Your Sister Is a Werewolf is the synth-driven instrumental project of composer Josh Molen, known for his work on scores for true crime TV shows Fatal Attraction, Murder Calls, and Murder Chose Me, and on networks such as Nickelodeon, ESPN, Discovery, and TLC. On debut album C.H.A.D., Molen is able to draw from the likes of John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, and Angelo Badalamenti, and John Hughes soundtracks (in addition to synthwave producers such as Mitch Murder) without treading on the same old territory everyone else has.
Molen, an avid horror fan and Joe Bob Briggs viewer, dropped C.H.A.D. earlier this year at just the right time. Societal interest in horror is pronounced in 2019 and Joe Bob now has a regular show on Shudder, the series version of The Last Drive-In. C.H.U.D., the well-cast horror from the 1980s and inspiration for the name of Molen’s album, just got the Joe Bob treatment and also had a cameo in Jordan Peele’s Us.
But the timing is also right in another way, because he’s shaking things up a bit. There have been so many ‘80s-inspired faux-soundtrack releases at this point that artists risk fatiguing themselves and listeners if they don’t innovate. Molen is one of those who has made a concerted effort to tap into pre-existing elements and create something with some freshness to it. (Molen also had the album mastered by Purple Rain mastering engineer Bernie Grundman, a legendary figure who certainly added a damn fine final touch.)
Molen recently had an email exchange with Vehlinggo to discuss his album — what he put into it and from where he drew his inspiration. Read on. I think you’ll learn something. (This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length. It’s structured topically rather than as a Q&A, so keep that in mind.)
On His Project’s Name and its Relationship with Similarly-Named Hollow II, and Horror’s Influence on Him
Josh Molen: I’ve had [Your Sister Is a Werewolf] floating around in my head for about a decade. I was in an indie rock band a long time ago and we were trying to come up with a band name. That was one of my suggestions, but nobody else really liked it. I always thought it would make a great band name. Funny enough, I’ve never actually seen Howling II. [Editor’s Note: Howling II’s subtitle is Your Sister Is a Werewolf.] I just saw that title somewhere. The album name is a nod to 1984’s C.H.U.D.
With that being said, I’m a horror film fanatic. Growing up, that’s all I would watch. I just loved the whole vibe of the genre, especially the ‘80s horror movies: the gritty look of the film, synthesized scores, and the VHS artwork. To me, it’s the perfect aesthetic.
When I was in my early teens, after school on Fridays, my friend Marshal and I would go to the Captain Video in Lebanon, Tennessee, and rent horror movies and stay up all night pouring over these incredible films.
I also loved watching MonsterVision. Joe Bob Briggs would play these films I had never heard of before. Then he would talk about the director and the making of the film. And I specifically remember him describing Fangoria magazine, and hearing about it for the first time on his show then going out trying to track it down.
I think devouring these film every weekend ingrained in me a very specific sense of how film music should sound and work to picture. Often times, in my own work, I’ll catch myself trying to find this perfect sound or drum part that mimics something I remember from one of those ’80s horror films. Then I’ll try to tweak it and make it my own. But those films had as much of an effect on my music as any music theory or studying did.
One specific film series that really affected me early on was Phantasm. The whole plot is so original and dense. There is so much going on, and as a kid I’m trying to put all the pieces together. It was just so cool and the vibe was very dark and mysterious. It was also unlike any other horror series. And the music blew my mind. I remember asking my Aunt Mary for the soundtrack one Christmas, and somehow she tracked it down. It was one of the first CDs I ever got. To me that is still the soundtrack all other horror film scores should be judged by; it is perfection.
Another favorite was A Nightmare on Elm Street, and specifically part 3, Dream Warriors. To me, that film was like all the best parts of the original Nightmare turned up to 11. And the score was by Angelo Badalamenti, who composed the music for Twin Peaks, which I’m also a huge fan of. And don’t forget the title song by Dokken. A metal masterpiece.
In hindsight, I realize I was hearing all these incredible composers and absorbing them almost by accident. All those sounds, textures, chord changes, and styles are all bubbling around in my head. I had a graduate level course in film music before I even realized what I wanted to do with my life.
On the Making of C.H.A.D.
JM: I had been thinking of making my own album for a while, but could never figure out how to approach it. My main instrument is guitar, but I don’t really like most instrumental guitar solo albums. I don’t sing, and I wasn’t really sure if anybody would want to listen to any of my weird little instrumentals that I would write.
I’ve always loved the sounds and production of the ‘80s and over the years wrote some synth heavy tunes, but everything I was hearing on the radio seemed to be very organic and not retro at all, so I didn’t think anybody really wanted to listen to that kind of stuff.
About three or so years ago, I heard Mitch Murder and realized that there were people that seemed to be digging the ‘80s sound. So I worked on a track and really went all out on the production. That track turned into “Corvette Summer Too.” I had fun writing it, but didn’t really think much about it. Then a month or so later, I wrote another track. That kept happening until I had a whole album.
About halfway through the process, I kind of started thinking this might turn into an album, and tried to fill out the songs so they felt cohesive and flowed well into each other.
Since I was writing this for myself, and still wasn’t sure if I would even release this stuff, I really threw everything I knew about ‘80s production at this album. I tried to pull ideas from all my favorite pop music from that era, like Huey Lewis and the News, Tears for Fears, Howard Jones, and my favorite band, Toto.
“I tried to pull ideas from all my favorite pop music from that era, like Huey Lewis and the News, Tears for Fears, Howard Jones, and my favorite band, Toto.”
Movies influenced the album as much as or more than actual ‘80s pop music. All of the John Carpenter films, especially Big Trouble in Little China, were huge influences. In addition, a lot of the comedies — like Summer School, Better Off Dead, and The Great Outdoors — were big influences on some of the more upbeat, fun tracks.
As far as the actual recording of the album. I feel like I used every recording and production technique I had learned working in recording studios and on my own scores from the years leading up to this album.
I had also amassed a small synth collection that I utilized. The main instrument was the Prophet 12, which is always at my right hand in the studio. I also used a Roland JX8P, Korg DW6000, Make Noise Shared System, and a Teenage Engineering OP1. There really is something special about the tactile nature of a hardware synth. You’re just always going to get something a little different every time you turn it on. With that being said, I did use a lot of software. Some of the main soft synths were: Zebra 2, Omnisphere, and UVI’s Digital Synsations.
For drums, I mainly used samples, but towards the end I acquired an actual LinnDrum which I used on my track “The One.”
I feel like this album really changed how I approach writing music. Instead of trying to plan out what I’m going to write or how technically something should work, I just let the sounds and vibe kind of guide me. I didn’t over-analyze what I was playing or how it worked theoretically.
Listen to and buy C.H.A.D. here.