Your upcoming movie Simple - in a few words, what is it
about, and what can you tell us about the musical score you wrote for it?
me, it's about the meeting of two worlds. One, the world of young
rebellious men and women trying to make their way in the world, pursuing
their passion in various ways. Two, the world of gangsters and drug
dealers, both big time and small time. Monique is a punk rock train-hopping aspiring writer fleeing the Philadelphia winter. Weeds is a
ne'er-do-well small time crook trying to raise money to produce a record
for his girlfriend. Both get caught up in the rivalries of some big time
drug dealers and things go from bad to worse.
the score I was trying to on the one hand, keep it edgy and tense, to
drive home the point that in spite of the absurdity of Simple there's real
danger, violence and even death involved. On the other hand since the film
was shot entirely in New Orleans I wanted to give it a local flavor as
the goal I set for myself was to find a mix between 80's experimental noise
rock, specifically New York artists like Glenn Branca and Fred Frith, and
70's New Orleans funk like the Meters. Another reference was 70's action
flick movies like Shaft. Weeds in particular likes to think of himself as
a big shot gangster even though he's basically a bumbling idiot, so the
exaggerated macho swagger of a score like the one for Shaft seemed to work
really well for his character. There's also a little bit of hip hop
influence in the score.
inspired you to write/select exactly these tunes for Simple, and did you
actually write/record them specifically for the movie, and before or after
the movie was shot?
keep a consistent tone throughout the movie, I created a specific palette
of very characteristic sounds. Mostly detuned guitars, found percussion,
small amplifiers, a little bit of keyboards, and ample amounts of wah wah.
I also created some drones and ambient sounds using the same palette. The
goal was to create a kind of 'sonic signature' for the film, the way Ennio
Morricone did for each Sergio Leone film he scored.
wrote a few themes at first, to refer to throughout the movie, and then
recorded different versions of them. Again to keep a consistent tone I
tried to limit the harmonic and melodic material I used, and come up with
creative ways to rework and rephrase it. A few of the pieces were not
written specifically for the film but turned out to fit in really well. I
actually did write the main theme before I saw a rough cut, and then
reworked it later.
did you get involved with the project in the first place, and what got you
an associate producer credit on the film?
had scored Miceal's short The Capsule, and then he asked me to do a
cameo in Simple, which I did. For me to score the soundtrack seemed
like a logical step. After we finished the version we submitted to some
festivals, I started to do some online promotion for Simple, which
led to the associate producer credit.
As a composer,
how closely did you work together with your director Miceal Og O'Donnell,
and what was your collaboration like?
work together as closely as possible, it's the only way to do it. It was a
little more difficult because Miceal moved to Baltimore after finishing
the film, but we stayed in close contact. There were tons of emails, phone
conversations, FB messages, etc. A couple of times we had text
conversations during my lunch break at work! Also, from wrapping to the
first rough cut took almost a year, so there was plenty of time for me to
plan the score and then run my ideas by him. Miceal is great to work with,
he has a clear vision of what he wants out of the music and where he wants
it, the dynamics of the film, how he sees the different characters, etc.
At the same time he basically gives me free reign creatively and I think
he pretty much trusts my musical instincts. So we basically feed off each
other creatively, which I think is the ideal working method.
You also have a
cameo in Simple, right? So what can you tell us about that
was awesome! It was my first time ever acting in a film, and it was so
much fun! I didn't do much, just lie on a couch and play a song during the
squat house scene. I loved how the atmosphere on set was very relaxed and
at the same time Miceal was very much in control and making sure he got
what he needed. It's one of my favorite scenes in the film, and not just
because I'm in it!
What got you into making music in the first
place - and into making music for movies eventually?
