Published on October 23rd, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
Shooting Guns VS Nosferatu
Saskatoon’s favourite doom rock band, the Polaris Prize and Juno-nominated Shooting Guns, will do a live soundtrack to Nosferatu at the Roxy on October 28th.
For the last few years, the Riversdale Business Improvement District and The Roxy Theatre have been putting on a series for lovers of film and music called, Silence is Golden. They take a classic silent film and pair it with a live soundtrack by the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. On October 28th, in celebration of Halloween, they’re putting a different spin on that idea, by screening the landmark 1922 vampire film Nosferatu with a live soundtrack from Saskatoon’s own doom rock band, the Juno and Polaris Prize nominated Shooting Guns. The Feedback Society is a sponsor and I’ll be hosting the event, which is really fun for me, being a big fan of the movie as well as the band.
Oddly enough, much of the original soundtrack to Nosferatu was actually lost to the sands of time, so there have been many scores written to accompany the movie. It will be fascinating to hear Shooting Guns’ take on the music for this iconic movie. I got a chance to sit down with drummer Jim Ginther and guitarist (and I think he’s doing some synth stuff for this show) Chris Laramee to talk about the movie and the process of creating a live soundtrack.
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: What was your experience with Nosferatu prior to this?
CHRIS LARAMEE: I was more familiar with Werner Herzog’s classic take on it, and Coppola’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, quite a fun B-movie romp through the Nosferatu myth. I had seen Murnau’s version, but not in a long while. It was nice to get reacquainted with it. It’s very beautifully shot, especially the outdoor scenes.
JIM GINTHER: I hadn’t ever seen it before we agreed to do it! Most of the guys have been big fans for a long time but even still, it’s almost like watching it for the first time when it has to be broken down and mapped out for a project like this. There have been many scores made for Nosferatu over the years but I’m glad to have kept myself in the dark on those so that we’re not repeating what’s been done before. For better or for worse, at least it’s original!
TFS: What has the process been for writing and rehearsing the material? About how many times will you have seen the movie by the time of the show?
CL: Come up with a theme or melodic shape and match it to the onscreen action. Not a very sexy description! But really, that’s about it. About four different moods or feels for the four acts. We will have seen the whole film 278 times.
JG: The hardest part of a project like this is making the first sketch, putting something there to fill in the silence. Once something’s there, it gets easier as you refine so after we got some rough takes over the full movie, we went back to each act and kept working on it. We have a projector set up in our studio so we record our rehearsals as a group while watching the movie. After we have a new draft, we play it back and workshop what could be better, then do it over again. After getting a working draft of the whole movie, we’re now working on refining individual parts, group dynamics, and the daunting challenge of remembering all of our parts without sheet music – we’re just going off of visual cues in the film and playing off of each other.
As for how many times we’ve seen it, I’d guess at least 20 times in full but that doesn’t include individual acts, with each one being watched at least a dozen times as we workshop them. Not sure if I’m going to want to watch it too many times in the future after Oct 28th!
TFS: How much will be written vs. improvised?
CL: Keith [Doepker] and Brennan [Barclay] have a lot of the guitar figures which are a springboard for the rest of us to work off of. So I would have to say that it’s pretty well worked out for the most part, but the improv will come in the performance of it, extending bits and such.
JG: We’ve got the whole thing written out so theoretically, all of it has been “written”. That said, it remains to be seen how it all plays out as we’re still in the process of refining the stage show. I think there will still be a fair amount of improv as we feed off each other.
TFS: How do you know what dynamics to put in which scenes? Like, are there some scenes where you know it needs to come crashing down on our heads and some where silence says more?
CL: There was a few scenes where we have a specific thing worked out, but mostly the score thus far is just about slowly ramping up the dread and tension, not too much attention given to matching any particular action on the screen. The tones and texture rail into a sorta Wagnerian bummer riff that sorta just oozes out on the floor. Like blood.
JG: We’re taking a less is more approach throughout the movie so that the heavier stuff stands out more. As a general rule, the more scared the characters are, the louder we’re playing. Each of the five acts has its own type of tension and mini-climax so we’re trying to keep it as atmospheric as we can and then switch gears when the really creepy stuff starts going down.
TFS: What is your favourite scene in the movie?
CL: The deathship captain lashing himself to the boat when he’s the last one left alive. That’s pretty cool.
JG: My favourite scene is in Act 3 where the “ghost ship” is sailing with some very dangerous cargo. There are these incredible aerial shots of this huge sailing ship in the middle of the water and it has to be one of the coolest shots of all time – not bad for 1922! The scene itself terrifying with how it plays out but it must have been just as scary to shoot. It was such a different world back then and it’s really cool how this film captures it so authentically, especially considering how new film was at the time.
TFS: What else is going on with the band? How is the Wolfcop 2 scoring going? Where is that at?
CL: Wolfcop score is being worked on, going good there, should be done in the next while. Just work, life, living, loving, y’know, all the good things.
JG: Funny you should ask – we’re actually working on both scores at the same time! We didn’t originally plan to be doing both simultaneously but it’s working out well as we’re already in “scoring mode”. We’ve learned a lot from working on Nosferatu and are incorporating that into WC2, especially with the overall approach. With the original WolfCop movie, we were flying by the seat of our pants so now that we’ve got a studio and strategy already in place (we didn’t have either the first time around), it’s been a lot easier to sketch out the sequel. We’re not looking to copy what we did last time and this new score should sound quite a bit different. We plan to finish WC2 in November so we’re going into the studio 4-5 nights a week to pull this off in that timeframe.
TFS: Anything I’ve missed? Anything else you want to plug?
JG: We also just finished a new LP (tentatively titled ‘Flavour Country’) that we plan on releasing in early 2017. We recorded it ourselves and just got the masters back from the great John McBain (who we’ve been working with since Brotherhood of the Ram). We took a different approach to recording this album and there are some tracks that are unlike anything we’ve done before. I never know what to think of our releases or how they will be received (instrumental heavy psych isn’t exactly a universally appreciated niche) but we’re all very happy with how it turned out. We may release it ourselves through our Pre-Rock Records label or if there’s interest, potentially partner with a label. We’ve generally had to do things on our own so either way, we’re going to put it out on our terms and the vinyl pressing is already in the works.
We’re also considering options to release our Nosferatu score next year so it looks like SG may have three full-length releases in 2017.
The Feedback Society is proud to be a media sponsor of this event. Editor Craig Silliphant will host the evening, which includes a costume contest during the intermission.