He's the creative mind behind the music for both of Michael Dougherty's beloved holiday horror movies, Trick ’r Treat and Krampus, and Douglas Pipes' captivating music can now be heard in the recent horror comedy The Babysitter. To celebrate his new score and to reflect on his impressive past work, we caught up with Pipes for a Q&A feature, and he discussed his collaborations with Dougherty, how he became interested in music during his formative years, and which composer is still a major influence on his own work.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Douglas. When did you initially become interested in music and what did you listen to in your formative years?
Douglas Pipes: My father was an elementary and junior high school music teacher, so I was exposed to music from the very beginning. I took up piano when I was eight. I would listen to music a lot with my dad, and I remember when it hit me internally that as I would play the piano—and sorry to sound cliché and corny—certain harmonies would really resonate with me in a way that I couldn’t at that young age fully comprehend. Maybe it was just a certain chord that was more in tune on my little piano, ha! But there was a distinct moment that was very profound for me and I remember it very clearly. It was all very simple and yet so powerful. Also, I had a younger aunt who would see to it that I was taken to record shops and getting exposed to music.
When did the idea of becoming a composer on film projects first appeal to you, and how did you get into the industry?
Douglas Pipes: I was playing in a band and was approached to score an independent film. I had never done it, but had written instrumental music, so I figured I could do it. Turns out I loved scoring the film, and took on another couple films before realizing that if I was to be an effective narrative composer, I should study the craft of composition. I stopped taking projects and got a degree in orchestral music composition, and followed that with film scoring studies. Near the end of my degree studies, I started taking on student films as a way to get back into film scoring.
You’ve composed the music for many horror films in your career. What is it about creating music for horror movies in particular that appeals to you?
Douglas Pipes: I’ve been fortunate in that the films I’ve worked on in the horror genre are themselves not pure horror, and have allowed me to write in a wide variety of styles. Those scores contain elements of fantasy, drama, action, comedy… really all types of scoring, and that gives the horror moments more impact. As for scoring the horror moments, I do like approaching the music from the psychological aspect, scoring to the characters' thoughts, emotions, motivations and such.
Growing up, did you enjoy watching horror movies? Were there any horror film soundtracks that have stuck with you and inspired you over the years?
Douglas Pipes: I did enjoy horror movies growing up, and in particular the ones with really effective scores. Poltergeist, The Omen, Halloween, and Magic are among my favorites. I often cite Poltergeist and Jerry Goldsmith as a major influence. His scores were so dynamic and character-driven. He was a true master.
What types of instruments and sounds do you prefer to use for your scores?
Douglas Pipes: I use all types of instruments, really depending on the film. Instrument choices are very much tied to lighting, colors, art direction, as well as the narrative elements. I have a great collection of vintage synths, and of course I do like to write for acoustic instruments. I find the depth and intricacy of sound and emotion you can get with acoustic ensembles (an orchestra, for example) extremely versatile and effective in the overall sound environment. Also, the human aspect of performance is such an important part of the music score to character connection.
You’ve collaborated with filmmaker Michael Dougherty on two movies that are beloved by fans of the horror genre: Trick ’r Treat and Krampus. What do you enjoy about working with Dougherty, and why do you think those films resonate with viewers so much?
Douglas Pipes: We both have a very similar sensibility when it comes to film music and the use of dynamics and themes to support the narrative. Michael takes great care with every aspect of his films, and the music is extremely important to him. As a composer, when you spend so much time and care on a score, it’s great to have directors who are thinking of the score and its function all throughout the filmmaking process. We both discuss the music of the films we are influenced by as fans, and work to create something that hopefully resonates with audiences as these films did to us.
You composed the score for the horror comedy The Babysitter, which was recently released on Netflix. What approach did you take to the music for that movie, and what did you enjoy the most about working on it?
Douglas Pipes: Working with McG and the whole team was a terrific experience. There was so much excitement and energy from all involved, and I think it really shows in the film. I really loved the opportunity to score this charming coming-of-age John Hughes-style movie, which unfolds with no trace of horror, only to knock you over and kick into full vintage horror splendor. I enjoyed getting the analog synths featured so prominently, and working in the “music laboratory” with those machines turning knobs into the wee hours. I had just completed building my new recording/mixing/composing studio when the project started, so it was fun to have this be the first project in the new studio.
Where can our readers find you online?
Douglas Pipes: You can find Trick ’r Treat and Krampus on vinyl at www.waxworkrecords.com, CDs at www.lalalandrecords.com, and digital on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify. Please support physical soundtrack media companies!