Music can often make or break a film, especially in the horror genre.
We are lucky to have been blessed with classic scores, from The Exorcist to Halloween.
Up and coming American composer Alexander Taylor, came to our attention when he began working on Mark Patton’s Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street documentary, which has garnered critical and fan acclaim worldwide since its initial release recently.
We caught up with Alexander to talk about Scream Queen and also a host of other projects he has been working on in the horror genre.
Tell us how you got into composing music?
I come from a pretty different background than most of the composers I meet. I actually didn’t study music composition formally. I studied Motion Picture Production at Wright State University. It’s a rather competitive, but absolutely amazing film school in Dayton, Ohio. We started out with about 60 students in film 101, and by junior year, the department cut down to 10. It was pretty intense. You had to be all in, which I was.
I was the only one in our class that had any musical background since I spent most of high school trying to be a rockstar. Most of the film students couldn’t afford a composer, so I pretty much became a composer out of necessity. I scored all of my own films as well as most of my classmates, and the classes below. I remember some of the faculty thought I should focus more on filmmaking, but my film mentor and professor, Patrick Steele, pushed me to keep scoring. So from 2008-2013, I pretty much scored all of the films coming out of Wright State. I didn’t realize how invaluable that was until I met other composers who actually studied composing. I LOVED IT. I honestly never thought you could make a living composing because it was so much fun.
I’m actually scoring a horror/thriller feature with Pat coming up called FATHOM, which is awesome. Working directly with a mentor is gift, really. I’m pumped for that, but can’t really talk too much about it now.
What sort of music did you listen to which inspired you growing up?
My cousin Kyle was in a band in Cincinnati called The Nomadics, and I was probably their biggest fan. They were a garage rock band. The first time I saw him play, I thought to myself, “I want to do that!” He taught me Nirvana’s “Polly”, and that was it. I spent most of my childhood copying Kyle up until he got too brave for me to follow and joined the Marines.
So anyway, I was a garage rock kid. I loved The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, The White Stripes, The Killers… Anything with a “The” at the front, and I was most likely a fan.
Jack White essentially taught me how to play guitar. But when I hit high school, I discovered Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and that changed everything for me. They opened me up to a world of different music, and that definitely shaped my style. Nick Cave and Tom Waits are still my favorites to this day. Their discography is stellar.
Have you always been a fan of horror?
Oh without a doubt I’ve always loved horror. My parents were pretty lax, so I saw all the edited for TV horror flicks growing up. Halloween being my favorite. I was actually Michael Myers for Halloween in the third grade. The teachers weren’t too pleased.
Fun story, I loved SCREAM, and in the 4th or 5th grade, I went dressed as Deputy Dewey. Fake moustache, my grandpa’s badge, cap gun and holster. Literally, everyone thought I was Hitler, so I ended up taking the moustache off for the night…
Your breakout has been the Scream Queen documentary, but what was the most fun short project you worked on?
Oh, that’s tough. I always have the most fun scoring horror because it’s the genre that gives you the longest leash to experiment and try wild things. Most of my features have been horror for that reason. I want people to see me as the “go-to” guy for horror.
To answer your question, and this probably sounds like bullshit, but I’ve had so much fun on pretty much all of the shorts. I’ve worked with a ton of great filmmakers, and collaboration is my favorite part of this process. I’m very much a people person. If I had to choose though, I think it would be SKINNY GHOST. It was a USC thesis film by a talented filmmaker named Nicolas Curcio. It’s just a really solid flick, and I knew every track worked. And it was a rare occurrence where each cue seemed like a “hole-in-one.” Not many notes or revisions. It had a lot of heart, and I honestly think you can feel the nostalgia in the music.
I recently did a short horror flick with another young filmmaker named Elwood Walker. I’ve been keeping an eye on this kid for a while. He’s going to be a name in horror, mark my words now. It’s called RULE OF THREE, and it’s really tense. The score feels like a rubber band being stretched. I can’t really say much more about it, but it’s solid, and coming out this year.
Tell us about how you got the job on Scream Queen?
It was actually pretty simple. I found them on Kickstarter in 2016! They had a couple different people attached as the composer at the time. I think Roman (the director) was also slated to score it at one point. Regardless, I reached out and sent a demo track, and they loved it and gave me the gig.
How much involvement did you have with the filmmakers when deciding the style of the music?
I was 100% involved. I assumed they wanted a score reminiscent to the 80’s considering the nature of the story. Luckily I was right. They had some temp in the first cut they sent, which sometimes can be problematic when a team sees a film with temp for so long. But they were a DREAM to work with. They weren’t married to anything and made it very clear that they wanted me to paint my own picture on their canvass. Roman, Tyler and Mark were seriously a composer’s dream team to work with.
Did you get the chance to meet Mark Patton?
Oh yes, often. He was one of the producers of the doc. I actually speak with Mark pretty frequently. The documentary reflects his loving and nurturing nature. I can’t say it enough how much I love that man. Conversations are like therapy. And that’s how he is with EVERYONE. It’s astonishing. Despite all he’s been through, the man has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met.
What attracted you to this project?
I’ve always loved the Nightmare on Elm Street series, so that was the first thing. I actually wrote a term paper specifically on Nightmare on Elm Street 2 for a queer theory film class. I can’t remember what exactly clued me into the queer subtext, but as soon as I rewatched it, it was so clear.
