John Carpenter: Filmmaker, composer, no fan of ‘Freebird’ or 40 degree weather

In fact, the filmmaker behind Halloween, Escape from New York, They Live, and so many other classic movies seems to be feeling rejuvenated recently. He’s touring with his own rock band, performing the synth-heavy music he composed to go along with his films.

City Pages spoke with Carpenter ahead of his concert at Myth tonight.

City Pages: We’ll talk about your movies, too, but jumping right into the music, and the tour that you are on right now, have you done this sort of thing before?

John Carpenter: We had a tour last year. In 2016, we toured Europe, and parts of America. So, I have some touring experience recently, but not earlier in my career, no.

CP: Are you enjoying it?

JC: I love it. It is so fun. For years, I was a movie director, and with directing movies comes enormous pressure – financial, studio pressures. Playing this music is freeing. I get to play with my son, and my godson, first of all, and it is just a joy. I’d much rather do this than make movies.

CP: I wanted to ask you about the band. I knew there were some family connections, but how many members are there?

JC: There are six of us. The drummer (Scott Seiver), rhythm guitarist [John Konesky], and bass player [John Spiker] are the rhythm section for Tenacious D. Added on to them are myself [keyboards], my son Cody Carpenter [keyboard], and my godson Daniel Davies [lead guitar].

CP: On tour, are the songs rocked up, or more faithful to the spare sound of the originals?

JC: Well, they are adjusted to be played by a six-piece band. We, essentially, are a rock and roll band, but we try to do justice to… For instance, we play the theme from Starman, which was a movie I did in the ‘80s, and we try to make that as orchestral sounding as we can. But there are other themes that are more suited, you might say, to rock and roll, so yeah, we’re kind of a rock and roll group.

CP: Don’t take this the wrong way, but how does it feel to be fronting a rock and roll group at this stage in your career? Is this a new phase of your career?

JC: Well, look, it’s great at my age to be able to do this. It’s great at this point in my career to have this sort of second act. There’s a cliché that says you don’t have any second acts in American history, but I get to have this one. And it is just great. I am loving it, and we are coming to Minnesota. You gotta tell me. What’s going on with the weather? I understand this is the coldest place on Earth. Is that right?

CP: Ah, don’t believe what you hear. It probably going to be in the 40s on Tuesday, and I don’t even wear a jacket until it gets colder than that.

JC: It’s 40 degrees and you don’t wear a jacket?

CP: I keep one in the car if I get a flat tire or something. You know as I talk this through, I realize my opinion is skewed. It is cold here – sorry.

JC: Yes it is. 40 degrees is cold!

CP: Speaking of the show on Tuesday, what’s it like? What’s a John Carpenter show like?

JC: What’s going to happen is we are going to play songs from my movies. This is in support of our new album, Anthology, which is my movie music from the ‘70s to the ‘90s. We’re play the music, and show clips from the movies on a big screen behind us. Not only can you hear the music, but you can see the images. It is varied. Movies from throughout my career. A lot of horror films, and other things, too.

CP: Your father was a music teacher, and I am sure that helped push you in the direction of doing your own music for your movies. Was there an “a-ha” moment where it all came together, and you knew you were doing the right thing?

JC: I started doing music because it was a necessity. When you are doing a low-budget film, you don’t have any money for an orchestra or a composer or anything like that. I had just enough ability to do it myself, and enough knowledge to do it myself, and enough love of movie music, so I did it because I had to, and then over the years I did it because I wanted to. It was another creative layer in the film-making process.

CP: In my fan mind, the “a-ha” moment that I imagined you had was when you played the Halloween theme song for the first time. Is there any truth to that fantasy?

JC: Do you want the truth, or me to make you happy?

CP: Let’s start with the truth, and see if it makes me happy.

JC: When I was 13 years old, my father taught me 5/4 time on the bongos. I had just got a set of the bongos. So, what I did years later was play around on the piano, 5/4 time, rolling some octaves, and just playing some notes. That’s where Halloween came from. It’s a very simple piece of music, you gotta realize.

CP: The Ramones were simple, but that doesn’t take away from their achievements, though, right? The Halloween theme is insane, simple or not. The piano melody, the rapid chirping in the background. It makes you wet your pants almost immediately.

JC: [laughing] It’s meant to make you feel upset. It’s this little round that keeps going around, the repetitive nature of it, the drive – the chirping you’re talking about, it’s meant to get under your skin.

CP: Mission accomplished.

JC: All right, good! Great! That makes me happy.

CP: With the exception of Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., to my knowledge, Halloween is the only movie of yours that has been an ongoing series.

JC: Let me think about that. I think that you are probably right.

CP: Halloween and Halloween 2 was originally supposed to be start and the finish of the Michael Myers story, right?

JC: After the first Halloween, I never expected a sequel. That came out of nowhere. I was informed that my business partners wanted to make a sequel. There was nothing I could do to stop them, so might as well go along with it. I agreed to be part of it. With Halloween 3, I tried to change the formula, because I thought there was no more story with Michael Myers, but I was proven wrong many times over. So, now, at this late date I am going to be involved in this latest Halloween, as executive producer, and I am going to do the music.

CP: This is the one being written by Danny McBride, coming out next year?

JC: That is correct.

CP: As I understand it, this new Halloween is going to wipe the board clean of all sequels after the original movie. Was this a creative decision, rather than a comment on the sequels?

JC: It’s a decision made by the director, and the writers to go back to the original thrust, and build on it from a few years later.

CP: Do you have a favorite movie that you have done?

JC: Nah, I like ‘em all. They’re all good. Well, they’re all bad, too!

CP: How is it from your perspective to have people come up to you to tell you how great you are, and how so and so movie is a favorite? Is that annoying?

JC: Ha, are you kidding? It feels fabulous! Annoying? No way. It feels sensational. That’s what you create for. You want to affect people. It’s just awesome.

CP: Are there any movies through the years that you wish you had done the music for?

JC: Well, there are a lot of movies through the years that I would’ve loved to be involved in, but I don’t really look at it that way. I did what I did, and I didn’t do what I didn’t do. There’s nothing I can do about that. There are no fantasy projects. I have no wishes in that regard. I’m just proud of what I did.

CP: Back to the live shows, do you do any cover songs?

JC: [laughing] Would you like us to do a cover of something?

CP: “Freebird”?

JC: No, God no. “Freebird”? No! We are going to do three songs from the Lost Themes album. They are songs from non-specific movies. Everything else is from a John Carpenter movie.

CP: Are there other musicians that you particularly admire?

JC: Oh, hell yeah. A lot. Hans Zimmer, are you familiar with him? He’s fabulous, just a fabulous composer. Of course, the guys from the old days. Dimitri Tiomkin, Bernard Hermann – people like that. I have a whole lot of loves.

CP: After this tour is up, what’s next for you?

JC: I’m working on some TV projects, and doing the music for the new Halloween movie it looks like. My plate is full.

John Carpenter
When: 7 p.m. Tues. Nov. 7
Where: Myth
Tickets: $45/$108-$171; more info here