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Legendary Horror-Score Composer Claudio Simonetti is Still a Phenomena

We caught up with the Rome-based composer to talk about the ways that the formation and success of Goblin has altered the course of his life and career.

by Joe Yanick
May 27 2015, 8:21pm

The release of Dario Argento’s 1975 Giallo, the Italian genre that blends crime and horror, Profondo Ross [Deep Red] birthed not only Goblin but also from them a new technique of film scoring. With every intention of becoming the next prog-rock sensation, Goblin, inadvertently claimed their place in history as composers instead. They changed the landscape of film music over the course of the next decade, going on to inform countless composers and artists in their wake. But by the end of the 1970s, the films that Goblin had earned their reputation from, however, hit the last legs of their stride. Giallo all but imploded, giving way to a new decade of Italian music and cinema. With the end of Giallo also came the end of Goblin, but from their ashes remained its founding member and principal composer, Claudio Simonetti.
To this day, Simonetti is best known for his contributions to Goblin but his work far from ended there. Of the dozens of scores that Simonetti worked on post-Goblin, his work for Lamberto Bava’s 1985 film Demons has always held a specific significance over the rest. Contrasted with an accompanied soundtrack of hair metal and new wave, Simonetti’s work blends the frenzied sensibilities of metal with the pop stylings of new wave. He created a blend that not only elevates the film’s outlandish, gory imagery but one that is equally as haunting as it is fun. Listening to the record today, Demons personifies the 80s without feeling outdated.
To commemorate its 30th anniversary, the Italian based record label Rustblade Records have set forth the task of presenting the most expansive release of this cult soundtrack, restoring previously unreleased, as well as demo and live tracks. On the verge of the record’s release, we caught up with the Rome-based composer to talk about the ways that the formation and success of Goblin has altered the course of his life and career.

Noisey: You come from a musical family, your father being a famous composer and entertainer. How much of an impact did this have on your development?
Simonetti: I was born in Brazil and my father was very popular in Brazil. When we moved back to Italy, my father became famous also in Italy because he was a musician as well as a famous entertainer and actor — he did a lot of things. I was very lucky because I was born into show business. Since I was a kid, I was behind the scenes and was able to study music with my father. I was lucky to have a father like mine. It was very formative for me and I learned a lot from him.

I know you moved from Brazil at a young age, but it seems that the lively, musical nature of the country, especially with the street festivals and the Carnival, itself would have an impact on any young person’s imagination. Did Brazil stick with you after moving?
For me, Brazil is very important for my personality. Brazilians are very happy and sunny people and, because I grew up there, I learned this from them. I was actually born in the middle of the Carnival. My mother told me that when I was born all the medical people in the hospital were dancing, you know? [laughs] That was very important for me because what I have taken from Brazil is this kind of mood. But, I’m not Brazilian with other things. I do not like soccer, [laughs] and I like Brazilian music but it is not my favorite music, you know? Musically, I grew up with the classical and rock. I’ve played with the progressive rock bands since the end of the 60s. When I arrived in Italy in 1964, Italy was a very different country compared to Brazil. It was much more serious but after ’68, Italy changed. Maybe I forgot something about Brazil but never about my personality, because I still like to smile and have a good way to live.

How important was your classical training for your interest in playing and writing progressive rock?
I think the classical studies helped me to play rock music, because in the 70s many bands from England played with orchestras and did concerts with classical musicians. Many bands were coming from the classical music. One of my favorite bands Procol Harum’s song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is a Bach song. Even Deep Purple did a concert with a big orchestra and Jon Lord, their keyboard player, came from classical studies. The same is true for Emerson Lake and Palmer. So all of these progressive rock bands come from the Classical music. It was the perfect union between these two genres. I think to have a classical formation is very important to play rock.

What was it like, then, transitioning to composing soundtracks?
When I formed Goblin — we were called Oliver before we did Deep Red with Dario Argento — we played this kind of music. So, we were very lucky because Dario Argento’s publisher was also the owner of the label that we were on. In 1974, we started to record an album when Dario Argento told [his publisher] that for Profondo Rosso [Deep Red] he needed a rock sound — he wanted someone like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, or Emerson Lake and Palmer —, so his producer said, ‘before we call these big bands why don’t you listen to the band I am producing now, here in Rome.’ So Dario came into the studio to hear us record and he loved it. He decided to let us write the music for Deep Red. We were very lucky, and so was he, because we sold 4 million copies of the album.

How familiar were you with Argento before collaborating with him?
I remember when I saw the first film of Dario in 1970. I was very young and I never thought that I’d be working with him. When he called us for Deep Red Deep Red was his fifth film — he was already a very famous director all over the world and we were just a bunch of young kids. It’s incredible that such a big director like him asked such young people to write the music for this important film. I don’t know if it would be possible for something like that to happen right now. But it happened and it led to my work in soundtracks. Even later on after the split of Goblin, I did a lot of films with Dario by myself. I did fourteen films with Dario, plus more with other directors like Lucio Fulci, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodata, and many others.

