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'Directors Are All Full of S--t': John Carpenter on His New Album 'Lost Themes IV: Noir,' Video Games, and Why He Can't Be Trusted

'John Carpenter needs to shut up, I guess,' says John Carpenter.

john carpenter
Source: MEGA

Legendary director John Carpenter begrudgingly spoke to us.

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John Carpenter, occasionally referred to as the "Master of Horror," is best known as the director behind iconic 1970s and 1980s genre films like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China. He famously composed the synthesizer-heavy scores to nearly all of his movies, including the spine-tingling "Halloween" theme. And although he hasn't directed a feature in years, he's found a nice second act for himself as a musician, scoring the recent Halloween reboot trilogy and Firestarter remake with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, the son of the Kinks' Dave Davies.

In 2015, the trio also began their Lost Themes series, releasing albums of instrumental synth-rock that Carpenter has described as "a soundtrack for the movies in your mind." The most recent installment, Lost Themes IV: Noir, which was inspired by a book that Carpenter's wife and film producer Sandy King had given him full of still photographs from classic noir movies, came out just last week on May 3.

Carpenter, now 76, has largely retired from directing the only thing he's helmed in recent years is an episode of the 2023 "true horror" anthology series John Carpenter's Suburban Screams, which he directed remotely from the comfort of his own home — and these days, he seems to mostly want to be left alone to pursue his other hobbies: making music, watching basketball, and playing video games. (Relatable!) He is famously terse in interviews and sometimes seems to not want to talk about his work at all. Even still, he was kind enough to hop on the phone with Q to discuss his new album, give some gaming tips, and show off the same hilariously dry sense of humor that he will presumably bring to the final episode of John Mulaney's bizarro live late-night talk show Everybody's in LA tonight.

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john carpenter noir
Source: Sacred Bones

John Carpenter's new album 'Lost Themes IV: Noir' was released last week.

First of all, congrats on the album release! Lost Themes IV: Noir came out last week. How is it having it out in the world now for everyone to hear?

Love it. We're very happy with the album. Very happy.

I know you don't always love talking about your movies. Is talking about your music any better?

No, not really. There's not much to say. It's all there for you. Just take a listen.

Well, thanks for suffering through it for me anyway.

OK. No problem.

Can you tell me about the noir photo book that inspired the record?

Daniel found this book that my wife had given me. These noir portraits. And we looked at it together. Noir seemed to be an inspiration for us. The titles of them, the feel of the photos, and the general feel of film noir. That was a good direction to go in. Something dark. I can appreciate that. So off we went.

What are some of your favorite noir films?

Oh, man. Out of the Past is probably my favorite. Double Indemnity. Sunset Boulevard. It goes on and on. A lot of great movies.

Did you ever get into hardboiled detective fiction, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett?

Sure! The Big Sleep is one of my favorite movies. I love that movie. And The Maltese Falcon.

Your films definitely have some noir influence, but did you ever want to make a straight noir movie?

Well, it never came along. So either I would have to write it or somebody would have to write it. And I've never been inspired in that sense.

I think Sam Neill would've been a great classic noir hero.

Yeah, probably so. He's the closest one, yeah.

Did you enjoy being part of the "My Name Is Death" music video, which was kind of its own miniature noir movie?

Sure! It was really fun.

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I know the concept behind Lost Themes is that they're the soundtracks to the movies in your mind.

Correct.

Do you have actual narratives or scenes that play in your head when you're composing?

No, composing is the wrong... well, that's the right word, but it's all improvised at the moment we play it. So we just sit down and play. That's how we do this.

But when you listen to it?

Of course! All sorts of scenes run in my head. It's always been that with music. It's always been that way since I've been little.

I know you don't like rewatching your old movies.

No no no no no, we don't want to do that.

Is relistening to your old music better?

No, not really.

Do you plan on diving into any other film genres with the Lost Themes series?

I don't know yet. We're not there. But maybe. We'll see.

I think a Western one would be cool.

You think so? [Laughs] Maybe. Like Beyoncé's album?

[Laughs] It doesn't have to be country! But Western film-inspired.

Well, that's pretty close, country. Yeah.

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john carpenter band
Source: Sophie Gransard

John Carpenter records music with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies.

You've been collaborating on your music with your son Cody and your godson Daniel. How did you meet Dave Davies and end up becoming Daniel's godfather?

