Joel Van Vliet
I, according to my website (www.joelvanvliet.com), am a songwriter, recording artist, singer, comedian, novelist, performer, actor, screenwriter, producer, humorist (see comedian), religionist, philosopher and narcissist. I’ve never completed a novel, acted in anything you’ve seen or written something for the screen that made it there. The other things on the list are a little bit more true to life.
When approaching the music for this project, I knew I wanted to make it typical of a musical, but it also had to be reminiscent of a horror score (which is what it’s a part of). The only way to marry the two ideas was to record the songs well, but in the most frightening of places and situations. Although horror, ghost stories and zombies aren’t typical fare for me, it seemed like a great opportunity to do all of that in one project. Travis did a fantastic job with the lyrics for the songs, bringing in classic elements from all over the horror universe while maintaining a singular story.
While writing the music and recording the demo versions of the songs, I made sure to put scary images on my television screen. Unfortunately, “Pan’s Labyrinth” isn’t nearly scary enough and even less so without sound (which was necessary to write music). Some of the images are still disturbing, but not really in a horror sort of way. This is why the songs in this movie are intense and dramatic, but really not at all scary. Not entirely my fault.
When it came to recording the foundational elements to any good rock and roll/musical song/piece (the drums and bass), I decided to make the environment unsettling in a more tangible way. First thing I did was dress up as a transvestite witch. I guessed that if the drummer or bassist were comfortable with witches, they would hopefully be unsettled by transvestites. Not only that, but I made sure to attach rubber bats and other creepy paraphernalia to the ceiling for effect. Turns out none of my efforts were as off-putting as I had hoped and the recording session went smoothly, if not a little humorously.
So, then it was time for me to perform and record the more basic elements in the songs, piano and guitars. Once again, I wanted to freak myself out in order to create the horror feel to everything. This time I got the brilliant (at least I thought it was at the time) idea to adjust the metronome or “click track” to no longer tick (as it typically would to keep me playing on time), but to say “boo” to me. I didn’t want to put a boo on every beat, so I just did it for the first beat in each bar. Now the metronome said, “BOO, click, click, click. BOO, click, click, click” (that only goes for songs in 4/4 time, obviously). There’s only so long you can get scared by “boo” when you know it’s going to come up every time. So, once again, the fear was lost and the songs were, still awesome, but not frightening.
I thought, the only way this musical will ever be as horrifying as I want it to be was to record the actors in the most horrible way possible. I prepared a dungeon, hired fat hairy men to wear leather masks and carry whips and put together some “do it yourself” concoction to hang the actors by their nipples with hooks. I splattered the walls with red paint to look like blood just to add the extra fear. I then arranged the mics so that they could still be near the mouths of the actors as they lay suspended over the gravelly, dank floor. When the room was all complete, I remember looking at it and vomiting it was so frightening. Anyway, the actors wouldn’t have it. I almost walked off. I almost threw in the towel being completely shocked that these people didn’t give two hoots about the atmosphere of these songs.
Turns out they decided to record the songs when I wasn’t there and just send them to me. It was pretty anti-climactic. The good news is, what came out of this all were a great bunch of songs which throw you into the world of a musical while contributing to the gasp-worthy ghost story. Hope you enjoy it and can still sort of hear the struggles I went through.
Joel van Vliet