PERTURBATOR MEETS JOHN CARPENTER
Master of Horror John Carpenter is a badass songwriter. Synthwave’s mainman finds out more.
John Carpenter is the Master Of Horror. His films are legendary, and his soundtracks have influenced generations of bands, including the increasingly prolific synthwave scene. With John’s new Halloween soundtrack about to drop, we got
synthwave’s Crown Prince, Perturbator, to grill an icon
“I LISTEN TO MY OLD RECORDINGS AND I FEEL LIKE SHIT”
Much like the worlds of horror and heavy metal themselves, John Carpenter and James ‘Perturbator’ Kent might not obviously have too much in common. But, such is the depth, mystique and lure inherent in both subcultures, if you look below the surface, the link becomes obvious. In one corner, we have the Master Of Horror: a Hollywood auteur and composer who took on complete control of his films and in the process changed scary movies forever, giving us terrifying classics like Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982). In the other corner, the young Parisian black metal musician who loathed having to compromise his art so much that he put down the guitar, picked up a synthesiser and turned metal fans onto a whole new subgenre, synthwave – a scene undoubtedly influenced by John’s iconic soundtracks.
“Hi John, I supported you in Vegas, it was an honour,” says James by way of introduction. “I remember you,” replies John. “You were great.” It’s a promising start as we sit down to listen in on two genuine, one-off artists discussing their respective crafts.
PERTURBATOR: SO WHEN YOU SIT DOWN TO COMPOSE, DO YOU NEED TO GET INTO A CERTAIN FRAME OF MIND?
JOHN: “Not really. Jeez, let me think about how I do it… well, I go downstairs in my house to do the composing and I have a big television screen, and I just put on some basketball.”
JOHN: “that’s right. that gets me in the mood to work and gets me inspired and energised.” PERTURBATOR: THAT’S PRETTY SURPRISING. BUT IT’S PRETTY COOL. WRITING MUSIC WITH
ANOTHER PERSON IS PRETTY DIFFICULT, I FIND, BUT IT’S A VERY REWARDING EXPERIENCE WHEN YOU CAN GET THAT RIGHT PERSON. WOULD YOU EVER BE INTERESTED IN COLLABORATING WITH ANOTHER ARTIST?
JOHN: “I’d love to. But it’d have to be someone in the synthesised world, and who is adept at that. I have to warn you: I don’t read or write music, I wouldn’t be any good to any composer who was proficient in reading music. I just improvise…”
PERTURBATOR: “So it’s like a lot of jamming?” JOHN: “No, I wouldn’t call it jamming. I’d say it’s improvising. all the music that I do, it just comes out of me, and once it’s there, on computer.”
PERTURBATOR: “How do you feel about that? I sometimes listen to my old recordings and I feel like shit…”
JOHN: “What? Why?”
PERTURBATOR: “Because I think they sound like shit! I once read that you never watch your old movies because you see all the mistakes.”
JOHN: “Yeah. I think a lot of that is because they have become tropes, you know? Something I did on instinct from a long time ago becomes something that you’ve seen before and I’d never do now. I also listen to old recordings and they sound crude and stupid. the synths I had to use in those days were really bad. I cringe a lot looking at my old work, so I’d rather not do it. But hey, you know, once in while something will come along and it’ll surprise me and I think, ‘Well… it’s not bad!’ But most of the time I just can’t understand what I was doing.” PERTURBATOR: THAT’S JUST CRAZY. MOST PEOPLE WOULD CONSIDER EVERYTHING THAT YOU’RE REFERENCING AS CLASSICS. JOHN: “Oh, no, no, no. Not classics.”
PERTURBATOR: “It’s interesting to think like that looking back on your own work.”
JOHN: “I think it’s important! You have to have a little distance and to be suspect over the things that you did in the past so that you can improve.”
PERTURBATOR: “that’s true. Sometimes you have days where you think the show is going to be great, and then one little thing happens that will fuck up the whole thing and you just stand there hating the stage, feeling like it’s all going to shit.” JOHN: “I’ve had those days. When I play live I need to have the audience standing up, because the energy is amazing. everyone is too polite sitting down. I’ve screwed up live shows big time! When I first started touring in 2016 I was terrible! I’ve got a little bit better since then.”
PERTURBATOR: “the show I saw was amazing!” JOHN: “Well… maybe. But maybe not.”
PERTURBATOR: HAVE YOU EVER HAD WHAT YOU WOULD CONSIDER A PERFECT SHOW?
JOHN: “Perfection is not something that I’ve ever conversed with, in any medium that I’ve worked in. Perfection alludes me.”
