Quantcast ICONS Interview with composer Joseph Bishara - REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, THE GRAVEDANCERS, THE CONVENT, THE OCEAN

Composer
Joseph Bishara!

A horror movie without effective music is like sex without an orgasm. Enter Joseph Bishara, composer for AUTOPSY, THE GRAVEDANCERS, THE CONVENT and music producer on Darren Lynn Bousman's REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA & the upcoming NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. It takes talent & a refined sense of how music works to put together a unique score combining elements ranging from punk to industrial to classical. Joe understands these all, which lends to the unique aesthetic evident in his work. We chatted with him about the creative process, as well as all of the projects mentioned above. Read on for the FRIGHT exclusive interview! - By Robg., Mike C. - 1/09


Robg.: What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What’s the earliest thing that scared you as a kid or introduced you to the genre?

One of the first movies I really remember getting into early was being drawn to the images from was THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN. I remember seeing the, I don’t remember the name of the magazine but it was a little half sized magazine with a full FX spread on Rick Baker and all the stages of melt. I remember it was a little digest thing but the middle was a centerfold of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN and that was one of the first things. That and not too long after that DAWN OF THE DEAD, watching that out of the back of my parents’ car at the drive in. Whatever movie they were watching, I was watching it out of the back window.
Mike C.: That’s what happened with me! My parents took me to see BACK TO THE FUTURE at the drive-in and I ended up watching DAY OF THE DEAD on the screen behind us out the back window!

(Laughs)

Mike C.: I watched DAY OF THE DEAD with a score by Huey Lewis! (Laughs)

Robg.: So, it was the same experience for you, but with DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Yeah! Just seeing the scene when the bikers are getting ripped apart and their guts get pulled out. It just blew my little mind.


Robg.: And then after that did you become an avid movie fan or a horror fan in general?

As far back as I can remember watching movies, I’ve always remembered it always being horror movies. It’s always held my interest from early on, that pretty much still remains to this day, it captures my attention more than any other genre.

Robg.: Did you think you were eventually going to follow a path in films? I assume you started as a musician playing in bands….so what was the beginning for you in terms of working in film?

Well, I always wanted to score films. That was eventually what I wanted to do. I got really into the old “Tangerine Dream” scores and stuff. When I was a kid I’d go to Radio Shack and twiddle around at this moog synth they used to have. I’d put on the headphones and stand around at Radio Shack at the mall. Yeah, I figured whenever the time came I’d go that way. I started playing in a band, played in a band for a while. When the film opportunities came…I mean, entering into film was scoring the trailer for STRANGE DAYS, because I was working with a band called PRONG that was doing a song for the soundtrack and then the music supervisor asked me to score the trailer, so that was the first entry into film so from there I ended up doing more trailers. Trailers still continue to this day, I get a lot of music that ends up in movie trailers.
Robg.: When you were doing the band stuff, did scores and that kind of music influence what you were doing with your band? You mentioned “Tangerine Dream” before. What were some of the other composers or scores from films that influenced you?

I’ve always been a big GOBLIN fan, just from growing up watching all that Italian stuff, all that really seeped into my consciousness. Some of the John Corigliano music from ALTERED STATES I remember really stood out. All the old Howard Shore/David Cronenberg stuff, all that was always real key for me. VIDEODROME, SCANNERS…

Robg.: When you started doing this you did mainly trailers, which you still do now, and trailers are the most important aspect of selling a film because music is so key to making a trailer work. Can you talk a little bit about some of the early trailers you worked on? Any stood out as your favorites or as some of the coolest you got to work on?

Most of the way trailer music is put together is their mostly just edit jobs, mostly the editors who are editing the trailers…sometimes I’ll hear…There’s this one guy in particular named Bill Neil who seems to do almost every major horror trailer that comes out, FREDDY VS JASON, THE STRANGERS, all the Platinum Dunes stuff, the TEXAS CHAINSAW remakes, GRUDGE 2 are some of his credits. Sometimes he’ll use five or ten of my cues and sometimes I’ll have to really ask, “What did you do?” Sometimes I can’t even tell what the hell he used. Editors really just chop up stuff because there are so many little pieces they have to address and the amount of scrutiny that goes into trailer is just mind-boggling, the stuff they go through. I see it all the time, it’s crazy.


Robg.: What were some of your favorites or the coolest things you got to work on when you started doing trailers?

