“More John Hughes Than John Carpenter” : A Talk With Composer Cory Kilduff

Cory Kilduff was an 80s kid, so that means he was raised on a steady diet of Stephen Spielberg, John Williams, and synth pop. He also developed a fear of clowns(thanks, Poltergeist), a passion for skateboarding, and was changed by Nirvana’s Bleach. Kilduff grew up in Texas in the suburbs, which just outside the city limits near him offered up a vast landscape to hone his imagination and anxieties(only difference between imagination and anxiety is that imagination bends at your will; anxiety does not.) Music became his main artistic outlet, like so many others that came before him and will come after. Back in 2016 he even re-scored Ridley Scott’s classic Alien and blew minds with his synth-heavy take. His score is simply amazing.

Now, Cory Kilduff will soon be debuting on Burning Witches Records. On April 21st Cory will be featured on Communion, a RSD compilation that will also feature many other amazing musical minds showcasing their compositional mastery of the synth vibe and electro heartbeat. Cory is also working on a debut album that will come out with Burning Witches.

I sat down recently and talked with Cory Kilduff about his childhood growing up in Texas, the 80s cinema impact on him, and his musical inspirations.


J. Hubner : So where did you grow up?

Cory Kilduff: I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas during the 1980’s.

J. Hubner: Were you interested in music when you were growing up, or did that come later?

Cory Kilduff: I was always interested in music, but my parents were not really big music people so I had an interesting mix. Outside of Def Leppard and Michael Jackson cassettes I badgered them into buying me early on or the adult contemporary radio my mom would leave on in the car (which did give me a genuine love for things like Whitney Houston, Christopher Cross and Miami Sound Machine), the main way I consumed music was through movies. I would tape movies off the tv and watch them over and over. The soundtracks really became my musical vocabulary. I was very much an Amblin kid so the sounds that I absorbed were of course the scores of John Williams, but also people like Giorgio Moroder and all the synth pop of that era as well.

Young Cory

J. Hubner: With that much musical variety going on, along with digging on soundtracks, your parents must’ve seen you were becoming quite the music fan. 

Cory Kilduff: My parents caught on and were supportive enough to get me piano lessons but, as the story has been told to me, I was at a recital playing a Beethoven piece and I added 2 extra notes to the ending and then turned to the audience with excitement and said, “Isn’t that better?!” My piano teacher called my parents a couple days later and quit.

J. Hubner: I’m sure Moroder would’ve added those last two notes as well. So as you got older, who was your “in” into the good stuff. Who was your music pusher?

Cory Kilduff: Later, as I started getting closer to my teenage years, my sources widened. I had an older sister who was into new wave, industrial and goth. I’d be lying if I said she gracefully bestowed this musical knowledge on me as opposed to I would go into her room and steal her cassettes. Still, this was the closest thing I had to a well curated library of exciting new music. I also started skating and hanging out with older kids who would dub me Thrashin’ Magazine comp tapes and other punk records, starting my interest in counter culture and separating music from movies and MTV into something attainable and DIY.

For the curious, here’s a list of some of Cory’s favorite childhood movies. The art that grew the artist, if you will: The Goonies, Rad, BMX Bandits, Gleaming The Cube, Thrashin’, Tron, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Flight of the Navigator, The Shining, The Fly(1986), Cat’s Eye, Red Dawn, The Dark Crystal, and The Last Unicorn…to name a few. 

J. Hubner: Given your Alien re-scoring awhile back, horror and sci fi must’ve made an impact on you. Were you a big a fan of the horror section at video stores growing up? 

Cory Kilduff: I was a big fan of video stores– period. However, my parents were fairly protective so there was a lot of bringing tapes to them and getting shut down based on graphic cover art. This was probably for the better because I was a pretty sensitive kid who scared easy. After seeing Poltergeist for the first time, I gathered up anything clown related in our house, loaded all of it up in a wagon, pulled it up the street and just dumped it in a neighbor’s yard who was having a garage sale. Clowns still give me anxiety to this day. Horror movies were reserved for slumber parties and were this sort of group activity growing up. We would all get together and someones parents would let us rent Halloween or Friday the 13th and we would all be stupid. If I’m being honest, I was probably always the kid in the room asking, “yeah, but have you guys seen Beat Street? We should get that”  I did love sci-fi fi though. I adored the escapism, as well as the world-building of the fantasy elements. The suburbs are boring places and can seem small in their own way. Sci-Fi movies gave my imagination a friend to hang out with.

