Interview: Gregory Tripi Provides Insight Into the Music of Dark Places

Gregory Tripi has made a name for himself composing and contributing music for a variety of different high-profile entertainment and advertising projects. His credits include the films Drag Me To Hell, Contagion, Drive, Priest, and Spring Breakers, among many others. Gregory’s compositions have been featured in national advertisements by Adidas, Lincoln Motor, Miramax Films, Ghost House Pictures, The Coca-Cola Company, and many more. He has been recognized with many awards including the Georges Delerue Film Scoring Award and the Thomas Dolby Production Award, and is the owner of eSonic Productions. Gregory is a frequent collaborator with composer Cliff Martinez.

Gregory created the score for the upcoming film Dark Places. This film is a mystery thriller based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and stars Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicholas Hoult, and Christina Hendricks. Dark Places will be released in theaters on August 7th, 2015.

dark places poster



Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get involved in creating music for film, commercials, and television? Did you have interest in creating music when you were growing up?

I always had a strong interest in music, and in film making… even when I was young. My friends and I would make movies all the time, and I would run behind the camera with my battery-powered keyboard banging out whatever I could imagine with one hand. I didn’t realize it was called film scoring, or that there was an actual job for it. When I got my first film score on cassette (Danny Elfman’s BATMAN), I knew it was something I wanted to do. It took a few detours through various heavy metal bands, electronic performances, and film school….but it worked out ok.  

When I moved to Los Angeles, I began working as an assistant to Snuffy Walden, and then did a fellowship with Mike Post. They were both well-established tv music guys, and I thought I would follow suit, but the film gigs kept coming up and pulling me in that direction. When I met Cliff Martinez 9 years ago, it really helped to fine tune my film music style. So far, so good.

How did your early experiences composing music help you later on? What did you learn that you were able to apply again successfully in the future? Was there anything that didn’t exactly work out as well as you liked that you were able to build on?

I had a lot of different backgrounds in music. I grew up playing bassoon in the orchestra, and then moved on to bass guitar, and then got very involved in electronic music. I look at it more as the combination of all of these different experiences that have helped my film music now. Even if it’s applying classical orchestration techniques to synth compositions, or using electronic fx and techniques to change the sound of traditional acoustic instruments. I’ve found that being able to control the sound of your music doesn’t always mean playing more notes. Sometimes it’s achieved through evolving the sound of one note.

In terms of things not working out….yeah….that happens quite often. When your music has an experimental side, you usually fail several times before hitting on something that sticks. I had this dream of playing eBow sitar, but I just couldn’t get the strings to resonate. Maybe I needed a bigger eBow?  It eventually led me to try eBow on something smaller (my Saz), which worked great and has made it’s way in to several of my scores.

What type of instruments and equipment do you enjoy working with the most? Do you tend to lean towards tools that you are familiar with, or do you like to experiment with new things?

Recently, I feel like I have rediscovered the joy of performing instruments on my scores. Particularly the idiophones and metal drums that I collect. I have several hand pans, and some custom built drums from Ukraine. The score to Dark Places used a large metal tongue drum called a Vadjraghanta, and one called a Manastone. I’ve played a Rav from Russia on a few recent television cues.

I still play guitar, and compose with keyboards, but having several instruments around my studio that I can play with my hands is very inspiring. There’s something simple and awesome about the sound you get out of tapping rhythms on to a big metal bowl.

What was it like collaborating with Cliff Martinez? I’ve actually talked to a number of people who all mention his work in high regard. What type of influence has he had on your work?

Cliff and I have worked on about 20 films together, a few tv projects, and a video game. He’s had a huge influence on my music, since even before I met him. One of the things I initially gravitated towards in his music, was the idea of finding a sound, and refining it. He spends a lot of time chiseling away at a theme or a sound until it sits just right. It’s not always about stacking up more and more, and getting bigger and bigger. It’s about seeing how much you can do with one thing….and then adding bass. We both love deep analog bass parts.

The soundtrack for Drive was a success, as was the film. What was it like being part of the production for that film? From your perspective, what is it about the music in this film that just seemed to resonate so well with audiences?

The thing that stuck with me about that film, was how easy it all came together. We were in the middle of working on Contagion, and there was a break, so Cliff decided to take on Drive. It was about 5 weeks of experimenting, writing, and mixing…then it was done and back to Contagion. I guess when the film works as well as Drive did, the music just flows out. It was also the first time we composed a score exclusively in Ableton Live. I’ve used Digital Performer and Logic in the past, but we made a decision to stick to Live for this one, and it really got the creative ideas going. I think it’s something to do with working in a new environment, with new plugins, and techniques.

I have no idea why people liked the film and music so much, but it was special to me because I played sitar and saz on the score. It will probably be my one and only credited appearance as a sitar player. 

Dark Places is your next project that will be hitting theaters soon. It is a mystery thriller based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. The film has a great cast including Chloe Grace Moretz, Christina Hendricks, and another team-up of Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult, among others. Did you enjoy composing the music for this film? Was there anything different about this film as compared to previous projects you’ve been involved in?

Enjoyed writing the music……definitely. It’s right up my alley, and the style of score I enjoy composing. Stressful….way more than any other film I’ve done. There wasn’t a lot of time to score it, and I was doing the day shift on season one of The Knick with Cliff at the same time. I bought an extra coffee machine so I could have two going at all times. That was certainly different than on my previous projects.

Gillian Flynn had success with Gone Girl last year, which also had a memorable score. Did you use the success of that film as a blueprint for your music here? What was your inspiration? Did you read the book?

We actually finished the film before Gone Girl had even come out. So, I didn’t see or read it before writing the music for Dark Places. The inspiration for the music in Dark Places was more about finding something haunting, but organic, to relate to the lead character. She has been through an ordeal that changed her life. There’s a chance for closure, but she needs to go through some, uh, dark places first. When I first saw the movie, I knew that I wanted to NOT write retro music for the flashbacks to the 80’s. Having a through-line to connect past and present was important. There are several scenes that needed a balance between energetic and ambient, then melodic and dissonant. Most of the music came easily. We decided to record some live strings in Macedonia at the last minute. That was unexpected, but fun.

As in Gone Girl it seems like Dark Places will have a strong female lead character, played by Charlize Theron. Charlize has really made a name for herself playing these tough females that go against the male-centric tradition of Hollywood. Did her performance influence your work? How do you use music to enhance important themes or tones in the film?

The character that she plays in the film is tough, but vulnerable. I think those were two good qualities to start the gears turning when it came time to write the music. My general rule for music is to stay out of the way, and only enhance the scene if something is happening that is not clearly seen in the picture.  There’s a scene where a satanic cult chops up a cow in a field, and the director said he wanted it to be more scary. That might be one moment where the score needed to step in and really make you hold your breath for a minute.



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Follow Gregory on Twitter: @gtripi