Welcome to the Rock ‘n Roll Ghost Podcast. On this episode, the Ghost speaks with musician and composer Jason Hill about his career dating back to his days in the bands Convoy, Louis XIV and Vicki Cryer. As well as his work with The Killers and producing/touring with the New York Dolls and the recent passing of Sylvain Sylvain. Hill also talks about his late career turn towards film and TV composing. He has worked closely with director David Fincher on projects such as Fincher’s Gone Girl and the Netflix series Mindhunter. It’s a pretty wide ranging, fun interview with someone I go back nearly twenty years with.
Also, starting April 1st, Hill will be hosting Film Composing and Music production masterclasses. Check out the Department of Recording and Power‘s website for more information.
Jason Hill is the hypnotic composer, producer, recording artist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, admired for his arcane musical stylings and idiosyncratic approach. He is the frontman and thought leader of controversial post-punk band, Louis XIV, member of alternative supergroup, Vicky Cryer, and founder of The Department of Recording and Power, a voluminous vintage studio in Glendale, California. A contrarian musical nomad, Jason has thrived in myriad roles within the music business, working with David Bowie, The Killers, Robbie Williams, New York Dolls, Jet, Sky Ferreira, Macy Gray, The Virgins, Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs, and many others. After being tapped to fulfill the official trailer and teaser for Gone Girl, legendary director, David Fincher invited Jason to conjure a musical macrocosm for Netflix’s gripping criminal psychology thriller series, Mindhunter. Over two critically acclaimed seasons, Jason’s score negotiates the liminal space between masks of normalcy and unbridled savagery, masterfully evoking unseen traumas. In our sprawling discussion, Jason details his lifelong rejection of sonic mores and how he made Netflix history with his haunting re-imagining of the Mindhunter theme for the season two finale.
Before becoming a composer for media, you explored many artistic avenues in the music industry — Louis XIV, Vicky Cryer, and beyond. Could you describe some of your most fulfilling pursuits before you changed your professional trajectory? What are the advantages of having a strong pre-existing relationship to storytelling through music?
Well, it’s an interesting thought about the storytelling aspect. With songwriting, you’re trying to tell these mini stories, but I’ve had many, many fulfilling artistic projects. Louis XIV, I absolutely loved doing, and in fact, for the first time in 10 years, we’re in the middle of making another record. We’ve got a few songs so far, and it’s fun to come back around to it after we went pretty hard, toured the world, and made records. “The Best Little Secrets are Kept” is one of the records I’m very, very proud of. I just loved making it.
Looking back, I lived in this little, tiny…it wasn’t even an apartment, and it overlooked a Shell gas station. It didn’t have a shower or anything. I would literally connect a hose to the faucet and drag it out on the balcony that overlooked the gas station. In the middle of the night, I would hose myself to take a shower unless I was staying at girlfriends’ houses. I had a futon in the corner, but the rest of the place was just my recording gear. I was broke, but I was happy to be making music. That’s where all the Louis XIV material came about. It was essentially from those late nights, and that was a really great experience.
I’ve actually had so many great experiences related to music. There were times when me and my past bandmates moved to a place called Jamul up in the mountains, about an hour outside of downtown San Diego. We lived in this old adobe house on forty-six acres that an artist built. That was one of the places where we learned to sing harmonies and write together. That was also where I really learned how to record. We just had reel-to-reels, and I figured out how to do it. I’ve always lived in pursuit of trying to figure out how to do things by myself. If I signed a record deal, instead of giving another producer a bunch of money in the studio to make a record, it was like, “No. Let’s just buy a bunch of gear ourselves, and now, we can make records for the rest of our lives.” That’s why I have the arsenal of stuff I have to this day.
There are so many incarnations of my life in music, starting from the moment I first fell in love with it. I remember as a little kid; I was actually plagued by these things in my head, which later I learned were melodies. It would drive me nuts. To be honest with you, as a nine-year-old kid, I would have all these tiny, weird symphonies playing in my mind, but I didn’t know what they were until I started figuring out what music really was. Of course, I knew what music “was,” and I even wrote a song around age five, but at that point, I didn’t know how to make these melodies I was hearing come to life. It was like, “How do I get this out of my head and into the cosmos? How do I play it on a guitar or a piano?”. Oh god, it was so tough. That was a thing like, “I gotta figure this out because otherwise, it’s going to kill me.”
I think it’s always been a pursuit of the fog. It’s like a foggy mirror after a hot shower. Little by little, the fog comes clear, and you are able to see your reflection. That’s what music has been, for me, for my entire life, and now, I just have a lot more control over it. That said, it’s still this elusive thing, and I love that elusive thing. I love the feeling of not knowing, so I still dance in that realm.
The Glass Armonica, invented by Benjamin Franklin.
Taking place in the late ’70s through the early ’80s, Mindhunter charts the origin of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the practice of criminal profiling. Together, agents, Holden Ford and Bill Tench, alongside psychologist, Wendy Carr interview and analyze incarcerated serial killers across the nation, applying this groundbreaking knowledge to solve cases. In your collaboration with David Fincher, what concepts and musical references does he bring to the table, and how does that inform your approach?
[David Fincher] is so articulate. He’s a brilliant man. I can’t stress that enough, really. He gives you these prompts, but they’re rarely specific. Nowhere in there is he saying, “Do this,” or “Make this piece exactly like this.” He just gives you these open-ended questions.
This time around, one of his prompts was ‘the death of disco’ and what that sounded like. It was a very interesting thing to consider when you think of our score and where it ended up. How does finding out what the death of disco sounds like translate to season two of Mindhunter? I still don’t know, but it led me in a place of trying to figure it out, which was a bit of a mind fuck.
Jason Hill fue miembro de los relativamente efímeros Louis XIV, ahora volvemos a tenerle por aquí en una faceta bien distinta. Suya es la banda sonora original de la serie televisiva de Netflix “Mindhunter“. Aprovechamos el estreno de su segunda temporada para charlar con él.
Es la década de 1970 y los coches, brillantes y alargados, recorren las ciudades de Estados Unidos bajo la macilenta luz de las farolas. Jimmy Carter es presidente, J. Edgar Hoover lleva muerto varios años y la guerra fría sigue en marcha. Salir a la calle ya no parece tan seguro como lo era en la idealizada década de 1950, pero el país vive, entre todas, una particular pesadilla: los asesinatos en serie. El miedo al otro se instala en la sociedad norteamericana. ¿Conseguirá el FBI modernizarse a tiempo de una forma adecuada y eficaz? Sigamos la serie para descubrirlo. Una serie, por cierto, que destaca entre los thrillers televisivos actuales. Y uno de los motivos es por la atractiva banda sonora de Jason Hill, vocalista y guitarrista de Louis XIV, una banda que publicó tres álbumes en cuatro años durante la década pasada.
La banda sonora original de “Mindhunter” parece siempre sutil, delicada. Es como en la introducción de la serie, con la pieza de los créditos, en la que la subversión se esconde detrás de esa música y la perfección y cuidado de los agentes manejando la grabadora. Eso debe haber sido difícil de lograr. ¿Cómo fue el proceso creativo?
Era cuestión de encontrarle la voz, de encontrarle color al movimiento. Fue como un enigma. Yo desde el principio comencé a sentirlo como una bruma, una especie de niebla o agua. Era líquido, resbaladizo… pero también era como esa característica ilusoria de los pensamientos, que también es algo de lo que se trata en la serie, especialmente en la primera temporada: las cosas que ocurren y tienen lugar en las mentes de las personas y luego el camino y la acción que toman. Los pensamientos son muy extraños, no puedes tocarlos. Eso sucede muchas veces con la música también. Quería que la música fuera así, cuando no puedes tocarla exactamente, resbalándose entre los dedos.
Entonces, la banda sonora tiene una fuerte carga psicológica.
¡Sí! Por suerte, llevo trabajando con Fincher alrededor de cinco o seis años, y mucho de ese tiempo ha servido para identificar el sonido y la estética de las cosas y los temas [en particular]. Desde entonces ha sido fantástico; más o menos siempre lo encontramos juntos. Con “Mindhunter” he empezado a trabajar desde una fecha bastante temprana, incluso ocho meses antes de ver siquiera una sola imagen. De hecho, empecé desde el momento en que me dijo: ‘¿te apetecería hacer esto?’. Me mandó el guión y lo leí… ¡pero fue difícil! Me considero una persona muy relacionada con todo lo visual y sonoro, pero no es como que al leer el guión se me haya ocurrido la música. Nada de eso. Gran parte del proceso, por tanto, fue para encontrar algo que yo sintiese que era correcto. Cuando vi una imagen, entonces sí, todo adquirió sentido. La “sensación” o esencia que debía transmitir la serie surgió de mí al momento.
