Music producer and composer JUSTIN LASSEN recently created the now available MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN soundtrack (the film will finally hit the big screen via a limited release on August 1st) and we managed to snag him for a while to get the 411 on what exactly that entails and of course to find out what the Soundtrack (which you can get here) has in store for us. Read on!
Was composing and producing music something you always wanted to do for a living or did you fall into it by accident?
I think, It was either by accident, or some “calling” from the dark puppet masters controlling us… tempting us… the muses out there, with the strings on our hearts and fingers.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, because I wanted to do it all, but there was “something” so “magic” and “cool” about music to me… I grew up around music, I listened to tapes and CD’s at night to fall asleep, letting those sub-conscious vibrations shake something inside me gradually over the years, and I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that today I am now creating music “Music” is and always was a mild form of hypnosis, that I wanted to learn to harness, to mesmerize, change and shape people’s emotions through the nearly infinite power of sound.
Imagine the possibilities. Ancient societies have used music for good and evil for all of time. Those pounding drums and brass instruments that make young men feel like they can conquer the world with their swords and guns even on the gloomiest and most desperate times of war as they march to their deaths… or massive armies of violins that can tear your heart into a hundred thousand little pieces and make you drown in your own tears...
To me, Music is one of the most powerful forces on the planet, no matter what
culture you are from, so of course I wanted the honor and responsibility of
being one of the wizards who would wield this power for good.
Who would you say have been your main inspirations throughout your evolution as a composer/remixer?
Great storytellers… Ever since I was a child, I was in awe over
stories, storytelling, myths, legends, epic fairytales and biographies of past
lives. I have also been inspired by great visual artists, painters, animators
and other fellow creators of art. My mom’s maiden name is Grimm…
How did the Midnight Meat Train soundtrack producing gig come about?
I met the VP of Lakeshore Records at GDC 2004 (Game Development Conference) through a mutual friend. At the time he was researching and interested in releasing video game soundtracks on his label. I gave him advice from a video game industry perspective and we generally hit it off pretty well after that. I was pretty honored that he remembered me this much time later (2008). He needed some new vibes and sound to add to the “lakeshore family”, and we started e-mailing and voila… At first I thought he just wanted one remix... I was in for a big surprise when I got to his office and he wanted me to produce the entire soundtrack album. One thing leads to another and now thankfully, there is an album to listen to.
What was it about this particular job that made you want to tackle it? Money aside of course…
It definitely wasn’t the money at all, to be honest. If anything, it was the chance and honor to get to work with a childhood hero in a detached sense, a fellow creator; someone who believes so much in his work and to this day still continues to create. Yes, I grew up on things like Hellraiser, so to get even this kind of opportunity to work on a Clive Barker project in this isolated way, is wicked cool to me. I knew I could bring Clive’s vibe to the record, it was within me, and each song/remix that I put on the soundtrack, which I hope has done MMT justice. It was a cool risk for all of us, the label was taking a chance on me, and I was taking a chance on them; the label was really cool and supportive, so it was awesome to get to work with them on this unique project.
Are all the songs found on the soundtrack in the film itself?
No, not that I am aware of…From what I know and have been told, this is an “inspired by” album from Lakeshore Records. Something they do for a lot of films. They wanted to bring a new vibe to the label’s “sound” and asked me to produce the entire project from scratch. I have seen the film, but not with the finished/final music. I think it would have been cool to hear some of these songs in the film itself, but we’re all super grateful to have been a part of the project even in this unique way, and we hope everyone enjoys the work! It is certainly a cool collection of tracks that while supporting the film and book, also stand apart from it as its own wicked listening “experience”. You’ll feel right at home in deep tunnels and claustrophobic paranoid corner turning holes…
I am assuming that you handpicked the bands and tunes found on the CD? What was the main driving force behind the process? Looking for unknowns (hence cheaper acquisitions) – music that echoed the feel of the film – music mostly to just “sell” the soundtrack? I know nothing as to this part of the industry, educate me : )
Yes. I was given 100% creative freedom on the soundtrack, from picking the bands (no matter how obscure, or how big.), to final remixing decisions, additional scoring, etc. It was a dreamy project in that regard. I listen to a lot of music, and know more bands and artists than I probably should.
I could be wrong, but from what I’m told by people who know more than me, “there has to be a balance between commerce and art”, in order to make a soundtrack project successful. I suppose that goes for any industry, but particularly the music and film worlds, unfortunately. Maybe they are right, but we can only hope they are wrong.
I wasn’t going to have any of it. I suppose I had a few options available to me. I could have done the super-tired-trendy-thing and picked the 14 heaviest-most-hardcore-god-damned-industrial-metal-bands-on-the-planet, and remix them up with 4-on-the-floor dance beats & vampire/zombie samples, and call it quits. Or perhaps slapped some mainstream staples like Linkin Park and Nine Inch Nails on it just because it’s a “dark” “horror” “movie”. And finally, I could have even picked the top 14 sexy-young-in-your-face-EMO-rock-bands on the planet from the label-of-the-day to cash in on the kiddies, because it would have been a “safe” bet. While all of those are acceptable options for most horror projects, I’m not “that” producer… and this wasn’t “that” horror film.
I’ve heard all of those “soundtracks” before, and unless you are living under a rock; so have you, and those soundtracks were cool for their time and definitely have their places, but for this CD, Lakeshore wanted something new, something different… and in retrospect, how forward-thinking they were to be brave and find something like this; more fitting for the honorable Clive Barker that would respectfully give his mythos justice, and most importantly; serve as a great collection of MMT inspired songs.
So that’s what we did with the soundtrack. I picked tracks that lyrically felt like either Kaufman or The Butcher, with thoughts that must be going through their heads at various stages in the film (and book!), and sonically I wanted each track to feel like a dark train ride in themselves. I kept the book near me in the studio while working.
