Zombi’s Steve Moore Opens ‘Mind’s Eye’ With Sick Synthwave
In the early 2000s, long before this recent synth and soundtrack craze took off, a duo formed in the Rust Belt city of Pittsburgh. Taking their moniker from the Italian title of fellow Pittsburgher George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Zombi didn’t exactly play the sort of streamlined horror that might be expected. Rather, they were more akin to space rock with elements of drone and, of course, a heavy dose of synth keyboards provided by Steve Moore.
When Zombi’s run began to fizzle out, Moore took to a solo career and launched a series of albums that eventually gave way to his own composition work. At first, Moore released his material under various pseudonyms, but he made a big name for himself with the score for Cub and, more prominently, The Guest in 2015.
Moore’s latest release — available via Relapse December 2 on both vinyl and CD — is the soundtrack for indie horror director Joe Begos’ sophomore feature The Mind’s Eye. A satirical riff on Scanners, The Mind’s Eye follows two psychokinetics, and their fight against a mad scientist hell-bent on harnessing their powers for his own evil plans.
With the record set for release, we caught up with Moore, fresh off a series of Zombi shows, to talk about his path to composing, love of horror and work process. Hear "The Escape: Part I" below.
Your tour schedule has calmed down as of late, right?
Yes. Zombi just did a week’s worth of shows with Ghost [B.C.] last month, but that was all we’ve done for a little while.
Touring with Ghost B.C. is sort of a brilliant mix. Were the fans receptive?
It was a lot of fun. The shows were great and we were playing for a lot of people who were really receptive. The people in Ghost were really cool and are big Zombi fans. That’s why they had us come out. It was fun.
Speaking of your collaborations in the metal world, Zombi have worked with Relapse for a number of years, and you continue to work with them on some of your solo stuff, including the latest soundtrack. Do you think you benefit from working with a predominantly metal label?
I feel like Relapse is a better place for us than anywhere because we are a band, you know? We are not a duo of electronic laptop producers. We are a band with heavy drums and bass guitar, and I feel like that appeals to a live music type of audience, moreso than people who would just be into electronic or experimental music.
Especially in today’s age, where the label doesn’t necessarily dictate who will have access to your records. People will find it.
I have a feeling that a lot of Zombi fans don’t necessarily buy any other release that Relapse puts out, but I also think that the built-in Relapse fanbase has been really receptive and open to us. And even now, S U R V I V E’s new record just came out on Relapse. So, I think we’ve grown together; we continue to be a band that Relapse can get behind, while they have come more around to the experimental, electronic music as well.
So, what caused the rebirth of Zombi? Did you just want to start playing again, were you enticed by the sort of reemergence of interest in synth music, or did that emergence lead to more opportunities being offered that you couldn’t turn down?
It is definitely a little bit of all of those things. When we sort of stopped touring, we were releasing music, but it was all online collaborations — emailing stuff back and forth — and by that period of time, we had already been a band for seven years. The interest was just not there. We got some cool opportunities to tour with some very good bands that were a great match for what we were doing back then — like Trans Am, Don Caballero — but I don’t know that it really got our name out there further than it was. It just got to be too much. We were putting too much into it and losing money, tons of money. But what really did it for Zombi was the Goblin tour. When they contacted us about opening for them on their North American tour, we were like, "We have to get it together and be able to do this. We can’t blow this opportunity." And that kick-started it. Opening for Goblin was the ideal crowd for us — it was the first time I had seen that things had changed and people were actually very open to this broad type of music. It felt good. It wasn’t so much like an idea that it was popular and we should play again. It just felt good to play for people again.
It’s safe to say that Goblin both started and then restarted your interest in pursuing Zombi, which is a pretty incredible experience.
Yeah, and we are just going to run with it.
Until you stop having fun again.
[Laughs] Exactly. Until we have to take another break.
Had you known of Joe Begos’ work prior to being asked to work on The Mind’s Eye?
Yeah, I had seen Almost Human and had really enjoyed it. You know, there was just sort of this honesty and such a level of commitment to it that really spoke to me. So, when he emailed me, I was like, "Oh, awesome, I like this guy. This is going to be fun."
How much creative freedom were you given to craft the sound of the score?