I’m still really happy with that original STRANGE DAYS trailer, that was just kind of a give it a try back then, not sure what it was supposed to be, but that was pretty fun. I liked the way the FREDDY VS JASON trailer came out, happy with that one. I liked THE STRANGERS.

Robg.: I think that trailer fucking sold that movie!

He also did the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake trailer, I really liked that one quite a bit, with that final shot of the zombie pressing against the white screen at the end, I thought that was pretty neat. Let’s see, SILENT HILL, QUARANTINE and MIRRORS. There’s a handful of editors that I’ve been working with for a long time so they just kind of. I mean really, that’s how I get on board and spend time working on, I just focus on doing projects I want to do and I have an outlet. That’s how I balance the projects that have budgets with the projects that don’t.

Robg.: Yeah, you have free reign to pick what you want to do creatively because if they use your stuff in the trailers so often...

Exactly, and I’m very fortunate to have it work out that way because so many horror movies don’t have much of a music budget. But if get a low budget to do a horror movie you’re almost not even really expected to use any, or very minimal live players. When I get a small budget I can just put it all in the score. Get as many players as I need and not worry about having to live on the budget that will barely get anything done, so just deal with it later.
Robg.: You wrote a song for MORTAL KOMBAT, no? Or you wrote a piece for it?

Yeah, I had a song in that.

Robg.: For people that don’t know, what’s the difference between being a composer and a music supervisor on films?

Generally the difference is a music supervisor is responsible for songs, if there’s song slots, finding potential songs and then seeing that through to clean the license or eventually use it. I’m actually going to be music supervise NIGHT OF THE DEMONS for Adam Gierasch so that’ll have a lot of old punk and death rock and stuff. So, that’s going to be fun.
Robg.: You worked with Mike Mendez on THE CONVENT and THE GRAVEDANCERS composing for those films. Can you talk about your relationship with Mike? Did you know him before THE CONVENT?

No, we met on THE CONVENT. We met through Screaming Mad George. He’s an FX guy, this crazy Japanese dude who did a lot of old Brian Yuzna stuff like BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, it’s just this crazy, surreal stuff. He had a band also and I’ve known George, and Mike knows George also so he connected us through that. Mike was working on THE CONVENT, looking for somebody and he kind of just put us together and we hit it off right off the bat, became friends right away and have been working together pretty much ever since.
Robg.: THE CONVENT for example, I love the movie, it’s hilarious. And I love the opening scene, anytime you kill nuns you get my attention. (Laughs) So, just because a lot of people don’t know, how do you begin the process of composing for a film like THE CONVENT? Do you have a rough cut of the film? Do you have conversations with Mike about what he’s looking for? What’s the beginning of your process of figuring out how the music is going to be laid down in these films?

Mike has a pretty particular vision for what he wants in general. With THE CONVENT he went for a lot of Nine Inch Nails and techno and a lot of electronic sounding stuff so he kind of had an idea of what he wanted with that. With THE GRAVEDANCERS, it was almost the complete opposite. He knew he wanted a real straight, haunting, classical piano-based kind of score. He has pretty clear ideas of what he wants. Sometimes it’s not so clear, you get kind of free reign to just kind of go for it. For me it usually starts right away. I can’t even help it, if someone mentions a project in passing a part of my brain starts cycling and whirring in a low hum until it’s ready to start, so I’ll start kind of…
Robg.: Almost immediately you start thinking of things?

Yeah! I can’t help it. My brain starts percolating. Like with AUTOPSY, as soon as I started talking about that with Adam Gierasch - I remember he was talking about using all this green, he wanted it to be a lot of green colors, so that kind of started it, my head created a tonality for this kind of almost like the first sound thought I got was a frequency range, I wanted it to mostly take place in the low mid range. A low mid range kind of hum. That was my brain’s response to green. And it kind of went from there. It starts as soon as the project gets mentioned to me.
Robg.: Can you talk about working on REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, because you’ve got Ogre from Skinny Puppy and Poe, I love Poe! I’m so jealous there’s a video of Spooky Dan interviewing Poe because I love her! Can you talk about getting involved in that and how all these different musicians came together?

REPO is kind of a very unique project, not just in what it is but what it took to make it happen. It’s definitely not something that comes around too often. Trying to create something that sounds, I don’t even know how to articulate this, I don’t even know where to start… the thing is such a beast!