I wanted each track to stand up on their own, but also feel like a cool “concept album” that cohesively fit with the other tracks on the disc, this way it would be more like a collaborative effort, mixing bands you would not normally find together.
Budget was definitely an issue to deal with throughout the project, so I had to pull a TON of personal strings to get it all together (hence the large Thank You list in the liner notes.). I think you’ll find that this soundtrack is a rare gem in the great big sea of soundtracks. The bands and I all believe in it wholeheartedly.
It’s definitely a unique set of songs…Where else are you going to find an eclectic mix of bands/artists like: the legendary composer of the most popular MMORPG video game on the planet , one of the very best visual software programmers in the world, 4 of the best cello players in the universe, the composer of MMT, spliced with other extremely talented musicians from several countries and several states in one CD?
I put a few big names on there, and a few obscure names, but no matter what, I wanted it all to feel like Clive’s short story and film. Each band was very cool in taking as much careful love and attention in this regard. I hope the fans of Clive Barker and the bands dig the work…
Has LG’s “to big screen or to not big screen” ping pong match with Meat Train’s release interfere with the film’s soundtrack in any way or its imminent release?
That whole thing fortunately did not interfere with the soundtrack process at all. In fact, I had the soundtrack finished and turned into the label 7 days before my original contracted deadline, and it was all ready to go for the original May 16th release date. It sat on the shelf, while LionsGate had their food fight in the lunch room. Luckily, we (Lakeshore and I) began the project in February. Lakeshore had all of their bases covered and all of us on the project, made our greatest efforts to be ready for any deadline that tried to attack us with blunt objects. We did good. *pats everyone’s back*
Out of all the songs found on the CD, which one would you say is your favorite and why?
You. Jerk… If I had to pick, I’d say track 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. Putting favorites aside, I want to say that this soundtrack was a great milestone for me, personally. I’ve worked with a lot of big artists over the years, but there was something humbling and unique about this… It gave me a dreamy chance to work with musicians and artists that I have immense respect for, so it was a huge honor for me. For instance, I was listening to Second Coming from back in the day like every single night on headphones in high school, so who would have thought I would be working with them? To remix them was awesome.
To get to work with the Jason Hayes, a composer I’ve always respected from the 90’s, who has done legendary scores for Blizzard, to the epic and bombastically surreal Apocalyptica, to the underground-hero Jonny Global and his genius project Penetrator and mix them with up-and-coming well-deserved artists like ALU and Manakin Moon was a cool treat. I really enjoyed sharing this opportunity with artists that I felt really deserved some attention and exposure, especially in new mediums like “movie soundtracks”. All of these guys, from the bedroom-rockers to the stadium filling veterans, deserve mad respect and at least your ears for but a few moments of time.
You’re also a composer. I listened to And Now We See But Through A Glass Darkly on your official site and really enjoyed it. Any plans of scoring a feature film any time soon? You have what it takes (in my opinion of course).
Wow. Thanks man. That’s really kind of you. Yes, ANWSBTAGD was cool to work on and I had no clue it was going to get so big. It is a shame I lost the follow-up live symphony in a HD crash. L (I still have that HD, if anyone wants to donate me free hard drive recovery services. )
So many people tell me I’d be perfect for epic movies, dark movies, fairytales, etc. I’d believe them if it actually happened. I would love to be given the chance to work on a big score instead of a soundtrack, but I’m grateful for either at this point.
When composing, and suddenly in lack of inspiration – what do you do to get the “juice” back on again?
I stop trying, I stop everything. Take a breath… relax, then…I look at CG artwork at places like CGSociety, It’sArtMag, 3DTotal, DeviantArt, I read stories, books and magazines and watch films. Inspiration floods in shortly afterwards. There are so many amazing, beautiful artists out there, sharing their work with the world… From set designers to costume makers, to typographers and so on…You just have to step outside of yourself, outside of your project, your profession, your hobby, and open your eyes. You’ll see it, you’ll feel it.
Eventually, that spark, returns, and brings with it new colors that you can paint with, that just were not there before, and you think to yourself, “how did I make this?” I think it’s when you surprise yourself, that it’s truly, really magic. Borrow that fire, and use it in your own work. We all draw from the same well, just with different buckets.
What’s next up for you? Any other producing or/and composing gigs lined up?
You never know with me. Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m working on until I’m working on it. Right now I’m working with some very talented rock bands in Finland and UK. I just finished an Aphex-Twin-style remix for a talented artist from Glim Records. I’m living in Europe right now, which is something I HAVE to do at least once a year to keep my sanity (preferably for most of it. I get a chance to meet all kinds of great magical people out here and cool magical things brew together each time.
I endorsed a bunch of books this summer, did some speaking; I am happy and excited that I have a bunch of new (free) classical compositions coming out at CGSociety this summer with the final world-famous Synaesthesia Encore series (a quite popular CG/music series I started in 2005).
I give up… maybe you haven’t noticed the almost-dried blood barely running down my chin and neck, because of all the thread and scars from super ugly filthy NDA’s…It seems I’m always working on something hidden-yet-high-profile, top-secret with military-grade-laser-locks that I can only talk about what seems 5 years later, it pains me to have so many of these trade secrets, needles and thread sewing my lips closed shut. Somebody pull the string. Ahh!
The good news is, I’m always up for cool, unique, interesting, forward-thinking projects, people and teams in technology, games, science, entertainment and music. Bring it on.
What “kind” of an overall audio ride would you say folks are in for with the Meat Train soundtrack?
Get on the train, find a nice comfy seat, turn it up and keep an eye out for
strange blunt objects.
Thanks for dropping by the site bro!
Thanks for having me!