From Aural Innovations #19 (April 2002)
The Mothman Prophecies film soundtrack
(Lakeshore Records 2001, LAK 33694-2)
I can't comment on the new The Mothman Prophecies movies as I haven't seen it yet. However, the 2-CD set film soundtrack is of interest to Aural Innovations due to the inclusion of 7 new songs from Portland, Oregon rockers King Black Acid. The movie is based on a true story and is about a guy (Gere's character) who is investigating paranormal happenings in a West Virginia town, and the atmosphere and tone of the music reflects that. There are some great songs here, and while they are recognizably King Black Acid, the famous KBA guitars often take a backseat to keyboards. But this is by no means a bad thing as we hear some interesting results. The Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree analogy I made for KBA's previous album, Loves A Long Song, are still apparent, though the band still retain their own instantly recognizable sound. The main difference, however, is the brevity of the songs, due I'm sure to the restrictions of contributing to a film project. No stretching out here I'm afraid.
"Wake Up #37" has a very catchy melody, but also has that haunting feel that King Black Acid is known for, as well as subtle freaky bits in the background that are apparent if you listen closely. "Haunted" is the closest to being like the King Black Acid of old... melodic yet drifting guitars, a trippy cosmic atmosphere, and Daniel Riddle's passionate vocals. And speaking of vocals... Sarah Mayfield makes what I believe is her vocal debut on a KBA recording, and does a marvelous job. "Rolling Under" features very nice vocals by Daniel and Sarah. Acoustic guitar strums the chords that lead the song, but there are also cool Twilight Zone synths that give a spacey sound to the tune. "One And Only" is only two minutes long but it's a wild ride. It starts off as a quietly floating tune with Sarah's vocals, but then abruptly launches into a rave-industrial assault, only to do another 360 and finish with the song portion again. Whoaah.... quite a bit different for KBA.
"Half Life" is one of my favorites with its psychedelic looped/backwards guitars and swirly keyboards that form the foundation over which Daniel and Sarah sing the main song. I like the schizo effect of the accessible "song" against the contrasting freaky psych music. "Great Spaces" is similar but more keyboard dominated and features more nice duo vocals by Daniel and Sarah. "Soul Systems Burn" opens with haunting ghostly chant vocals from Sarah, and Daniel takes over the main vocals when the song kicks in. Keyboards and synths take the lead again, laying down a dancey beat along with multiple layers of orchestral keys and bubbly spacey synths. Very different for King Black Acid but an excellent tune.
The soundtrack also includes a track by Low, a band I've heard of but not actually heard before. It's an ok tune but didn't particularly grab me. Glenn Branca makes an all too brief but killer appearance doing a thunderous noise-ambient-atmospheric assault. The soundtrack by Tomandandy is excellent and I'd encourage readers to check it out. This alone makes me want to see the movie. They paint a truly haunting, mysterious, and continually evolving landscape that is orchestral, but also includes spacey Tangerine Dream styled influences. An enjoyable headphones listen.
I first interviewed King Black Acid in AI #6, April 1999, but in addition to having since released two more CD's, regular reports of the bands activities have been coming in from AI's man in Portland, Oregon... The ACTION MAN. So I thought it would be nice to talk to Daniel again and let him clue us in on the past few years and the bands current endeavors.
AI: When we first talked three years ago King Black Acid had released three albums and a year later you came out with Loves A Long Song. And when that came out I immediately remembered something you said in the first interview which was, "The last time I did an interview they asked me why I was doing these long songs and what it was I was looking for and my answer was I guess I'm still sort of still looking for the perfect 18 minute pop song". So I chuckled to myself when you came out with an album titled Loves A Long Song.
Daniel Riddle (DR): Yeah, and not only that but the songs were shorter [laughs]. I thought that was pretty funny myself.
AI: And while they weren't longer they certainly did have a more song oriented feel while still having that King Black Acid sound. Was that intentional?
