One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season is listening to seasonal music, be it classics like “Grimm Grinning Ghosts” from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride or familiar tracks from horror movies like Alice Cooper’s “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Hell, I’ll even do deep cuts like Frank Vinci’s “Just What I’ve Been Looking For” from Sleepaway Camp or Gowan’s “Moonlight Desires,” most recently used in WolfCop. I’m lucky enough to have friends that make me Halloween mixes, too, giving me plenty to listen to all month long.
My new favorite Halloween album, though, is a little unconventional and a whole lot of fun. Sean Keller, a musician, actor, and screenwriter (Hulu’s All That We Destroy), has recorded the ultimate Halloween mix this year: The Killer Sounds of Halloween, 13 original songs from 13 fake bands. I’ve been playing it all month long and already know it’s going to become a staple of my October listening from this point forward.
Keller wrote and recorded all the songs himself under band names like The Quickies, Los Hombres Duendos, and John “Frankie” Steins, whose “Monster Mash”-esque novelty song “The Monsters Trick or Treat” kicks off the album proper in spectacular spooky fashion. Don’t be fooled by the band listings, though; it’s Keller performing all of the instruments and vocals singlehandedly, minus a few guest appearances from members of the horror community, including Graham Skipper (who sings on “My Halloween Queen,”), Imitation Girl director Natasha Kermani (whose violin gorgeously accompanies “The Terror at Blood Lake”), and spoken word pieces from the likes of Jesse Merlin (Beyond the Gates) and Amanda Wyss (A Nightmare on Elm Street). “Don’t Forget My Ghost” is the only song on the album Keller actually credits to himself as performer, and was inspired by a binge watch of Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House last October.
It was the Disney recorded Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House that grabbed Keller at an early age when his sisters controlled the TV and he would sit in his room spinning records. It’s that album that Keller credits with helping to inspire his love of Halloween music. That, combined with a career in music dating back to 1989 when he was picked up off a street corner and put into a recording studio four days later, gave Keller the desire and the ability to pull off such an ambitious feat.
Daily Dead recently spoke with Keller about The Killer Sounds of Halloween and what it was like to record an entire album of spooky songs from fake bands.
Were you someone who has always made Halloween mixes?
Sean Keller: Oh yeah. The mixtape is my favorite medium, period. This album is 45 minutes exactly so it can fit on one side of a 90-minute cassette.
Have you always written in multiple styles or genres, or is this something that’s new for The Killer Sounds of Halloween?
Sean Keller: I’ve always been a songwriter struggling to find my own voice, and as a young singer I was always imitating people. I think that’s where it all comes from. Most recently, I’ve been doing a Halloween cover song, where I would take a song I thought was under-appreciated and cover it in the style of a completely different artist. I did Dolly Parton’s “Drinkenstein” (from her movie Rhinestone) and I did it in the style of White Zombie. The next year I did TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me,” but in the style of Love and Rockets. It was from that sort of experimentation—between that and writing Slashed! The Musical, where I’d had to step outside of myself and do period stuff and depend on other talents to flesh it out—those are the things that led to this moment.
Do you start with the song and then graft a style onto it or do you set out to write a song in the style of ______?
Sean Keller: In the style of. It may mutate in the process, but it’s always done with an intent upfront. Like Zombiestein’s “Hate Living, Love Dead,” I thought, “What if White Zombie covered a lost Alice Cooper song?” I wrote it like an Alice Cooper song and recorded it like a White Zombie song. It was this weird experiment in trying to get into other skins.
How did you decide which styles of music you wanted to incorporate into the album?
Sean Keller: It basically comes from years and years of making mixtapes. I knew there had to be one that’s overtly novelty, one that’s very serious, one that’s goofy. There’s got to be the curveball thrown in there, and that’s “The Terror of Blood Lake” [ed: a haunting ballad and one of my favorite songs on the album, performed by guest singer and Slashed! The Musical star Mary O’Neil].
One of my favorite songs is “Never Get Out Alive (theme from Devil’s Drive-In), not just because it’s a catchy ass song, but because not only is it a new song from a fake band, it’s the anthem for a fake movie! That’s how deep this goes!
Sean Keller: I wrote it like, “I want to write it like a Kenny Loggins song.” So I started writing like a Kenny Loggins song, but thought it needed to be a bit later in time. So I thought, “What if Kenny Loggins wrote it and Bon Jovi sang it?” Bon Jovi singing a Kenny Loggins song for this fake film, and it became just this absurdist series of hoops. I think that’s why it works. I got to really break down what those kinds of songs are and how they work. I think it’s my favorite track on there, too. It’s really silly. It was the last one I wrote, and I think I probably had the most fun doing it.
I would love it if someone just thought these were lost tracks. That’s what I wanted it to feel like: a mixtape of lost Halloween classics.
Do you have a favorite Halloween song of all time?
Sean Keller: Yes. I mean, it’s not a song. It’s “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” by Vince Guaraldi. It’s melancholy, it’s so perfectly autumnal, it makes me kind of weepy every time I think about it.
Keller already has plans for a follow-up album for next year, on which he hopes to include songs inspired by the likes of The Misfits, The Cramps, and hopefully even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Does this mean you’ll be putting out another album next year?
Sean Keller: I think I kind of have to. I wasn’t expecting anyone to get this. I don’t know if anyone’s ever made an album of 13 different fake bands presented as a mixtape before. I just don’t know if it exists. It may! I’m just ignorant of it. So there was no framing for whether or not people were going to get it. I put it out there with just a sort of hope that someone would listen, and the response has been so wonderful. I’m kind of humbled. It’s lovely.
The Killer Sounds of Halloween is available as a digital purchase for only $6.66 here: