Rocky Horror Show

Mayhem 2014: 8mm Orchestra

28 October 14 words: Harry Wilding
We caught up with 8mm Orchestra prior to their live soundtrack performance at Mayhem Film Festival.


Are 8mm Orchestra big film fans?
Leo:
As long as it’s a pre-1983 Star Wars film.

Martin: We probably talk about films as much as we talk about music, as evidenced by some of our song titles. Being an instrumental band means you can call your songs what you like and quite often it’ll be something that made us laugh from a film.

Did you attend any other films at Mayhem 2013?
Leo: I missed it all! Definitely going to try and catch Dead Snow 2 this year, though.

Martin: I got to see Don’t Look Now at St Mary’s Church, but ashamedly nothing else. I’m going to have to get out the old whip and give myself some religious flagellation. I plan to see everything I can on the Sunday, as Jack and I are in Paris for the rest of the festival, playing another gig.

Jack: I was living in Krakow for a year in 2013 so I missed the whole thing. I’m not actually a big horror fan; I prefer my sci-fi and thrillers...

How did your involvement in Mayhem 2013 come about?
Martin: From some excited conversations between the Mayhem guys and George about films and music over beer, and how we’d love to get involved in more soundtrack work.

Had you seen The Unknown or Daughter of Horror before Chris and Steve (the Mayhem guys) thrust them upon you? 
Martin: No I hadn’t, which made it more fun and for me as it meant that I wasn’t influenced by any conceptions I would have made. It was all fresh linen to soil.

Leo: I've deliberately avoided watching either of them with the sound on after we were asked to do them. The soundtrack is so crucial in setting the mood in a silent film, that I didn't want that mood to be set in my mind before we started setting a new one for ourselves.

If the filmmakers of The Unknown or Daughter of Horror were able to attend your performances, what do you think they would make of your soundtracks?
Martin: I think they would say ‘who the fuck dug me up?!’ Seriously though, I hope they would enjoy a new take on their work and shower us in rapturous applause.

Jack: I hated the original soundtrack for Daughter of Horror. It’s very repetitive and tedious - it ruins the pacing of the film.

Leo: I like to think that Tod Browning would have enjoyed what we did with The Unknown, though I'd probably be more interested to know what the original score was like before it got lost. As for Daughter of Horror, a significant portion of the film's original score is a Shorty Rogers jazz song. I'm not convinced that they'd be too happy with the lack of trumpets in our version.

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Daughter of Horror

Has one of the films been harder to soundtrack than the other – if so, why?
Martin: Last year we were a man down, as Jack was living in sin in Poland, so that made it a bit tougher with running about playing different instruments. That being said, we have more instruments this year…

Leo: I've found this year a lot easier. Maybe it's down to being more experienced this time around, but I think the length of the scenes has also helped. The Unknown has a lot of quick cuts, but Daughter of Horror has these long brooding scenes with lots of time for things to build. I think having that space really lends itself a lot more naturally to what we would usually do as a band.

Jack: It’s almost like Daughter of Horror was made for us to soundtrack.

Are you more nervous or less nervous about 2014’s performance compared to 2013’s?
Leo: I've never really been one for getting nervous, but I'm definitely more confident about this year. Last year it was really unknown territory for us, and although we were happy with what we'd come up with, we had no idea how it would go down with silent movie and horror fans. After it got such a good reception though, I've felt a lot more relaxed about how this year will be received

Martin: Same amount for me. Only because of the amount of instruments, and that the film keeps rolling even if something goes wrong. At a gig, I’d style it out by doing it again like I meant to do it.

Jack: We had our dress rehearsal this Saturday and I was looking out into the theatre thinking, I can’t wait for this place to be full of people who can enjoy this with us.

How is writing music for a film the same and how is different from making the music for a band?
Martin: It starts in the same kind of way, where one of us has had an idea for a scene of the film and we listen and jam it for a while until some interesting idea nuggets start to form. Obviously with the film you’re always thinking about how the music fits (or purposely subverts) what is happening on the screen and matching moods and visual cues, which isn’t a factor when writing a song. An interesting part is that for a lot of it each person wrote their own parts for their instruments so I think you can hear 8mm coming through even when there’s an external influence to adhere to.

Jack: The main thing I wanted to avoid was ‘Foley music’, as in; if someone knocks on a door we need to make a ‘boomy’ noise to represent that. I really wanted to avoid spoon-feeding the audience certain things. We’ve made a big effort to have clever transitions, variations on musical cues, and little melodies here and there when recurring imagery appears.

Leo: It’s a double edged sword- everything has very defined lengths and timings which can be a little restricting for a band that regularly pushes the eight minute mark with songs. We're very used to getting carried away at gigs and extending sections and jamming on them a little longer than usual if we're enjoying them. On the other hand, there are a lot of possibilities to do things that would never cross our minds when writing a regular song. Certainly, some of the instrumentation we're using this year is unlike anything we'd use normally.

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8mm Orchestra. Photo: David Parry
 

Are you interested in writing original music for any new films? Or have you already done so?
Leo:  Well, I hear John Williams has already started on Episode VII, so I'm pretty gutted we never got that call.

Martin: We’ve done some short film work in the past, and our music gets used a lot for various videos, but it’d be great to do an original score to a film. Get in touch! I’m talking to you, Aronofsky.

Jack: Provided the right person approached us, and it was the right project for us, we wouldn’t pass on such an opportunity. In some ways though I feel that with Daughter of Horror - because our soundtrack is so radically different to the original, it feels like it is a totally different – and new - film.

Any plans for the soundtracks for The Unknown or Daughter of Horror to become available (on CD or on a DVD package) or are there copyright issues?
Martin: It’d be great to do both and record them for a DVD. A double feature! I don’t understand film copyright; I’ll ask Chris and Steve!

Leo: Daughter of Horror is public domain, so I think we can pretty much do what we like with it. There has been talk of DVDs etc., but nothing concrete yet. I'd love for it to happen though.

What is next, after Mayhem, for 8mm Orchestra?
Jack: We’ve all put a lot of time into this project, maybe more than we would our usual output, and are very pleased with the results so we are discussing and planning on trying to have it shown elsewhere. I would like to do something with Mayhem again in the future, as they are lovely gents who have been very supportive.

Martin: Or perhaps the next 8mm release. Don’t hold us to that, we keep talking about all these ideas we got for that big momma.

8mm Orchestra will be performing a live soundtrack to Daughters of Horror on Sunday 2 November at 6.45pm, as part of Mayhem Horror Film Festival at Broadway Cinema. 

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