Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Getting Lost in Future Americana with Comanche Peak

"What I find exciting about this is that it's such a big world when it comes to choices a composer can make to convey emotion. Time signature, instruments, velocity, harmony, and so on, they're all in this tool box and can be combined or stripped down to realize musical ideas"

It's always so refreshing to get into the head of a composer. Those who don't use words to express themselves. Being able to make the listener come to their own conclusions about a piece of music without being forced to feel a certain way due to the lyrical content is a feat in itself. 

John Anderson AKA Comanche Peak does a brilliant job at this. Describing his style as cinematic synth-based new-age ambient is the nail on the hammer, a perfect combination to unwind to. Using this blend of sounds, John integrates his style into the films and television he scores, driving an entire concept or vibe home. Drawing inspiration from new-age, futurism, folk, and even 80s synth creates for a truly memorable sound, and one you'll most certainly return to.

I caught up with John at the perfect moment, he's just riding the high of his fantastic first EP, Carnival Lights, released on Chainletter Collective, and the supporting concept video done by Greg Reitman.

Tell me about yourself. You grew up in Granbury, Texas. How did you get into making cinematic-synth style music.

I started making music around the age of 19, most of it was strange experimental stuff, my friends and I had no formal training in music and the stuff just usually ended up sounding crazy, but as a result I started a decent keyboard and synth collection, and began running them through all sorts of effects and delays to get the most out of the sounds that I could.  At the time I was enamored with Vangelis and Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream), both of these artists did a lot for electronic music, especially when it came to bringing it into the world of film scores.  I used to research and watch the films solely based on the fact those composers were involved. After being in LA for a few years doing music here and there but not really focused on anything, I decided to focus on doing music for film.  This decision led me to the opportunity to study at a film composer workshop NYC sponsored by BMI every year.  Now, 3 years later, I'm scoring indie shorts, theater, and art videos using many of the same techniques I did back in Texas as well as theory I learned in New York. I try to stay open to doing whatever I can to build a portfolio and get my stuff out there.

Can you elaborate on the meaning behind Comanche Peak?

Comanche Peak is the name of an elevated land mass on the edge of my hometown.  It was a ceremonial place for the Comanche people as well as a strategic outpost for them.  Legend says that it's also where one of the last standoffs between Comanches and colonists in Texas happened.  Growing up it was something strange and beautiful to look at.  It would sort of loom over the town, this constant reminder that there had been a culture of people that thrived there before generations of westerners settled in.  Comanche Peak was like a gateway for me in a sense, it inspired me to look beyond my hometown for opportunity and growth, it taught me that there was much more out there than meets the eye.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Films, books, video games, live music, good conversation, bus rides on sunset blvd, it's everywhere all the time, if I'm able I try and capture ideas as they come and put them to good use.

Have you done a lot of travelling? Your music seems to touch on a variety of different sounds and influences, ranging far and wide. 

In my early 20's I went everywhere I had the opportunity too.  I spent a summer in Alaska, moved back a year later to spend a winter there, lived in the Fiji islands for 2 years, and travelled to India twice, once with a friend, and the second time I spent 2 months alone there. All those places were big influences on me musically.  I got to learn first hand how music plays a role in people's lives in each of those places. Eventually the eclectic nature of my travels began shape how and what I created.

And now that you’ve moved to LA, how do you think that has changed your sound. Has it changed at all? What inspires you now?

My sound continues to change with each collaboration and project, whether it be a folk song I write with my cousin, to an avant garde 30 second Instagram video, or a short film I am commissioned for, they all require different things.  I recently scored for live theater, and the nature of the piece required me to hold back on a lot of melodic and rhythmic choices I wanted to make and to just let the music be subtle and stay in the background, that was challenging.  I've picked up many ideas and techniques along the way that I want to use them all sometimes.  LA has given me many chances to explore music and has been the place where my sound has changed the most, I guess LA is my biggest inspiration now.  I hope to keep being challenged and as a result learn more and more about music.

Let’s talk films. Is there a certain genre you gravitate towards? Would you call yourself a “film buff”? 

Most definitely a film buff.  As far as genre goes my interests are pretty varied.  For example at home right now I have a copies of Lost Highway, Empire Strikes Back, Kwaidan, and The Sting.  They're all incredible films and so different from each other.  I do enjoy film noir and sci-fi pretty consistently though.

What are your all-time favourite film scores? 

TIme for a top 3 list- and funny enough none of them are electronic soundtracks, go figure.

Cinema Paradiso-  Ennio Morricone
Betty Blue-  Gabriel Yared
Fistful of Dynamite-  Ennio Morricone

I noticed on your Soundcloud you have a song called “Android’s Dream”. Very cool track! Are you a big Blade Runner fan by any chance?

Huge BR fan. I mentioned Vangelis in an earlier part of the interview because his soundtrack for that film was something I remember hearing as a kid and immediately wanting to hear more.  Vangelis managed to weave in and out of his music and the sound design so organically that it's hard to even call it a score.  I made the "Androids Dream" track for a short film called "The Lost World of Tomorrow."  It's main character is an android who is obsessed with watching films.  It didn't make the final cut of the short, but I had so much fun making that music that I had to put it out in the world somehow.  I'm looking forward to the new BR film this fall.  The original holds up so well today and the effects are more fun visually than any modern CGI effects. 

