How filmmaker John Carpenter found a second career as a musician
John Carpenter had a 20-year run of directing in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s that produced some of the great movies of the era, including “Escape from New York,” “Halloween,” “The Thing” and “They Live.”
Carpenter is 74 now, and he doesn't really direct movies anymore. But he's hardly retired. He's just doing the part he enjoyed the most.
“Making music is much more fun than directing movies. Because making music is nowhere near as stressful! It’s fabulous,” Carpenter told WGLT.
Carpenter’s career as a musician is now enjoying new life, thanks to a partnership with his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies. Their collaborations include the scores for the most recent "Halloween" horror movie trilogy and last year's "Firestarter" remake.
Carpenter said working with family has been meaningful.
"Making music is much more fun than directing movies. Because making music is nowhere near as stressful!"John Carpenter, filmmaker and musician
“It is the greatest. We went on tour together. It was amazing. And who gets to do that? I was very lucky. I’ve been a lucky man all my life. I got to live out my dreams,” Carpenter said.
Their partnership began with John and Cody hanging out, playing video games. John had a synthesizer and computer set up, so they started recording. Around that time, John got a new music attorney who was asking if he had anything new to share with the world. Turns out, he did.
John says Daniel Davies – the son of Dave Davies of The Kinks – got roped in because he needed help with the computer while Cody was away traveling in Japan.
“And then he joined the merry musketeers, and we became three,” Carpenter said.
Their first collaboration was a synth-driven album called "Lost Themes," released in 2015. It was John's first studio album, and it was well-received. When "Halloween" was rebooted three years later, the producers sought and received John’s blessing.
They also hired John, Cody, and Daniel to compose the score. The trio leaned on but greatly expanding the themes from the original and iconic 1978 “Halloween” score.
John said when they score a film, they do prepare a few themes in advance, but it's mostly improvisational as they watch a rough cut.
As for the division of labor: “I provide experience because I’ve been here so many times. Cody’s the virtuoso on the keyboards. Just an astonishing keyboard player. And Daniel is the virtuoso on the guitar and with new ideas. That’s how we work together,” Carpenter said.
It's not Carpenter’s first musical collaboration. He was in a band in the mid-80s called The Coupe De Villes, with his friends and film collaborators Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle.
But Carpenter’s best-known music are the 15 scores he did for movies he also directed. "Halloween" is almost inseparable from its score. But Carpenter said he didn't write or direct with a full score in mind in advance. They were distinct creative processes.
“The music was just an after-thought. It was something of necessity,” Carpenter said.
It was a necessity because he didn't have much money, dating back to his time as a young filmmaker at the University of Southern California.
Carpenter was a musical guy, in part because of his dad, a music professor at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. So Carpenter would get asked to create scores for other students' films at USC.
“I’d do simple themes. Because I have limited chops,” Carpenter said.
Those "limited chops" have powered nearly 50 years of music and filmmaking, now alongside his son and godson.
“It’s like having another career. It’s the greatest,” Carpenter said.
Listen to the single “The Procession” from the “Halloween Ends” score. It’ll be released Oct. 14 on Sacred Bones, the same day the film is released: