Tuesday, October 18, 2016

HIGH TENSION WIRED: The Deep Horror Sounds of Jay Chattaway

On Tuesday October 25th, 2016 Dan Halsted of the popular Grindhouse Film Series brings William Lustig's sacred abomination Maniac (1981) back to Portland's historic Hollywood Theatre in glorious 35mm. If you've ever had the dubious pleasure of discussing cinema with me when I've been drinking whiskey, you already know precisely how and why Maniac is one of the finest works of genre art ever committed to celluloid. It is a relentless and malignant assault that delivers in spades on every terrible promise of the slasher mythos by unflinchingly "going there"...and far, far beyond. Is it misogynistic? It certainly caused enough of an uproar when it was released that feminists protested theaters throughout its entire run. Is it disturbing? Just listen to the nervous involuntary snickers that ripple around you as an exceptionally greasy Joe Spinell starts moaning and caressing himself. And that's before the knives even get wet. Is it scary? Terrifying. Frank Zito does for late night subways what "Bruce" the great white shark did for Massachusetts beaches. Of course, the shrouded alchemy of this film - the secret ingredient that amplifies the grisly proceedings to feverish climax - is the insectoid synth-driven score by Jay Chattaway. It seems like every pizza tosser with a mustache and Uriah Heep t-shirt can hum a Goblin melody and bid $75 on the latest Fabio Frizzi re-issue these days. I guess that’s not a crime in itself, but sadly few are doin’ the robot to the fancy-schmancy tunes of classically trained jazz cat composer Jay Chattaway. And I’m here to set that fuckin’ straight. The unsettling sounds Chattaway created for director William Lustig’s early exploit-oeuvre are seminal masterpieces of taut anxiety that propelled the former porn hustler’s edgy narratives off the rails with a sensitivity and depth rarely evidenced in films boasting low budget hooker scalpings, delinquent wheelchair tippings and wet cement asphyxiations (“You have the right to remain silent…Forever!”). Growing up in the Empire State during the Reagan administration, this was horror that struck gleefully close to home. You see, the Maniac Cop was sentenced to hard time in my home town. From the bucolic comfort of dead end streets nestled a safe enough distance from Sing Sing prison, Lustig’s films represented the contagious alienation, the sordid stimulation and the seething nocturnal menace lurking…out there. Down stream; beyond autumnal gazebos and the colonial Dutch tombstones of the Headless Horseman; past burned-out carcasses of abandoned roadside vehicles, into the grey vandalized ruins of the Italian post-Apocalypse Now where dismal clotheslines dangled like soiled gauze between the fissures of shell shocked window panes. And still further into stygian subterranean commuter catacombs; spewed stillborn into the noxious neon slime of Times Square with its roving predatory glands pulsating endlessly. Urban ground zero was Lustig’s Globe Theater and Chattaway commandeered every electronic device at his disposal - and a few woodwinds for good measure - to draw dramatic pathos from the hopelessly psychopathic and terminally disturbed. Chattaway launched his film industry career with none other than Lustig’s frequently misunderstood magnum opus Maniac (1981), and soon went on to score such white-knuckled wonders as Vigilante (1983), Missing In Action (1984), Invasion U.S.A. (1985), Silver Bullet (1985), Delta Force (1986), Red Scorpion (1988), Maniac Cop (1988) and Relentless (1989) among many others. He has since enjoyed a very successful ride aboard the Starship Enterprise and will undoubtedly be canonized someday by paunchy LARPers for the sentimental flute solo he composed for Star Trek: The Next Generation. As my lady once yawned while reaching across the television to hand me another cold one, “He made good music for bad movies.” Today we celebrate Chattaway's genius with this embarrassingly unedited interview he was kind enough to grant me back in 2012. I suggest you buy your tickets now...

Dennis Dread: Jay, given the scope of your achievements as a musician and composer over the past 30 years or more, is it weird to be interviewed by some creep who worships your Maniac score? 

Jay Chattaway: No, it is not weird at all. It’s great to know that there are folks who actually pay attention to my music. 

Good! Because I absolutely adore your score for Maniac! In many ways it was the blueprint for some of your best work in the horror and action genres. I hear variations of motifs from Maniac in later scores like Vigilante, Maniac Cop and Missing in Action. Would you agree? 

