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Written by By Don J. Hoskinnall   
Dec 10, 2004 at 07:00 PM
If you have seen Eric Stanze’s ICE FROM THE SUN or SCRAPBOOK ...or any other Stanze movie for that matter, you have listened to the talents of Brian McClelland.
McClelland has been creating music for movies since he recorded the original scores to Eric Stanze’s first flicks, THE SCARE GAME and THE FINE ART (both currently available at B-Movie Theater as Collector’s Edition releases). McClelland's music can be heard on every single Eric Stanze motion picture subsequently released.
Most recently, McClelland wrote and performed the intense music score that pierces through the Wicked Pixel Cinema production of SCRAPBOOK.
McClelland is in a band (Hotel Faux Pas) that has released seven albums, plus he has created music for five feature movies and two short films... and he is only in his late 20’s. I was thrilled when I got the chance to interview him about his fascinating career...
Q: How did you meet Eric Stanze and how did your first movie/music score collaboration occur?
Brian McClelland: Eric and I met in a video production class at a local college. I saw him wearing a crew shirt from his previous production, THE SCARE GAME, and I asked the usual questions. Eric's maturity, professionalism, and self-possession were intriguing. I was immediately interested in working with him. The enthusiasm Eric has for filmmaking is infectious.
Q: You have contributed music to every one of Eric Stanze's movies. Give us an idea as to how you creatively tailored the music score for each one of Stanze's very different movies.
BM: The first project I collaborated with Eric on was THE FINE ART, which I also co-produced. This was a rollicking short (but long) student film that was made using the equipment of the college cable station that Eric and I worked at, under the guise that we were making the movie for the station. THE FINE ART did air on Jefferson County, MO cable. It was the creepiest and most subversive thing ever to be aired on that station. But Eric's goal was to make a movie with somebody else's equipment. Which is the right idea for any young and broke filmmaker. The score was created by myself (soundtrack producer / playing bass, guitar, keys, and percussion) with Tracy Lowe (guitars and percussion) and Jimmy Thebeau (percussion and keys). Recorded in live takes, direct to audio cassette, the sessions were extremely loose and more than slightly unfocused. Moods were high and so were the participants, which sometimes derailed the recording process a bit. Reliant on electronic percussion (which we've tried not to use since this project) and awash in funk-drenched evil minor keys, this is a unique sound that isn't replicated in any of the later projects. Matt Meyer (Ded Bugs / The Finns) also contributed a few pieces of music; beautiful sweeping acoustic guitar with soaring, out of this world melodic leads. I'm a big fan of Matt's work (and Matt, for that matter) and was excited to get his talent involved. An incredible musician and songwriter. I was lucky enough to collaborate with Matt on two other projects in the following years, SAVAGE HARVEST and ICE FROM THE SUN.
Eric asked me to throw together an "on the spot" score for his first movie THE SCARE GAME (when the movie was first picked up for distribution, it contained mostly copywritten music that needed to be replaced by original score). "On the spot" meaning Eric and myself standing at a keyboard in an empty tv studio, watching THE SCARE GAME on a monitor and plunking out the music as we watched each scene progress. We would go over each scene a couple times and then lay it’s music down on 3/4" video tape. A fun time, two guys in a dark room making creepy noises. We added a couple "songs" from crummy recordings of my old high school band. Icky songs, icky recordings. But we went with what we had at the time, and we did make an improvement over the existing soundtrack. I think.
SAVAGE HARVEST was the first of the bigger projects, taking over 2 years from inception to completion. I was the producer of the soundtrack, immediately enlisting Matt Meyer. We wanted a more cohesive sound on this project, working closely on each scene to try for a fluidity that would add to the tension without taking any attention away from the story. Eric had chosen several songs by my band Hotel Faux Pas that he wanted to be recorded for the movie, arranging some free studio time (once again, smart young filmmaker). The songs were eventually included in the movie, adding some short musical montages to SAVAGE HARVEST. This was quite a boon to my broke bandmates, allowing us to release an EP of the songs recorded for the movie. The EP was entitled "We Know Where You Live." It was our first time recording in an actual studio. For the score, we were going for a primitive, tribal sound and I think we achieved that in a couple tracks. Matt's solo contribution, "Possession", hit the nail on the head. The man's a genius. And he isn't listed in the credits under MUSIC BY... I hadn't intended on working with Matt as much as I did when I was starting the project, and the credits originally included my name only. By the time the score was in production and I realized just how integral Matt was to the project, I asked Eric if it was too late to change the MUSIC BY credit to include Matt. Too late. I forever flagellate myself for this oversight and want Matt to have every bit of credit that he deserves for co-writing that score.