Parece que funcionó, porque la música encaja a la perfección con la serie. Había dado por hecho que habías comenzado a partir de las imágenes.
Oh no, no. Hay una canción titulada “The Crime Of The Century” que fue la primera que compuse a partir de una imagen. Fue como: ‘whoah, vale, este es el sonido de la serie (aunque por entonces ya había trabajado largo tiempo en ello). Esa fue la parte en la que sentí que había encontrado lo que buscaba, algo de un aspecto y movimiento acuoso, espeso. Se asemeja a cuando lanzas una piedra en un lago y ésta va formando pequeños círculos o anillos. Así sentía yo esa pieza en relación con la música y con el resto de canciones que estaban por venir. A veces me sentaba al piano y, aunque es difícil de explicar, sentía que la forma en la que estaba tocando era la que se suponía que debía de ser. Es decir, que ese ritmo era el que debía haber en la serie. Extrañamente, a pesar de que desde pequeño siempre creaba canciones, yo nunca entré en el mundo de la música para ser compositor.
David Fincher went looking for the 1970s — and found them in Pittsburgh. but that was just the start for the esteemed producer-director and his team, who recreated the era for Mindhunter, the Netflix series about two pioneering FBI profilers.
Watching the Netflix series Mindhunter, you may shudder as convicted serial killer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton) casually chats about his string of brutal murders, or flinch when — spoiler alert! — a bird hits the fan courtesy of mass murderer Richard Speck (Jack Erdie).
What you’re less likely to notice is the precision with which the show’s late-’70s landscape has been created. David Fincher considers that a win.
“It’s really important that it feels like two people having a conversation — and that 40 people aren’t on their iPhones simultaneously just outside of frame,” says Fincher, who is executive-producing the series with Joshua Donen, Charlize Theron and Ceán Chaffin. “The great news is, I lived through the ’70s, so I remember what that looks like.”
Created by Joe Penhall — and based loosely on FBI agent John Douglas‘s book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit — the series explores the birth of criminal profiling.
Special agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, playing a fictionalized version of Douglas) and his partner, Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), work alongside psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) to dig into what makes murderers tick. Shot in Pittsburgh, the show is a window on a time before the term serial killer had been coined, much less become the focus of TV shows and casual conversations.
While that seemingly more innocent time is reflected partly in the show’s relative lack of gore, the decade’s thornier complexities required a critical eye (or, in this case, eyes) to see past the polyester-covered clichés.
“David is the most holistic filmmaker I’ve ever met,” director of photography Erik Messerschmidt says. “The tone of every scene is important, and [so are] how the costumes and lighting and set decoration and everything play a part in creating the finished product.”
Fincher, who directed four of the first season’s 10 episodes, is famously meticulous, but he says the secret to getting it right is finding the right people.
“I don’t think you keep a project in a kind of design and aesthetic wheelhouse by being a dictatorial influence. Just stomping your feet and holding your breath is not going to make stuff work,” he says. “A lot of times, you have to empower people who are the advance troops and the follow-up troops to make decisions that are based on conversations that you have.”
In this case, one of the first decisions — where to shoot — was daunting.
“Our biggest issue,” Fincher says, “was: where do we find 1978?”
Another week, another Oscar winner chats to Soundtracking in partnership with the EE BAFTAs.
These days, the quality and quantity of original programming on streaming services is quite astounding – with A-list talent delivering high-class drama time and time again.
One of Netflix‘s standout series of 2017 was Mindhunter. Overseen by David Fincher, it tells the story of how the FBI’s profiling unit came into being in the 1970s. By turns dark, funny, moving, cool and brutal, it also makes great use of contemporary pop & rock.
So it’s with great pleasure that we welcome Asif Kapadia to the show, who directed two episodes of the first season.
Asif has won numerous awards for The Warrior, Senna and Amy, with the latter scooping the Oscar for Best Documentary. There will, of course, be plenty of examples of Amy Winehouse‘s music throughout the course of the conversation, as well as composer Antonio Pinto‘s work on both Amy and Senna.
