It’s, therefore, an excellent stroke of luck for the public at large that Brigden has teamed up with his wife, Lisa, to bring his knowledge to The Sound of Fear, his new documentary-style podcast chronicling the history of horror music. We asked Brigden about the show and his involvement with film scores...
STARBURST: How did you come to be enmeshed in the world of soundtracks?
Charlie Brigden: Okay, so it didn’t technically come from soundtracks, originally. I was born just as Star Wars kicked into gear, so naturally when I was a kid it was my first port of call for everything, and as a result, I had a bunch of the toys but I also had the books and tape sets - ‘listen along with the story and turn the page when Artoo-Detoo beeps’ or what have you. And along with the story narration, these things had dialogue and effects from the movie as well as John Williams’ score.
So, I’d be listening to them, acting the parts out with my figures and my Millennium Falcon and, in time, I’d really started noticing the music. I was given some money when I was a little bit older and went out and bought the Empire Strikes Back LP – which, by the way, sucked in Europe because they cut down the US/Japan set down to a single LP, and it was a weird way round so the Star Wars main title was on side B. From there I would notice music all the time, and I’d get main and end credit music on tape by holding a recorder up to the TV speaker, and I did that for a while, at least until I was able to buy music regularly, and amongst NWA and Metallica there would always be soundtracks.
In addition to the show, you also do a lot of writing. When did you start working with Death Waltz?
I had to look this up because my memory is a nightmare - the fucked up thing is I have an entry on Discogs as an ‘artist’ where some person has actually gone through and noted the releases that have had my name on, it’s humbling as fuck and weird at the same time.
I started talking with Spencer from Death Waltz late 2013, so about a year after they launched; by January, I was writing what they call ‘sales notes’, basically the synopsis/descriptive you get on the website to tell you all about the product, and this was before Mondo so when DW had their own site. My first one was Ms.45 and then I did their RSD releases for that year, and later on in the year they made the decision to start including obi strips - I imagine it’s because Spencer is a crazed fan of Japanese vinyl - and they began to put my notes on those too, which was awesome.
Sooner or later, they put my name on them as well, although there are a bunch after a certain point – I don’t know when – that don’t have it because I stupidly forgot to add it on the text I sent to DW. I also did liner notes for their 2014 reissue of Godzilla by Akira Ifukube and I have a couple more that I’ve just filed that are pretty awesome.
This is not your first podcast -- why did you start The Sound of Fear?
I guess a few reasons. I’ve always been really interested in - this’ll sound really pretentious - the educational side of writing about film music, and horror has always been something that’s spoken to me since a very young age, and the fact that there’s not really much on film music in general, and especially not horror, which surprised me. I was also a fan of two documentaries on the BBC here, which was Mark Gatiss’ A History of Horror and Neil Brand’s The Sound of Cinema, the latter especially because it really made a point of providing historical context for these things, which in the age of instant video and mp3 is very often missing. You watch and you consume, but unless it’s an Arrow or a Criterion, it’s rare that you get anything saying ‘OK, this is why these things are what they are.’
Like Dracula and Frankenstein, those two movies - huge iconic Universal monster movies - they only have music at the beginning and end because the producer, Carl Laemmle, Jr, didn’t like film music much and actively had to be convinced to let them try and put music under scenes in the film, which, of course, really helped make these pictures what they were.
I wanted to tell stories like that, and while I’d experimented with podcasts that were kind of a film music rip-off of Karina Longworth’s amazing You Must Remember This podcast, nothing was done consistently because I found it hard to find an overarching theme. With The Sound of Fear, it’s easy, and the only issue from there is deciding what you’re going to focus on from there because there’s so much out there.
You’re teaming with your wife on The Sound of Fear. What made you look to her as narrator?
First and foremost, it’s because she’s female. She has a great voice and I kept seeing tweets out there saying how movie podcasts were basically a sausage factory, so I thought to bring Lisa to narrate was something different, especially in regards to horror as a genre have a huge cross-gender appeal that doesn’t really get much press. I also wanted to try and do everything but narrate, because it’s always the thing I had problems with. And it’s fun - we have a blast.
