Scott Kirkland discusses the stories that most affect him, the differences in process between scoring a film and making an album, and the moments that ground him.
The Crystal Method may be comprised of only Scott Kirkland now, but his electronic music project is more dynamic than ever. Recently, Kirkland scored the documentary film Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight, alongside his continued work on another forthcoming album.
In Hired Gun, an elite group of A-list musicians share their behind-the scene stories of touring, revealing what it takes to play next to the world’s most iconic musicians and create some of the world’s best known songs. The film features heart-wrenching and hilarious stories about the music life as seen by musicians, alongside live footage of the artists recording and performing, with the action tied together by the The Crystal Method’s score.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Scott Kirkland to discuss the stories that most affect him, the differences in process between scoring a film and making an album, and the moments that ground him.
Christopher Friedmann: We’re talking because you crafted the score for the recently released documentary Hired Gun: Out of the Shadows, Into the Spotlight. Now that it’s out, how are you feeling? Are you still excited? Have you finally calmed down?
Scott Kirkland: I’m very proud to be part of the project, for sure. I came in, as one does in the scoring, you come in very near the end. The edit’s together, got everything in the can, you are just trying to piece together… They had so much footage, I was just talking to Fran the director, that the amount of content they had for this project was just ridiculous, they had so many interviews.
I’m hoping they find a way to move forward because to tell the story in a way where you want to be able to spend some time with people, especially like Rudy Sarzo, and talk extensively to some of the other guys, like Liberty Devitto, you are going to have to leave some things on the cutting room floor. When I first saw it, as soon as that scene with Rudy Sarzo talking about Randy Rhoads came on, I sort of flashed back to being the 12-year-old heavy metal rocker kid that I was, reading in Kerrang! or Circus Magazine about Randy Rhoads’ unfortunate death and then being a fan of Quiet Riot and Rudy Sarzo and having that “Bang Your Head (Mental Health)” mask on my wall after I went to go see them in concert.
Fast forward, I’m sitting at this, these movie makers are talking about people that I’ve grown up with, are wanting me to score the movie. It was really surreal. I thought it was a real great opportunity for me to continue to develop as an artist and I enjoy the world of scoring, so I’m super proud to be part of the project. I’m happy that people are finding it and appreciating it, and I’m just all in.
CF: Creating music for a project like this must be very different from making your own sounds. Did you approach it in a different way and what’s so different about the process of scoring?
SK: I found it to be quite inspiring and liberating for me because sometimes as an artist who has put out albums, and has a fanbase, and you’re thinking about, not all the time about your fanbase, but you’re just thinking… You know, you go in and you sit in front of a computer staring at an empty project, and maybe you’re inspired by this, maybe you’re inspired by that, but with scoring you have everything, as far as emotionally what’s there – if it’s an action scene you can find the right rhythm or propulsive energy to match it. This was interesting because it was a little more nuanced.
When I got the first scene done or at least started on, which was the Rudy Sarzo talking about Randy Rhoads scene, I had a great deal of fun working, kind of moving around because you would have Richard Patrick talking about his time with Nine Inch Nails, so I got to do a little bit of like, industrial – I got my industrial electronic on. And Rudy Sarzo is talking about his time in Quiet Riot, so I got to make a big rock track. It was just, I didn’t overthink it, and I just took the director’s notes, the filmmaker’s vision, and tried to make something that worked.
The thing is, with scoring, obviously traditionally, scoring has been very much orchestral and there has been kind of a pattern to the way it’s been made and composed over the years. This was a little bit documentary, a little bit more, “You’re supporting scenes but you’re also adding a little bit of your own flavor in there.” But also I’m always thinking, always when I’m starting a project like this, I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. What am I doing here?” [Laughs.] I’m not a composer: I don’t write music and read music in this way.
I was growing up with the John Williams scores. That dude was a composer. I’m a guy they’ve hired to come in and make music for this scene. Which is cool, and as I continue to grow, potentially as a composer, I will maybe take what I’ve learned here and hopefully pick up some new things along the way to continue to be able to do other projects that are interesting to me and maybe not actually the most typical thing that someone from my musical background might be interested in doing. But I love it. I love the idea of scoring to picture and especially working with really cool people on cool projects.