Just about the last thing anyone wants to do is enter the mind of pure evil, let alone hear it meticulously, and deliciously describe its murderous exploits. That a view inside of its horrifying headspace has resulted in such eerily intoxicating music is a testament to the powerfully emerging voice of Jason Hill in “Mindhunter.” Created by serial killer media enabler par excellence David Fincher, this acclaimed Netflix series’ twist is that we barely see any violence at all. Rather, the acts and its reasoning are told to FBI profilers Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), who traverse the country to find out what makes madmen tick. That the birth of the agency’s serial killer profiling unit is no work of fiction makes their subjects’ descriptions all the more terrifying, if no less fascinating in the awfulness that’s drawn entertainment to these predators again and again. That Jason Hill hears the recording sessions, and their effect upon the agents, with such dark poetry is all the more unsettling.
If the interview subjects of “Mindhunter” have seemed to emerge from the shadows, seemingly out of nowhere, the same might be said (if not murderously) about how Hill’s innovative talent has burst upon the binge-watching scene. With only one scoring credit for a dirt biking madman behind him, Hill’s production work for the likes of David Bowie, The New York Dolls and The Killers along with his band Louis XIV have led him into Fincher’s company – a band of musical profilers whose work has ranged from the raging orchestra of Howard Shore’s “Se7en” to the subtle, conspiratorial piano of David Shire’s “Zodiac” and the piercing electronics of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ “Gone Girl.”
Hill’s realization of a twisted psyche is just as uncommon and original, eschewing the kind of dissonance that scores most associate with serial killers, Hill’s soundtrack for this hit, ten-part series is poetic, even beautiful in its crystalline use of sound and samples, music that suggests a voyage to an alternate, shimmering universe far more than it does a basement torture dungeon. Its ethereal, even poignant stuff, yet with a tonality that tells us something is unholy in its deceptively surreal bliss. Even as brilliantly crazy as Brian Reitzell’s music was for the equally astounding “Hannibal,” there’s never been quite a serial killer show, or soundtrack like “Mindhunter.” In no small part, we can thank an essentially newfound composer who’s brave enough to hear shocking words that might drive others’ insane, and turn the description of the deeds into things of hypnotic, unearthly beauty that dares us to turn away. And like the subject of the increasingly unnerved agents, Hill is the killer who keeps the tape machine running, now describing in detail to us how he draws listeners ever deeper into “Mindhunter’s” entrancing madness.
Director and producer David Fincher wanted a backing track that “didn’t sound like music” for his new Netflix series Mindhunter, which is exactly what he got in the 10-episode show’s original score by composer Jason Hill. Hill, a veteran of the early aughts indie rock scene with throwback style, invented a library of original sounds he processed into music. “I didn’t use any sound libraries,” said Hill, proprietor of the Department of Recording & Power. “I do use a computer, in terms of capture, but everything pretty much starts with a bunch of analog, weird stuff. I kind of get mad scientist brain when I press play.” Pitch perfect for a show about the genesis of the FBI’s elite Behavioral Sciences Unit, formed in 1978. An inspired touch — the sound of Hill running his fingers around water-filled wine glasses — has become something of an audio signature for the series, which also features a rigorously curated complement of 1970s tunes.
Fincher is known as a meticulous craftsman who not only chooses great material, but applies his exacting style to bring it to the screen in a way that is both visually and narratively compelling. While his talent as a musical tastemaker has certainly been acknowledged, it’s emphasized to a lesser extent against the dazzle of his other gifts. But Fincher’s record stands: best score Oscars for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for 2010’s The Social Network, and a best soundtrack Grammy for the duo’s 2012 The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo as well as a nom for their work on Gone Girl.
Fincher received his own Academy Award nominations for directing The Social Network and 2008’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which also earned Oscar and Grammy nominations for composer Alexandre Desplat). And that’s before even getting to the part about how in the ’80s he helped invent the music video genre as a founder of Propaganda Films (including Don Henley’s cinematic “The End of the Innocence” and helming entries for Madonna and Nine Inch Nails (as well as Loverboy and Rick Springfield, among many others. He’s collected his own Grammys for directing the 1994 clip for The Rolling Stones‘ “Love is Strong” featuring the band and their friends as giants cavorting through Manhattan), and more recently, in 2014 for Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” (feat. Jay Z). Fincher spoke to MaxTheTrax editor in chief Paula Parisi about the music for Mindhunter, his music video roots and (small!) contribution to Trent Reznor’s career as a film composer.