J. Hubner: Did you have any favorite directors that you’d follow their work religiously?

Cory Kilduff: I didn’t pay much attention to directors as a kid. I mean, you couldn’t help but know Spielberg. Of course I was watching anything he did. More than anything, I was grabbing whatever looked interesting and I could get my hands on, from Killer Klowns to The Gate. I would also watch anything with Stephen King’s name attached to it.

J. Hubner: What was the first album to really blow your mind? That one that felt like it rewired your brain to see things differently?

Cory Kilduff: I have a 2 part answer to this, sorry.(laughs)

Writing music always seemed like a tall mountain to climb and also something wholly disconnected from my day to day life. The musicians I looked up to seemed so far down a path that I didn’t know how to start. When you idolize Quincy Jones’ work with Michael Jackson that can be tough to visualize how you get there. Around the time I was 14 or 15 Nirvana’s Bleach found its way into my hands. I loved it instantly. I was having a rough time as a teenager and this was a record that felt like it understood that and made depression feel much less alone. The other thing it did, which was just as important, was that it gave me a feeling that I could do that. Suddenly music wasn’t just drumline in the school marching band or something MTV made seem so far removed from my actual life. I bought a pawn shop guitar immediately and learned the power chords I needed to play those songs. I took that knowledge and started writing my own. Like anything I was just copying at first but I never stopped writing and that was the starting point for every musical project that followed.

J. Hubner: So Bleach led you down the path?

Cory Kilduff: You want to talk about “rewiring my brain”– I know the exact record that did that though. I was about 19 or 20 and was working in record stores at the time. I’d been playing in punk/hardcore bands for a few years but had started to feel a little stagnant. I was alone late at night and started rifling through the jazz bin. I had very limited exposure but always liked what I heard people play. I picked up John Coltrane’s – “Sun Ship” and it changed everything for me. Here were these sounds and notes and arrangements that were making some of the most expressive music I’d ever heard. I started to think of music so much more like the art it is. This was what a Jackson Pollack painting sounded like I thought. My whole approach changed, it wasn’t just about verse/chorus or soft/loud anymore it was about how sound could make a person feel and communicating how I felt through a musical vernacular. That was really when I opened up to everything and really started to listen to more composers like Angelo Badalamenti. But also my start into electronic music and artists like Squarepusher and Oval which directly leads me to the music I’m working on today.

J. Hubner: Let’s talk about Burning Witches Records. You have contributed the song “LV426” to their upcoming RSD 2018 release ‘Communion’. First of all, how did you get hooked up with Darren and Gary?

Cory Kilduff: Word about my Alien rescore got around and when we did the screening of it at Alamo Drafthouse, we produced some limited cassettes of the score to give away. I sent a few to a guy in London who contacted me and I assume that’s how they got a hold of them. They contacted me a few months ago and asked if I would like to make a record for them. They’ve been really great to work with and I’m pretty excited with the final product.

J. Hubner: Speaking of ‘Alien’, your track “LV426” is a reference to a moon in the film. How did the re-scoring of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic come about? It’s some really brilliant work, and one that seems like it was very long process.

Cory Kilduff: I spent some years living in the UK writing and producing dance music but had moved back to Texas and hadn’t felt inspired by the music or the music industry in quite some time. I knew I wanted to do more with my love of movies and wanted to use my electronic production experience to score for someone. I figured I both needed to create some type of proof of concept work and also to test myself. Learn how the ‘rules’ of scoring to picture was different than writing what I was used to. I had to do my homework. I picked 3 movies that I was really interested in and they were Eyes Wide Shut, Bright Lights Big City and Alien. I didn’t want to just write music over a silent version of a film and luckily I found a copy of Alien with almost no music in it but the dialogue and FX intact. I’d always loved the original score (both of them) and with it being more orchestral it gave me a great chance of creating something very different from the original. I worked to create tension in a different way, through repetition while also leaning on nostalgia to keep the synths sounding of the time.

J. Hubner: How did the screening at the Alamo Drafthouse go? 

Cory Kilduff: It couldn’t have gone better. That was a real bucket list night for me. I love them so much and it was great to be welcomed like that. My friend Pete runs a publication in Dallas called Central Track; he knew about this project I was working on and was trying to find a reason to work with Drafthouse. He called me and said he thought it was a great fit and wanted to make it happen. They said yes and set a date and then I had a panic attack because I had to actually finish this thing in a matter of weeks that was only about half done after 9 months! We showed it once and sold out the big screen in Dallas. That was a real trial by fire moment. Alien is rightfully beloved and here I was in a room full of its fans fucking with their good friend. It could have gone real bad. I was so nervous. Drafthouse graciously let me come in late one night and screen most of it with just me and my girlfriend as I scribbled down pages of mix notes to go back and tweak for the final mix. I made that whole thing in my living room on a laptop and a few synths but it had to sound huge in the theater like it was worthy of the film playing on screen.

