Horror films have long since played on our primal fears creating a mixture of panic, dread, shock, and anticipation. For a horror film to be respected amongst fans it must not only frighten the audience but captivate them as well. However, in order for a horror film to be truly solid and well rounded there must be just as much thought and care that goes in to the making of the soundtrack. I feel that this is where many horror films have fallen short throughout the last several years until recently with releases such as It Follows, Cabin in the Woods, and You’re Next. Writers like David Robert Mitchell are teaming up with some of the best composers out there today such as Rich Vreeland in an effort to pay homage to classic horror while also giving it a fresh new take.
More so than in recent horror films, the classics from the ’70s and ’80s relied heavily on the score to not only amplify the fear felt by the audience but to create a familiar thread throughout the film by utilizing specific melodies and sounds to indicate that the villain was lurking nearby. The music from movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th became as well known and loved as the films themselves. This has been an aspect that I feel has been lacking throughout the horror genre as a whole in recent years; that is until I watched It Follows.
It Follows is an American horror film written and directed by David Robert Mitchell. The story moves away from the blood and gore that we have come to expect in recent releases and instead relies on “back to the basics” tactics by using subtle tricks of the mind and bumps in the night that make for a truly terrifying experience. While the story itself is enough to keep you up at night it is the film’s score that grabs a hold of the wheel and drives you all the way through to the chilling end.
The artist behind the outstanding work that is the soundtrack for It Follows is composer Rich Vreeland, also known as “Disasterpeace” (a fitting name playing off of the word “masterpiece”). Vreeland first made his way into the spotlight for his work in composing the soundtrack for the video game FEZ in 2012. This would be the very soundtrack that would gain the attention of David Robert Mitchell and later lead to him offering Vreeland the task of composing the entire score for It Follows. It is safe to say that he made the right decision. Vreeland’s score for the film has gone on to receive rave reviews from both fans and critics alike.
I recently spoke with Rich Vreeland about not only how he first got started but also what challenges he faced while composing the soundtrack for such a high caliber horror film like It Follows.
Rich Vreeland (Disasterpeace) Interview
TAMMY: What first sparked your interest in making music? How did you get involved in making music for video games?
RICH: I got into music a bit late. I was surrounded by it growing up. My sister always sang, my mother sang and played the piano, and my step father was music director at the church we went to. It took me a while to get into it because I was pre-occupied with design, which was my first passion. As an 18 or 19 year old I started posting my earliest recordings online looking for feedback and I stumbled into an opportunity to score some cell phone games. I hadn’t realized prior that I could make a living doing that so it was pretty exciting at the time.
TAMMY: You really did such an amazing job with your music in the video game Fez. It’s seemed to open so many doors for you in the music world. How were you approached to compose the soundtrack for It Follows and what was your initial reaction to taking on a movie as opposed to a video game score?
RICH: Thanks! It opened a lot of doors. David e-mailed me after playing Fez, pretty early on in the process, and then we didn’t really talk again for over a year. Our schedules weren’t exactly aligning but he pushed really hard to have me involved and we made it work in the end. I’d always wanted to try my hand at scoring a feature, and It Follows was the first and best shot I had.
TAMMY: I was reading that as a composer one of the design problems that you typically run in to while working on the soundtrack for a video game is the challenge of “creating a strong narrative in a nonlinear world”. What was it like to go from that sort of a layout to actually having a set storyline to go by like in It Follows? What sort of challenges did you discover while making a movie score as opposed to a video game?
RICH: I think in some ways it frees up energy to focus on different aspects of the composition. I have to worry less about branching and various possibilities and get to focus more on the one path that all moviegoers will more or less have through the film. In film you really get to delve into the minutiae of timing and how that relates to visuals. In games that can be a bit glossed over in certain cases and that’s ok. There are times where doing very specific timing things are great in games, but other times where writing music that captures the general essence of something is fine, too.
TAMMY: As a horror movie fan, particularly classic 70s’/80s horror movies, I was so impressed by the music that you created for It Follows. It paid homage to the music of classic horror films but was also fresh and unique. Your music really is the backbone of this film. What was the process like for creating this soundtrack? Were you just given a temp score and a script or were you able to watch actual scenes from the film so that you could paint the music on top of what was already made? Your music really just ties in so perfectly to everything that is happening. I was interested to know how you make that work.
RICH: Thanks! We tried really hard. I think the director having prepared a temp score was really crucial given our time constraints and my limited familiarity with horror films. I approached things with a few pop culture references and a love for Goblin, while David brought quite a bit of reference material for me to check out and use as inspiration. I scored the film scene by scene, and we did create some new cues along the way but most of the cues had temp versions that preceded them. It was great to have something up there to listen to and get a sense for what could potentially work, and we ended up using a lot of these pieces as a general reference. I used them to help with distilling things down into an essence, then trying my best to forget those reference pieces and do something fresh and new.
TAMMY: In regards to the temp score I was reading that David Robert Mitchell had included some of your work from FEZ. How did you overcome the challenge of having some of your own music as a structural base and needing to find a way to make it unique and have it fit the tone for a movie like It Follows?
RICH: It was pretty tough. I had to make some compromises because we didn’t have a lot of time. I’m happy with most of the pieces that came out of FEZ reference, pieces like “Title”, “Pool”, “Detroit” and “Lakeward”. I feel like those are significantly different from their reference points. But I struggled a lot with some of the other pieces. It was one of the most unusual and challenging creative exercises I’ve had to go through.
TAMMY: Who are some of the artists that influence your work?
RICH: There are hundreds if not more. Here are three: Tortoise, Flying Lotus, and Yasunori Mitsuda.
TAMMY: What kind of music do you like to listen to when you are just wanting to relax and not think about work for awhile?
RICH: I’ve been methodically going through my iTunes library, listening to albums from A to Z. I’m up to L, I think. The last record I listened to was Love 2 by Air. I like podcasts a lot, too. I’ve been listening to Song Exploder and WTF with Marc Maron, lately.
TAMMY: You seem to be a person who is always ready to take on something new. What are some of the projects that you currently have in the works?
RICH: Right now I’m working on four games: Hyper Light Drifter, Mini Metro, Miegakure, and River City Ransom: Underground. My hope is to take a sabbatical after these projects to reassess, do some traveling, and work on a solo record.
Rich Vreeland continues to prove himself to be a true artist with every new challenge that he takes on in his career. His work for It Follows is a shining example of his talent and the film would not have been what it was without his music. I have no doubts that Vreeland will continue to push the envelope and surprise not only the world but also himself with how far he will go through the many doors that will continue to open up for him throughout his career in music composition. To find out more about Rich Vreeland and his work you can visit his website at www.disasterpeace.com.