4 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Interview with John Walsh – composer of Film4 Frightfest opening film ‘Cherry Tree’
27 Aug 2015 : Seán Brosnan
John Walsh, composer of David Keating’s Frightfest opener ‘Cherry Tree’
With Irish horror film ‘Cherry Tree’ scheduled to open the 2015 Film4 Frightfest -one of the UK’s most renowned genre film festivals – this week, we talk to composer John Walsh about his work on the film.

Directed by David Keating, written by Brendan McCarthy and produced by Brendan McCarthy and John McDonnell of Fantastic Films, ‘Cherry Tree’ follows Faith who, on the advice of her alluring sports coach Sissy, agrees to have Satan’s baby in order to save her dying father.

Having previously composed scores for many short films, television shows and commercials, we talk to Walsh about his first foray into feature film composing with ‘Cherry Tree’.

IFTN: How did you land the job composing for ‘Cherry Tree’?

John Walsh: ‘I got a call from producer Brendan McCarthy (who also wrote the film) and was told they were looking for a composer. I was recommended to him by Brian O’Malley who I had worked with previously. Brian had just directed ‘Let Us Prey’ which Brendan McCarthy also produced so they obviously valued his opinion and I got the call.’

After a lot of short films, television series and commercials work, this is your first feature film…

‘Yeah, this was a great experience – I really enjoyed it. A lot of people might know me from some of the television commercials I have worked on like my work with the Jameson Film Festival, Tourism Ireland, Guinness and stuff like that. And I had worked on television shows like ‘Proof’ and ‘Custer’s Last Stand-Up’ but it was very freeing to work on a bigger canvas and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to stand back and make broader strokes – to get your teeth into something and really immerse yourself in a project.’

The horror genre is obviously a completely different animal to any other genre of film – with something like this – do you look at John Carpenter in ‘Halloween’ and put the music out in the front or do you look at Howard Shore in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and let it build in the background?

‘I’d probably be more of a Bernard Herrmann guy (composer of ‘Psycho’). Obviously a lot of western music relies on very familiar sounding chord progressions. What I liked about this was that it gave me an opportunity to step outside of that and experiment with very unusual chords. It was almost like jazz improvisation where you go outside the very familiar primary chords and end up doing something completely different and I think that works very well for horror.’

‘One of the things Herrmann used to do was create these little patterns where he would repeat four or five notes and have them move up and down the keyboard. I like that as well – creating little patterns and then building on them. I liked using very dark sound design – unusual instrument combinations. Funny enough, I think the harp is very effective in horror, as is the water-phone – with the water within the instrument creating a very eerie, creepy sound. It’s a very interesting genre – if I just did horror films for the rest of my career I would be very happy [laughs].’

Were you given much notes when working for ‘Cherry Tree’ or were you allowed go away and do your own thing?

‘I was given the option in terms of what way I wanted to do it. The way I like to work is that I go away and just do it – and then have the filmmakers tell me what they like and what they don’t like – now that’s not always possible. What was great about this was there was no temp music. There is a great freedom in not having temp music – in producers just giving you pictures and telling you to put your music on it - temp music can be the bane of a composer’s existence to be honest.’

‘In saying that, I don’t think they were expecting me to come back and say “there’s the whole film scored” but that’s the way I wanted to do it. Thankfully, they really liked it – all they wanted was some extra cues here and there.’

What initially drew you to take your first foray into feature film composing with ‘Cherry Tree’?

‘I love the genre and I loved the script. When I met the guys then, we got into a discussion about films we liked and I found myself having conversations with them about ‘The Others’, ‘Misery’ and ‘Drag Me From Hell’. I felt we were on the same page and speaking the same language and I think it was easy to move forward once I got that feeling. Also, Brendan McCarthy is a big Country Music fan so we bonded over that and we also had the same taste in Western shirts!’

So, have you been bitten by the feature film bug then – can you tell us what you have in the pipeline?

‘Definitely. I have something interesting planned at the moment – it is scheduled to shoot in September/October. I can’t say a huge amount about it now but it is something I am really excited about – it’s a really great script – something really unique that will get people excited so watch this space on that one!’

‘Cherry Tree’ opens the 2015 Film4 Frightfest today. For more information on composer John Walsh, check out his website: johnwalshmusic.com.

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