CF: The film depicts a number of revealing stories about the origins of some of the world’s best-known music. What was it like tapping into the emotions of those moments and trying to bring sound to them?
SK: Sympathy. Empathy. I think that it’s key to anything that has any sort of emotion in it – you have to have empathy. The person is talking about something as emotional as watching his friend fly into a house, and that moment when Rudy Sarzo is talking about the shock and what just happened. Being on tour where sometimes a bus stops in various different places and you to sleep in Tucson, you wake up in Albuquerque. The strange world that happens while you’re on a tour bus. But that situation where Randy Rhoads just, seemingly, moments before had asked him to come up on the ride with him. “Come on, let’s go on this plane,” and I’d never heard all this stuff before, I just kind of as a kid read magazines and it was so raw at the time.
What they were able to do in this documentary is have someone like Rudy Sarzo open up about that, so that situation where he’s talking about staring, “What just happened? There’s a plane.” Randy was talking about going up on a plane, now there’s a plane that’s crashed into this house, and then just the realization that you’re looking at the building where your friends are burning in this moment of talking about the hum – all he heard was this hum, and it was probably the engine from that plane still turning in the house.
When he started talking, because he’s a musician and that’s the way musicians sometimes talk, they connect it to some sound or music – maybe musicians pick up on those things differently, but I just thought, “Well this is a really serious scene.” And so I just tried to figure my way through that by starting with that scene, and I had a great deal of fun with it.
CF: With stories like this, there is always going to be some amount of nostalgia involved, so how do you, musically, take the past and bring it into the present?
SK: With this in particular, I think what was interesting is you moved around genres and, most of the time, there in a documentary, you’re going to have things that go back, showing pictures from the 80’s. There’s a scene when Billy Joel is talking about how, in an earlier interview with him, he’s talking like, “We’re like a gang.” This really random [laughs] promo video of Billy Joel and his ‘gang’ walking around the streets of New York… and it has almost like a late 70’s feel, to me, it looked like an episode of some sort of cop show from that period.
So I was like, “I’m just gonna score what this video looks like…” He’s talking, but they get this grainy footage of Billy Joel, who’s a talented musician but not what one would think is the toughest dude on the block walking around, and he’s got his attitude thing that Billy Joel has and it’s just like that’s where I’m gonna focus. I’m gonna create a “bum bum bum” with the drums, and it just built from there, hitting the points the way the scene is edited. It’s all math, but then you add the emotion in there and that’s where those kinds of choices are made along the way.
I just found that there’s no right answer. When you give that scene to 10 different composers, I guarantee that they’re all over the map, and maybe they all work in their own way and maybe some of them, maybe you would be able to say were better, but how many times will you ever get that choice to say, “Well, now we have Hired Gun scored by Scott Kirkland, let’s go see what it sounds like if a real composer scores it” [laughs]? It’s like, “F*** it, that’s never going to happen,” so you just do the best you can, and own the scene and take direction from the director.
That’s the other thing – basically, instead of dealing with the potential of what the fan is going to immediately think, I just want to make the filmmakers happy. If they like it, then my job is good. If I can make them happy, it’s really easy to continue to build on that momentum. Case in point, there was this scene where Jason Newsted is talking about Cliff Burton – another one of these things is growing up in that world of heavy metal, having the Master of Puppets album, and then hearing Cliff Burton died in a bus crash over in f***ing Europe, that’s the f***ing worst – then having Jason Newsted talking about it, well, I didn’t get that scene edited because they were just kind pushing forward. I didn’t get that scene until the day before they wanted everything turned in.
There were deadlines that needed to be made, but they were still churning out content, so that scene showed up and they had like “Orion” or some other Metallica track – perfect little bass solo – in that scene, and I’m like, “Wait. You want this done by tomorrow? Plus the other things that I’m already doing?” I said that to myself in my head, but then I thought, “Yeah, f*** it, let’s get it done.” My other thing lately is if somebody believes you can do it, you should make a good effort at getting it done…
So I called up my mate Justin Chancellor, who is the bass player for Tool, and I said, “Dude, you gotta come by after rehearsal today and check out this scene,” and he did, and no one loves Cliff Burton more than Justin does, so he went back to his studio that night and we just communicated a few times. He would send me stuff and I would be like, “Play that one part again, and maybe slow it down.” And then my thing was I wanted to make it sound like somebody had found like an old Cliff Burton practice tape that every kid would make when they were practicing, so I wanted it to sound like this was a Cliff Burton bass-liney thing instead of doing strings…
With Jason Newsted talking about replacing Cliff Burton, there is no traditional scoring that I can think of that I would want to hear, so I just thought, “Let’s make it sound like we found this old cassette tape of one of Cliff’s early practices”, so I made all of these weird sounds and he just played some really awesome part, because Justin is amazing, and we got that s*** done. I turned it in late at night and I got a text from Fran the director, the next day and he was like, “Oh my God, I just listened to this. It’s amazing!”