I really had a lot of freedom on the movie. He is a fan of Zombi and my music, and was really into the score I did for Cub. A large portion of the movie, when I first saw it, was temp scored with Cub. So, I was essentially able to do what I would have wanted to do anyway. Joe did have a lot of input, but I would get the foundations recorded and sent to him before he would give me feedback, which was never more than making a part bigger or taking more time. But, thematically, he was pretty open to everything I recorded.
The soundtrack is quite long. Did everything written end up making it onto the LP?
There was a lot of music. This movie is basically wall-to-wall music; it was grueling. I think I recorded about 85 minutes of music for the movie, and I am pretty sure almost all of it made it onto the soundtrack. There were a few tracks that we cut in order to fit it on a CD, but the 2xLP actually has tracks that the CD won’t have.
Is 85 minutes a lot more than the average soundtrack would require?
I don’t know that I’ve really done enough to know yet. For The Guest, I only really recorded 20 or 22 minutes worth of music, because most of the heavy lifting was done by licensed tracks. But Cub was 75 or 80 minutes of music, so I guess this genre is the type for heavy scoring. It really helps to set the mood.
And considering that the film is clearly working from a small budget — even thought it looks impressive in spite of that — I have to imagine that this is a real labor of love. I'm sure it's not your biggest payday.
It is a low-budget film, but, like you said, everybody puts as much as they can possibly put into it. But there were other considerations for this. For instance, I retained the rights for the score to be able to release it. So, the 2xLP coming out on Relapse will help to boost the budget a little bit for me.
Can you look at it as another solo record of yours?
I can’t help but think about that when I am scoring these movies, because there are definitely other guys out there that you can go to if you want a more standard, refined-sounding film score. I feel that, up until now, the only people coming to hire me already know what I do and what they can reasonably expect when hiring me. I haven’t had too much difficulties with that. It essentially is just another really long solo record.
And it seems that you're definitely catching on and getting a lot of great composing work now.
It took some time, but things are definitely working out. I am not necessarily regretting all of my life choices at this point. [Laughs]
What was your reaction to seeing the film with your music attached for the first time?
The first time I saw it with the final mix was at the Toronto International Film Festival. It premiered at one of the Midnight Madness events. You know, there is seeing the movie completed for the first time and seeing the movie completed for the first time in a completely packed, huge auditorium with crazy, rabid, screaming genre fans. Maybe if I had seen it for the first time by myself at home, it is hard to say what I would have thought, but it just felt perfect with everybody else in the room. So, I didn’t really question any of my decisions.
Your score sort of sets a serious tone to a somewhat satirical film; it's the dark and brooding backing to a film that sort of plays at being overly serious in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Oh yeah, and I think that is what is interesting about it — because it's not over the top humor, but this loving homage to maybe the over the top filmmakers of the last couple decades. But these guys are serious and they mean this. I never expected that I would say something like this, but, for this movie, my score was kind of the straight man.
You had mentioned knowing Begos’ work prior to working on the film. As a lifelong horror fan, do you find yourself keeping up with new filmmakers? I guess it would be sort of a career necessity at this point for you.
I’ve gotten a little bit behind because I’ve been really busy working, but I went through a phase were I was trying to keep up with all the movies that I would see playing at the film festivals. If I couldn’t see them somewhere, I’d wait until they were online and watch them. Since February, I’ve literally been working nonstop with only a few breaks for Zombi tours, so literally the last thing I want to do after working all day is watch another movie.
What have you been working on? Mostly scores?
So far this year, I’ve done a six-episode TV series and I just finished up my third film. It’s just been one after the other. I try to take as many opportunities as I can because you never know. Fads come and go. Things are going really well for synth scores, but who knows — maybe mandolins will be back next year.
Are you able to say what those projects are?
Yeah, actually, the finale of the TV series just premiered, which was called Crunch Time. I also did a Welsh movie called Don’t Knock Twice, but there were some issues where after I turned in everything and started a new project, the filmmakers came back and needed me to change some of the cues. I had already made other commitments, so I think they ended up hiring someone else to fill in some gaps, but the majority of the score I did. That was the time I started working [on] a movie called Camera Obscura. And, now, I am just finishing up a film called Mayhem by a director named Joe Lynch. It’s a pretty fun movie.