By CULLEN FLEETWOOD
Now available in digital and vinyl formats from Dine Alone Records, the soundtrack for director Jay Baruchel’s RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE features an array of synth tones and dark, driving rhythms that complement and carry the unique aesthetic of the film, crafted by composers Wade MacNeil and Andrew Macpherson. MacNeil, an accomplished musician in bands such as Alexisonfire and Gallows, has also recorded a remixed metal version and accompanying music video for the main “Slasherman” theme from the film’s score. To celebrate the Rue Morgue exclusive video premiere, we had the opportunity to talk with Wade about the process of creating the score, his relationship with director Jay Baruchel, his acting debut, and favorite horror flicks.
Have you always been a horror fan?
Yeah. For a long time. I’ve always liked being scared.
What was your introduction to horror movies?
When I was growing up, my dad’s office was next to a movie store. I remember when they phased-out Betamax, he bought, like, all of the Beta stuff from them for like a dollar a cassette or something. So, for years we had this crazy Beta library, and I feel like because there were so many films, you know, maybe they didn’t realize what was in there and the fact that a really young kid was watching The Howling (1981), or they just didn’t care. But yeah, that was probably the first horror film I saw.
How did you come to know Jay?
I was a fan of his films. I think Tropic Thunder (2008) is probably one of my favorite films. I remember, I watched Goon (2011) when I was on tour in Australia. I was very far away from home, and I was homesick. And I loved the movie. It’s hilarious. And I think I said something like that on the internet and then he just reached out to me and said “Hey, man, I’ve seen a bunch of your shows. If you’re ever in Montreal let’s go watch a hockey game.” I found myself in Montreal a few months later and ended up going over to his house and ordering a pizza and watching a Habs game. Also, that night, I met Jason Eisner who did Hobo with a Shotgun (2011) and who I worked with on Dark Side of the Ring (2019). Jason was in Montreal working on Turbo Kid (2015).
Jay and I just became good friends. He asked me to work on music for the sequel to Goon, and through that process, we became closer. My role in the film kept growing too. He asked me to do a bit of music and he was really stoked, and it grew into like—when all was said and done, I probably had like thirty minutes of music in that film. When we were all wrapped up with that project, he asked me to score RANDOM ACTS. We’ve been talking about the weird music we’re going to put in it ever since!
Is that how you got into composing in general?
Yeah, he really opened the door for me, for sure. One thing’s just led to another. I’ve been lucky, you know, meeting people. As I said, I met Jason Eisner through Jay and ended up working on Dark Side of the Ring with him. There are so many people working on all these projects. Everyone has a million things they’re trying to get out and work on, and one thing’s just kind of led to another really organically with all of the composing stuff I’ve worked on. I’ve done a lot of it over the last five years and that all started [from] watching hockey with Jay.
What did you talk about specifically with RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE before writing for it?
Jay really likes a lot of older industrial stuff like Skinny Puppy or Front Line Assembly. For a guy that’s been in a lot of comedies, he loves gothy industrial music. So, wanted to include some stuff like that, but also about some dark folk stuff like Michael Gira from Swans solo records. They’re acoustic-driven, but they’re oppressively heavy and we talked about weaving a lot of that together. Then, one thing that I imagined since reading the script initially was bells and chimes. You know, I think whenever I hear them in horror films, it’s just really something odd and off-putting. There’s a ton of them in the Goblin’s score for Suspiria (1977) and I think that’s the best part of it. That’s something that I wanted to try and work into this, especially with all the stuff that revolves around Christmas time with RANDOM ACTS and these flashbacks that happen. We kind of morphed that into this tubular bell sounding thing but, you know, more evil.
Did you have the final cut before you started writing to it?
No. We probably initially started working off a very rough cut to temp music and started building the stuff out. And that just begins this process of swapping everything out and going over it again and again and seeing what’s working. It seems really obvious though. It either works or it doesn’t. The music either totally changes the emotional mood in a bad way or it fits. There are no shades to it. Because it’s certainly not stock, so fucking whatever: here’s the sad scene, here’s the violin. It seems pretty glaringly obvious when it’s right and it helps push everything emotionally forward. It was a long process, but it was definitely a fun one. Especially being friends with Jay, you know, we’ve [been] having these music conversations when we’re having a barbecue and [I’ll] put on a record and show him. That gets put on the RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE playlist. We have this conversation like you’re having with your buddies about music and they’re like, “Oh, check this shit out.” But, we’re lucky we get to do that under the umbrella of “this is what your film’s gonna be like.”
What about thematically? Were there certain themes you focused on?
I think breaking things down thematically is usually from a character perspective. So, certainly with Slasherman, finding out what that melody’s gonna be, or what that sound’s gonna be, which I imagined being like a large knife dragged over the hood of a car. Because he works in the wrecking yard, right. So that’s been in my mind since I read the script, just scraping metal. I think we caught something like that that’s all over the score. It’s this kind of sharp shrieking noise. It’s an electric guitar put in a really weird tuning and then bowed really violently with a violin bow and then just delayed and reverbed and distorted off the face of the Earth. So, I feel like that’s that noise. That’s what I thought about with Slasherman. Then with Jesse [Williams’] character, Todd, [we found] a melody for him, but changed that over the course of the film so it references his main theme, but maybe in this part it’s more tender or in this part it’s more frightened or in this part it’s more angry. That’s kind of the way I divide stuff up is by character.
It’s interesting how much the score becomes a character itself.