That's a good question. I've always loved music and always been very
creative. I started playing as a teenager, to be honest it was
intimidating at first! I felt like I was getting introduced into some kind
of secret society, which is still kind of the way I feel about it. But I
stuck with it, started writing songs as soon as I could put three chords
together, started playing in bands…It just kept growing and growing. I
don't intend to ever stop playing, writing, or learning!
far as writing for film, I'm a visual artist as well and I dabble in
writing, and I've always gotten the response on my music that it was very
soundtrack like. So film is kind of where all my different interests
converge. I started scoring a sci fi Western movie when I lived in New
York, but sadly that project never got finished. Then I answered an ad
while I was living in Austin to score a short student film but that fell
through as well. Finally I got hooked up with Miceal and it's been a real
pleasure and an honor to work with a film maker as talented and driven as
him. I'm hoping to work on many more projects with Miceal in the future,
and I'm always looking for other interesting movie projects as well.
talk about your musical style for a bit?
really all over the map at this point. I started out playing punk rock,
then after I moved to New York I ended playing guitar in tons of bands in
tons of different styles. I never made much money but it was an incredible
learning experience. Eventually I started focusing on writing and
performing as Phil the Tremolo King.
mostly perform solo with an acoustic guitar, so maybe at this point I
should call myself an indie folk musician. But I love psychedelic music,
classical, blues, flamenco, experimental, ethnic, jazz…
What's a studio
session and a live performance by Phil the Tremolo King Vanderyken usually
record in my home studio and play everything myself, so it's pretty much
hit 'record' and go! As far as soundtracks, there's a lot of noodling
around involved at first - which I may or may not record - trying to find
phrases, sounds and the right mood. From those tentative beginnings I then
write a full piece and start tracking, tweaking and experimenting till
I've got something I like. It's very hands on and involves a lot of
experimentation and off-the-cuff playing. In fact some of the pieces for
this soundtrack were originally recorded as demos… but they came out so
well I ended up using them as the final version.
the live shows, my songs are stripped down to vocals and guitar for now,
although I'm working on a more 'experimental' set up with looping pedals
and the like. I also perform with a drummer, and occasionally a full band
for the right gig.
Any future projects (in whatever medium) you'd
like to talk about?
just scored the trailer for Sean Carlo's grindhouse film Second to Nun,
which was a lot of fun [Sean Carlo
interview - click here]. He's looking for funding to turn it into a
feature so I'm hoping he'll hit me up for the score. It’s a very
entertaining concept and Laura Flannely who plays the killer nun looks
also put a band together for another Miceal O'Donnel feature Victory
Lounge, with Rick Szyboski on piano, Mark Lamaire on upright bass,
and Chris Owen on drums. We shot at the Hi Ho Lounge, which is a funky
little club on St Claude in New Orleans. Basically we acted as the house
band for the Victory Lounge, backing up three different actresses singing
jazz standards. Rick flew in from Baltimore, we had worked out the
arrangements over the phone and then fine-tuned them on the day of
shooting. I think it came out really well. I know Miceal is editing that
one right now, so I'm excited to see the finished product.
planning a new EP of original material which I may even end up recording
in the UK, and combine it with a short European tour! Never a dull moment,
no time to get bored - which is a good thing.
Musicians who inspire you?
Underground, the Beatles, Miles Davis, Django Rheinhardt, Serge
Gainsbourg, Robert Quine, Lee Hazelwood, Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet,
Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, David Bowie, Jim Thurwell, Al Caiola, Taraf de
Haidouks, Dave Porter, Danny Elfman, Yann Tiersen…
and since this a movie site: Your favourite movies, and films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
The Third Man, The Grifters, Paris Texas, any Sergio Leone movie, Raging
Bull, Amelie, Looper (in which I was an extra!)…
ones; omg. Too many! How many bad movies does Hollywood make per year?
Your website, Facebook, whatever else?
you are dying to mention and I've merely forgotten to ask?
to thank you for giving me the opportunity to chat about this, and
interviewing Vicky Illk [Vicky Illk
interview - click here], who plays Monique! We all appreciate it very
anyone would like to follow the progress on Simple, go
to our Facebook page and click like, for updates, clips and more fun
for the interview!