Mike C.: I can imagine because in your music you’ve got something like the world’s most highly regarded vocalists, Sarah Brightman. You’ve got Paris Hilton, Ogre from Skinny Puppy. It’s just such a strange mix of people singing! Ogre and Bill Mosley? It’s just so weird. And then it’s a horror musical, which is weird on top of that. It’s just layers and layers of weirdness.
Robg.: Obviously the music came from the original stage play?

Yeah, it was all finished. Basically when I came in, they had all this music and they had the script and they had some of the cast and a shooting date. The first task was ok, how do we get this ready to start shooting and eventually finished? It was two CD’s worth of music. It was a lot of music, 55 songs or something that we were starting with and that doesn’t even include score or incidental pieces. At the end of the day, we ended up with over one hundred pieces of music to keep track of. A lot of them were totally different instrumentations, different sets of everything so it was really just a matter of absorbing what the fuck this thing is! Because it’s all these crazy songs, and without any images to go with it. At first it was just the songs, they hadn’t even written the script so trying to talk about it without knowing the script, I didn’t know where to start.


Robg.: Wasn’t there just the trailer and then Darren went to do SAW IV while you guys went to do the music?

He was done with SAW IV, well he was in post on SAW IV at least when we were starting on the music. We were just holed up at this studio in North Hollywood for six months or so. It felt like a couple of years. (Laughs) It was dense.

Robg.: Where did some of the other names come from of people who aren’t in the movie? Someone like Poe…did you guys make a wish list like, it would be cool if we got so and so to sing backups on this? How did some people get involved in the project?

Picking musicians is kind of like casting, kind of like finding the right kind of person for something. I was talking to Poe about working on other stuff. I also work on music outside of film, so we were talking and it just kind of happened. We had a backing vocal day coming up, “Hey, do you want to come down and do backing vocals?” So I mentioned it to Darren and he lost his shit because he remembers when he was standing backstage outside waiting for two hours for an autograph once. He was a huge Poe fan. She just came in, she gets one line, she does a line of this character just referred to as the single mother. She has a line in one of the songs. We were just like, let’s get her to do it, she was there. Poe came together just because she was around at the right time so it was just “Hey, come down, let’s do this.” I mean, I’d listen to all the songs and make a wish list of who would be good to play on what and then cross-referenced that with who we could get, who was available and then what we end up getting from them, what we get done, what works and what doesn’t work. It was a dense project.


Robg.: You’d worked with a lot of these people before. But was there anybody that came in that you were so surprised, that they blew you away? Like, wow, this is really coming together well?

I was pretty blown away by a lot of the musicians. We were really lucky there. There was a long stretch there that was every day it was just like, “who do we get to work with today?” It was just exciting to go down there everyday and to hear these different musicians. It was great to get the Bauhaus guys, they were phenomenal. It was really, really cool working with them. I’ve worked with them once before on a song for HEAVY METAL 2000, I worked on that thing for a while…

Mike C.: You worked on that? That was the first time they had worked together in, forever, wasn’t it?

Yeah, first thing they’d recorded in something like 20 years? Just being able to sit in a room, looking over and seeing Bauhaus playing. That was pretty cool.

Robg.: The combination of Ogre and Bill Mosley… was that another surreal kind of experience?

It was awesome. I was trying to get Ogre involved musically somehow and I just ran into him one night, it was after this gig. I went out and hadn’t seen him in a while…and I was trying to think, how can I get him involved? I thought maybe I could get him to do some vocal work, but then I mentioned it to Terrance the next day and he said what about Pavi? I was like, that’s a fucking great idea, so I just called him up and he was super into it. He came down and did this amazing audition.
He was super prepared, he worked out this whole character thing, it was a pretty big audition night, quite a few people coming down. It was Paris’ audition night. There were a few people auditioning for the Paris role, Amber Sweet. There was a lot of people in the room for her, you can imagine the kind of tension on a night like that. At the end, Ogre’s waiting at the end of the hallway, waiting to do his thing and he comes in and just blew everyone away. Everyone was just cracking up laughing.
Robg.: I just love that Ogre, Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton are all singing in the same movie, I just think it’s so surreal and weird. Paris was one of those controversial casting choices. What was it like working with her on the songs because I saw a clip online a few weeks ago where she has the jet black hair and she’s singing a song with Ogre and I thought it was pretty awesome! Didn’t recognized her at all. She surprised me, did she surprise everybody else?

Absolutely, yeah, definitely. She’s supercool, down to earth. She definitely blew everybody away with what she did and believe me, everybody there was skeptical, everyone was benching it, like, Paris Hilton, really?