Maniac was my first real film score for the masses. I did a lot of documentary work previously. 

Did you do any personal rituals before preparing the Maniac soundtrack? I mean, were there any particular actions or experiences that prepared you to tap into those dark currencies? 

No special rituals or experiences. I have always been able to visualize the music for the film projects I work on. It comes all at once as though the music is attached to the film. I don't understand, but it works for me. 

Did your immediate environment or the generally strained mood of urban America during that era have any influence on the sounds you created back then or was your music purely a response to the imagery and tone of the films you were scoring at the time? 

Although I was working in the city and have been mugged, it was more the film images that drove the musical inspiration. 

Were you living in New York City when you composed Maniac and Vigilante? 

I was working in New York City and living in Connecticut. The Maniac score was recorded in a small farmhouse studio in Connecticut. I played a lot of the keyboard tracks along with Pete Levin. We did some very strange techniques, like changing the speed of the tape recorder while playing acoustic instruments, causing them to sound a bit bent. The electronic instruments were primitive: Mini-Moog and Prophet. Most of the very strange effects were [achieved] by trying these new techniques to acoustic instruments. We used real woodwinds and percussion and this was probably the only film score to employ a fretless bass guitar as a primary melodic instrument. 

Your early work really tapped into a dark and genuinely unsettling feeling of total urban malaise. You did this thing in many of your scores that's like a pitch shift where the note goes from high to low and has a very unsettling effect. What the hell is that called? 

I'm not certain what you mean by this pitch shift motif. Apparently it must work. 

Fabio Frizzi used a similar technique in his score for The Beyond. Do you draw inspiration from any other soundtrack composers? 

I’m not familiar with that score…[but] I was inspired by many composers, most notably Henry Mancini- many don't know of his "scary" scores-, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone and Maurice Jarre, to name a few. 

It seems to me that your scores became increasingly "cinematic" as you progressed but the Maniac score was something else altogether. Almost every moment is pregnant with morbid tension and jarring momentum. Um...that's not a question is it? 

Morbid tension? That's a good one! That film, although about a very disturbing subject also revealed the inner workings of a very disturbed mind. I think my music tried to portray that which was not on the screen, but implied, thus the sensitive theme. 

Do you have a favorite film score? 

The Mission by Ennio Morricone, as it portrays both the secular and sacred subject matter at the same time. Truly brilliant. 

What was your childhood like? Do you recall your initial musical inspiration? 

I grew up in a rural town called Monongahela in Pennsylvania. I began writing music at a very early age. I went to see Henry Mancini conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony while a young boy and that one incident turned on my light bulb. I was able to share that with him before he died. 

It’s great that you had that opportunity. Your first connection with the film industry was when you produced Maynard Ferguson's 1977 record Conquistador which featured his theme from Rocky and shortly after that you worked with Gato Barbieri on the Firepower soundtrack. You are credited with production and arrangement but did you actually compose some of that music? 

I was a jazz composer and arranger prior to becoming a film composer. I wrote for many jazz artists and Maynard's album propelled me into a successful recording career. I met Gato while arranging one of his albums. His music to Last Tango was done prior to the film being completed. Bertolucci cut the film to his beautiful theme. On Firepower, the film was already finished. Gato wrote the themes. I was able to help score the film by utilizing his material and arranging and conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a big deal…I was hooked! 

How did you meet Bill Lustig? 

I met Bill Lustig through his friend and producer, Andrew Garroni. I was at Columbia Records and Andy was booking musicians for clubs. He asked me if I had any artists that would be interested in scoring the film he was working on. The director was Bill Lustig. These guys were on fire with enthusiasm about this film they were starting. I said I might be interested. The rest is history. 

How would you characterize your relationship with Bill? 

Bill and I would spend countless hours watching films he respected. He was truly a student of film scoring and, as a result, exposed me to many scores that I didn't know, particularly the early Morricone scores. We had a great creative relationship and continue to be friends. Bill is a gifted director who knows how to use music and doesn't interfere with its creation. 

