A young, pretty brunette hangs from a shattered stained glass sky light, blood pouring from her limp body, eyes bulging in terror and asphyxiation. A hissing, whistling sound, set against desperate heart-race drums, descends like a bomb dropping, closing in on the last moments of life escaping, panicking, before contact. Sombre low-end synthesizer notes ring out like the aftermath of an explosion, a haunting chorus of voices rising jaggedly, overlapping each other, the dying calling out.
It’s an unmistakable pairing of scene and sound that first seared itself into the minds of horror fans in the late ‘70s, and its hallowed status hasn’t waned any since then. Somehow, though, it’s only in 2014 that our fine capital gets treated to this phantasmagoria, to the real deal, live for the first time: Goblin performing on stage their masterpiece scores for Suspiria and Dawn Of The Dead to screenings of the films. With just a week before these highly anticipated two nights of terror in London, death fiend Daragh Markham speaks to Claudio Simonetti of the peerless Italian rock band Goblin to get the story behind these two classic scores…
“Profondo Rosso is my favourite Argento film, even if Suspiria is beautiful,” declares Claudio Simonetti. The highly influential composer and keyboardist for the beloved Goblin is still full of surprises, even after taking horror cinema by storm over 30 years ago with his quirky, bombastic, and distinctive sound. Since the late ‘70s, Claudio and Goblin have been synonymous with horror auteur Dario Argento, their scores bringing some of Argento’s best films to life. Indeed, Goblin’s music is more than just another layer to Argento’s films; it’s a vital organ to Argento’s body of work. While best known for their scores for Suspiria (1977) and Dawn Of The Dead (1978), the story of Goblin, and their work with Dario Argento, begins not with these films but before, in 1975, with giallo thriller Profondo Rosso.
“When he started to record the soundtrack for Profondo Rosso, Dario Argento called one musician, Giorgio Gaslini, and Gaslini wrote some parts of the [score] before Goblin came,” begins Claudio. “Gaslini was a very good jazz musician, one of the biggest in Italy, but because Dario, he loves the rough ends you know, he asked our producer ‘I want a big band, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple’ and many others. Our producer said ‘Well, before you choose these big bands just listen to the band I’m producing now. If you like them we can try’. So, Dario came in the studio and we were very young, I was 22 years old, and the oldest of Goblin. And Dario was great, he said ‘I like your music, so let’s do it.’”
Initially, Argento wanted Goblin to play Gaslini’s score in their style and with their arrangements. But, during the recordings, Gaslini and Argento had a large falling out, prompting Gaslini to walk from the project. “Dario came to us and said ‘We don’t have Gaslini anymore, so you have to write the main themes because the film is still without them,’” recalls Dario. “We recorded the main theme, ‘Profondo Rosso’, and another two important tracks from the film. But Gaslini wrote a lot of the music, including the voice of the child singing.” Once it was released, Profondo Rosso became a huge success for Goblin, and Argento, with the album selling more than one million copies after 10 months, making it one of the highest selling film soundtrack albums. Goblin’s bond was being forged with Argento, but Gaslini and the director wouldn’t work together again. In a strange twist of fate, the pianist passed away late last month, just over a week before Goblin’s first live performance of Profondo Rosso in Rome on August 7th. “We are very sorry about that,” Claudio says, “we will dedicate the concert to Gaslini”.
Opening To The Sighs…
With the incredible success of Profondo Rosso, Argento knew he was onto a good thing with Goblin, and was so certain that they would be more than capable for his next film, the ambitious Suspiria, that he had the band create the morbid masterpiece’s score before the film was even shot. “For the first time, Dario shot the film not as a thriller or something like that; it was his first film about the mystery, the witches. He called us [in 1976] and said ‘I would like to have music that lets people feel that the witches are there, even when [they’re not], so the music is very important. You have to add the Moog [synthesizer], you have to have music that always lets people feel that the witches are there, in the air, everywhere’.
“This was the longest work we did,” Claudio continues. “We recorded in two and a half months, trying any kind of experiments with ethnic instruments. We used the Indian tabla, the Greek bouzouki… and I used the big Moog, the thing that [Keith] Emerson used, I used the Mellotron… I used a lot of instruments of the’ 70s because at this time we never had the samples, so you had to create your own sound, you didn’t have libraries [of sounds/samples]. So it was the most work that I have done. With Suspiria we had a lot of fun, every day. We tried to do new sounds. We started using plastic cups in front of the microphones and to scream and carry on. Every day we tried something new, it was very creative the creed of Suspiria. So, Suspiria is incredible, even now, if you listen to the record it’s still very modern and… there’s something that always surprises me.”
Claudio wasn’t the only one to be surprised, or rather, taken aback, with Suspiria. Upon the film’s release, it didn’t receive the same hysteria as Profondo Rosso, nor was it immediately regarded as the classic it is seen as today. “People in the beginning didn’t understand very well what happened, because of Dario’s strange mood of the film,” offers Claudio. “Suspiria was his sixth film, before that, Profondo Rosso his fourth thriller, and Suspiria changed completely the mood of Dario Argento films.” Once the public had time to digest the curious film, however, Suspiria became Argento and Goblin’s most renowned work, especially outside of Italy. “In Japan, we sold a lot of copies of Suspiria. It is so famous there that it was released before Profondo Rosso, and when Profondo Rosso came out later they called it Suspiria Part II,” laughs Claudio. “You can find on old laser disc or VHS Suspiria Part II: Profondo Rosso.”
L’alba Dei Morti Viventi e Ai Margini Della Follia
Since the early ‘70s, George A. Romero, cult American horror director and friend of Dario Argento, had been working on a script involving survivors of a zombie apocalypse riding the disaster out in a shopping mall. He was, however, unable to attract any American investors to this new film. Argento, a big fan of Romero’s 1968 debut Night Of The Living Dead, eagerly wanted to see a sequel, so he helped secure financing for what would become 1978’s Dawn Of The Dead, in exchange for international distributing rights – and getting Goblin in on the soundtrack.
