John Carpenter Discusses Movie Themes Anthology, Directorial Career & Overcoming Stage Fright

John Carpenter
Sophie Gransard

John Carpenter

The famed horror director and composer says he was "terrified" when he first started touring last year.

Halloween. The Thing. Big Trouble In Little China. These are just a few of director John Carpenter's many achievements in cinema, but most recently the 69-year-old auteur has been gracing stages around the world as a musician performing his beloved movie themes and recent solo works (Lost Themes, Lost Themes II) with his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies.

On Oct. 20, Carpenter will release Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998, a collection of score highlights, mostly composed by himself, that spans the majority of his illustrious career. Carpenter and his family band have re-recorded all of the tracks and -- for their third consecutive release -- have teamed with Sacred Bones Records for distribution.

While preparing to embark on a tour later this month in support of Anthology and his two previous albums, Billboard spoke with Carpenter about his newest creative ventures and his legendary career.

You've mentioned in the past that Lost Themes and the impetus for this post-directorial music career was sort of simple and serendipitous, but what about releasing that first album made you want to continue on with Lost Themes II and now this anthology release?

Well, it was something I really loved doing -- playing music with my son and godson. It's just incredible. It's joyous just making music for its own sake, when you don't have to make music for a project, or you're not doing it professionally. That's kind of the way it was meant to be. I thought to myself, "Man, I get to have sort of a second life here after movies."

Yeah. A lot of people don't even get one opportunity like that and now you're onto a second dream job.

Well... [Laughs.] Let's not get carried away. It's great, every day. It's not really a career. It's just more fun than it is anything else.

So how did the idea come about to re-record these themes and put out a collection like this?

We were out touring last year and had a really fun time. We played a lot of music from my old movies and I could tell how much the audience really dug 'em and remembered them. I was talking with Daniel and Cody and said, 'What do you think? Maybe we could put out a best hits album.' Well it's not best hits... movie themes album. Let's not get ahead of myself here. So I talked to the record label, Sacred Bones, and they said, "Great! Let's do it." So we re-recorded the themes from my old movies. In some cases we rearranged 'em and made 'em more modern. I mean, they were pretty sketchy in those days, I have to admit. There wasn't much to 'em. They were pretty simple -- astonishingly simple -- which kind of shocked me. We upgraded all the sounds, because frankly the sounds now are just so great -- miles beyond what was available to us back then. I was just amazed to hear some of the old stuff sound this good.

I have to imagine there were some of those you hadn't heard or revisited in quite some time.

Oh, god yes! And we did a few from other composers. Ennio Morricone -- we did “The Thing.” Jack Nitzsche -- we did “Starman.” Dave Davies -- we did “Village Of The Damned.” So we did stuff that I didn't compose and that was fun.

A lot of musicians obviously get tired of playing their hits -- their “Free Bird” or what have you. For you, I'd imagine that's probably the Halloween theme. Have you ever gotten sick of that one or any of your other tracks after all these years?

No, no. It's fun. And you know, in the years in between recording that while making the movie and then moving onto something else, I had never played it. Now I'm playing it again -- or at least someone who looks a lot like me and is named Cody plays it and I play the bass line.

You've been teamed up with Sacred Bones for all three of your releases. What was it about that label that made you decide to work with them?

Well, they're a specialty label who puts out vinyl and they specialize in electronic music, so they were perfect for me. Plus they wanted me, which is a big deal. [Laughs.] I'm gonna go where I'm wanted. They wanted to release my music and I said, "Hell yeah."

You've been making music for decades but did you ever have that rock star dream or was it always film for you?

Way back when, before I came to California to go to film school, I was playing in like a cover band back in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We made good money playing for fraternity parties and there was a thought like, "Well I could do this," but there's a dead end; there's nowhere to go. So I chose a movie career, or at least tried to get one. So that's about as close as I ever came to going with music, and that was way long ago in a different life.

I know you had said before starting to tour last year that you were a little nervous...

A little nervous?! A little nervous... Dude, I was terrified! [Laughs.]

I would imagine. But now having done it in several cities, how would you describe that sensation of performing your music in front of a sold-out crowd?

It's really a blast. We rehearse a lot so we're really prepared. That's the secret to getting your fear under control. If you know what you're gonna play, if you know the music, well then it's fine. Turned out to be a lot of fun.

I feel like you, Zimmer, Mansell – a lot of you guys who are taking your film scores and themes out on the road and performing for fans is really shining a light on an under-appreciated aspect of film. I hope it catches on more. It seems like it might be.

I know exactly what you mean and I think that would be great because people don't really appreciate film scores. They're great. I mean, they make a movie. And, yeah, Hans Zimmer is my favorite modern composer and he does a great show out there.

I don't think a lot of people know that you were touring with Tenacious D's band backing you guys. Are you still working with them?

Yeah, absolutely. Are you kidding? I love them.

Based on the behind the scenes footage, it looks like you had a great time directing the video for the Christine theme. Did being behind the camera again perhaps rekindle any desire to work on features?

Yeah, it does. I still love cinema and love directing. But I don't love the pressure of being a professional director. That's a killer. But you know, I'd consider things if they came along but I'm not in any rush to get back. I may do a little bit of work – I may do some television work. We've got some things cookin', so we will see. I keep everything open.

So you're heading out on tour at the end of the month to support the new release. Are you on a tour bus with the band for these things?

You know it, dude! You know it! Yeah, I get out there. The tour bus is fun. We play a concert, then we get back in the bus, and then over night we're at the next place. It's easy. Well, it's not that easy. You know the rules of the tour bus: You can't poop in the bus.

You'll be performing in Los Angeles on Halloween this year. Being The Horror Master, do you feel any pressure from fan expectations when the holiday rolls around? Do you have anything special planned for that show?

Well, no. I hadn't thought about that. What would you suggest? You got anything? Should I hire some strippers?

Strippers dressed as Michael Myers.

Yeah, people often come to these concerts dressed like Michael Myers. [Laughs.]

When this tour wraps up in November, do you know what comes next? Might there be a Lost Themes III?

Well, we'll see. We shall see. It would be fun to do more, or maybe something new. We'll find out. But I'd have to think really hard about a new album versus the NBA season coming up. That's very important.

Speaking of Halloween, we're now a year out from David Gordon Green's Halloween film. What can you tell me about the extent of your involvement with that?

I am an executive producer and it looks clear to me that I've made a deal to do the music.

I was hoping you would say that. Will you be updating the original music or creating something entirely new?

There are many options. I'll be consulting with the director to see what he feels. I could create a new score, we could update the old score and amplify it, or we could combine those two things. I'll have to see the movie to see what it requires.