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BWW Interview: Composer John Carey Discusses His Work on Escape Room

BWW Interview: Composer John Carey Discusses His Work on Escape Room

John Carey, who helped score the film Escape Room (in theaters now) along side Brian Tyler, spoke with us about the machine-like aesthetic they chose for the score and the unconventional instruments they used to capture the mood of the film. Check out what he had to say below.

How did you get into music and what made you decide to be a composer?

Music was something that found me when I was young without me looking for it intentionally. As a kid I loved movies. I'd go with my parents to the rental store often. Lots of these movies had amazing music, such as the great John Williams scores like STAR WARS or INDIANA JONES or JURASSIC PARK. Without me trying, I found myself paying attention to the music. It planted a seed that would drive me to pursue music later on.

Your latest project is the upcoming film ESCAPE ROOM, how did you get involved with that project?

I was brought on board by Brian Tyler when he was approached to score the film. I have been working on Brian's team as a music arranger for about 5 years on movies like AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, FAST 8, and THE MUMMY. Brian felt like this movie would be a great opportunity for us to collaborate, and a great project for me to take on more responsibility.

Where did you pull inspiration from for your score for that film?

Honestly the biggest inspiration was the movie itself! The concept of the escape rooms being automated machines that close people in rather than a human threat was something that compelled us to make the score share that sense of a lack of humanity. We decided that electronic music was the way to go because the nature of the sounds and the repetitive rhythms drive that machine-like aesthetic that we wanted.

Did you spend time in actual escape rooms in order to reflect the energy and sense of urgency in your score?

I've actually never been to an escape room! But I certainly have to go now.

I think, especially with psychological thrillers, it is important to know when to use the silence in a scene and when to fill a moment with music-was it difficult to find these moments when you first began working on Escape Room?

Our approach to that was for the score to follow along with the characters in terms of how aware they were of what was going on. If the characters are investigating an environment where the oncoming threat isn't obvious, there either is no score, or the score pretends to be ignorant too and is more neutral-more mysterious and inquisitive than anything else. Down the road, the threats become obvious and unavoidable. We then also stick with the character's mindsets here too by matching the ensuing panic with more intense music.

Did you use any unique instruments or sounds in your score?

We did. I mentioned the score sounding machine-like earlier. One idea we came up with to execute this was to record lots of mechanical objects making noises. Things like ticking clocks, running power tools and drills, beeping alarms, us hitting metal objects, etc. Often times we'd manipulate the sounds beyond recognition using effects plugins on the computer. The idea was that these were all sounds that are very inherently non-musical, but being used as if they were instruments. This is what gives the score a mechanical characterization that sort of dehumanizes it.

Do you have a favorite genre you like to compose for best?

I love all genres. They all have different challenges, and sometimes a different set of rules to adhere to. I think writing for the orchestra would have to be my favorite though. It's just so tied to my upbringing. Electronic music also feels familiar to me because I went through a metal phase in high school, playing guitar in a band. There are lots of similarities between metal and electronic music.

Is there one person you'd love to collaborate with that you haven't had a chance to yet?

As far as composers go, I'd love to collaborate with either Hans Zimmer or Ludwig Göransson. I'm such a fan of both. As for directors, boy is that a long list! Right now Alex Garland and Denis Villeneuve have filmmaking styles that leave such a big impression on me that I feel relate to my personality. I'd love to work with directors like that, that share the same sensibilities as me. At the same time, collaborating with a director who sees filmmaking differently than you can lead to a powerful result where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When you're not composing, what do you enjoy doing?

I love being outdoors to hike and get exercise. Southern California is the perfect landscape for that. I also take spending time with my friends pretty seriously. I am an extrovert in an introverted career, so I have to feed that part of my personality by spending time around my friends and family. You have to step away from the computer when you can!

Do you have any advice for anyone pursuing music as a career, like anything you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Try to sort out which variables in your career you have control over from which ones are out of your control. And learn to accept and deal with the aspects you can't control, like luck or being in the right place at the right time. This is to help keep a more peaceful mind in a very stressful and uncertain choice of career.

The other piece of advice is to not be afraid of making mistakes along the way. Allow mistakes into your life, because you don't learn or grow nearly as much from your successes as you do the mistakes. Accepting that truth empowers you to put yourself in more stressful or hostile situations that challenge you more but may reward you more in the long run.

Check out Escape Room in theaters now.

Escape Room trailer:

Learn more about John on his website:

IMAGES courtesy of John Carey

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