Composer Émoi Discusses the Music of ‘The Accursed’
Last year, Kevin Lewis directed the Nicolas Cage horror fan favorite, Willy’s Wonderland. This year his follow up film is titled The Accursed and stars Mena Suvari, Meg Foster, Sarah Dumont and Sarah Grey. While The Accursed falls into the same genre as Willy’s Wonderland, it has a much different feel than Lewis’s last film.
Elly (Grey) is asked by a family friend (Suvari) to spend a few days looking after an elderly woman (Foster) living in a remote cabin. She readily agrees thinking a short trip to the woods will be a nice escape. The cabin turns out to be anything but relaxing as Elly begins hallucinating in ways that blur reality with her dreams. As the visions take over, Elly realizes that she was lured there by a demonic presence hiding inside of the woman just waiting to break free.
The Accursed has a lot of the same creatives as Willy’s Wonderland, including cinematographer David Newbert, editor Ryan Liebert and composer Émoi. We conducted the below Q&A with Émoi below and discussed everything from how he got started in the business to his work scoring commercials for Visa.
The Accursed is available now on VOD. https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-accursed/id1647114551
-How did you first get into composing? Was it something you always wanted to do?
As a young musician, I thought the only way to be successful in music was to be in a band. So I tried that route, but I hated performing live. I never got comfortable with it. Then I got the opportunity to write a song for a film, and seeing my music to picture, it just clicked. My first foot in the door was a Franklin Templeton commercial.
I had no idea how big it would be, but I got very very lucky. The income afforded me the studio gear to keep going, but even though I had a paid gig, I still found myself doing every pro-bono job I could get my hands on. I don’t think there was a single job I said no to. So I did a lot of short films, a lot of commercials, promos, jingles, Kickstarters, spec spots, you name it. Ten years later I got Willy’s Wonderland.
-In your last film, Willy’s Wonderland, you not only scored the film, but you voiced one of the characters, Willy. How did that come about?
My first contribution ever to Willy’s was “The Willy’s Jingle” which I sent to Kevin over the top of a Chuck E Cheese commercial. Anyone who has been to an animatronic restaurant knows the banter between songs is always part of the show. So I created a voice for Willy to deliver the banter I had written for the jingle / commercial.
I think Kevin and the producers listened to it so much that they got stuck on my interpretation of how Willy should sound. Also, I have an extensive singing background, so after I sent them the demo of me singing “Six Little Chickens”, I imagine they probably had a conversation, something to the effect of “If we replace him, we have find someone who can sing too and somehow record them in the middle of a pandemic when all the studios are shut down, eh, just give it to Émoi.” (laughst) So I believe I just got very lucky.
-Would you like to voice more characters in future films?
I don’t think I would ever try to pursue a career in voice over, but I would be open to doing it again, it was a lot of fun!
-According to your IMDB, it looks like Benny Loves You was your first feature to work on. Is that correct? What did you do on that film?
That is not correct (laughs). I don’t know why Benny Loves You is on my IMDB. I never worked on it directly, but I will look into that. It could be that they license one of my songs from Willy’s maybe or another song I was a writer on? A lot of companies own the publishing on many of my works, so my music can pop up a lot of places without my knowledge. I’ll check it out.
-If people were to listen to the Willy’s Wonderland and The Accursed scores right after each other would they hear any similarities? Meaning, do you have a signature style?
If you remove the sing-a-longs and the 80’s new wave rock stuff from Willy’s, and just extract the underscore, I think you’ll find a similarity. I love to write with strings, and I love themes and motifs. I would say my scores are very melodic and have a strong emotional element to them – or at least that’s what I shoot for.
-Can you talk about The Accursed’s opening credits. They are very reminiscent of a Tim Burton film. Did you have this in mind when creating them? Where did you find inspiration for this?
I did not have a Tim Burton film in mind, but the very first thing I wrote after reading the script was “The Accursed Main Title Theme” – which is what is used over the opening credits. So that piece of music was a suite I wrote that was directly inspired by the script itself.
After reading it, that was what I heard as I imagined the film in my head. Early on, I had a conversation with one of the Producers, Scott Harbert about the lost art of thematic scoring – scores with motifs, and memorable melodies; that conversation along with Kevin’s desire to make The Accursed feel like “vintage horror” opened up the door for The Accursed to have a classic movie theme.
-Did you get to use an orchestra for The Accursed? If so, where did you record?
The orchestra in The Accursed score is almost completely virtual instruments. Only the out of tune, broken-sounding, and horribly bowed solo strings were played live by me.
-There is a song in the beginning of The Accursed, which plays on a record player. And then plays throughout the film. Did you do anything with that song?
In the script there was mention of a song that was pinnacle to Elly and her mother’s relationship. After her mother’s tragic death, the song becomes a haunting metaphor. So I wrote “You Are My Baby Girl” in 1950s fashion, because in the 1950s, you’ll notice that a lot of the lyrics are somewhat spooky and stalkerish. They sound loving, but there is a weird controlling aspect to them. Kevin liked the lyrics so much that he used them as dialogue in the film.
-Elly’s flashback scenes in The Accursed are pretty jarring. What instruments did you use for those?
I used a lot of unique handmade instruments to create stingers for the film. Everything from water phones, to hundred-year-old hand harps, to wood boxes with guitar pickups in them that you can slam or scrape. I also used a lot of broken and/or out of tune string instruments that I got from pawn shops or eBay, and I did a lot of layering and processing on them.
-Can you talk about your involvement with the sound design of The Accursed. How closely did you work with the sound designer? For example, did you do the sounds when Elly looks up into the moss filled tree and hears those rope-like sounds?
I worked very closely with the sound designer because so much of the score was musical sound design; meaning a lot of atonal textures, glassy pads, and drones. We had to work together to make sure there was space for both of us and that we weren’t clashing. I did not do the rope sounds, but I did the ambient pad-like sounds and piano in that scene.
-On your website it says you have created music for brands such as Visa, Apple, and NBC. Can you talk about what you did with these?
I have done more work for Visa than any other client I’ve ever had. I have no idea how many commercials of theirs I’ve done, but at least over 20 or 30. For Apple, I scored some spots for The Heartline Study for Apple Watch, and I did the Sarah Clifford iPad short film. I’ve done a few spots for NBC, one of which was called “We Were There” and it won a regional Emmy for Best News Campaign.
-Besides length, what is the biggest difference between scoring a feature film versus a commercial?
On a commercial the music is almost always uplifting and aspirational. It’s an advertisement, so they want it to inspire people to engage with the product or service. On a film, the music can be moody, scary, and downright depressing – three adjectives you never hear in the commercial composing world, and if you do, you are on the verge of being replaced (laughs).
-If you weren’t a composer, what other profession do you think you would be doing?
A Winemaker and/or Chef. Which is how I supported myself when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue music.