Jordan Galland & The Art of Spooky: Search Party & Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead
April 23, 2010 by Janice Brown
GRAMERCY, MANHATTAN: This week, NYC singer/songwriter and filmmaker Jordan Galland releases his new solo record, Search Party. Inspired by Leonard Cohen and Serge Gainsbourg, Galland’s music has a moody, cinematic-pop quality that pervades his work in the visual realm as well. In his debut feature film — a dark comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead — this aesthetic modulates into the absurd.
Galland sat down with us recently to talk about the making of Search Party, Rosencrantz — which was scored by Sean Lennon — and his painstaking audio/visual creative process.
SEARCH PARTY: SOUNDTRACK ARRANGEMENTS & HOUSEHOLD SOUNDS
“My influences on ‘Search Party,’ the song, are soundtracks from the 1960s,” Galland describes, “I built the song off this bombastic, Brazil-inspired drum loop, and the horn part is inspired by Goldfinger. I’m really into soundtracks. I like combining music and film as much as I can.” [Listen to "Search Party" here]: Search Party
Galland produced Search Party with longtime musical collaborator David Muller, with whom he’s written and performed in the NYC bands Dopo Yume and Domino, the latter of which was signed to Mark Ronson’s Allido Records.
“When David and I started out, ten years ago, we were making this mellow, spooky-tinted music, but out of necessity for getting audiences into it live, we ended up going for a more energetic, dance-rock kind of sound,” explains Galland.
“So for Search Party, we kind of went back to what we’d wanted to do in the first place, without the worry about who’s going to play what live. It’s really more fun when you can make a record just for the sake of making a record.”
A few of the songs on Search Party have been in circulation and re-worked times over the years. “’Sexy Girl’ is a song that got a lot of traction for Dopo Yume back in ’01,” he shares. “And I wanted to revisit the song with this return to a mellower style. Here, we used brushes on the drums and more elaborate piano, where the earlier version was a more aggressive, distorted dance song.”
Recorded to Pro Tools via a Digi 002, Search Party was performed by Galland and Muller, formerly of The Fiery Furnaces, at a friend’s house-turned-studio in Hampton Bays. “We got some cool vintage keyboards at this awesome music store out there [Hampton Music], and David and I tracked it all using two AKG mics in the dining room of this house,” says Galland.
“We used things from around the house — for example, the shaker on ‘Coolest Boy on Earth,’ which also sounds like a record crackle, is a Poland spring bottle with rice in it. And we used these clickity sounds throughout the record, which is the sound of us hitting a skull-shaped flower-pot on a ceramic plate and with drum sticks. And the ‘ding’ at the top of every verse on ‘Can’t Say Why’ is David playing a wine glass.”
ROSENCRANTZ: SEAN LENNON SCORE AND HORROR MOVIE THEORY
As much as Galland likes to combine his love of film and music, when it came time to score his feature film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, he called on a good friend he expected might be interested — Sean Lennon — and he accepted! Lennon wrote and performed the Rosencrantz score, and even released the soundtrack on his label, Chimera Records late last year.
“Sean and I have been friends for years — he’s played in my band and I’ve written songs with him — so we have a shared vocabulary for music,” Galland notes. “We’ve both always been into soundtracks and have spent a lot of time talking about film music, and allowing it to influence our music together.”
Galland provided direction, referencing Danny Elfman, Ennio Morricone, Wendy Carlos — and film scores they’d both admired — and Lennon went to work, recording much of the music in his home studio, then overdubbing and mixing at Electric Lady.
“Another big influence for both of us is the soundtrack to Fantastic Planet (La Planète Sauvage) a French animated sci-fi film from the 70s, composed by Alain Goraguer,” notes Galland. “Goroguer actually did all the arrangements for early Serge Gainsbourg, who’s also a big influence on both my and Sean’s work.”
The soundtrack features Charlotte Kemp Muhl on “spooky, breathy” backing vocals, Yuka Honda on keyboards, and Kool Keith and Miho Hatori on the song “Desire,” a song that plays during a club scene. Also, it did come in quite handy that Galland had his own catalog of original music.
“There are a few places in the film where we used bits of my music with muted vocals in the background,” he explains. “And when the producers were making the trailer (way before we were done making the movie), they used a song of mine called ‘They Always Come Back,’ (which they didn’t even realize uses zombies as a metaphor for dead relationships that come back to haunt you!).
“Sean’s music is very humorous and dark and moody, and really lush and expansive and even orchestral, but there were a couple spots where we needed something in the tone of the trailer and that song worked.”
It’s only natural his music would fit, considering the repeating themes in Galland’s song- and screenwriting. “Horror movies always have some very simple romantic or friendship element to them that allows the horror film to play out and the contrast is really striking and intriguing to me,” he describes. “Because everything becomes so desperate — the couple is desperately in love and now they’re getting murdered. There’s both an operatic and kitsch element going on that I really like, and I try to capture that in my music and films.”
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead has been building buzz and finding an audience online, where Galland has developed the film’s mythology, or Shakespearacy.
“There was a lot of material I had to cut from the screenplay that’s based on historical conspiracy theory — I’d found these correlations between the text of Hamlet, the theory that Shakespeare may not have written some of his most famous plays, and vampire mythology,” he explains. “I spent a lot of time researching and making those connections so that if you search online, it would almost appear that I hadn’t made it all up!”
The advance buzz helped get the film picked up by Indican Pictures, the distributor that will release the film this summer. It premieres in NYC June 4, then goes nationwide. Check out the trailer HERE!
THE CREATIVE PROCESS: STRUCTURE, VISION & TIME
In addition to making records and films and writing screenplays, Galland has also been co-writing songs with other artists, like Daniel Merriweather. He co-wrote the songs “Cigarettes” and “Live By Night” for Merriweather’s album, Love & War.
“I met Daniel when we were both spending a lot of time at Mark Ronson‘s studio,” says Galland. “One day, we went into the studio together, and I sat down at the piano and we started writing. And a year later, we did that again. We spent many hours in the studio together, struggling with lyrics, banging our heads against the wall.
“It’s always like that for me, writing lyrics. I know I’ve wasted a lot of time on a single line of a song, but I can’t help it. To me, bad lyrics are like watching a movie that has holes in the plot.
Galland prefers a structured approach and likens his songwriting to his screenwriting. “I always remember something Nigel Godrich told Sean Lennon years ago — about how he likes a band to write a record: Come up with a name for the album, then come up with the name of the songs, and then write the songs. The point is, come up with a vision for what you want the album to be. I often do name my songs first. It’s my entry point for figuring out what the song is going to be.
“I know there are people who can sit down and write a song or a screenplay without any need for a structure, but those people are really touched. For me, it’s the time and effort that gets me the result I want.”