When you get a chance to critically psycho-analyse the film in a 30-page paper, you get pretty close to the material, so it ended up becoming one of my favorite films in the franchise.
What can you recall about watching Freddy’s Revenge for the first time?
My parents were divorced, so on weekends, my dad would get us. He knew I loved scary movies, and seemingly embraced it. One October, we decided to go through the Elm Street series. I remember after watching NOES2, my dad saying, “Well, that one was weird.” I also specifically remember him laughing at the towel snapping scene and the hell hounds.
We never really discussed it on a deep level, and I’m pretty sure neither of us got the subtext at the time. It was kind of swept under the rug in the recesses of my mind for years until college.
What can you tell us about one of your next projects, DREAMCATCHER?
Dreamcatcher was a blast to score. It’s like Scream meets Neon Demon. I love it. The whole story takes place in the world of EDM, so I had to do my homework. I honestly wasn’t that familiar with the genre, but I got to use elements of it throughout the score. Plus, I got to bust out a bunch of my synth hardware and guitar pedals. The Korg Minologue XD. The Stylophone… it was a creative playground.
And Jacob Johnston (director) was super involved. He’s very particular, and would tell you very frankly if he didn’t like something. So getting praise from him was always genuine, and felt great. He definitely shaped the score into something I’m incredibly proud of. The score is as much his as it is mine. I’m teaming up with him on his next project, but I’m not sure how much I can talk about that.
The Dead of Night, is currently in post-production, how much can you share about this film?
The Dead of Night is a very textured film. Tonal. Isolated. The New Mexican desert is very much a character, and I wanted to reflect that in the music. And the killers have a really unique look, but I can’t really talk about them. A couple drifters that are animalistic… I think that’s all I can say at the moment. I felt like I had to go atonal and organic with this score. I tried to mimic the sound of animals crying with a violin. I’ve worked with Robert Dean (director) a couple times before, so we have a streamlined workflow. He trusts me to do my thing, which is awesome and rare for a composer to find. It’s supposed to screen at Cannes, whenever that happens next.
Thomas Jane is part of Hunters Moon, another one of your current projects, what can you tell us about that film?
No joke, Tom Jane has been on my checklist of actors I’ve wanted to have in my reel. I’ve been a fan of his since Deep Blue Sea. That was my first rated R movie I saw in a theatre. He just knows how to carry a film. Plus, Amanda Wyss is in it, and as per usual, she’s fantastic, so there’s another Nightmare on Elm Street connection.
Michael Caissie is a wickedly talented writer, so I was glad to be on board his feature film debut. It’s a quirky, campy werewolf movie, so the score follows suit. I got weird with it. A lot of the characters seem like they have a bit of a screw loose in some respects, so the score reflects that. I tried to stay as organic as possible again, which was a nice change of pace coming off of DREAMCATCHER. I wanted to make it sound like the music was coming from the trees. I used a mallet on an old broken piano, bowed a gopichand, plucked around on m’bira’s, a kalimba, Tibetan singing bowls, an angklung, a slide guitar, a resonator, and even a harmonica. It was wild.
Greg Richling (executive music producer) and I had a lot of conversations about making this thing as wild as possible, so we were brainstorming ways to make this thing stand out. It has a real Tom Waits vibe that we’re proud of. Greg’s a genius, so it’s always fun working with him. We have a really unique score coming out that I think people will dig. It’s actually being released through George Martin’s label, Air Edel Records.
Is working on a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie (reboot or sequel) your dream project?
If I got to score a new Nightmare project, that would make my life. I’d try to do something fresh and experimental because that’s just my style, but I’d also love to pay respects to Charles Bernstein and Christopher Young’s work. I really like what they did with the scores for those films.
I actually did some allusions to Young’s score in the Scream Queen soundtrack. I’m not sure if you know this, but Chris used the sounds of whales in parts of the score. I tried to mimic that with synth bending. Not sure if people caught that.
Who would you like to see revive Freddy Krueger?
Oh man, that’s a brilliant question. There’s a long list of actors that I think could take on the challenge of filling Robert Englund’s giant shoes. I’d say just give it back to Robert again, but he’s sadly hanging up his hat.
I actually liked Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy. I think he was one of the shining parts of that film. But I think Bryan Cranston would be great. He clearly has the chops and loves to play evil. Lance Reddick would be absolutely amazing. He already has a track record of imposing baddies. Mark Patton would be a super fun choice too if he were down to do it. He’s already comfortable with the glove. Glen Howerton would be great. Walton Goggins. Andy Serkis seems like an obvious name to throw in. Tim Blake Nelson. I know David Howard Thorton already has his own icon with ART, but he’d look great in that glove too.
As for directors, that’s tough. Chris Nolan would be an interesting choice because of his fascinations with dreams and time. I’d love to see him do a horror film. Mike Flanagan would be solid too. Fede Alvarez. Or if you go the campy route, go with Sam Raimi.
But to be honest, I think to give it to someone fresh. Someone who can bring something new to the table. Someone who wants to tell a good story. If you get the star power in the lead role to get butts in the seat, give the director chair to someone new. Give it to Nia DaCosta. Give it to Jacob Johnston. Give it to Karyn Kusama.
There’s a new generation of horror out there, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street available in the US to stream on Amazon Prime.