When Eric asked me to work with him on ICE FROM THE SUN, there was no question about working with Matt again. I intended to produce the soundtrack, but as production moved forward I more or less handed over the Big Boss reins to Matt, begging off to concentrate more on my band. We wanted a balls out, whacked bit of music to go with Eric's balls out, whacked movie. Did we succeed? I hope so. We began to experiment more with recording sounds on an old analog 8 track reel-to-reel and manipulating those tapes back into a digital format (ADAT at the time). The main goal I had for this project was to pick the unlikeliest of music for any given scene and MAKE IT WORK. Give the audience exactly what they don't expect to hear, without distracting the audience from the story and visuals. An example would be the disturbing, graphic scene where a nude victim was tied to the bumper of a pickup truck and dragged down a gravel road. Oh, dear, I thought. Wouldn't a polka be nice right there? The unlikeliest piece of music, but somehow it works. I think when you're shocking an audience with something that... horrific, the only choice for scoring is to use something unexpected. Or complete silence. Which I'm a big fan of.
When Eric asked me to score his most recent project, the gritty nightmare SCRAPBOOK, I decided to tackle the project without any collaborators, a first for me. At once freeing and terrifying, I saw this as an opportunity to experiment, stretching myself as a writer and musician. This was an unsettling movie. Some of the most disturbing realism ever captured by a camera. What kind of sounds can help make these terrifying scenes even more terrifying? Absolute silence. And some insane music. I wanted this score to be unlike anything I'd done before. A creation of cacophonous noise made beautiful. I wanted the audience to hear what the inside of this monster's head sounds like. First step? Vinyl. Recruiting a wonderful old turntable from Hotel Faux Pas guitarist Karl Dodson, I recorded a layer of warped, slow, scratchy sounds. What records were used to make these terrible noises? An old (alleged) comedy record by Kip Adotta. Plus Donny & Marie's GOIN' COCONUTS! Or was it GOIN' BANANAS! I dunno. No matter, the choice of records was intentional. What's more perverse than Donny & Marie? Fitting, I thought. The next layer was noise. Distortion. Spiking VU meters intentionally. Vocals, bass, guitar, and various random noisemakers distorted beyond recognition. To counter the excessive noise we used clear, clean, slow piano lines. I though it to be a fantastic tension builder to hold these long monotone notes. So did Stanley Kubrick, apparently. Two months after I completed the SCRAPBOOK score, I saw Kubrick's last film, EYES WIDE SHUT, and sank in my seat in dread when I heard him use a very similar tension builder in the score, single long monotone piano. Oh, well. At least it wasn't MISSION TO MARS or something.
Q: Do you have any general theories or modes of thought concerning music for film? Anything that provides you with a starting point at square one of any movie project?
BM: The first thing I do is watch a finished cut of a film and work up some idea of how the feel of the film should be. This is before I've spoken to the director. Once I have a few ideas I'll talk to the director to get an idea of what he's looking for. Even if his mind is totally made up on a specific direction, I try to keep the relationship loose and allow room for collaboration between us. Can I write a score that is exactly what somebody else wants with none of myself in it? Maybe. Not yet. If it doesn't excite me in some way, I have trouble finding the inspiration that is so necessary in this kind of project.
Eric has given his composers nearly free rein, allowing some really wonderful stuff to happen. He has his vision, and if he hears something going too far in the opposite direction of what he sees and hears in his head, he'll gently veto with a soft, "Maybe there's something else we can try here..." Keeping his vision intact, yet allowing ample creative breathing room for all parties involved.
