Yesterday, I reviewed John Everson’s chilling book, The Pumpkin Man. Today, I’m happy to welcome John to the blog today to discuss the importance of music in horror.
The Music of Horror
I can’t live without music. I can’t really write without it either. I’m not sure why anyone would want to go through life without listening to fun, catchy tunes every day, but I know there are people like that out there. When I talk to a middle-aged person who has never been to a live concert and prefers to listen to talk radio instead of songs on their daily commute… well… I just feel sorry for them honestly. That seems like going through life without one of your limbs. Doable… but depressing.
The idea of life without music? Now that’s horror to me.
I’ve always been this way. I don’t like to read without music in the background, and I never studied in school without the radio. I rarely watch TV. For me, I’m absolutely the happiest with an English ale in one hand and one of my favorite bands on the speakers in front of me. Preferably turned up loud.
What does any of this have to do with the reason I’m here on the blog today?
Well, music played a big part in the making of my new novel, The Pumpkin Man. Just as it has in all of my books really. I started writing my fifth novel more than a year and a half ago, and in the midst of the most intense writing, I was getting up every morning before my dayjob to write for an hour or two in the quiet of dawn. But it wasn’t totally quiet.
On the speakers, I listened to a duo called La Floa Maldita. They’re a German electronica band with an evocative female singer and a dark undercurrent to their sound. It was a perfect soundtrack to the story I was trying to tell – the story of two young school teachers who lose their jobs and home and relocate to a remote part of the Northern California coast. But instead of finding a quiet summer vacation there, they instead find themselves rooting through a dead woman’s library of the occult, trying to solve the mystery of The Pumpkin Man, a seemingly supernatural figure who is killing people in their newly adopted town. But The Pumpkin Man isn’t your typical knife-wielding psycho. He actually carves the image of his victims into a pumpkin… and then leaves the pumpkin in place of his victims’ heads. And his cycle of killing is somehow connected to, and circling closer, to Jennica Murphy, our lead heroine.
There are Ouija board seances, secret crypts and rooms, and an overall feeling of impending doom with a ticking clock.
It was a fun novel to write, and it was definitely helped in its mood by La Floa Maldita’s own dark vibe. You can hear one of their tracks on my website devoted to The Pumpkin Man. Just visit the Music page.
Music has long held an important place in horror. The creepy mood of a haunted house is usually aided by a soundtrack designed to raise the hairs on the back of the neck. One of the most famous horror stories? The Phantom of the Opera.
What’s the first thing you think about when I mention the classic horror movie Halloween? For many people, it will be that eerie one-finger piano theme that director John Carpenter himself wrote. Words and visuals speak to the brain, but music taps in directly to the soul. And the soul doesn’t forget.
I’ve been a musician all of my life, and to be honest, writing a “theme” to The Pumpkin Man was something I wanted to do — I would have embedded it as background music on the website for the book. As it turned out, the past year has simply been too crazy for me to work in my basement music studio, and so no theme music got written. But while I didn’t end up writing music for the book, I did end up partnering with a really cool new band who have a soft spot for things “horror”. They’re called New Years Day, and their track “Resurrection” is featured on the iPod of The Pumpkin Man web site’s “online Ouija Board” (click and give them a listen!) And I used a collage of some of the instrumental segments of their music to form a “soundtrack” to the website. So log in and give them a listen while you read the Prologue of the book online.
I guess with all this talk about music, I should give you a short list of my personal favorites? If you’re not familiar with any of the following bands, I urge you to look them up… they’re worth adding to your daily playlist! I’ve thanked many of them in the Acknowledgments sections of my novels, because they’ve certainly (if unintentionally) inspired my work over the years.
My favorite bands to write spooky stories too include: The Cure, New Order, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Kate Bush, Elysian Fields, La Floa Maldita, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Conjure One, Delerium, October Project, Dead Can Dance, The Cult, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Muse… the list goes on. I think life should always have a soundtrack. Certainly all of my books do!
This Halloween, pull out something evocative from your CD or old LP/cassettes. Put it on in your living room and turn the lights down. Light a couple of candles.
And maybe… crack a copy of The Pumpkin Man?
I’d love to tell you a story and be part of your Halloween this year!
Jenn’s Bookshelves Readers can win an e-book copy of The Pumpkin Man and get entered into a contest to win autographed copies of either The Pumpkin Man trade paperback, or a GRAND PRIZE including ALL of John Everson’s novels as well as a signed poster and CD from the band New Years Day. Just visit http://www.thepumpkinman-horror.com and fill out the Contest Form. Make sure you list Jenn’s Bookshelves in the referral site dropdown list.