Oh boy. That was back in the '80s. Dave sent me a letter and we started corresponding. Then I met him, and they came to Los Angeles and I met Daniel. He was a young guy then. 12 years old. Things developed from there. I have a son, Cody. He and Daniel hit it off. They've been playing music since way back when. So I just joined the band. They let me play sometimes.

That's nice of them.

It is nice of them. I beg them.

What is it like working with them? Has your relationship changed at all since you've become such close collaborators in a creative sense?

It's just deepened. We know each other really well now, in terms of playing music together. It's great. Just the greatest. Everybody brings something different to the table, which is fabulous.

When you put out an album, do you ever sit down and go, "OK, we're going to make an album now," or is it just the three of you are constantly jamming and playing music together and every so often you decide it's time to release some more?

Well, when we have enough music, we decide to do it. We always are working on music. We have music now. We're doing scores. We're working on a score right now. There's always music happening.

You scored the upcoming Death of a Unicorn movie.

We're scoring it right now. In the process.

How is that going?

Oh, great. It's a really good movie.

You've scored the new Halloween films and the Firestarter remake but Death of a Unicorn is the first movie that's not what they would call existing IP, and you don't have a history with it.

That's correct. Yeah, I'm really enjoying it. We've got a system now. All of three of us worked together for several months and then my son went to Japan. But the movie is being cut and effects are coming in, so we're constantly having to update what we did and do new stuff. We've got a system now where we all work together even though it's long distance in Japan. It's great stuff. Great. Technology. Couldn't do that in the old days. Can now.

Do you have any desire to tour or play more live shows at any point?

Sure! Sure. Given the right circumstances. Given that I'm not too old by then.

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I know your dad was a musician and a music professor so you always had music around. What music were you into when you were growing up? What were the formative bands or composers for you?

OK, the Beatles, have you heard of them?

I've heard of them, yes.

OK, the Rolling Stones, have you heard of them?

Might ring a bell.

All the '60s stuff, you know. I just fell in love with. But movie music too. All the classical composers I grew up with, watching movies with them. I think the biggest influence was a movie made in 1956 called Forbidden Planet. And Louis and Bebe Barron, they were a husband and wife team, did the electronic score. It was mind-blowing. I still love that score. It's just amazing. And they didn't have synthesizers in those days. Oh, god, it's great.

It's funny thinking about the way technology changes. I know a lot of the creative choices you made weren't necessarily creative choices, they were just out of necessity and the budget.

That's correct.

But now with synthwave, there's this whole group of artists that are trying to sound exactly like what you were doing back then even with all this technology that's come since.

Yeah. You think they oughtta pay me money if they're trying to sound like me?

I think everyone oughtta pay you money, John.

Ah, there you go, man! I like what you're saying.

Do you remember the first album that you bought for yourself or the first concert you went to?

Oh, man. The first? Oh, lord.

One that made an impression on you.

It would have to be Meet the Beatles. That was amazing.

You played bass in a band before you went to film school, right? What was that experience like?

Well, it was a cover band. We played for fraternities. So there was a lot of R&B, which they all loved. Dance stuff. It was great. It was great fun. Really enjoyed it.

You also had the band the Coupe de Villes with Halloween actor Nick Castle and filmmaker Tommy Lee Wallace.

That's right.

Supposedly there are only 150 copies of your album Waiting Out the Eighties out there. Is there any chance of that seeing a wider release at any point?

You know what? We might. We might do that. It sure could use refurbishing a little bit, but in a special edition, we could release that again, sure. I don't know that anybody wants to hear it, but we could do it.

I'm sure people would want to hear it. It's become a hot item!

Oh, I see. Well, you never know.

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Are there any movies recently that you've seen and really enjoyed?

Oh, let's see. Well. I enjoyed Maestro. I thought that was pretty good. You know what I'm talking about?

Yeah, the Leonard Bernstein movie.

Yeah. Just the performances in that are just unbelievable. That's probably my favorite.

What was the last movie that you saw in theaters?

Oh, man. Well, let's see, what was it called. Sleepers, I think. It was a movie [in 1996] ... De Niro was in it. Dustin Hoffman. Who was it... not Brad Pitt. [Editor's note: Yes, Brad Pitt.] I can't remember now. That would be... about the kids that went to this reform school and they were abused. Did you ever see that movie? But it's really good. I saw that in the theater. That was the last, I think. That was the last. I thought, "Nah, no more."

