Interview with singer/songwriter/composer Stephanie CopelandDecember 17, 2015
With a music CD out and a composer of indie horror, Steph Copeland is truly a multi-talented artist. Recently we had a chance to sit down with Stephanie and talk about singing, writing and composing and the world of the horror genre.
So were you always surrounded by music or was it something you discovered later on as you got older?
In school I had musical friends and we formed groups, we started out singing, and then at an early age me and a girlfriend formed a band, bass guitar and acoustic guitar, so with my school friends definitely, we were always making music. My dad was a pretty good singer. My Mom says she can’t sing a note, however she put me in all types of lessons and my dad got me in the recording studio at age fifteen to record an EP of songs I’d written. They really fostered my love for music. My sister Emily has musical genes as well so I’d say yes, I had a pretty lush musical environment.
What has been the attraction for you with music, both personally and professionally?
I guess the pure enjoyment of singing and songwriting. It’s pretty instantly gratifying. You can write and immediately see your results, so it was really something my personality gravitated to. I could really see and hear the thing I was making right away, and then eventually recording it, you really have results then. It has just always been a really satisfying thing to do and writing has also been a real pleasure.
Can you describe the experience of writing, singing and recording a song and then hearing it played back to for the very first time?
I recorded myself for the first time in our basement playroom at about age eleven, on a dual cassette recorder using the built in microphone and a Casio keyboard while singing over it. I always thought it was terrible and I’d have to do it again and again. It was a constant fight of “I have to improve this” and really, that was a joy as well. However, there is a time where you simply have to walk away or have someone tell you it’s time to walk away, because otherwise you might be stuck forever in that loop of constantly trying to make it better.
Where did your relationship begin between music and the horror genre?
In 2013, when I first moved to Toronto and met my now fiancé Jeff Maher, he was working on a film called Antisocial with Cody Callahan, and it really was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of production with a very small budget. At that time I was making the transition into writing music for projects for TV and film, and when that opportunity came up it gave me the chance to really just try this thing on. It was very low budget, so it was more like I was going to try it because I want to transition from being performing artist to scoring professionally.
Now as far as composing, is there anything specific you find in the horror genre that is more challenging or interesting then say another genre?
What I really enjoy are scares. Outright scares and building scares which is something you wouldn’t find in too many other genres so I really enjoy playing with different scare styles, if you will. Finding new sounds and new ways of building them are an enjoyable challenge.
How do you approach composing a film? Do you have a certain method for each and every film or does it change depending on what type of film it is?
I have a bit of a technique because a lot of these films are really low budget and there’s very limited time, so I have a system in place. Often times I’ll get the script or synopsis and creative ideas from the director and we’ll talk themes and points of importance in the script as well as major musical pieces. Things tend to move pretty quickly so while they’re in production, I’ll come up with a few theme ideas, a few tones and instrument arrangements that I think are a good match. Then once I see the picture I can really get in there, I get a rough edit, that way I can get a vibe of what’s getting shot and start to get a feel for the musical tone of the film. Once the locked picture comes in it’s just about massaging all those ideas into place. Before I can lay down any ideas however, instrument ideas, I do need to see a rough cut of the film so this leads to the inevitable time crunch, which is not fun but why you need to be pretty organized.
Horror films really rely on the musical score or soundtrack to build the right mood. Does this challenge you or add extra pressure, or maybe a little bit of both?
The pressure is there, definitely, especially when under difficult time constraints and you don’t rely on past tricks that you know will work. I don’t want to do something I’ve already done so I’m always pushing to find different tones, different sounds, really different ways to build suspense, so that’s a challenge I put on myself. Sometimes it’s about building suspense from the ground up, the whole picture might have a certain tone that is the suspense. ‘Ravenous’ by Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn, has a really unique and minimalist soundtrack that builds suspense in a pretty non-traditional way. It’s kitschy and comforting at times and uses major happy chords to set off the upset brought out in long percussive passages that build for really long times. To be fair it’s a horror movie in the wilderness so there is a lot of score and less dialogue but the repetitive pulse is the device used to build those terrifying moments. Albarn and Nyman didn’t use any of the old rise-and-hit tricks. I’d say this was a very good example of using score from the ground up without using conventional techniques.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a composer?
Time, it’s always time. If I could have thirty percent more time on every film I’d be very happy. But besides that, there aren’t too many big challenges or hurdles to face. Technology has come a long way and I have a lot of tools at my disposal and I have a lot of resources as well. I don’t often find myself wanting for much more, of course if we had bigger budgets we could do bigger scores with a lot of real players, and at this point it’s a lot of MIDI instruments sprinkled in with live instruments, but that’s the name of the game right now for this price point.
You’ve done a lot of composing for horror films. Are you worried about being seen as a ‘horror composer’ only or are you quite happy working in that genre?
It’s great, I’m thrilled, and it is a wonderful home. I’m getting a lot of work in horror. I also compose music for commercials and TV and it’s nice to spread your wings and take a different breath so to speak. I also write pop music. I just came out with an album in July called Public Panic and it’s been doing really well charting on national campus radio and in Europe. I’m going to be doing an Italian tour in April for Public Panic so I really do get to produce music in other capacities. As far as composing for horror, I’ll do it for the rest of my life. It is so much fun and I get to be really experimental with these films, as an artist it’s very fulfilling.
So can you tell me a little bit about what projects you have coming up?
I’ve just wrapped the score to The Hexecutioners (Dir. Jesse Thomas Cook, Foresight Features). I’m currently scoring Bed of The Dead (Dir. Jeff Maher, Black Fawn Films) I’ll be working on another Black Fawn Films Feature in February and then off to tour Italy with Public Panic in April 2016.
To listen to some of Steph Copeland’s film scores got to stephcopeland.com
Steph Copeland’s album ‘Public Panic’ is available on ITunes
I want to thank Steph for taking the time to talk with us.