And in terms of scores, is there a certain genre of film you enjoy scoring the most.

Honestly I can't say I have favoured any project over the others.  I have been fortunate enough to work with people who have given me carte blanche in terms of creative ideas.  For me that's a very cool thing and has contributed to me really getting to feel a sense of personal expression in other people's work.

I really love running a feature on a composer, since it’s so different than featuring bands with lyrics to their music. Do you find it challenging to express thoughts without explicit lyrics or do you find it to your advantage to convey an emotion.

I think music is a language unto itself and communicates in a different and sometimes deeper way than words.  People can enjoy music sung in a different language simply because of the instrumentation, they don't have to know what's being said.  Music crosses over boundaries of language and culture and is always there for people.  It's an advantage to use lyrics I think, because then people just know what you want them to know.  The harder thing sometimes is to find a way to do it musically. What I find exciting about this is that it's such a big world when it comes to choices a composer can make to convey emotion. Time signature, instruments, velocity, harmony, and so on, they're all in this tool box and can be combined or stripped down to realize musical ideas. 

I’m a huge b horror fan, so seeing that you scored a short of that genre sounds like a dream and an experience in itself. What were your thoughts on scoring horror. Did you enjoy the campiness?

Yes!! The Wereskunk short was so much fun. I spent a few days just listening to old drive in horror film music and built from the ideas I heard in those pieces.  That style of composition was so over the top that I think everyone was in on the joke at the time.  The 1950's version of the Blob with Steve McQueen gave me lots of ideas on style, instruments, and sounds to recreate.  The final scene in the Wereskunk short where we finally see the "monster,"  came from a sketch I had made months before the opportunity to do the short came about.  It's this grandiose layering of horns that alternate between some very dark chords with a simple arpeggio underneath.  

Let’s talk about Carnival Lights. It’s your first EP so congratulations on that release. It’s absolutely beautiful. Airy and etherial, at times it almost reminds me of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, such an iconic classic. Tell me about the inspiration behind the EP. 

Each track has a different story behind it. They're all inspired by relationships, travel, and my work in film composing. The cover photo I took while in Varanasi India years ago.  There was this party taking place in the street, a young bride was out celebrating with the women in her family.  One of the women was dancing in front of the bride, sort of egging her on to dance with her, but she was so shy.  Meanwhile this horn player stood outside the group and played for the party. There's so much going on in the faces of the people in the photo, and music is central to all this diverse and contrasting activity. 

Carnival Lights is a love letter to someone very close to me that passed away.  When I got the news I was at home in LA working on this song and suddenly I hear that my friend has died.  For the next few hours and into the next day I kept working on this track as a distraction, just somewhere for my mind to go.  A couple of days later I felt like the song was finished and bought a plane ticket to Texas to go my friends funeral.  

D.O.G.(Days of Grace)  Came about when I was on a plane flying back to LA from Texas.  I was looking out the window at this bed of clouds we were flying over as the sun was setting, it was a really peaceful and beautiful sight.  I started thinking about how I could capture what it felt like to be weightless up there surrounded by the colors of the sunset.  There's a Brian Eno song that really inspired my direction in this one too, it's called "How Many Worlds,"  if you have the time, give a listen, it's a special tune.

Snow Gaze was this spur of the moment addition to the EP.  I put it together in 4-5 hours, the ideas were there, stuff I had been playing on guitar and keys in my free time and never thought about putting them together like that.  But one afternoon I sat down and started playing and layering and one thing led to the next and this song started happening.  Sometimes it's easy like that, like this odd ratio of time, technique, and inspiration lines up just right.  I love 70's and 80's prog rock, especially Genesis and Camel, this was kind of an homage to some of the work those bands have done.

Lost was originally for the sci film I mentioned before, "Lost World of Tomorrow," it was a another idea that got sidelined on the film.  I remember creating like 30-40 minutes of music for that project because the footage was so great, and the director had these lovely ideas of what they wanted the music to be so I just riffed and made all these short and long form soundscapes. Some of them also incorporated orchestral sounds, which you hear in Lost.    

Passengers was also a sketch for a film by the same name.  My friend and frequent collaborator Michael Bond wrote and directed this film that takes place mostly in a car while this couple drives from Marina Del Rey to Los Feliz on a friday night. I had previously scored 2 films for Michael and wanted to practice with some of his older material, so he suggested I try a scene from Passengers.  It turned into this really cool and wavy synth jam that sounded good along side some of the other material I had lined up for the release.  

Lastly, what’s next for you in 2017? Anything you’re working on now in particular? 

I have been working on a project called Gatorman with my friend Nicholas Schuminsky (https://soundcloud.com/nicky-shimz), a really talented drummer and song writer who shares a love for the music of Edgar Froese.  I play 2 synths that are run through a variety of effects and together we're taking our inspirations from krautrock and new age music to make these instrumental short form sci fi jams.  It's a lot of fun and if all goes well we will record in September and try to have a release by the end of the year, so keep an eye out for that.


IG- comanchepeakmusic


Carnival Lights EP Produced and edited by Greg Reitman, for more go to, http://www.flyingblynd.com and http://www.instagram.com/flyingblynd

1 comment

  1. Awesome interview. I love the sound of Carnival Lights.



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