Features, Film

Wade MacNeil: The art of scoring scary

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Whether through his work as guitarist and founding member of Alexisonfire, frontman for The Gallows or his passion project Black Lung, the music of Wade MacNeil has no doubt found its way into your life in one way or another.

In fact, many of the works which bare his fingerprints would prove to be damn near talismanic for fans; not just filling live areas the world over, but soundtracking countless deeply personal moments and memories. That is just one of the many strings that connect his output onstage with his relatively new endeavour of composing and scoring for film, TV and video games.

Goons: The Last Of The Enforcers (2017), The Ranger (2018), Far Cry 5 (2018) and Vice series Dark Side Of The Ring are just some of the titles that populate the Wade MacNeil Cinematic Universe, with the latest being slasher flick Random Acts Of Violence, another composition gig alongside his creative partner in crime Andrew Gordon Macpherson.

The gruesome tale of a serial killer and a devastating feedback loop of inspiration, Random Acts Of Violence was directed by Jay Baruchel and also features MacNeil’s acting debut.

So, naturally, BLUNT and Wade had plenty to discuss.


What was the situation that got you into film and TV composition?

It’s certainly something I always wanted to do, it actually has a little bit of a connection with Australia. Alexis was on tour there, I was feeling particularly homesick, and then I watched the film Goon by Jay Baruchel and loved it. It was nice watching something about Canada and about hockey when I was in Australia. I just tweeted, not at Jay, not at the film, just like, “Just watched this film, made me really homesick. It was absolutely great.” And Jay Baruchel reached out to me and said, “Hey man, I’m so blown away you like the film. I’ve seen Alexis play a ton over the years. If you’re ever in Montreal, let’s go watch a hockey game together.”

I reached out the next time I was in Montreal. We watched a Habs game at his house and got a pizza and we became really good buddies. And so as much as I wanted to get into composing for film, Jay really opened the door for me. He had me do additional music on the sequel to Goon, Last of the Enforcers, and that was the first film project I worked on. Out of that, one thing just led to another.

I’m really interested in the philosophy behind piecing together the soundscape for a film. When you started work as a film composer, was it different from what you envisioned it would be?

Yeah. You talk about all these things. So the two things we talked about initially was having a lot of bells in it because in the original script there was this scene in a church. That was something I’ve always found frightening and just eerie and simple. Jay and I talked a lot about Swans and more specifically the Michael Gira solo records that are really dark acoustic stuff. And so those were the two initial ideas and those both found their way into the score to a certain degree, but what you start out imagining and where you land in the end are usually two very different places.

It’s exciting not knowing where these things are going to go. There’s some cool moments in Random Acts… we’re able to do actual noise, like really abrasive shit. And Jay really allowed that to happen and pushed for it. He loves really out there music. So it was like a real treat to work on, for sure.

Do you see the the score as something that’s ‘if you do your job right people won’t notice you’ve done anything at all?‘ Or do you see it as like it’s a character in the film; it’s just as important as the script, as the cinematography?

I think it kind of needs to be both. It needs to be whatever pushes the story forward. It’s so obvious. When you put music up against the picture it really works or just really fails. There’s certainly times when it needs to be restrained, so just to really back off and have something be like carpet. But at the same time, I think there’s certain moments when you can really, really dig in.

I love music and films and especially with horror films there’s so many things that we associate with being scared. Like how can we dig into some of those classic kind of things and then also just put my own stamp on it and have it be glaringly in the front when it needs to be and barely there when it doesn’t.

You’ve had so much experience experimenting with sounds. I’d like to know if there was any moment, perhaps maybe not on this project, but in previous composition where you were actually surprised by what you created by collaborating a specific sound with a specific image?

Yeah. I think one of the biggest things that I was proud about working on Dark Side Of The Ring, the Vice series, was the moments when they were really earnest and serious. It’s over subject matter that’s like wrestling, which I think a lot of people’s tendency would have it to just be like banging synths all the time and ’80s stuff, which there certainly is a lot of that, and I love that type of stuff, but to be able to show stories that are really serious. The pilot of Dark Side Of The Ring is the Bruiser Brody episode and his family talking about him being murdered is this unbelievably sad, heartbreaking story. To be able to try and help create the tone for that story to be told and conveyed, especially given the respect it deserves, is something that is probably one of the highlights of stuff I’ve been able to work on.

How does it affect your other projects? Does this ambience seep into that stuff or are you pretty good at keeping everything separate?

No, I think everything bleeds into each other, which is cool. It definitely gives me more ideas and things to bring over. If people listen to ‘Season of the Flood’ by Alexisonfire, after everybody left the studio one day I took all this noise that we’d made and created all these layers and drones and this kind of moody minute and a half intro to the songs, I think if you listen to that while thinking about the fact that I’ve been working on all these projects for the last few years, that intro makes a lot more sense. But aside from that, it’s exciting to go back. I’ve got new tricks, new things that I’m excited about. Because I was able to do this thing over here, it makes me excited to be able to write some straight up punk shit with Gallows. In a perfect world, everything influences everything else. And hopefully that means I just get to keep making records.

I did have this visual of you walking into the Gallows rehearsal room in the writing sessions and just being like, “I got an idea guys, no vocals whatsoever, swelling keys, a bit of orchestral…

I think on the first Gallows record, the last day I got a old Roland synth and put so much synth on everything. Like eerie, Suspiria or fucking John Carpenter shit, and then we took all of it off, but I feel like where I’m at now we might leave a little bit more of it on.

You also got your acting chops on for Random Acts of Violence

Yeah, fuck. So stressful. Jay was really encouraging about me doing it and fuck, it stressed me out so much.

Yeah, once I got through it I was really happy with it. And I think just the longer I play music and have been able to work on films and TV shows and all this stuff I’m realizing the thing that I like about music the most, I don’t think is music. It’s about being creative with like minded people that you care about. I think that’s the dream. Aside from Alexis being a band, we’re five guys that grew up together, or we’re very close friends, I think that’s why when it works, it really works. It’s a little something more precious to us than just going through the motions. And similarly with Random Acts of Violence, it’s a labour of love between a lot of friends and hopefully that comes across in what it is. Jay has been fucking such an amazing creative influence in my career the last four years, pushing me to do this shit for film and pushing me to act in a film.

I think I definitely want to do more of it. Yeah, fuck, who knows, man. Maybe next year I’ll be a dead body in Law and Order.


Random Acts Of Violence is streaming now on Shudder.

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