The Sounds of Horror: Interview with The Nameless Days Composer Christian Davis
There is no shortage of new horror films being released this month. The Cellar starring Elisha Cuthbert is premiering on Shudder April 15th, Choose or Die is hitting Netflix the same day and IFC Midnight is bringing Hatching to select theaters April 29th. Another title worth noting is Vertical Entertainment’s The Nameless Days written & directed by Andrew Mecham & Matthew Whedon. The film stars Ally Loannides (AMC Network’s Into the Badlands), Charles Halford (AMC Network’s The Walking Dead), Trey Warner (The Christmas Box) and Alejandro Akara (FX’s Mayans M.C.).
Fans of horror movies know what a crucial role the score plays in them, so we wanted to highlight the music of The Nameless Days by Christian Davis. It’s worth noting that Davis also collaborated with Mecham and Whedon on their previous 2020 horror favorite, Behind You. In the below Q & A, we spoke to Davis about everything from using authentic Aztec instruments to putting his own spin on traditional horror film music.
-Can you talk about working with directors Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon? How much musical input did they have on the score?
Andrew and Matt had lots of great input. When I started the score, they told me they wanted the score to feel sparse like the landscape of the movie. They also told me that whenever we see the Aztec creature, it should feel like a slow serpent chasing a mouse, it’s inevitable, you know it’s going to get the mouse eventually, it’s a slow burn.
-We heard that you used some authentic Aztec instruments in The Nameless Days. Were you familiar with these specific instruments before working on the film? If not, what sort of research did you do to find out which ones would work best?
Yes, I used the “Aztec Death Whistle” and “Ayoyotes” which is like a death rattle. I didn’t know anything about these instruments before the film. But I did some research and these instruments were used by the Aztecs to strike fear in to their enemies before battle, perfect for a horror film!!
-What scenes can we hear the Aztec instruments?
Any scene where we see the Aztec creature, I used a combination of the whistle and the rattle.
-There is scene at the beginning of the film when Victor is recording his podcast and there is some heavy metal music playing. Was that your work too?
Yeah, that was me. Sometimes on these movies I’ll do the “source” music as well. It’s just fun to write stuff that isn’t “score” music sometimes.
-During some of the scarier scenes, it sounds like you put your own spin on standard horror film music used to create tension. Was this on purpose? What was the process like for deciding how that would sound?
I always want to try to do something fresh and original, so I spent a lot of time finding and building experimental soundscapes, things that didn’t sound like anything organic or recognizable. There are some orchestral strings and brass in the serpent theme, but I tried to distort and mangle those too so it was a bit more unique.
–The Nameless Days takes place on a Texas ranch next to the Mexico border. Did the film’s location have any impact on the score? Did you find yourself using any country western sounds?
Unfortunately, that didn’t play in to the score. It was mostly about experimental soundscapes with a dash of Aztec instruments.
-Did you give any of the characters in The Nameless Days specific themes? If so, can you talk about those?
I didn’t give any of the characters specific themes besides the Aztec creature, but I did create three mood themes, there is 1) Optimism 2) Sadness 3) Serpent. You’ll hear the optimism theme pretty clearly in track “01 Sunrise.” You’ll hear the sadness theme in in track “03 Drunk & Sober.” Then the serpent terror theme you can hear clearly in track “04 Nameless Days” starting at the 1:39 mark, it’s those bending chords. And then I used these mood themes in different variations throughout the movie.
-When it comes to horror film scores, when is less, more?
I think there are lots of times where you just need to set a mood in the most minimal way possible and let the acting and the sound design take the driver’s seat and then there are other times when you can really let the score do the work. The one thing that is critical is dynamics and contrast. Music can’t feel big and scary if it’s already been big and scary for 5 minutes. You need to go quiet or minimal before you go big.
-What kinds of horror films do you find scarier? Supernatural or slasher? Why?
Supernatural for sure. I guess because in my own life I feel like I have a fighting chance against a slasher. I can get the weapons, take some sort of self-defense course and have a fighting chance since they’re sort of grounded in reality and the rules of physics. But once we’ve gone supernatural, I don’t stand a chance.
You can learn more about Christian Davis at https://www.christiandavismusic.com/