[Interview] Composer Kevin Riepl Discusses ‘Silent Night’ Score

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The Silent Night remake hit limited theaters last Friday and has been drawing in some very high reviews, including one from our very own Lonnie Nadler, which you can check out here. We’ve brought you an interview with director Steven C. Miller and now it’s time to chat the music of the film with composer Kevin Riepl! Below you’ll find an exclusive interview with the music maestro himself.

The film’s cast includes Malcolm McDowell (Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Easy A), Jaime King (Sin City, My Bloody Valentine 3D), Donal Logue (Shark Night 3D, Blade), Lisa Marie (Sleepy Hollow), Brendan Fehr (Final Destination, X-Men First Class), and Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World).

McDowell and King star as a small-town sheriff and deputy on the hunt for a murderous Santa Claus terrorizing their community on Christmas Eve. But with the streets full of Santas for the annual Christmas parade, the killer is hiding in plain sight. He’s made his list, checked it twice, and the naughty are going to pay with their lives.

Bloody-Disgustng: Tell me a bit about your relationship with the original Silent Night film and your thoughts when you were approached to be the composer for the remake.
Kevin Riepl: Well, there isn’t much of a connection between myself and the original. I never saw it when I was younger as I was in 4th grade when it came out. As I grew up and was allowed to rent horror movies every weekend from the video store, “Silent Night, Deadly Night” never caught my eye. However, when approached by Steven C. Miller to handle the score to a movie only loosely based off of the original, I knew it wasn’t detrimental to the process to have seen the film. Nonetheless, I watched or rather skimmed through it and although a classic, it’s a tough one to watch for many reasons.

BD: What did the Silent Night remake have that intrigued you and got you to commit as composer?
KR: Without meaning to sound cheesy, the one thing it had was Steven at the helm. I had so much fun working with Steven on The Aggression Scale, that if he made a movie about daisies, tulips and ponies, I’d probably jump at the chance to work with him again. Because I know that those daisies and tulips would be trampled by a zombie pony being ridden by a half dead something or other wielding an axe… Seriously, it was great to work with Steven on The Aggression Sale and when he asked me to come on board for Silent Night, I felt honored and knew it would be another great experience. Also, I never scored a holiday-themed horror film and felt it would be fun to put my spin on a seasonal genre classic.

BD: Christmas is a holiday that has such a wealth of music and instruments connected with it, from Noels and sleigh bells to much, much more. How much inspiration did you take from these in your score?
KR: On the outset before creating the score, I felt that I wanted to create something very original and new for that ‘holiday’ sound. I didn’t want to take the approach of using traditional instruments like the harp, piano and of course sleigh bells. However, the more I thought about it, it’s those exact sounds that are so familiar to people during the holidays. I thought, ‘why try and create something too different, when all that holiday sound and tradition is right there in everyone’s psyche’. So in bringing home that holiday sound in the score I ended up being a big fan of the sleigh bells.

BD: What was your approach in the process of composing this film? Were there certain key elements or sounds that you were really dedicated to putting in from the start?
KR: There were two main elements. Right from the beginning, before I started writing I thought, ‘this is going to be awesome, taking the ever so comforting Silent Night melody and turning it on its head”. Then I had a brief conversation with Steven about the style of the score and where he wanted it to go. One of the main points he said to me was, “I’d love to hear a twisted version of the Silent Night melody in the film”. So, right at the start Steven and I were on the same page stylistically. The other important factor was to create a score to help keep the film grounded. When I say grounded, I mean in touch with the human emotions of the characters. It’s a fine line in any horror film when scoring ‘emotions’. If you go too far, you automatically end up in cheese territory, and it loses all its credibility.

BD: What are the differences and challenges presented when scoring a feature-length film versus a short film or a video game?
KR: There are the obvious reasons. When writing for features, there is a larger story arch and more time for characters to develop which lends to there being more time to develop and expand on themes and motifs. In short films, the challenge is the same but on a much smaller scale. It is a whole different frame of mind when scoring video games. Being that gameplay is not a fixed linear story, the music has to be flexible and be used in a variety of ways. When composing for games, you not only have to think of how a full piece of music will sound, but also how different elements in that one piece of music may be used when isolated or combined with different musical elements.

BD: Are you 100% satisfied with your score or is there always going to be some lingering feeling that something else could have been done?
KR: Anyone who is an artist and creates within extreme deadlines always has that lingering feeling…the feeling that something could have been done differently, better, or not at all. It happens to the best of artists out there. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be 100% happy with the music I created for Silent Night. It’s a fun score and allowed me to write a full soundtrack heavily inspired by the late ‘80s traditional orchestral horror scores.

BD: What’s next for you?
KR: 2013 will see the release of Sega and Gearbox’s “Aliens: Colonial Marines” in February followed by the release of my accompanying score. Microsoft will also be releasing a game in early 2013 that I just finished scoring called “Ascend”. As for films, I will definitely be working on another feature come January, which I can’t mention the name of yet. Let’s just say it’s a horror film and part of a franchise. Other than that, 2013 will be a year of bigger and better.

Got any thoughts/questions/concerns for Jonathan Barkan? Shoot him a message on Twitter or on Bloody-Disgusting!