DR: In a way it was. I just wanted to be able to put more songs on a record. And so we started kind of distilling down some of the songs, and boiling out a little of the fat so to speak. And of lot of that had to do with the engineer we were working with at the time, Jeff Saltzman. I told him that I wanted to be able to do the same type of thing the Beatles would do where you'd listen to a song like Strawberry Fields - the song is 3-4 minutes long - but it seems like it's 10 or 15 minutes long. It takes you on this adventure. And I said, how can we do that? Not that I want all of our songs to be short necessarily, but I want to be able to make a statement like that without using as much real estate. So that was one of the elements. And we also wanted to try to get some of our music played on the radio. We had a lot of emails, letters and phone calls from people at radio stations asking why don't we make radio edits of our songs so they could play it on their shows. So those are a couple of the reasons why we started distilling down the songs.
AI: Were you successful as far as the radio parts goes?
DR: Yeah, we were actually. We sent out Loves A Long Song to a whole bunch of college stations around the United States and we charted, I think, up in the low 90s or something like that on the CMJ (College Music Journal charts). And after that we sent out an EP with even more radio edits on it. So we managed to stay on the charts for a while. We got a couple hundred responses from program directors and DJ's saying, "Oh, if you're gonna come to our town and play live, let us know cause we want to do an interview or have you play live on the air". So we got a really good response from it.
AI: That's great. Would you say that was better relative to the earlier CD's?
DR: Better response... yeah, definitely. With the earlier CD's we didn't even service radio stations. Mostly music fans who happened to be DJs would get them somehow and say, "Oh I wish this band would make songs that were under 18 minutes long".
AI: When we last talked you described processes by which you would compose in the studio. Sunlit was the obvious example of that (album consisting of 3 18+ minute tracks). And of course the songs on Loves A Long Song are clearly "song" oriented... so was this preparation something that was new for you?
DR: Well with Sunlit we were on tour and we had a couple shows canceled out. A friend of mine owned a recording studio that had all this vintage analog gear, a 16-track 2" machine that used to belong to Donna Summer, and this mixing console that had belonged to Kenny Loggins. So he had all this great gear and we were sleeping at his studio. And because we were going to be there for a short period of time I didn't want to start recording songs that I had been working on for a really long time because I had high expectations for these songs. But I had these three new songs, so I just made up hand signals and taught them to everybody when we rehearsed, and then just started tracking. We rehearsed the songs and then tracked them in the same 48 hour period. And then we left to finish our tour and flew back a month later and mixed the record all in one pop. It was the quickest recording I'd ever done. And it came out really good. So that's one of the reasons why those were 18 minutes songs, because I was giving hand signals to the band and it took people a while to look up... they'd just start jammin out. So it wasn't necessarily fully intentional for the songs to be that long. It just kind of happened. And the record has that kind of feel to it too.
As where Loves A Long Song... I had been rehearsing those songs, and then I brought in my engineer and co-producer and he helped me weed out parts. And then when we tracked the record what we did was we recorded it on 2", and then I did all the guitars and the keyboards and the vocals at my house on these digital 8-track machines. So the drums and the bass on Loves A Long Song have that warm, analog, kind of compressed sound to it, and the rest we did at my house in the basement. And I was just learning how to engineer. And at the same time I was trying out new band members. So there was this window of almost 6 or 8 months where we weren't playing live shows. So I was just in the basement studio every single day throughout the whole summer. I hardly ever went outside.
AI: It certainly sounds like a lot more work went into that than anything previously.
DR: Oh yeah. I would record for weeks at a time. 20 hours a day sometimes. And then my engineer would come by once or twice a month and listen to stuff. And then he would just reach over and hit the record button and erase over hours and hours worth of work and go, "Yeah it was cool, but you left this switch on the whole time so it's out of phase and you're going to need to redo that".
AI: So it sounds like you had a heavy duty refining process.
DR: Yeah, he was just whackin through the stuff. And a lot of it I agreed with. And some of I was like, "I don't care if it sounds bad, I wanna keep it". So I fought for some of it. I would record vocals through an old plastic microphone into a distortion box and then record it straight into the board. And he said, "You can't do that"... but I did it. So we fought on a lot of stuff because he's all about high fidelity and trying to get stuff to sound great. And I was as lo-fi as you could get... a Radio Shack microphone from the 70's plugged straight into a $10 distortion box, and that's what I would use as a pre-amp. As opposed to when he would come over to help me track vocals. He would bring over a rack of analog pre-amps and compressors and really expensive gear.
AI: He [Saltzman] worked with you on Mothman Prophecies too, right?