Vigilante is one of your best scores. It's absolutely perfect. That's not a question again is it? Um…from my perspective it seems odd that a Salsa label like Fania was involved in the production of the Vigilante soundtrack. Was that due to the influence of jazz and Afro-Cuban music on popular soundtracks at the time? 

Vigilante was partially produced by the people who owned Fania records. I produced several Fania All-Star albums that were pretty successful. Jerry Masucci wanted some of his recording artists to cross over into film. Ruben Blades, for example. He also made a film called The Last Fight which I scored. Fania paid for the music for the film and, as a result, they kept the masters. 

How have technological developments affected your creativity or methods of working since then? 

I'm not sure that technological advances have helped me immensely. When I scored these early films, I didn't even have a copy of the film to watch. I would go to the editing room, watch the daily films projected and take notes, then go home and compose. Now, of course we have the working films available on our computers and can experiment, demo, have large group discussions by many folks as to how the music should be written, then compared to a temp track that someone has compiled incorporating and amalgamating all the recent "hit" scores, and the result is??? Ok, which is better. Plus, I actually had time to think about and compose these scores, Now it is considered the norm to crank them out in much shorter time. Perhaps that is one of the ways technology has affected creativity. Perhaps we relate to the creative process entirely differently now that people tend to expect fast results and immediate gratification. 

What would be your dream film to score? 

A psychological thriller that could incorporate some sweeping vistas…with possibly a bit of Western influence as well as many different ethnic world music colors. Try to find my score to Jakarta…something like that. Know anyone who is making one of those films? 

Uh, no. 


No conversation about Jay Chattaway’s early horror scores would be complete without commentary from auteur, producer, Blue Underground CEO and exploitation champion William Lustig. Fortunately, I stumbled across Bill in a back alley and he granted me a few uncomfortable moments of his time… 

Dennis Dread: You originally wanted Goblin to score Maniac. Why did that not happen? 

William Lustig: For a brief period early in the project Dario Argento was going to be a financial participant, which included his then wife and Goblin’s involvement. In retrospect, this was something of a very happy accident. 

How did you initially meet Jay Chattaway? 

Andy Garroni’s brother Marco produced a Maynard Ferguson concert in New York. I met Jay at the show, [he] had produced his latest album. One thing lead to another and Jay was hired. 

His score for Maniac was unique in that it transcends Joe Spinell's character and almost becomes something of a character in itself. Would you agree? 

I agree that Jay’s music was unique in that it complimented Joe’s performance by creating empathy for this deranged killer. 

Since it was your first collaboration, what kind of direction did you give? 

I had Jay watch John Carpenter and Dario Argento films, which he hadn’t seen. I also used moments from various films to illustrate what I had in mind. 

Maniac was sort of a guerrilla film in that you "stole" several sequences such as the un-permitted subway footage and infamous Tom Savini shotgun scene. Jay's music also breaks away from the "rules" of earlier film soundtracks. Was the score intentionally transgressive or did Jay surprise you when he played what he was coming up with for your film? 

While Jay’s score was often a delightful surprise, I attended the recording sessions and tweaked the score. 

What role does creative "rule-breaking" have for you these days now that you are a well-established industry figure with...um...something to lose? 

It never occurred to me that we were breaking rules. I think the difference from those days and today is that we were doing things intuitively with a committee. 

Have you tamed creatively with age? 

I hope not! 

It's almost redundant to state this but Jay's early scores perfectly captured the gritty urban menace of the 1980's. How do you think an otherwise mild-mannered classically trained jazz dude like Jay tapped into such a heavy vibe? 

I think I had an influence on Jay’s music for my films by bombarding him with Ennio Morricone scores. 

Was he provided with dailies to work from or was he composing music based on scripts? 

Jay spotted the films with me in the editing room. He also attended screenings of the “rough cuts”. 