How do you determine what gets played and what you discuss? Do you start with a theme or find one comes together?
The post-it notes. Everything I do in terms of all my writing is organised using post-it notes (still trying to get 3M to sponsor me), so once I decided I wanted to do it vaguely chronological, I got my post-its and plotted out what I saw as the important and interesting milestones in horror music, and then decided how long I wanted each episode to be and what period to cover. Originally they were going to be an hour long, but I thought with a somewhat dry approach, I didn’t want each episode to overstay its welcome.
From there, it’s really picking and choosing exactly what should be covered, as opposed to what I want to, which means I’ve had to man up and cut out some really great personal favourites, but it’s all about telling the story. Some are longer than others just because of the sheer amount of material covered – Episode 3 is 36 minutes long and covers Hammer through Psycho. I was originally going to leave Psycho to the next one, and have it link to Texas Chain Saw, but that made that one really long, and I felt it really worked great as a narrative ending Episode 3 with that huge, huge impact of Psycho that left horror wide open, which then allowed 4 to go straight in without having to rely on beginning with that story.
The story is chronological but I try to link things in a meaningful way and set it in an ‘era’ of sorts, which a lot of the time is already something that exists, like Universal and the neo-Gothic stuff of Hammer and Corman’s Poe cycle. Episode 4 maybe sets stuff out a bit differently, because it has to cram in a ton of subjects, so there’s a theme of using pre-existing music with Night Of The Living Dead and all the library music that leads to The Exorcist’s classical music, and the devil children theme with The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby. Episode 5 is all about slashers, so that’s a pretty easy one to cover and it lasts for the whole episode.
Is there a set schedule for releasing the podcast to which you try and stick?
At the moment, it’s monthly. I originally wanted to do it every two weeks but it’s just too much right now to put it together along with all my other commitments - family, life, my actual job, other writing etc. But I’m trying to do a lot more in advance, so hopefully, we can get it out a bit quicker in the near future.
What’s the response been to the podcast - people’s reactions/number of subscribers?
It’s been really great - I mean, we don’t have a massive amount of subscribers - I don’t know if that’s because our main feed comes from Soundcloud, which is more a music service - but we’re nearly at 5K Soundcloud listens, which is amazing considering we’ve only been going for a couple of months. It’s difficult because horror music isn’t a casual thing - you have to be really committed to listen to what is ostensibly music designed to freak you out - so we’ve had people say they don’t bother with it because they don’t like horror music.
It’s a bit disappointing, because I want to dispel some of those myths that all horror music sounds like jangly piano and Bernard Herrmann strings. A lot of horror music has a real beauty behind it: I guess, to contrast a lot of the darkness. We’ve had some great feedback, though – from people slightly obsessed with Lisa’s voice, to people who are genuinely happy that they’re learning some new things. Even composers: Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who wrote some amazing music for the series Utopia, really likes it, and posts on our Soundcloud, which is great. We’d certainly like more feedback, but I’m pretty sure everyone else on the Internet would say the same.
Is there a means by which people can support the podcast?
Sure, you can sign up to our Patreon at patreon.com/soundfearpod. From there you can get early access to the episodes, and behind the scenes stuff like blogs. I mean, it’s not massively cheap because there’s the usual hosting fees, but then the cost of research materials - anyone who buys soundtracks knows they’re not cheap, especially the reissue stuff, same with a lot of DVDs or Blu-rays.
But, it would be cheating for me to wing it - sure, I know a fair bit about horror and film music, but I still do a hell of a lot of research, most of which is watching the movies with headphones and really deconstructing their sound from there, even if it’s a movie like Alien that I’ve seen a million times. Any help anyone can give us would be received with huge gratitude.
The Sound of Fear can be found at soundcloud.com/soundfearpod.