Graham Reznick works in sound. Sound design, sound editing, sound mixing, and generally making sound in film as engaging as he can. His IMDb page is long and filled with a who’s who of independent film gold, including working with childhood friend Ti West several times as well as names like Joe Begos(The Mind’s Eye), Jim Mickle(Stake Land), Jon Watts(Clown), and he worked on the “Second Honeymoon” segment of V/H/S. Besides sound design, Reznick is a writer/director, having wrote and directed his feature debut I Can See You in 2008. Graham also wrote, along with Larry Fessenden, the incredible Playstation game Until Dawn.
He’s also been the voice of a DJ several times in film. Maybe another dream of his?
Besides his work in film, Graham Reznick also released two albums this year of neo-psychedelic electronic music. First, the noir-ish and dizzying Glass Angles via Mondo/Death Waltz back in February. Then in May he dropped his Harold Faltermeyer-on-acid opus R0B0PHAS1A on Burning Witches Records. I think both reflect Reznick’s knack for layering and designing a sound experience that’s all-encompassing. His music is a dark, but not morose.
So now we come to Deadwax, Graham’s new short form series that’s premiering November 15th on Shudder. What’s Shudder? It’s the all horror, supernatural, and thriller video-on-demand subscription service run by AMC Networks. Shudder is a must for any horror fans, and with Deadwax added to their growing list of original content that only sweetens the bloodied pot, so to speak.
So what is Deadwax about? Well I asked Graham that question, as well as a few others and he gladly responded.
J. Hubner: So it’s been a pretty huge year for you creatively. You’ve released two records on two different labels, you’re readying the premiere of a series on Shudder, and I’m sure there’s been plenty of other creative endeavors out of prying eyes way. Has 2018 been as big of a year for you as it seems from the outside looking in? Are you still in processing mode?
Graham Reznick: Thank you – it’s felt like a big year for me, though in truth, a lot of what I’ve been able to release this year has been the result of a longer gestation and creative process. I kind of neurotically measure my creative success by “new ideas,” and in that way, 2018 was about the release of older ideas, and not about the creation of new ones. I’m looking forward to jumping back into writing – both musically and narratively – now that I’ve been able to get a lot of these projects out into the world. There’s something very freeing about that, but it’s a double edged sword – a project, either musically or narratively – is only “alive” to me while it’s being made. Once it’s done – whether it’s the last output of an episode or the final mastering approvals on a record – I no longer get anything from it. Not until way later. I’m only now, 10 months later or so, able to listen to GLASS ANGLES again. It’s a weird thing. But I think it’s my brain’s way of saying “okay, move on buddy, let’s get to the new stuff!” So yeah – still processing, but in the best way: my brain’s freeing up space for new, exciting things.
J. Hubner: I’m happy to hear you’re making space on your internal hard drive for new art. But let’s pick your brain a bit regarding your recently finished Deadwax. There seems to be a literal killer record and I’m sure some amazing sound design. So can you give me a synopsis of the story?
Graham Reznick: The premise is very simple, and shares a lot of familiar aspects to anyone familiar with the genre (and then hopefully the story will surprise people): Etta Pryce, a record dealer for wealthy collectors, is on the hunt for a possibly mythical rare record (the Lytton Lacquer) that kills anyone who listens to it and drives its owners insane. But, the reality is quite a bit more complex than the legend, and things go off in very unexpected directions.
J. Hubner: Where did the idea for the show come from? How long has Deadwax been on your mind?
Graham Reznick: The story begins with a wealthy collector listening to the record – it’s kind of my bonkers adaptation of that old Maxell ad from the ’80’s, the one with the guy being blown out of his chair by the fidelity of his music. The whole series is kind of a bonkers adaptation of that ad, in a way. I remember seeing that ad as a kid and being mesmerized with it – is THAT how adults hear music? Is THAT what I have to look forward to? Back then, hi-fi systems were all about being BIG and OVERPOWERING. And then, of course, in the 2000’s, everything got SMALL. But with the resurgence of vinyl and the renewed interest in the ritual of listening to music in a hi-fi kind of setting, it’s kind of coming back. Which I love. As a sound and music person, it kills me to hear music through phone speakers or laptop speakers. It’s one of the main reasons vinyl is so important – it’s not the medium itself, there’s nothing inherently special about the vinyl – it’s the ritual surrounding vinyl and turntables that forces you to have an experience with the music. To really respect it and focus on it. Not that you can’t with digital or with any other medium, you definitely can, but vinyl makes it more of a prerequisite.
So the story for DEADWAX has always been kind of floating around in my head in various ways. I really wanted to tell a story about that ritual, and how important that ritual was for people, and how that can lead to obsession, and how that can lead to… unsafe things.
J. Hubner: Was your plan with Deadwax always going to be a series? Or was it ever going to be a standalone film? A series seems to really open the door for more long form storytelling.