Do you have a favorite movie score? 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Wild Bunch

Well, thanks for your time, Bill. As Edmond O’Brian grumbles at the end of The Wild Bunch, “It’s not like it was, but it’ll do…”

Friday, October 14, 2016


Brothers and Sisters: Yesterday afternoon the California Corrections Parole Board deliberated for less than two hours before once again denying freedom for my dear friend Bobby BeauSoleil. For those who do not already know, Bobby murdered a man in 1969 under terrible circumstances at the unwise age of 21. He has been in prison ever since (do the math yourself). I do not minimize the awful gravity of his crime. Still, it is my belief that this is an inhumane and unjust punishment and I firmly believe that Bobby should be free. However, I am not the type to whine and moan about injustices. No. Instead, I hereby announce the impending release of the latest Wyrd War "Artist Series" t-shirt with an unambiguous message befitting my perfectly unambiguous stance. FUCK THE WORLD is an exclusive vintage-inspired design created by none other than my longtime brother, Erik Danielsson of WATAIN​. Limited to 50 shirts and then deleted forever. Shirts will be reserved upon payment and will ship in early November. ORDER NOW AND FTW!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Photo by Peter Beste.
One of the first things Siki Spacek asked to do when he landed in the Northwest was visit the grave of his childhood guitar hero Jimi Hendrix.
He was rather enthusiastic about the visit.
Hendrix said to pass it on, and so Jeremy did.
Siki signing the guest book in the Hendrix Room.
Even Jimi's statue seems to realize these guys need showers...
Acid Wash killing it in Seattle for their first performance outside Portland.
Nice reunion with old friends in Christian Mistress.

Great silhouette of Acid Wash's Eric Hines by Matt Amott.
Photo by Stephanie Savenkoff.
Photo by Stephanie Savenkoff.
Photo by Stephanie Savenkoff.
Photo by Stephanie Savenkoff.
Photo by Stephanie Savenkoff.
Photo by Rachael Andreas.
Photo by Rachael Andreas.

Amazing evidence of this amazing week keeps surfacing.
Photo by Matt Amott.
Danava creepin' and reapin'. Photo by Rachael Andreas.
The War Machine sets sail from Portland with Commodore Dread at the helm.
Mr. Lindsay's early morning hotel "selfie" somewhere in Redding, California. 

Acid Wash's first performance in California captured by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Nice shot from Thee Parkside in SF by Sheryl Creer.

Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.
Photo by Shaun Astor.

Midnight commanded the stage before Cirith Ungol made their triumphant return...
When I met founding Cirith Ungol member Rob Garven, he took this pin right off his denim vest and placed it in my hand. This week the City of Ventura formally recognized the band at City Hall and October 10th will now and forever be recognized as Cirith Ungol Day!

The Magnificant Ventura Theater is actually pretty magnificant. Especially when Cirith Ungol is on stage performing their first concert since 1991.

Photo by Tom "Coffin Collector."
Me and Tim "Johnny Fever" Baker, one of the greatest voices in heavy metal and one of the nicest guys I met in Ventura. This is exactly how metal should age.
A lot of skeptics didn't think Siki would ever find an audience beyond his rust belt hometown. The headbangers at Frost and Fire II proved otherwise. 

Photo by Peter Beste.

Many were the non-believers who said Siki Spacek would never tour. They were probably the same mouth breathers who doubted that we could get him on a plane back in 2014 for his first performance west of Cleveland, Ohio. Regardless, this week we successfully took the West Coast by force with dates in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Ventura. San Francisco was the weak link in the chain, with our dullest turn out and tiniest stage (what the hell happened to the once mighty Bay Area metal scene??), however, the night was spectacularly salvaged by our new friends in Oakland's Mesmer, who set the night on fire with true heavy metal passion! Thanks also to Christian Mistress, High Spirits, Danava, Meercaz and the Visions, Ashbury, Grim Reaper and Acid Wash for sharing stages, gear and festival bills with Black Death Resurrected along the way. Also thanks to Jarvis Leatherby for all of his work organizing Frost and Fire II in Ventura, California. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the tour. Twenty one gun salute to all who lent their energy in various ways to this adventure. Extra special thanks to my beautiful daughter Kallisti. The metal legions will never fully understand or appreciate how or why a 19 year old woman who admittedly cares little about loud music would sacrifice more than practically anyone else to make this mini tour a resounding success. But she did. Make no mistake, this week was the execution and triumph of our collective Will to Power. The Wyrd War will simply not be stopped. UNTIL WE ROCK!!!!