John Carpenter on the set for The Thing in 1982. Photo: © Sunset Boulevard Corbis
Like many smalltown kids, Jessy Lanza learned to sing by emulating Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. However, unlike most, Lanza transcended the distinctly unfunky origins of Ontario, Canada to become one of R&B’s most interesting prospects. Her debut LP Pull My Hair Back—co-produced by Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan—features her high vocal register expertly (and at times eerily) offset against cold electronic soundscapes. So it made sense that when asked about her style icon Lanza chose director and composer John Carpenter.
Lanza: I first watched Halloween when I was about eight years old. I remember my dad asking if I wanted to watch a scary movie, and of course I said yes. In hindsight, I don’t think it was an appropriate movie for an eight-year-old, but I guess that’s part of the reason it left such a big impression on me. John Carpenter is really good at creating scenes that are simple but never fail to be terrifying, like the one of Michael Myers standing outside a window in the middle of the afternoon or a dog running though the snow in The Thing.
I also really love the way he transforms cities and uses them for the backdrop of his movies, like with his depiction of Downtown Los Angeles in They Live or Manhattan in Escape From New York. He’s really good at taking something familiar or safe, like a quiet suburban street or a huge city and completely transforming the environment into the exact opposite; a metropolis on the one hand appears empty and ominous, while the suburbs unsafe and quietly terrifying, to say the least.
The soundtracks to these films have really stayed with me as well. As a composer, Carpenter has the ability to heighten the fear factor of a scene through the use of a single note or riff technique. In the same way that John Williams composed his famous Jaws theme, the Halloween theme is just a single octave pattern repeated over and over again on the piano. While Halloween’s theme is really well known, he’s also written amazing soundtracks for his other films like Christine and Assault on Precinct 13, which is probably my favorite Carpenter movie, if I had to choose one. Actually, when I think back, Assault on Precinct 13 would have been one of the first movies I watched which used synth-generated music as the theme. Come to think of it, maybe the exposure to this music subconsciously attracted me to really warm synth sounds as I got older?
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My parents were both musicians and when I was growing up in Ontario, my dad had a lot of synths around the house that I had no idea how to use. One day, around six years ago, I came to a standstill while writing some music on the piano. Composing on the piano is hard, and to be able to come up with lots of different ideas and carry a song through all the way was always a challenge. Then I remembered all these awesome instruments that were sitting around my mom’s house, all this gear that nobody was using anymore that had been stuffed into a crawl space. I decided to try them out.
I pulled this Polymoog synthesizer out of our attic and dusted it down and, thankfully, it still worked. Looking back now, I see that my dad was really an important person in my musical development—perhaps my biggest influence because he was the one who introduced me to sci-fi and horror movies as well as encouraged me to learn piano from a young age. Watching John Carpenter’s films seriously triggers a sense of nostalgia for me. It might sound strange but when I think about being a kid, watching his movies is one of the first things that comes to mind. ~
Published October 16, 2014. Words by jessylanza.