DR: Yes. He did some of the engineering and then we brought in a different producer, this cat named Tony Lash, and Tony's done stuff like The Dandy Warhols. He's worked with some great bands. A lot of major label stuff. And it just so happens he lives 10 blocks away from me. So they called us up to do this demo. And I have a recording studio but I'm not the best engineer. I just use it to capture ideas. So I told him we have this idea for a demo song this film company wants us to submit. So he helped us put it together, and they asked us for more songs and more songs, and next thing you know we've got this 3-5 week window where they wanted 8 songs... written,. mixed, mastered and recorded like NOW. So The Mothman Prophecies happened extremely fast. We were working on it every single day. And two of those songs... I think "Rolling Under" and "Great Spaces"... I wrote and recorded both of those songs in the same day.
AI: That's interesting because this whole production process that you talked about on Loves A Long Song certainly sounds like it was taken to the next level on Mothman Prophecies. Yet here you had this thing that you did really quickly.
DR: Well Tony was very heavy handed as a producer, but yet very stealthy. For example, the first song on that record, "Wake Up #37", which was our original demo, when I presented that to him as a demo the song was 13 minutes long. When he brought it back to me, after he put it in his Pro Tools and rearranged it and mixed it... when he brought it back it was like 4 minutes. So he gets in there and he just whacks away at the stuff. And he's very quiet. He just does it. And I gave him free reign to do it because the film company wanted to know if they would have the ability to release this stuff to radio for singles, and/or to make videos. So they wanted him to sort of pull the reigns in on us and try to keep the material a little bit more manageable and cohesive.
AI: I think it turned out good. But I was going to ask if the brevity of the songs was a restriction put on you.
DR: No, that was more the call of the producer. Of Tony. And I told him when we took him on this project... I said I'm going to let you do whatever you want. I'm going to let you interpret King Black Acid how you think it should be interpreted. And most of what he did I really like. Of course you listen to an album like Sunlit and it's very organic and very raw. But you listen to a song like "Soul Systems Burn", which me and Tony wrote together, and it's very much not organic. There's a lot of synthesizers and drum machines and loops, and it's very modern. And I was ok with that. I was just happy to be involved in the project. And I just wanted to be very open minded about what King Black Acid is. A lot of people will write us letters and emails asking when we're going to make another record like Sunlit. And I'm not opposed to making another record like Sunlit but there's so many records that I haven't made yet. I just love every kind of music. Whether or not we're recording with two mics in the room using vintage guitars and all analog 60's instruments, or whether or not we're using sampler and computers, it doesn't matter... the point is whether or not I feel like the songs convey the emotional impact that I feel when I'm writing the material. And that's what was important to me.
AI: Are you happy with the results?
DR: Yeah. I mean, as with any recording I could just pick it apart forever because I'm anal retentive and obsessive compulsive and nothing is ever right...
AI: Your own best critic.
DR: Yeah. Or worse. Some rock and roller once said you're never done with your recording... you just run out of money and time. So that's how we knew we were done. We ran out of money and time. And two days before we delivered the masters I wrote "Great Spaces" and "Rolling Under". The project happened that fast. We didn't even have time to think about shit. We didn't know how many songs they were going to use in the movie, or how many songs were going to go on the record. A couple of the songs in fact didn't go on the record. And one of them you can hear on our web site at kingblackacid.com. ["The Other Voice"]
AI: Do all the songs appear in the film?
DR: No. It turns out that only one song appeared in the film. I was not involved in the process at all, but from what I understand there's a very intense political process that goes into film making and the music involved. And I'm so outside of that loop that I was just happy to be able to participate. I saw the movie but... I don't have kids but if my kids went to school and they were in the school play, I'd be there with my video camera right up front and I would think it was the best thing that I ever saw. So it's like that with the film. People ask me how the movie is. And I'm like... ANY movie with my music in it is great! What are you asking me for? [laughs]. But I have seen the movie and man, is it great. But what do I know about movies... I make the rock.
AI: One of the songs that took me by surprise and was the most different was "One And Only". Where you've got Sarah singing this floating tune and BANG... you get this rave/industrial assault.
