Composer Michael Yezerski has scored a lot of films and television in his native Australia, but he’s recently gained a lot of acclaim and notice for his latest work, the score to the festival-favourite heavy metal horror film, The Devil’s Candy. The movie tells the story of a tortured artist whose family’s new house harbours a strange evil, which takes his work in disturbing directions.
For the score, Yezerski collaborated with members of drone act Sunn O))), and created sounds from such actions as taking his wife’s violin and “torture the crap out of it.” Given that the film’s soundtrack includes metal notables like Slayer and Ghost, Yezerski’s work needed to occupy a unique position in The Devil’s Candy. We spoke about all of this and more via email with the composer.
Starburst: How aware were you of the "popular" music in the film before you started work on the composition of the score?
Michael Yezerski: I came onto this film very late and everything was already in place in terms of the sourced tracks. Music is an intrinsic part of Sean’s process. Every choice he makes is deliberate.
Did the songs which your score would be next to affect the music you were making?
Not really. We conceived the score as a separate entity to the source tracks. They play different roles. The score was designed to engulf you and reveal itself slowly, so at first you don’t notice that it’s there, but eventually it makes its presence felt, particularly at the climax. The score is like a puzzle. We reveal clues to its identity throughout the film, then it all comes together at the end. In fact I wrote the score partly in reverse order. The first cue I wrote was the climactic scene. I wanted to know how huge and loud we could get so I could plan all the other music and create that build throughout the film.
It seems like the work of acts like Sunn O))) were a major inspiration, because it's this perfect counterpoint to all of the thrash and death metal on the soundtrack already. Is that the case?
Well that whole world - noise rock, black metal, drone – was a key influence for us. It’s the music that wells up from somewhere dark and deep, spilling out onto the surface of the earth with a primal, inexhaustible energy. Metal for us isn’t always thrash. The score starts as ambient doom and only gets turned up to 11 in the final act.
The quiet parts of your score - and there are many - scratch at the ear like the voices heard by Jesse and Ray. How do you balance the need for subtlety with the need for the music to be audible? Is that the reason The Devil's Candy score is so strongly percussive - so that the audience feels it, even when they can't quite hear it?
When I first started in this career I wanted my music to be heard. Now I prefer for it to be felt. My scores are story. When people listen to the album, I want them to be reminded of this story, of the journey within the film. My music builds from almost nothing to a wall of sound. We start with a noise drone, then we add one element, say, a heartbeat. Then another layer of drone, then some tortured violin sounds – each having their place and not interfering with one another. Maybe some crazed guitar here and there. We increase the tempo, we add percussion.
Then, before you know it, we arrive at “The Churge” – demonic vocals and deep organ sounds. We continue building until finally we arrive at “Consumed by Fire”, a cacophony of thrash guitars, giant drums, vocals and pain. The point is that that the story justifies this journey. The only time that the music is “heard” in a traditional sense is when the story allows it. The rest of the time it should sneak into your soul.
One point - those voices that you hear in the film are actually Sunn O))). Sean had the ingenious idea of weaving their tracks in and out of the film as a narrative device.
The way that Flying V gradually works its way into a more dominant position was something we appreciated when we heard the score on its own, but it's especially impressive in the context of the movie. Given that opening scene, was it a really important point with which to connect the beginning and ending of the film?
The Flying V guitar is a key element in the film and it was my role to give it a sonic identity that matched its visual impact. We spent a lot of time getting the sound just right. How do you make an electric guitar sound monstrous? No easy task. Once we had that sound down we could bring it in and out as the story required us to. That is also what is brilliant about Sean’s writing. He foresaw the musical and sonic potential of this object.
In the press release for The Devil's Candy score, you're quoted as saying, "The cue 'The Swing' contains the DNA for the rest of the score," and given the absolute kickstart that scene gives to the rest of the film, it seems very apt. When you saw the film for the first time, were you particularly taken by the way it unfolds and reveals?
It’s a completely shocking scene and not in a conventional way. It just floored me when I first saw it. I wondered how on earth I was going to score it. For one thing it’s a very dark scene yet it is shot in broad sunshine - one of the brightest scenes in the film. I wanted to write a cue that I had never written before. Something very simple – so simple, in fact, that it put you on edge immediately. I used a drone and an increasing heartbeat as a base for the track. I then added some crazy violin noises and other layers, but the construction itself is simple. There is something oddly unsettling about simple repetitive music. It’s like it flies in the face of a convention that music should build and change and grow in recognisable ways.
The Devil's Candy is being released by Death Waltz Recording Co., which will put your score in the company of another heavy metal horror film, Deathgasm. Were you aware of the label and their work before you became part of it?
Absolutely. I couldn’t be happier to be working with the Death Waltz team. I have loved their art work for years (Mondo) and Matt Ryan Tobin’s cover art for this release is just brilliant. I also think that James Plotkin did a phenomenal job with the mastering on this release.
What projects are you currently working on, to which people can look forward?
Peer Pedersen’s We Don’t Belong Here comes out in April. It’s a synth wave score for a film about a family on the edge. I have a few other things that I can’t reveal just yet but I am very excited about.
The Devil’s Candy is currently available digitally from Death Waltz Recording Co. via Bandcamp, with a vinyl release due out in May.