That’s the kind of positive energy that I think is going to be more successful in this particular [business] – any business really, but this game as well: Being positive and trying to do the right thing and moving forward. To me it’s just much more fun so, again, I’m real excited about how everything turned out, and I’m looking forward to continuing to promote and support the movie.
CF: How did your relationship with director Fran Strine begin?
SK: They were looking for a composer and they thankfully checked in with my agent over at Craft Angel and they said, “Hey, there’s this project, do you want to take a look at this edit?” And I said, “Sure,” and then I got on the phone with the director and we just hit it off. He came down from San Francisco, we did a spotting session and hung out, and he’s a really, really lovely guy and I’m just super happy this project is gonna shed some more light on what a really great storyteller he is.
CF: It’s been a few years since the last Crystal Method album. Are you currently working on anything new you could tell us about?
SK: Oh yea. I’ve got about 17 songs going right now. We put the first rack of ten that we are hoping for to be done, on the white eraserboard here at the studio, and I’m looking forward to getting the album done and out by spring or early summer, and I’m super psyched. I’m just really happy with what’s going on in the studio and excited about the future.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
SK: I’ve been touring, going back out on the road. After Ken retired, I knew I was going to continue to make music, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to make music as The Crystal Method or if I was going to go tour anymore as The Crystal Method. But as I started making music and you start to feel confident in what’s going on in the studio, I was like, “Alright, let’s go do some shows, and get myself back out there.” And once I started doing that, and I’ve just been touring a lot this summer, the most grounding, most amazing thing is just after I do a show, and when they are good shows, and I just go out and hang out with people, and the wide variety of people that found that the album that we made or the song that we made or something that we did as two guys in the studio, and that piece of music made their way to this person and that person has this story and they’re telling me, “There was this time…”
They are up and down stories. “I got a call that my brother was killed in a car accident and I had to drive 18 hours to somewhere,” and the kid was telling me how he listened to Vegas. It’s even touching now, now that I hear it. Those stories where somebody is just, “Oh my God, you were the soundtrack to my early years,” or “You’re the reason why I got into electronic music.” And any variety of things where people are emotionally connected to something you did, and are not only there sharing, but have been sharing that experience with me for 20-plus years, that to me is the most fun.
There’s been moments where, a lot of times, people get grounded by seeing other people doing the things that… The other thing I found is that being a dick just does not work. Especially if you want longevity in this world, because you come back around and you start to see people, projects that were like, “That’s right, 15 years ago we did that thing, or you came to the studio, or you opened up for us at that show.” Or whatever it is, it is nice knowing that through my own actions, I haven’t burnt bridges and been a negative influence on anyone’s perspective.
So I’m just happy that I’m still doing it, and I’m super excited about the album and super excited about the fact that Hired Gun is out. When it was kind of in limbo, when they were trying to find distribution, I was like, “I did this documentary.” “When is it going to come out?” “I don’t know.” But now it’s on Netflix, so now everyone can find their way to it, and the score, as far as the score album, it was just something we kept getting people asking us, “Man you should put that out,” and we were trying to figure out a way to do it where potentially there was some other… because there was a lot of music in the movie that’s from the bands playing or some of the artists practicing, so we were trying to figure out a way to do a score and soundtrack, but that just started to get kind of messy because how do you just put in a three minute drum solo [laughs].
It works on camera because you are seeing the guy do it, but it doesn’t really work as a separate thing. A score doesn’t have to be as it was laid out in the movie, although some of those more traditional movie scores are, this is just basically about trying to find our way to make a good listen for anybody who would want to give it a shot.