DR: What happened with that... here's an interesting scoop for you... that song in particular was a demo. And the part before and after that industrial part, those were the parts that got used in the movie. That was one of several demos that we had originally recorded for what they called, quote/unquote, the "make-out attack scene". The kids are sitting in the car, and they're doing this flashback where they're talking about hanging out in the car and listening to the radio and makin out, and then this mothman creature attacks them. Well that was the music they were listening to in the car when they were makin out. So we sent them several demos for that, and the one that they said they were going to use we turned into an actual song, and that was the song "Soul Systems Burn". Now that song right there... they never told us they were going to use it... it just turned up on the record. And not only that but they named it. And it was done as a demo. It wasn't even a finished song. So when that song made it to the record it freaked us all out. We didn't even know until we got the copy of the record that it was gonna be on there.
AI: Are you given scenes that you're asked to match up songs with?
DR: Yeah, that's exactly what happens. They would send us the imagery and say we want something to happen in this scene. Then we would get a feeling of what they wanted and make a little tempo map and then write the music to go with the scene. And I'm not foreign to that process because the cat who plays drums in our band, Joe Trump, who's been filling in between our last drummer Scott Adamo and whoever our next permanent member is going to be... Joe and I make commercial music together all the time. Joe does a lot of it. Like for shoes and clothes and car commercials and stuff like that. So he and I do that stuff all the time.
AI: Let's talk about the lineup of the band. You've got six members now. And compared with the first three CD's it looks like Sarah and Sean were new as of Loves A Long Song, and Joe's name I recognize from the first CD, but everyone else seems new.
DR: Sean Tichenor, our bass player, just started with us in the last six months or a year. And Rich Landar, the second keyboard player, joined right about the same time. And those cats were taken on because my last lineup, they didn't want to go out of town and tour, and they didn't want to be as busy playing rock ‘n roll as I wanted to be, or as Sarah wanted to be. So we altered the lineup so we could find people that were a little hungrier to get outside of their own backyard and expand their horizons. And I think I made some really good choices for players. All the players I'm playing with right now are all very rich musical people. They all have a vast expanse of musical information and knowledge and a wide variety of musical tastes. Joseph Trump was the drummer for Pigface for a long time, and Elliot Sharp's Carbon, and a lot of really aggressive out-rock avant-garde material. And Rich, our keyboard player, he's played everything from Rockabilly... he was in that band The Busboys... he's got tons of touring experience. And Sean, our bass player, he's been playing in bands ever since he was 14 years old or something like that. So I feel like I've got some really great players who are really supportive of my musical vision, and make it part of theirs as well.
AI: I read on your web site that "Butterfly Bomber" (from Loves A Long Song) might be used in an upcoming movie too.
DR: I think it has been used in a film. And I think the film was being made for the Playboy Channel. I don't know much about it. But there's this erotic film. And there's these girls that are twins... they're called the Porcelain Twins... or the Portland Twins... they've already done one film for the Playboy Channel and I think they're doing another one and they liked one of our songs. I'm like... yeah, whatever... anybody who wants to use one of our songs. I'm fine with that.
AI: So have you been playing out pretty regularly in Portland?
DR: Yeah. We're playing in a couple weeks at a venue called the Crystal Ballroom. It's a big all ages venue that holds like 1500 people. And it's our first headlining show there so we're a little bit nervous about whether or not we can fill the room up. But we're gonna go for it anyway. And we've been doing a lot of radio stuff on the stations here. On the Friday before the Crystal Ballroom show we'll go on a local station here and be the morning show's band. We were invited on the air to do that, which is pretty fun because they're a major radio station. There's thousands and thousands of listeners so it's pretty exciting. So that's the kind of stuff we've been up to.
AI: Any other future news? You're probably focusing on promoting Mothman Prophecies right now.
DR: Yeah. We're focusing on promoting this and trying to get out of town and book tours. And there is some discussion of The Mothman Sessions record. If it happens we would take all the songs from The Mothman Prophecies record... then we would remix a couple songs, and then we would finish a couple songs that we started that we never got to finish, and basically make a whole album's worth of material. And that would coincide with the release of the DVD and the video. Now whether or not that's gonna happen, who knows. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
For more information you can visit the King Black Acid web site at: http://www.kingblackacid.com.
The Mothman Prophecies soundtrack is distributed by Lakeshore Records. You can visit their web site at: http://www.lakeshore-records.com.