Q: There is a wide variety of music styles in ICE FROM THE SUN. Each scene has it's own sound; there is no theme that runs the length of the movie. Tell us about that.
BM: Eric wanted each scene to be unique, visually and aurally. Matt and I assigned specific scenes to each other and worked up several pieces. We brought these together, adding to each other’s work. We used various techniques to make the different sounds. Like placing microphones on the other side of a closed door while we vamped on a kitschy spy number (used in ICE FROM THE SUN’s "jungle room" scene, later developed into the Hotel Faux Pas song "(Love Theme From) Ice From The Sun") to give the feeling of (what else?) a band playing in another room. We recorded various instruments at half speed or double speed and then played them back slightly altered, skewing something to sound almost, but not quite, normal. The freedom to experiment was intoxicating.
Q: What were your feelings when you initially screened the completed ICE FROM THE SUN and first experienced your music score fused with the images and other sound elements?
BM: That film is a trip. A truly imaginative collaboration between dozens of people who really enjoy making movies. The sound elements that Matt Meyer put together with Eric were phenomenal. Matt's a wizard sound man. As for seeing our score fused with the final cut, nothing has made me more proud than the squeamish almost-laughter that accompanies the Gravel Road Dragging Polka scene. Warms my heart.
Q: What were your feelings when you initially screened the completed SCRAPBOOK and first experienced your music score fused with the images and other sound elements?
BM: I was more proud of SCRAPBOOK than anything I'd done before. Eric allowed the score to take chances that many directors wouldn't have. I give Eric full credit for that. A fabulous, rewarding experience.
Q: Have you created music scores for directors other than Eric Stanze? If so, please describe these projects.
BM: No other feature lengths. I scored a short film for director Jason Christ in 1999 titled VICTIM. That was a fun, intense project. A great short from a very talented director. There were two entirely different scores written and recorded for it, the unused version appearing as a bonus track on the SCRAPBOOK original soundtrack cd.
Bill Clifton used two of my songs recorded with Hotel Faux Pas in his 2000 short, SATAN EATS LUNCH. If you have a chance to see either of these shorts, do so. Extremely talented directors, both.
In 1995, I provided music score for Tommy Biondo’s short project, SATISFACTION. (SATISFACTION and VICTIM are both on the Wicked Pixel Cinema release, THE SEVERED HEAD NETWORK.)
Q: The soundtrack to SCRAPBOOK is available on CD. It is the first soundtrack to a Stanze movie to feature only music score. (The soundtrack CD to ICE FROM THE SUN contained only songs. The soundtrack tape to SAVAGE HARVEST contained score and songs.) What are your thoughts on this? How do you think the SCRAPBOOK CD soundtrack plays on it own, the music removed from the movie?
BM: We wanted a score-only soundtrack cd. We had this hypnotizing mix of tension and release and didn't want that disturbed by a rock song jumping out at the listener. I think only one "song" was used in the movie, anyway. I hope the soundtrack cd works on its own in re-creating the mad inner turmoil of this monstrous character. I've been told that it works as fabulous Halloween music. So there must be something to that, huh?
Q: What are your favorite movie music scores? Do you have any favorite movie score composers?
BM: My favorite score composers are nothing like anything I write, so I don't know if there's anything influencing me on that end. Certain scores kick my ass, though. The subtle tension in the music of FULL METAL JACKET was sublime. And done by Kubrick's daughter under a pseudonym, no less! Kubrick's films are brilliantly scored. Another score that knocked me out (and I'm sure this will earn me a few snickers) is THE PAPER, by Randy Newman. Did you listen to that score? Fucking amazing, the melody in that.
Q: Is there a specific point in your youth or your education that you think pushed you into wanting to create music for movies?
BM: I've always enjoyed making music for already existing pictures. I think it started when I was a novice musician, experimenting with these great new toys, doodling in front of a TV with the sound turned down. When I wasn't dubbing in ridiculous voices I was playing music. Way back in 1983. I was eleven. Probably wearing a Duran Duran t-shirt. Yep.
Q: Now that SCRAPBOOK is out, do you think you will contribute music to the next Stanze feature project?
BM: I'm waiting for the call.

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