For a while there it wasn't even possible to go see a movie in theaters.

Yeah, I know. But it's safer and nicer here. In my house, the bathrooms are better.

You got to see all of these incredible filmmakers come and talk to you when you were in film school — Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, John Ford...

Yeah. Pretty amazing, wasn't it? Right place, right time. I think that's what it was. Right place, right time. But they didn't advertise that we'd see those guys. [Laughs] But they came. There they were. It was like, "What!?" Part of my education.

What were some of the most memorable?

Well, you know, directors are all full of s--t anyway. They all tell you stories. You can't really trust them. But it was just great to see them.

Can I trust you?

Hell no. Are you kidding me? Not a word. Not a word.

But you're semi-retired from directing now.

Yeah, kinda. But you know, the right circumstance I'll come back. I'll come back for the right circumstance. That means money. Doesn't mean that I've stopped having projects I'd love to do. But I swear to god, now, it's not gonna be underfunded projects anymore. It's not gonna happen. I've had that. Done that. Gotta be funded pretty well.

Is there anything that you're interested in that you can talk about?

No, hell no. I don't want to do that, 'cause it'll stir up — I stirred up people with Dead Space a few years ago. I would love to do that movie. It's a video game. I could do something really well with that. But there's nothing there. There's nothing there but the game.

I'm sure it's annoying that every time you say, "Oh, I would maybe do that," there are 10 articles that say "John Carpenter is directing a new Dead Space movie!"

Yeah. John Carpenter needs to shut up, I guess.

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Did you play the Dead Space remake?

I did. It was good. The original was good. I'm not quite sure why they redid it. I think Dead Space 2 is a better game. Boy, that's a great game.

Are there any other video games that you think would make good movies?

I don't know. I haven't thought about it.

Video game adaptations were historically all very bad.

Correct.

But recently there have been a bunch of high-profile ones. There was the Last of Us show, which people loved.

Fantastic. I will say right now: fantastic. But it's all in the casting there. Boy, the performers were just incredible. Man.

You played the first The Last of Us, right?

Yeah, I played the first one. The second one, I couldn't start up this generator. So I just quit. I was unable to do that. It's like I couldn't get on a horse in Dead Reckoning. Whatever that is. No, Red Dead Redemption. I couldn't get on the horse. F--k it. Forget it.

Are you still playing Fallout 76?

Sure am! There's a map expansion coming next month. Gotta be here for it.

I've been thinking of getting into it. I know at launch it was pretty rough but everyone says it's much better and it's very fun.

It's incredible! It's an incredible game.

Do you have any advice for a new player?

Wow. [Laughs] Take your time in the beginning, and there's a lot to do. It's complex. But it'll be worth it for you. That's all I can say.

Thank you.

You're welcome.

They also just made a big Fallout TV show. Did you watch that?

I haven't seen it yet. Should I watch it?

I thought it was pretty good! What I liked about that one is that it didn't follow the story of any of the games, it just did its own thing inspired by the world, which I feel like is the right way to do it.

Yeah.

Have you played Alan Wake or Alan Wake 2?

I believe I played the first one, yeah. I think so.

A lot of people have compared them to In the Mouth of Madness.

Oh, they have?

It's horror about a writer who writes things into existence.

Aha!

More people that should probably send you money.

There you go. Liking how you're talking right now. I like it.

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john carpenter band
Source: Sophie Gransard

'They let me play sometimes,' Carpenter says.

You scored a video game back in the '90s. Do you have any interest in doing that again?

Sure! Why not.

A lot of your recent music has been inspired by video games. I know you would go back and forth between playing video games and playing music.

Uh-huh.

Do you feel like the video games that you were playing made their way into the music that you've made?

Nah. I don't feel that way. But I don't know, they might. Hell, I don't know.

You have a video game that's supposed to come out this year, right? John Carpenter's Toxic Commando?

That's correct.

Did you have any involvement with that?

I did! I sat down and played it.

How is it?

Oh, it's fun.

Well, I'm looking forward to that.

Yeah, it's a lot of fun. Parts are challenging. Be prepared.

I like a good challenge every now and then.

Yeah.

I can let you go in a minute. You've been a good sport. Unless there's anything else that you feel like getting off your chest?

No, god no. I have said everything I've ever wanted to say.

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