Cody Carpenter Continues a Family Musical Tradition — with a Twist
Over the past five years or so, it’s been popular among music writers in certain circles to use “Carpenteresque” as the go-to descriptor for dark-tinged, arpeggiator heavy synth scores. Director and composer John Carpenter, AKA “The Horror Master,” brilliantly and deftly used these tools to great effect in the late-70s and 80s and beyond in the likes of Escape from New York, Halloween, Christine, and Lost Themes, and so it’s an apt way to describe those scores influenced by him.
But what if you’re Cody Carpenter, the son, collaborator, and touring companion of the famed director, and a musician in your own rite? If you’re him, then we’re talking about something else — whether it’s compelling prog-rock via his Ludrium project or the 80s-tinged synthpop on Alternate Universe, his new solo album coming out soon. For Cody has created a new kind of Carpenteresque and it’s a great thing to experience.
“I really wanted to put together a feel-good album heavily influenced by the ‘80s, with a touch of my prog/fusion stuff thrown in for good measure,” the Tokyo-based Carpenter told Vehlinggo recently. “I generally don’t have messages in my music, but I did make a conscious effort to make all the songs relatively positive and uplifting, as opposed to my previous Ludrium albums, which have a wide range of emotions and styles. I really just want people to enjoy the music.”
Before we proceed, let me put this out there: I love John Carpenter’s work, he’s one of the big reasons I started Vehlinggo. However, for this piece, I was interested in Cody. The man kills it on everything from drums to guitars to keys — Just listen to his guest spots on CONFRONTATIONAL records or find YouTube footage of him playing keys with his dad during the recent world tour (spoiler alert: It’s awesome). His songwriting is impressive, too. He could be named Cody Johnson and I’d splash him across Vehlinggo.
And he’s taken a little different turn than Père Carpenter. This is great, because now there are various modes of Carpenteresque.
‘Where I Go Exploring’
For Alternate Universe, Carpenter sang and played all of the instruments, crafting a body of work filled catchy contemporary synthpop numbers laced with 80s retro elements. This is a tad different from the prog of his Ludrium project, but overall his signature reigns.
“I recently realized that I’ve been writing two distinct and different styles of music: One more adventurous and prog rock-influenced, and one more electronic and traditionally structured,” he said. “I decided to make my Ludrium project the prog/fusion project, and my new album a ‘Cody Carpenter’ album, being, hopefully, more accessible to the average listener. Ludrium is where I go exploring, and Cody Carpenter is where I bring back the spoils from said exploration.”
Carpenter’s new record features bouncy pop numbers, contemplative cuts and jangly rock bits, all with bright, warm synths straight out of the ’80s. He references New Romantics like early Depeche Mode, Visage, and Spandau Ballet, as much as he invokes the likes of Tears for Fears and Laura Branigan.
Music Came Early
The ‘80s-born Carpenter grew up exposed to the arts — his father is a multidisciplinary artist, as is his mother, the actress and songwriter Adrienne Barbeau (Maude, The Fog, Escape from New York, Batman: The Animated Series, among others).
“My father was always a huge musical influence on me growing up, from learning to play the themes from his movies, to simply having instruments around the house available to pick up and play,” he said. “Both my mother and father have always been very supportive of the arts.”
(The elder Carpenter himself was exposed to music early on, too: His father was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University.)
At 13, amid that incubation of musicality, Carpenter began writing his own fare. Although, he admits, “I didn’t write anything of quality until I was into my mid-20s.”
In 2008, after being in various bands, he released a prog-rock record. For years he lived in Tokyo, where he worked as an English teacher, among other things. During that time he got together with some bandmates and Ludrium was born. Once he moved back to Los Angeles, Carpenter, the primary songwriter for Ludrium, bought a computer and the project became a solo affair. You can find the songs on Bandcamp.
He eventually found the synthwave/retrowave/retrosynth scene. He’d been a fan of the 80s-inspired synth movement a while, and even wrote a few synthwave songs — check out Ludrium’s “Starlight Desire,” a contribution to a Lazerdiscs Records release. Alternate Universe will be his first full-length in the retro world, though.
“The community is great, there are rabid fans and many artists of great quality,” Carpenter says. “It’s wonderful that this kind of music is so popular.”
‘Some People… Had Tears in Their Eyes During the Show’
Throughout the years, Carpenter has also worked on various things with his dad. A notable example of this is the recent John Carpenter: Live Retrospective tour, which was a showcase of themes from various Carpenter films, in addition to new, non-film work from the director’s popular Lost Themes series on Sacred Bones Records. Very much noteworthy: Cody, along with Daniel Davies, shared composing duties with Pa Carpenter on both Themes releases.
I caught the Carpenter tour last year here in New York. There was something truly magical about experiencing some of my favorite film cues live, performed in front of clips from the films in which they feature. There was a moment when I looked around — watching all of the people out-of-their-minds excited by the killer musicianship and songcraft — and thought to myself, All of these people are here to watch people perform film scores. Only a handful of composers can really pull off something like that successfully.
For his part, Carpenter had a blast touring with his dad and friends.
“Just being able to travel to all of the places I had never been before was a great experience: The wonderful food, the kindness of everyone — It was really a fantastic time,” he says. “Seeing the fans being moved by my dad’s music and films, and knowing that I am in some way contributing to this, is really the best feeling. Some people told me they had tears in their eyes during the show.”
“The show is powerful not only because of the music and films,” Carpenter continued, “but because people remember when they first experienced the films, what kind of person they were, and I feel those nostalgic feelings are an awesome and positive thing.”
Carpenter has an interesting balancing act — going his own way while carving another path with his dad. However, there’s never a moment when Cody feels like he’s living in the shadow of the Horror Master.
“I’m very fortunate that fans of my dad’s music might show an interest in my music, different though it may be,” he said. “I don’t really think about living in shadows, but rather simply doing the music that I enjoy and hope others enjoy it as well!”
Going forward, Carpenter, who places a high value on helping others, says he hopes his art can contribute to people’s happiness the best it can.
“That’s why I really hope people enjoy my new album,” he says. “It was made with the hopes of accessing a broader audience than my usual stuff.”
Ludrium fans need not worry, though. Carpenter’s got another record for that project in his sights — or as he puts it, “another Ludrium prog-fusion adventure.” This time he’ll have a slate of guests, ranging from Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets) to guitar shredder P.J. D’Atri, in addition to a “super special secret guest drummer” whose identity you’ll just have to wait to learn.
Alternate Universe will be released soon. Pre-order via Bandcamp.
In the meantime, check out another Carpenter cut below and go down the rabbit hole of his SoundCloud.