Cliff Martinez. Shirley Walker. I could go on and on.
Does your creative process differ based on the type of film you’re scoring?
Oh absolutely. Each film finds its own voice, and that’s the fun part of the creative process. Sometimes a new instrument will become the muse for a score. Other times, I try to explore a new musical genre. Once I even built my own instrument loosely based off of Mark Korven’s Apprehension Engine. It was a big ugly thing, but it worked well enough.
There is endless ways to write music, and I’m looking forward to a life-long pursuit of finding the next scary thing.
Dreamcatcher is being released digitally March 5th.