“HOLLYWOOD LOOKED AT ME LIKE I WAS A MONSTER”
PERTURBATOR: WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED AND YOU WERE SCORING YOUR OWN MOVIES, WAS THAT OUT OF NECESSITY, OR WAS IT SOMETHING THAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO DO?
JOHN: “In the beginning, it was just something I had to do because I didn’t have any money. It started in film school; I did it for my friends because we couldn’t afford a composer. My first few features, I did the music to, and it just became a thing where I was cheap and fast! I did the music to Assault On Precinct 13 in one day!”
PERTURBATOR: “I think actually I heard that on the DVD commentary…”
JOHN: “Yeah, Halloween took me three days. I just knew that I had to do it. So, it got done.”
PERTURBATOR: HOW QUICKLY DID IT GROW ON YOU? ARE THERE ANY MOVIES NOW THAT YOU’D WANT TO SCORE THAT AREN’T YOUR OWN?
JOHN: “Well, it grew on me and it became another voice that was inside of me. It meant that I could make my films even more personal to myself and my story. I would actually love to do more scores for other people, though…”
PERTURBATOR: I HEAR YOU’RE SCORING THE
NEXT Final Fantasy FILM?
JOHN: “I am. It’s done, it’s completed. It’s very good and I’m really proud of the score.”
PERTURBATOR: HOW DOES MAKING A SCORE FOR SOMETHING AFFECT THE WAY YOU ARE FILMING SOMETHING? DO YOU CONSIDER THAT WHEN YOU’RE FILMING A SCENE?
JOHN: “absolutely not. the two things are always incredibly separate for me. I compartmentalise stuff, the directing stuff is always very specific. It’s just storytelling. But then when I do the score it has to support what I do as a director. I can’t be thinking about music when I’m directing the story of the scene, that has to come later.” PERTURBATOR: SO NOW YOU ARE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY MUCH MORE HEAVILY THAN
YOU ARE FILM, I HAVE TO ASK: WHICH ONE DO YOU PREFER?
JOHN: “I love playing music now because it’s a whole lot less stress. Making movies is hell! From the hours to the demands people have on you, it’s like working down a mine. Music is more of a passion. But I’ve arrived here just as the music industry is dead! Not like it used to be.”
PERTURBATOR: WELL, YOU’RE IN A PLACE AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME WHEN LOTS OF MUSICIANS ARE VERY INFLUENCED BY YOUR WORK. ARE YOU AWARE OF THEM?
JOHN: “No. I have no clue about that. I never really listen to anything that I think sounds like me. I know some people play synthesisers but that’s as far as I’m aware it goes, if I’m honest.”
PERTURBATOR: SO WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO
JOHN: “a lot of game music. I play a lot of video games, and they have some fantastic scores.”
PERTURBATOR: “What games do you play?” JOHN: “Well, I’m waiting for the new Fallout.
I just got Shadow Of The Tomb Raider. Destiny and Destiny 2 both have orchestral scores that are way above anything in film at the moment. I really think that, as an industry, they are the standard for everyone to follow now. I’m hugely into video games.”
PERTURBATOR: YOU MUST BE AWARE OF THE CONTRIBUTION YOU’VE MADE TO FILM AND MUSIC, THOUGH? HOW DOES THAT FEEL?
JOHN: “How do you think? It feels great! It’s very surprising, because I spent so long with people in Hollywood looking at me like I was this monster because of the movies I was making. So now it’s a very nice and confusing surprise that people feel so close to my work. I had honestly given up on it. Hans Zimmer told me that The Thing was one of his favourite scores. Which is quite incredible.”
PERTURBATOR: “and now you’re back working on the film that you are perhaps best known for, so that’s some cool synchronicity.”
JOHN: “It is. and I wouldn’t have just gone back to do it. I don’t like to look back too much, as I said before, but this felt like a chance to go back and do something from my past with all of the benefits of this experience I have now.” JOHN CARPENTER’S NEW HallOWEEn OST IS OUT OCTOBER 19 VIA SACRED BONES, AND HE TOURS THE UK LATER THIS MONTH. PERTURBATOR PLAYS A TRIO OF UK DATES IN MARCH
Jamie lee Curtis in JohnCarpenter’s Halloween
“I love John. I first met him when he was shooting Escape From LA:I was doing a song for the movie and I went down to the set and he was nice enough to hang out. I know how stressful it is making movies, so it was nice of him to hang out with me. He’s one of the few people whose movies I would watch just because of the director.”
Kurt russell on theset of The Thing