Robg.: Even Darren had said before he was skeptical…

Yeah, his first reaction was the same thing. He thought no way. But once he saw what she did and who the role is and how it works, it really fit. She plays this drug addicted, surgery addicted daughter of a billionaire corporation owner.

Mike C.: You’ve been attached to Dante Tomaselli’s THE OCEAN for a while now. What’s going on with that?

I’m not sure. Yeah, I just like his stuff, I like Dante Tomaselli’s stuff.

Robg.: I believe he’s going to do TORTURE CHAMBER first now, then THE OCEAN.

I had just contacted Dante because I liked his stuff! Not really looking for a gig or anything. Judging from his work, I just thought our sensibilities might get along well. DESECRATION had some interesting visuals and caught my interest enough to see whatever else he does. I liked HORROR and SATAN’S PLAYGROUND and look forward to seeing whatever he does. He’s one of those guys that just has a very unique point of view.
Robg.: Do you ever get the sense that sometimes your music comes from a spot that you don’t even know. I’ll listen back and think, I wrote that? That’s fucking cool! Sometimes I’m so far out of it I don’t feel like I even composed a piece. Do you get that too?

Yes, absolutely! I absolutely get that but it’s usually long after, I kind of look back. You kind of get immersed in the process and you’re making a lot of decisions and just kind of going and then next thing you know you’re there and you don’t really even know how you got there.


Robg.: Sometimes you don’t have time to think! You just have to get it done.

That too, sometimes you have a deadline looming over you and you just kind of got to figure something out so you just keep going and sometimes I don’t even know if this works. I found that if I over think things, that ends up confusing me more than anything. Once I find a direction for myself, I try to preserve the initial intentions and try not to over think it.

Robg.: Your first instinct is usually the right one.

Yeah, I think so. Usually the more I try to fuck with stuff the more it kind of just feels more fucked with, it doesn’t necessarily get better.

Robg.: It’s almost like you don’t want to over think it. What I started with was obviously the right idea.

But then again, that’s not the case in a lot of stuff. You often have to rewrite stuff, keep changing and tweaking and doing all that but it’s hard to tell. Sometimes there’s in a movie what feels to be a problem cue like nothing’s working, can’t get it right, just a million tracks of bullshit and that will end up being your favorite cue. So I try to not evaluate it and try to not think about things too much, just dive in and just open up to doing what it is.


Robg.: Has there been any recent composers or scores that inspired or influenced you?

I really liked the score to THERE WILL BE BLOOD, I thought that was fantastic. I did really like the new BATMAN score, all the stuff they did for the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT was phenomenal. I really liked WOLF CREEK by Francois Tetaz. It’s kind of this minimal, sparse, tonal kind of thing, which I thought was cool. And I liked the score to INSIDE, I thought INSIDE had some interesting stuff going on there.

Mike C.: Is google correct and were you once a member of Danzig’s band?

Kinda sort of. I worked with Danzig a lot. I worked with him on a bunch of remixes and a record. I was going to do the tour but there didn’t seem like there was enough for me to do with it but yes, I worked with Danzig.

Robg.: Was this Danzig 5 era?

Danzig 5, "Black Acid Devil", I was there.

Robg.: You know what, not for nothing, I know it pissed off a lot of Danzig fans.

Yes it did. (Laughs)


Robg.: But I fucking loved that record when it came out! I was one of the few who said this was pretty fucking badass, I liked Danzig doing something different. And then I didn’t follow the records after that but it seems like he segue-wayed somewhere in between.

Yeah, well that was the only one he used a lot of electronics on. After that he went to just the band.

Robg.: Is there a definitive answer for why he made such a radical change for Danzig 5? Obviously you were there for that period.

I don’t even think he was thinking about it that much? He is one of those guys that truly does not give a fuck what anybody think. He really doesn’t care at all, he just kind of does his thing and I think that’s what he wanted to do. He’d constantly be saying nobody gets this record, nobody gets what it is while we were doing it. And there were times when honestly, I didn’t get it for a little bit. The way we did it was different from the way records get done, not even taking the time to print timecode and lockup and do stuff, we need to get a programmed kick drum in. A lot of that is me literally playing kickdrum in. Now you’re punching in programming that you’re playing live. It was a very raw and punk rock way to do electronic.


Robg.: Thanks so much for talking to us, Joe!


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