It certainly can be. I’m sure in a lot of the films you love the most it really, really is important. I mean, fuck man, Trent Reznor managed to make a film about Facebook interesting with that score.
You mentioned the violin bow. Were there any other unique elements or instruments employed in making the score?
There’s a lot of vocal choir in it, like mixed into the score to kind of accentuate a lot of the melodies or create the vibe, which also makes sense with all of the flashbacks being centered around the holidays and Christmas time. I think that The Shining (1980) is one of the scariest films ever made and a ton of that score is mostly just vocal choir. It’s horrifying. If you listen to a lot of those pieces in isolation, they’re very beautiful pieces of music, but set against that backdrop of The Overlook Hotel, it changes them completely. It changes what the piece of music itself sounds like, it changes what’s going on visually, and it makes it something really unique. So, I just tried to go after some sort of sense of dread and figure out what I found so scary about that score from The Shining. A group of people singing together is jarring, so I certainly tried to include a lot of that in the score.
It’s always interesting when a rock musician moves into scoring. It feels like a natural progression. What carried over from your work as a rock musician and what was something you had to adjust to?
I’d say the biggest carry over is my point of reference. You know, in the same way I write songs with guys, with Alexis or with Gallows, it starts with some references, then you put it through your own filter, and it doesn’t end up sounding anything like that, but you’re starting with a vibe. Being a musician that’s existed primarily making heavy music, I think that where I’m grabbing from is still very much rooted in the music that I grew up listening to. And then I say the thing that’s really different is you’re abandoning songs. You’re writing this huge amount of music and in some ways, that’s easier for me. I’ve always got these seven million voice notes on my phone of me on a piano, or playing guitar, or just humming something. Obviously, you’ve got to build that out, but because it is little snapshots like that it is much harder at the same time because it is this longform thing that doesn’t confine to any of the songwriting parameters that I’ve worked to get better at as a musician up until I started scoring films.
So, you’ve recorded a remix video for the Slasherman theme song?
Yeah. We put the record out and I just wanted to kind of—so much with making music for tv or film or video games is, you kind of release this music into a black hole and it goes away. I revisited all the music that got made a long time ago when we started putting together this soundtrack with Dine Alone. I thought it would be cool to take this music that was done ages ago and reapproach it again. It was cool. It’s definitely fun. It definitely turned out more metal than I thought it was going to. It’s like a black metal Slasherman theme song. I don’t know, it was Halloween when I was making it so maybe that helped.
What inspired that piece?
I think I was looking for a way to revisit it. It’s crazy, like, film projects take—I mean, this film was probably ten years of Jay’s life, you know, with the script and everything from its inception and getting it made. Then probably a year of me being involved in it. So, I feel like just going through all the music again [and] getting it ready for the release, I don’t know, I kind of wanted to be immersed in it one more time.
You worked on Jennifer Wexler’s The Ranger (2018). What was that experience like?
Yeah, that was the first thing I worked on after Goon 2. That was the first film I scored the full film. It was certainly a learning curve. You know, that was the first time, where I’m not writing full songs, I’m writing these long pieces of music. Man, it was so cool. My friend introduced me to Jenn. It was such a cool throwback 80s slasher flick. You know, punks getting chased through the woods by a psychopath. It sounds like a movie that I would be really excited to see, so I was really excited to work on music for it. It turned out really cool. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Was RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE your first acting role?
Yeah, it was my first acting situation. What a nightmare. I’m glad Jay pushed me to do it. It was fun. I mean, I played a radio host, and I had a radio show in Toronto for like five years so it’s not the biggest stretch. But yeah man, I’ve been in front of the camera making music videos and doing a lot of interviews on tv and stuff but this is a different story sitting down with Jesse Williams and just like grilling him for ten minutes straight talking. But it was a cool experience. I’d probably do it again, given the opportunity.
Jay had nothing but good things to say. He said you were nervous but killed it!
I was so nervous I didn’t eat breakfast. Then I went to the set and did the scene. Jay was like, “Great one. Everyone come watch this.” So, we’re watching the playback on this huge camera. Jesse is beside me and Jordana Brewster is on the other side. My stomach – it’s completely silent because there’s no audio – and my stomach is growling so audibly loud like “brrrrrrgg.” It keeps doing it while we’re watching it and I have to be like “Hi, that’s me. I didn’t eat breakfast. I’m ok you guys.”
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
[Jay has] a tv show that he’s been working on for ages and we’ve been talking about doing. So, that will be cool. Especially the time period it’s set in, I think that will lend itself to some really, really interesting music. Then, yeah man, you never know what will happen, but hopefully I get to make some more horror films. Love doing it.
What’s your all-time favorite horror film?
That’s a tough one. You know what I watched so many, so many times? And I just learned something new about this film yesterday which made me very, very stoked. I’ve seen Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) seven million times and I still like watching it. It has some really goofy stuff. Like, with him uppercutting the guy’s head off the top of the roof. It’s got it all. And I love—probably my favorite scene in any horror film—him scaring the punks by lifting up his mask. So sick. I saw yesterday someone posting about it that the main skinhead dude that flips him off is Daryl from Citizen’s Arrest, the hardcore band, which I had no idea about, which is fucking very sick. So, I don’t know, maybe it’s not, certainly not the scariest horror film, or the most stylistic, or even the scariest Friday the 13th, but I love watching it. Like, I could get off this call and go watch it. I guess that’s it.