“Dario called us and said ‘Listen, I have this film from George Romero,’” Claudio explains. “Of course, we knew him because of Night Of The Living Dead, and Dario said ‘I would like to distribute this film, but for me this film hasn’t got very good music’. George Romero used the libraries, not original music, and actually the music was very poor, boring, in the film in [his] version. So, Dario said to us ‘OK, now you write the music,’ and he cut maybe 20 minutes or half an hour from the film. I’ve never met Romero in my life so I don’t know him personally but I know that he loves our music, and he distributed Dawn Of The Dead in America with the new [Goblin] music… I remember seeing in 1978 on the posters Music by the Goblins!
“With Dawn Of The Dead, we played more like a band [compared to Suspiria],” continues Claudio, reflecting: “We had all our instruments in the studio, and actually we played the score live in the studio most of the time. [Unlike Suspiria] we didn’t have many tracks, just organ and moog, and guitar, bass and drums, like playing live. So, I think that’s the difference between the two. And they are completely different from each other, there’s nothing that similar, musically. Suspiria is more gothic/classical, ambient music, but Dawn Of The Dead is rock, and we play rock, this is the style of the’ 70s that we love. Dario was less involved in this kind of music. He was quite involved in Suspiria, he came to the studio and he would suggest us a lot of what to do. But, in Dawn Of The Dead we just talked sometimes, Dario actually didn’t participate. But, he loves it, because when we were in the studio, he came over and I’d say ‘Yeah, we’ve got this, check this out…’”
While Dawn Of The Dead brought Romero and Argento further success, and yet more acclaim for Goblin, the band split following the release of Dawn…’s score. 1978 was, what Claudio calls, “a bad period for Italy, with a lot of political problems”. Indeed, by this time, the country was well into a period of socio-political turmoil known as The Years Of Lead, with ‘78 alone seeing referendums on political party funding and the powers of the police during riots, as well as the kidnapping of Christian Democrat leader, and former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro by the notorious Red Brigades. Worst of all, though, disco was in full swing in Italy. “The music was changing at the end of ‘78, people didn’t like to see rock concerts,” remembers Claudio. “At the end of the ‘70s and beginning of ‘80s, people started to dance to disco, Saturday Night Fever and Flashdance; the mood and music was changing. So, we finished playing together. We had a lot of arguments, we never had a good mood in the band and, like any other band, it’s like a marriage. After many years you want to do something different, people don’t want to change with you, and so we decided to finish the band. Dawn Of The Dead was our last work together, with Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark, a concept album that was released at the same time.”
In spite of their break up, Argento still wanted Goblin to score his next film, 1979’s Inferno. He ended up calling in Keith Emerson. By the time of the scoring of Tenebre in 1981, Goblin bass player Fabio Pignatelli had formed his own version of the band, so when Claudio, Fabio, and guitarist Massimo Morante (considered the “founding fathers” of Goblin) composed Tenebre, they were credited as “Simonetti/Pignatelli/Morante” and not Goblin. After this, the band would go on hiatus for over 20 years. They reformed to score Argento’s Non Ho Sonno in 2000 and though the soundtrack was a success, Goblin soon broke up after. The rest of the decade (and into the 2010’s) saw the band splinter into various incarnations and line-ups. The only constant, this whole time, being the reverence horror fans have for Goblin’s work in Argento films.
“I think that all the Dario Argento films have success also because of the music,” contends Claudio, looking back on his scoring career. “In Italy, many people have the song Profondo Rosso as their mobile phone ring tone, even young people… maybe they know very well the music, but they don’t know who made it and they’ve never seen the film. It’s incredible. Dario has shot a lot of beautiful films that have had big success also because of the music, and he knows. But it’s thanks to him, because when he chose the music for Profondo Rosso he said ‘I want something new, something different, I want more energy in my music’. Dario was a big director, he was very famous in ‘74, and when he chose us we couldn’t believe it. We were very lucky, and also him, because the music is still in the Italian story of the movies. I don’t know now if [Goblin being so young] it could be possible to do something like that…”
While Claudio has touched upon the lack of opportunities afforded to many musicians these days, it’s not just the music industry which has seen drastic changes over the years. Indeed, movie making today faces many difficulties, not least a widespread decline in quality as far as soundtracks are concerned. “I still watch everything , there’s a lot of beautiful films,” Claudio says, before admitting: “but I miss the music, especially in American horror films. Spanish directors are doing very good films, and the French and Americans. In Italy, we don’t have any, just underground movies, nothing like in the ‘70s, no more big directors of horror. But all these new films, I think that that music is just background for the film – I never hear music like Tubular Bells or Halloween or Dawn Of The Dead now.
“I saw the remake of Dawn Of The Dead by Zack Snyder,” continues Claudio. “It’s a beautiful film, one of my favourite remakes. Normally the remakes are really bad, but Dawn Of The Dead is fantastic. But there is music missing. I love [modern horror] films, but not the music. It was much better [before for soundtracks], Bernard Herrmann, big composers… the Psycho score is unbelievable.” Sadly, Claudio is right. The drab, token soundtracks of today’s horror flicks are a far cry from the glory days of horror cinema in the 20th century. ‘Where are today’s Goblins, Fabio Frizzis, John Carpenters?’ I ask him. Funny we should mention Carpenter, though… “Two years ago, I met John Carpenter in Los Angeles for the first time,” laughs Claudio. “When I was introduced to him, he said, “Oh yeah, I know you very well – I always say I stole your music!”