Mac Quayle Q&A: ‘AHS: Freak Show’ composer
"There are some moments – like when I'm first working on a scene – that, because of the nature of some of these scenes and characters and whatnot, that it can freak me out," admits composer Mac Quayle with a laugh when asked whether or not he's ever been scared by the music he wrote for "American Horror Story: Freak Show." "Repeated viewings tend to numb me a bit," he continues, "so I'm okay with it." At least, that's what he says.
In our exclusive podcast interview, he also admits to not having looked at any of the previous seasons before starting work on "Freak Show." "I wanted it to be fresh," he says. "I knew that they wanted to do something different with this season, and they're all different: different time periods, different stories. So initially, it just started with seeing a few scenes that they had shot; the story took place in 1952, I believe, so there was slightly a period quality to it. There were some discussions with the creator, Ryan Murphy, and his team about some of the feelings they were looking for from the music, and out of those discussions came the first draft of what I thought might give them what they were looking for."
The first product of those discussions was something Quayle describes as "'50s sci-fi strings. It was music that might accompany sci-fi movies from the '50s." It took Quayle only a few hours in the afternoon to come up with that theme, which "did indeed use some string sounds that I tried to make sort of old and distorted, and then I added to that the sound of a theremin, which is a kind of weird, electronic instrument, and then underneath a bed of some sort of synthetic percussion pulses." From that, Quayle says, "we had the basis for one of the sounds of the season."
But the work didn't stop there. "There ended up being several different styles that were used throughout the season," Quayle says. He went on to describe some of those various themes, including, "a kind of classical music sound from the early 20th century, which was very sort of discordant, with a lot of piano and some string instruments," as well as "some more typical sort of horror-sounding music, a lot of like orchestral effects and big hits and things quite scary and loud." Of course, since the story takes place in a freak show, "there was also that style of music, of these sort of broken circus instruments and music boxes."
With its many gothic elements, Quayle says, "there weren't too many moments where I felt I was in danger of taking it over the top into soap opera, just because of the nature of the show. There was always a lot of layers to what was happening in a scene, and maybe it was sad and emotional, but then there was this really bizarre quality happening as well, and so I felt like I could really go there with the music, and it could be read a number of different ways. It wasn't taking itself too seriously."
Quayle is looking for his first Emmy nomination for "Freak Show," having previously received a Grammy nod in 2000 for the Donna Summer song "I Will Go With You (Con te partiro)," shared with Summer and producer/mixer Hex Hector.