J. Hubner: That sounds like an amazing and gut-churning experience. I’ve watched the re-scored version of the film and I think it’s pretty brilliant. So now that you’ve made a fan out of me, what else are you working on that we might see in the near future? You’ve got a pretty brilliant group of songs you’re readying for Burning Witches Records that will be coming out under your own name, right? No nom de plumes? 

Cory Kilduff: I am releasing this under my own name. This will be the first proper release I’ve ever done that way. First off, I’m super happy about what looks like a synth revival or wave of synth music that seems to be really forming a pretty extensive genre. I’m a fan of it, especially of artists like Wojciech Golczewski, Steve Moore, SURVIVE, Sinoia Caves, Joel Grind and the Italo wave artists like Vercetti Tehnicolor. A lot of this genre has such a strong connection to horror movies which I do too but I was really afraid of stepping on toes and also repeating myself from the Alien score since I had just come off that. I need something to write to though. A concept, a story, or an idea but most importantly, I need an emotion. When I sat down and started playing with sounds I kept writing to nostalgia but it was sad. There was no doubt a connection to the ‘80s and the sounds of my childhood. I found I wasn’t thinking fondly of horror movies but of the introspective dramatic scenes that stayed with me emotionally all my life. I thought about the train scene in Risky Business, the death in Less Than Zero, and the isolation of Bright Lights Big City. But the singular image that kept popping up was Molly Ringwald. I kept coming back to her characters and realized that I was writing music for that point in all her movies where everything gets too much and she finally can’t take it and cries. So I started working from there. I used what felt like sadder, more introspective arpeggiations and layers that built into lush walls of sound to feel at times like overwhelming emotions. I started saying to myself that the record I was making was more John Hughes than John Carpenter.

J. Hubner: I think what the world needs right now is a score to Molly Ringwald’s many 80s emotional breakdowns. I was an 80’s kid/teen as well and I know exactly what you’re describing. I need this album. Who are some musical starting points for you here?

Cory Kilduff: As for musical influences, they range, but I purposefully set out to make a record with no drums on it. I was listening to a lot of ambient and strictly synth composition music. When I start a new project, I always make a ‘homework playlist’ to immerse myself in. Some of the things in that were Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, Cliff Martinez (Solaris score), Paul Haslinger’s Halt and Catch Fire work, Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein, M83, and Alessandro Cortini.

J. Hubner: Did you take part in SXSW this year? Curious to know your thoughts. There seems to be either love or hate for the festival, and as an outsider I’d be interested to hear your perspective. 

Cory Kilduff: I am not. I lived in Austin for about 10 years and still consider it a second hometown. I played SXSW almost 10 times both in Hardcore bands and with dance music projects. It’s a fickle beast. Some years were amazing and I would get to play to Jello Biafra and David Byrne or open up for Moby. I got to see some amazing bands that never came to Texas before like Phoenix and Mogwai, but after a few years they got overprotective. They would work with the city to shut down unaffiliated parties via the fire marshal. The crowds got too big and you couldn’t navigate the shows with any reasonable expectation to get into a show. The trade off of standing in line for 5 hours to maybe see James Blake play just wasn’t worth it anymore. The machine that is SXSW is ruthless and vindictive to the artists and I don’t think I will ever play an official show for them again, but I have friends who throw great parties showcasing real breakthrough talent. So if I ever am at SXSW performing again, then it would be in that context.

Pick up Burning Witches Records Communion compilation on Record Store Day Saturday, April 21st 2018 at your nearest participating brick and mortar music retailer. Check out Cory Kilduff, and keep an eye out for his debut release with Burning Witches Records.


5 thoughts on ““More John Hughes Than John Carpenter” : A Talk With Composer Cory Kilduff

  1. Oh man I remember those school pics with the laser backgrounds. Haha wow!

    I know this is a cool cat because he loved Bleach – that one slayed me too!

    And once again, sir, you outdid yourself with a great interview, insightful and informative! Fantastic stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a senior pic with those laser backgrounds I think. I was holding my strat and sporting a mullet. Good times.

      And thanks. I love talking to creative people. Makes me want to be creative myself.

      Liked by 1 person

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