Continue below.

How collaborative was the writing process for Goblin? Did that change from your soundtrack work to working on Roller?
I think that Roller is an album that has nothing to do with the soundtracks. After we did Profondo Rosso we actually didn’t know exactly what to do [laughs], because we didn’t have any other films. At the same time as Profondo Rosso, we had different songs that we never recorded. So we decided to do the second album completely different. Roller is the Goblin sound. We invented something with Roller — even if Roller is a different kind of music — because we put prog, rock, jazz, and many different kinds of music in this album. I think it is a very good work. Actually, I still play some songs from Roller live with my band. But, then we changed completely with Suspiria.

I’ve read in interviews that you describe the work on Suspiria as almost being from a different band from that of the Goblin that wrote Profondo Rosso. What about the process differed?
Suspiria is maybe the most famous film by Dario. When he called us to do the film he said, "This is not about a serial killer or not the typical Italian Giallo but a film that talks about witches. I need music that always lets the audiences feel that witches are there, even if there is nothing on the screen." We recorded Profondo Rosso in just ten days but not for Suspiria. For Suspiria, we stayed in the studio for almost three months. We also experimented with different ethnical instruments like a Greek bouzouki and Indian tabla, and we used a lot of different synthesizers like the Mellotron and the big system 55 of Moog. I think that Suspiria is the real Goblin sound, more than Profondo Rosso because Profondo Rosso is similar to a lot of different prog stuff of the 70s. With Suspiria we invented the Goblin sound. Suspiria is our masterwork.

So what brought about the end of Goblin? Did you decide that you wanted to go on a solo route, or was it just too difficult to stay together at that point
No. When we separated, at the end of the 70s, the rock music era was ending. The 80s music was completely different compared to the 70s. When I left Goblin, I met a producer and started to work on dance music, Italo disco. It was very good for me to work with this kind of music, because while the 70s was very good for creativity it was a very bad political time for everyone, especially in Italy. Because of this, people preferred to dance, to have a more easy time. So I started working with dance music. For this reason, when I recorded the soundtrack for Tenebrae, for example, Tenebrae uses the typical synthesizer of the dance music of the 80s.

That can definitely be said for the score for Demons, and I think this re-release really highlights that now that we are 30 years removed from its creation. There is something so unnerving about it, perhaps due to the mixture of tones: electronic disco, horror, and an almost circus-like feeling. Stylistically speaking, what were you and Bava shooting to accomplish with the score?
It was a different time and period of my life. Demons is kind of a film that permitted me to write electronic music. In the same film, you even have different commercial music as well — in the 80s they used a lot of commercial songs in films — we had Billy Idol, Go West, and other music like that mixing with my music. I tried to keep the soundtrack, more or less, with the same keyboard style and same style of music. The same happened with Phenomena, but with Phenomena I turned back to rock. Any film I did with Dario I tried to change. I never liked to repeat myself with any soundtrack. Every soundtrack has its own mood. When you listen, for example, to Demons you can hear the typical 80s sound, with some Yamaha Dx7 and keyboards like that. Of course, if I could write the music again for this film right now, for sure I would change it. But I love this film because every film has its own typical sounds of the period when it was made.

Can you tell us a little about the re-releases you have in store with Rustblade Records?
For the 30th anniversary of Demons, we are releasing this special blue vinyl as well as a special metal box release with many gadgets from the film and also a CD with all the remixes made by several famous DJs from around the world. Then later this year we will do Profondo Rosso for the 40th anniversary.

Demons is set to be released by Rustblade Records on May 29th. Details about the release below:

666 copies on limited colored vinyl, 299 copies limited tiny metal box with bonus remixes disc and gadgets reproductions from the film, and 100 copies ultra-limited bag box, LP, and gadgets (sold out).

Demons – The Soundtrack:

1) Demon

2) Cruel Demon

3) Killing

4) Threat

5) The Evil One

6) Out Of Time

7) Demon (reprise)

Demons – The Soundtrack Remixed:

1) OHGR – Demon

2) Cervello Elettronico – Cruel Demon

3) Chris Alexander – Killing

4) The Devil & The Universe – Threat

5) :Bahntier// – The Evil One

6) Needle Sharing – Out Of Time

7) Leaether Strip – Demon (reprise)

Demons – Bonus Tracks:

1) Demon’s Lounge (unreleased)

2) Demon (1985 demo version)

3) Killing (1985 demo version)

4) Demon (piano version)

5) Demon (Simonetti Horror Project version)

6) Demon (Daemonia Live Version)

DEMONS – THE BONUS TRACKS REMIXED:

1) Simulakrum Lab – Killing

2) Creature From The Black Lagoon – Demon

Check out more about Rustblade happenings and other releases to come here.

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