Graham Reznick: I initially had a brief pitch for the concept but hadn’t yet decided what direction to take it, and when the Shudder opportunity presented itself, it became clear that this idea could be explored in a longer format like television. While this first season is only two hours total, many seeds are planted for the story to develop further. I hope this first 2 hour arc will be satisfying for people but reveal a greater depth of mystery underneath.
J. Hubner: Speaking of Shudder, how did you get hooked up with them? It’s such a great network for horror hounds like myself. Seems like a perfect fit for you and Deadwax.
Graham Reznick: Shudder is fantastic. I’ve known Sam Zimmerman, who (along with Colin Geddes) curates content for the service, for a long time. He used to work for Fangoria and then Shock Till You Drop, and was an early supporter of my first film I CAN SEE YOU. Sam invited me in to pitch the network, and one thing led to another!
J. Hubner: What was the process of getting the show created?
Graham Reznick: Based on the initial pitch they were very interested, and then they ordered a script, which then led to the series greenlight. It was a great opportunity so we just dived in headfirst! Then we cast and shot in March/ April of this year (2018).
J. Hubner: Tell me a little about the cast. How long did it take to flesh out the casting aspect? Were there actors you had in mind for certain parts?
Graham Reznick: Casting is always tricky. Besides financing, it may be the most difficult part of the process (and is often intertwined with financing as you generally need bankable names to finance an independent film). In our case, DEADWAX was financed by the network and we were not “name dependent” in terms of casting. We were free to look for the best possible actors for the roles, which was very lucky. We worked with Lisa Fields as our casting director (she also cast The Innkeepers for Ti West and some of the video games I co-wrote with Fessenden), and I believe we spent about a month on casting prior to shooting, though some roles were still being cast while we shot.
J. Hubner: I have to say, I loved Hannah Gross in ‘Mindhunters’ so I’m really excited to see her in Deadwax. And Ted Raimi? Enough said.
Graham Reznick: Hannah is fantastic, as is Ted! We were lucky to have a wonderful cast from top to bottom. Evan Gamble, who was on Hap & Leonard, gives a great performance as Leonard Perry. I can’t wait for people to enjoy our whole cast. Everyone brought new life to the characters I couldn’t have anticipated on the page.
J. Hubner: Since this is a Graham Reznick series, the music is sure to be phenomenal. Besides you, you’re getting some help from a few musical friends for the soundtrack. Can you tell me who you have helping out?
Graham Reznick: The soundtrack is a dream come true for me. Spencer Hickman, of Death Waltz, produced the soundtrack and wrangled an all-star lineup of some of my favorite electronic music heroes. My only regret is that the show wasn’t long enough to include more! The roster features (in alphabetical order): Alessandro Cortini (a great solo artist and keyboardist for NIN), All of them Witches and Burning Tapes (Gary and Darren of the incredible Burning Witches label), Deadly Avenger vs The Emperor Machine (!), Pentagram Home Video (!!), Pye Corner Audio (!!!), Thomas Ragsdale (!!!!), Timothy Fife (!!!!!), and Wojciech Golczewski (!!!!!!). As you can see, I’m very excited about it. Everyone knocked it out of the park.
J. Hubner: That line up is amazing, and with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz on board why wouldn’t it be amazing? Are there any details on the physical release of the soundtrack?
Graham Reznick: Yes! More to come on that soon as we figure out some details, but it’s in the works, and will feature all the above as well as my score.
J. Hubner: Have you ever personally encountered a killer record? I once nearly wrecked my 1977 Chevy Nova trying to change a cassette in the tape deck. It was Lenny Kravitz’ ‘Mama Said’. I guess that’d be a killer cassette, though.
Graham Reznick: I had an… altered… experience with Pink Floyd’s ATOM HEART MOTHER in high school and to be honest I’m terrified that if I ever listen to it again I’ll suddenly wake up in an attic surrounded by mannequins and a parrot in a cage and that record spinning on the table, and realize the last 20 years have been a hallucination.
J. Hubner: Well, that beats Lenny Kravitz. Now that you have a series under your belt, are there any other stories you’d like to tell? Do you think Shudder would bite for a cyberpunk-inspired series based on your ‘R0B0PHAS1A’ album? I think Mr. S0ftware would make a great antagonist.
Graham Reznick: There’s always more stories to tell – hopefully DEADWAX will help get some of them made! As for MR. S0FTWARE… he may have even popped up in the world of Deadwax already…
Deadwax premieres Thursday November 15th on Shudder. Don’t be the only one not talking about Deadwax Friday morning at the office. Get hooked up with a subscription to Shudder now. And if you haven’t yet, check out Graham’s albums Glass Angles (vinyl here) and R0B0PHAS1A. Two of my favorite spins this year.