Interview with Rich Vreeland, The Mastermind of the 'It Follows' Soundtrack
I first became familiar with Musician/Composer Rich Vreeland AKA Disasterpeace after hearing his mystical and beautiful score for Nicolas Ménard’s 2013 short film, ‘Somewhere’. With a bunch of awesome game soundtracks already under his belt, including Fez and Bomberman Live: Battlefest, Vreeland’s latest musical adventure has seen him team up with Director, David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American sleepover) for a new horror movie entitled, ‘It Follows’. I was lucky enough recently to catch up with him for a chat.
RP: Thanks for taking some time out to speak with me today Rich, How are you?
I am great! You caught me right in the middle of the Game Developer's Conference. This is generally the busiest week of my year, when people from all over the world who work on games all congregate in San Francisco. I participated in a talk this afternoon and have a friend from Kyoto sleeping on my couch.
RP: Can I start by saying how phenomenal your score is for ‘It Follows’, it’s certainly one of the most eerily unsettling soundtracks I’ve heard for quite some time and I strongly believe you’ve established yourself alongside some of the greats. Can you tell us alittle about how you became involved in the project and how excited you were to get the gig?
Wow! Thank you for the kind words. I scored a game called FEZ a few years ago. David loved the music and reached out to me via e-mail. Our initial discussions were straight-forward. We talked logistics and expressed our interest in working together. David touched base right before he started filming and then we fell out of touch for a year. When he came back to me, prepared to start scoring, I had a lot of work underway and did not have much time. I turned him down at first, but he could tell that I wanted to work on the film. After much discussion, I gave in to his persistence. I'm glad I did! We at first talked about exploring an aesthetic with guitars and other acoustic instruments. Over time, we realized that synths had the versatility we needed.
RP: I understand that after ‘It Follows’ was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, you were left with considerably less time than anticipated to finish the score for the movie? Are you the type that works well under pressure?
Yes. As stressful as it was, I think I tend to strive under pressure.
RP: In many Thriller/Horror movies, music plays such an integral part in creating tension and adding to the creepiness. When you consider movies like Jaws and Halloween, it’s hard to imagine them without their iconic scores. When you first watched ‘Its Follows’ were you happy with how well your music worked in partnership with the movie and did you succeed in scaring yourself?
I feel like the music works well, but I have to approach it from an almost academic perspective. I've watched the movie so many times at this point and first saw it with no music and no post FX. I saw the potential for it to be quite scary, but I think I've been too involved to experience it that way.
RP: Are you a fan of horror films in general?
I have only seen a handful of horror films in my whole life. I really enjoy this style of horror, though. I'm excited to explore the genre some more. I like how minimalistic the visuals in the film are.
RP: Can you tell me alittle about your creative process for this film and what sort of equipment and software you used?
I do my production work 'in the box', as they say. My software tool of choice is Logic. I am a self-professed minimalist. I don't like having lots of things around that I don't use on the regular. I've had a few synthesizers over the years, but I sold them all. I keep two MIDI keyboards. I have a tiny one on my desk and a huge one with piano keys next to me. I also have an upright piano, and that is my prized possession. I find the difference between digital and analog synths minimal. I still like to go to acoustic instruments when that need arises.
RP: Were you able to take your own approach when creating the music for ‘It Follows’ or did David give you a specific type of sound or musical reference point that he was looking for?
David and his editors created a thorough temp score that became my bible for the film. John Carpenter, Penderecki, and John Cage were all present. Some of my tracks from FEZ were also part of the temp score. For scary scenes, I tried to make the music as dissonant and weird as possible. I pulled out as many stops as I could to one-up the temp cues in every way. For tracks like "Detroit", I was channeling the ominous arpeggios of bands like Goblin.
RP: I read somewhere that you came from a family of Musicians, was electronic music something you grew up on or was it something that you discovered later on in your life?
I grew up on pop radio, Christian music and The Beatles. Synthesizers are present in all of those things in different amounts, but it didn't capture my attention until my late teens. Guitar and drums were my first musical interests.
RP: Before you began creating electronic music, it is true you had aspirations to be a guitar wielding rock star?
Haha, I don't think I ever saw myself becoming a rock star, but I loved to rock out. As a budding guitar player, I was big into bands like Tool and Rage Against the Machine. I loved playing pentatonic, odd-metered power chord riffs. There was something spellbinding about distorted guitar. I also had a glorious amp, a Fender Vibrolux Reverb from the 60's. I was dumb enough to sell it about five years ago. I spent a few years making guitar recordings before getting more into computer music. Those experiences were the foundation of my music education. I went to Berklee College of Music later and learned a lot there as well.
RP: If you could pick one movie (old or new) that you would love to write a score for, what would it be and what would you do differently?
I might try to remove the orchestral underscore from Guardians of the Galaxy. I think I would have preferred more of that 60s and 70s music. I might try to incorporate some back-catalogue instrumental jams into the more incidental moments.
RP: Throughout your career, you’ve also composed a tonne of rad soundtracks for games, like ‘Fez’ ‘Famaze’ and ‘Krunch’, were games something you’ve always wanted to work on?
I'm not sure I realized I could get paid to write music for games until somebody asked me to do it. Haha.
RP: How does creating music for a game vary to doing a movie?
Scoring film is in some ways a nice reprieve from working on games. I'm working on music for a game right now that allows you to be a subway designer. I stare at code every day and try to make each interaction within the game world symbiotic. It can be intense, but the results are often rewarding. Scoring linear media for me tends to be more zen than problem-solving. The structure of a film is more of a known quantity, and I can just paint on the canvas. The linearity of scoring film makes it easier for me to wrap my head around.
RP: What are your plans for the rest of 2015? Do you have any new projects on the horizon you can tell us about?
Right now, I am working on a guest directed episode of Adventure Time. I'm also working on that subway game. It's called Mini Metro. After that, I'll be diving into a Miyazaki-inspired dungeon crawler called Hyper Light Drifter. A Flatland inspired Japanese garden game called Miegakure is also on my horizon. In case you can't tell, I love how different those all sound and are!
RP: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not making music?
It's nice to get a question like this. I try to lead a simple life. I have a solid routine, a small group of friends and a few hobbies. I love to play ice hockey. I paint with friends on weekends and try to make it to yoga once a week.
RP: If you had to pick a favourite 80’s movie, album and game, what would you pick?
The first movie that came to my head was St. Elmo's Fire. I had a thing for Ally Sheedy's character. The first game that came to my head was not made in the 80's, but I did play way too much Excite Bike. I don't think I can pick a favorite 80's album. I'm not sure there is one, to be honest! I appreciate the aesthetic, but most of my favorite albums are from other decades.
RP: Last but not least, which character from The Breakfast Club would you say you are most like and why?
It's been a while so I think I need to re-watch it. That said, I remember relating a bit too all the characters, once they open up to each other.
The ‘It Follows’ soundtrack will be released digitally on March 10th, CD March 24th and Vinyl April 7th Via Milan Records, for more on Disasterpeace, check out his website www.disasterpeace.com