Justin Melland: Creating the Eerie Score For Showtime’s DARK NET
Last week marked the Season 2 finale of Showtime’s docu series ‘Dark Net’. Never failing to disappoint in the creepiness factor, the episode centers around a woman who programs her dead friend into a chat bot and a Japanese family who adopts a childlike AI robot. Amplifying the episode even more is composer Justin Melland. Having scored the first two seasons, he truly gets what the show is trying to do and does a great job of taking the audience into the minds of the subject, through his original, heavy synth score. With all the buzz around the show and Decider.com calling it “One of the most chilling shows on television” we decided to speak with Melland and find out a little more about his process for scoring the show.
-How did you get involved with “Dark Net”? What was the initial appeal of the project?
The initial appeal of the project was its very dark emotional nature, and the sound pallet the show creators were looking for. They wanted a very edgy combination of uniquely played instruments, and synthesizers, which is exactly what I want to do when I wake up in the morning! I just love making huge basses, beds of tension along with eerie melodies and dark rhythmic patterns. That and coffee are my favorite things.
The company that produced the show is called Part2 Pictures, and we’ve been working together ever since 2011, when we took our film The Redemption Of General Butt Naked to Sundance, where it did very well, it won a cinematography award. I’m sure they meant to give us the “Best Title” award, but we’ll take what we can get! So, Part2 had this killer new project coming up and one of my mates there was telling me about it and that they wanted me to score it. He didn’t want to tell me what network it was for because I’d really start to freak out if I did. So, instead of freaking out, I really started to freak out! I mean, what a way to keep me from getting excited! So we started the process of pitching me to Vocativ, the creators of the show. Everything went really well, I could tell they were a great team, and Part2 pitched me really hard and really well. But then, as it always is when you are going after a series, eventually, you have done all that you can do, and the only thing left to do is wait. So, I waited, and waiting, and waited… and then it was time for summer vacation! I put it out of my mind and tried to only have fun eating mussels and drinking rose in Provence, which wasn’t hard at all. Then one night, we were having a gorgeous dinner outside in Quinson, France and I got a call from my agent telling me we had been chosen to do the series. It was one of the happiest days of my career.
Are there any specific challenges composing a show like “Dark Net”?
I’d say the thing we are always careful not to do is make the music too techy. It’s not a show about technology, it’s a show about people, and how their lives are drastically altered by technology. It explains some of the tech, but really 80% of the show is a story about a real person’s life. So the music needs to walk this line between the digital world and a very dark version of the analog world. We need to feel the futuristic nature of these stories, but also we need to feel the real human emotion happening on screen. It’s a fantastically fun problem to solve, and I think we’ve all gotten very good at it.
Is there a scene that you composed for “Dark Net” that are most proud of that you? Why did it specifically resonate with you?
There is a scene in season 2 about a man that is wrongly convicted of robbing a bank because he was incorrectly identified with facial recognition software, and his entire life falls apart because of it. In one of the scenes about his story, we travel from an interview with him, into the FBI where we learn the frightening truth about how many of us are actually IN the FBI database. In that scene I wanted to create this sense of inevitability and allure, while also giving you a dark driving feeling of suspense. I wanted you to feel like you are having the most elegant dance with Big Brother himself, and you’re falling in love, and horrified at the same moment. I’d love to hear if anyone had that exact experience!
What instrument(s) did you find were key in setting the tone or musical theme you were striving to achieve for “Dark Net”? We heard you like synths.
Yes, I just adore synths. I mean, they are my favorite musical instrument in the whole universe. My most favorite is my eurorack modular synthesizer. It’s a fully customizable synthesizer that can be any size or shape that you like. You can design the entire structure of signal path to fit your preferences. And the most wonderful thing about it, is that you can make the coolest sound, or piece of music on it, and as soon as you are done, it’s gone. You’ll never get it the same way again. And often you’ll never even get close to it again! And, I don’t even try to do that. It’s so liberating to play and instrument that only wants you to move forward. So, as you can imagine, the modular synthesizer plays a huge role in the score to Dark Net. I am also a guitarist, so there’s guitar, and other things that look like guitars but don’t sound like guitars, strange percussive devices, giant drums, and my not so secret weapon… BOWED BANJO.
Were you given freedom to choose the sound for the project or were you under specific parameters from the director to work within?
Developing the sound for a series, is a super exciting and fun time. It’s when I get to find out the emotional range I’m going to be working in, and it’s a time for the producers to share with me the dreams they have for the music. I also get turned on to what everyone has been digging musically lately, which is also so cool. I love finding out what editors and directors like listening to and working with. So, we dig in to this big sharing escapade, and all the creatives give their ideas for sounds. Then I listen very carefully, and take the series in to my private music lair, and dream the best dreams I can dream. Then we have more discussions if needed, hone things in, and then we’re off to the races!
We read you are a big sci-fi fan. What would be your dream sci-fi story to compose?
My dream sci-fi story would be one that had the most engaging story line you’ve ever heard. One that pulls you in like an obsession. With huge questions lurking under the surface of the film. One that makes you pay attention to every detail so you don’t miss something super important that will color your entire perception of the story arc. I would want it to be dark, and broody, but with beautiful moments, like the ones you find in David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick films. And most of all I would want it to have compelling characters that feel more like someone you once knew in another life than someone you are watching on a screen. The specifics of the story are all up in the air, but these qualities make for brilliant films, and I would just love to work on one.
When looking for a project, what is something you look for?
I really look hard for a team that I can resonate with. A team that likes my music and what I can bring to the table. Without that it’s really an uphill battle! Can you imagine writing music for someone that doesn’t actually like the way you compose? Early in my career I had that happen, and it was the hardest gig I ever had. Amazingly, the film did really well, but I was just getting started, and holy crap I nearly lost my mind! So, that’s really important… A team that believes in me. Then I look for a project that has an emotional tone I want to hit, but actually I don’t have to do this much, because if they want me, they want me to do what I do best.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
I’m hard at work with directors Paul Haggis and Dan Krauss on a new film that is sure to hit the world pretty hard! Check my website or facebook page later this summer for more details about it!
Also, I just wrote an album called WEIRD PLANET that is out everywhere right now. Here’s the Spotify link.
You can learn more about Justin here, http://www.justinmelland.com/.