Features Interviews News

When Dreams ‘Come True’: An In-Depth Interview with Electric Youth & Pilotpriest

Come True, which hit VOD and select theatres on March 12 via IFC Midnight, is a film about dreams (or, more often, nightmares), but it’s also a dream come true for director/score co-composer Anthony Scott Burns (AKA Pilotpriest) and co-composers, Electric Youth (Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin). It marks the first film the trio worked on together with a result that embodies the vision they set out to achieve.

Their previous film project ended up creatively out of their hands and so they walked rather than accept the drastic compromise. Of course we got Electric Youth’s exquisite soundtrack to the unrealized film, but it left everyone wondering what would happen if their creative dreams really did come true.

“This movie was made with a lot of love and passion, and we spent a lot of time crafting it a certain way,” Burns told Vehlinggo over Zoom from Toronto last October, two months after the film’s debut at the pandemic-forced digital version of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Breathing label Milan Records released the digital version of the Come True soundtrack on March 12, and Waxwork Records, a longtime Pilotpriest partner, has the vinyl pre-order up now, too. You can catch the film on VOD and in some theatres.

The Come True (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) album is an excellent offering for fans of either act, but it also underscores how great the end result is when they share creative responsibilities in some way. They all cover Shriekback’s eerie “Coelocanth,” from Michael Mann’s 1986 film Manhunter, in a way that reinvigorates the soul of the original. Additionally, they each tackle certain cues for certain scenes, with the Toronto/LA-based Drive Soundtrack alumni composing the tender moments and Burns leaning heavily into Pilotpriest’s most unsettling arrangements for the more horror-centric scenes in Come True. Notably, Burns reworked two Innerworld-era Electric Youth songs — “Modern Fears” and “Runaway” — through a soaring Pilotpriest prism. The result makes you want a full collaborative album from the trio.

“… In the Come True universe, those aren’t remixes — those are the only versions of those songs that exist,” Electric Youth’s Austin Garrick told Vehlinggo recently in a lengthy email exchange. “Then for anyone familiar with the original versions, it’s another subtle hint along the way in the story that maybe what they’re seeing is not the real world, because even the songs are sounding different — just like in a dream.”

electric youth memory emotion
Bronwyn Griffin and Austin Garrick are Electric Youth. Photo by SECRETSECRET.

Prologue

Come True centers on 18-year-old Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone), who has been having nightmares and submits to a university sleep study thinking she might find some reprieve. But things just get worse for her, when the study reveals what seems to be a terrifying truth hidden under the bridge connecting dreams and nightmares. What ensues is a delectably entrancing blend of sci-fi and horror that has already earned the film accolades from critics and viewers alike.

Most of the production that would bring that tale to life occurred in recent years, but there are strands to the Come True creation story that stretch back more than a decade. For example, the seeds of admiration between Electric Youth (Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin) and Burns were sowed as early as 2009. They were all Toronto residents at the time.

“We were already longtime mutual fans of each other’s work without knowing it,” Garrick says. (Because of time constraints, Griffin wasn’t able to participate in this interview. Nevertheless, her influence resonates and she’s contributed heavily to previous Vehlinggo interviews.)

During those bloghaus days, a mutual friend, the Toronto DJ Pammm, introduced Electric Youth to Pilotpriest’s music while they were DJing with her. She used to host a night in which she separately had both acts as guests. This was the early days of Electric Youth — around the release of “Faces” and somewhat before the initial release of College collaboration “A Real Hero.” (Additionally, the duo would put an early Pilotpriest cut on their memorable “A February Story” mix.)

Around that time a Pilotpriest track called “Body Double” was mistaken for a cue off Daft Punk’s and Joe Trapanese’s upcoming TRON: Legacy score. It popped up online under the name “The Crash” and in January 2010 even Daft Punk collaborator Kanye West shared the song on his blog thinking it was the robots. Eventually, Daft Punk had to go on the record that it wasn’t one of their songs, according to Garrick.

“We loved [the song],” Garrick said, noting that it’s named after the 1984 Brian De Palma noir that he and Griffin share a mutual affection for with Burns. (Burns would end up releasing his own, fan-inspired TRON short film, entitled TRON: Destiny, in 2011.)

The attention from West didn’t drastically change Burns’ life, but it did open the door for more people to learn about his music. “Body Double” would later show up on Pilotpriest’s three-LP powerhouse, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

Electric Youth’s admiration for Burns is also tied to the groundbreaking work he was doing for MTV Canada a few years earlier. The idents were “literally the only cool looking and sounding thing on Canadian television at that time,” Garrick said.

“I would always tell people how I couldn’t figure out how MTV could possibly afford such great music and visuals for all these little clips,” he said. “It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the answer was the economical creative genius that is Anthony Scott Burns.”

True to form, Burns was the director, editor, designer, visual effects guru, director of photography, and musician. It was a similar toolkit of positions he’d embody on Come True years later. Burns says the MTV clips’ non-Canadian presentation was intentional.

“I was trying to compete with the world…” — Anthony Scott Burns

“I was influenced by European stuff and I still am,” he said. “I was trying to compete with the world; not compete with local talent.”

For his part, Burns fell in love with the music of Electric Youth the same way many have: Seeing the 2011 film Drive and hearing their contribution to the soundtrack. “A Real Hero” certainly mesmerizes.

“He was one of the first directors to recognize the value of our music in a cinematic setting and to reach out about scoring a film of theirs,” Garrick said.

come true soundtrack vinyl electric youth pilotpriest
The cover for Waxwork’s vinyl release of the ‘Come True’ soundtrack. Cover art by Sara Deck.

“Modern Fears” Come True

Aside from the mutual admiration and sometimes-parallel artistic paths, the real start of the Electric Youth-Pilotpriest creative relationship can probably be traced back to 2014. This is when they had already created some of the music of Come True — at least seven years before the film hit VOD and some theatres. They just didn’t quite realize it yet.

Burns was still writing the screenplay for Come True back then. Electric Youth were months away from the Secretly Canadian/Last Gang release of their debut album, Innerworld, that fall.

Three foundational tracks — which would influence the entire DNA of Come True — entered the scene. They are an instrumental demo and the aforementioned reworks of tracks from the Innerworld sessions.

The Pilotpriest reworks of “Modern Fears” and “Runaway” had a huge impact on the creation of Come True. They weren’t created specifically for the film, but nevertheless made their mark, Burns says.

“Runaway” was the first to get a rework, Garrick says, and then he and Griffin suggested either “Modern Fears” or Innerworld album track “Innocence.” The end result of the selected cuts “felt so strongly like the thing that I was developing at the time,” Burns said. So he asked Electric Youth what they thought about using them in a film. They had read the film’s treatment and were interested.

They agreed to hold on to the reworks, instead of releasing them at the time, Burns said. It was an act of creative patience and showed a longview that has served all parties involved quite well over the years.

“We love what Anthony did with those songs and it’s given them a bigger, cinematic life they deserved,” Garrick said. “The scenes they play in during Come True are some of the most special film moments we’ve been a part of yet.”

Indeed, Burns uses both tracks to full effect in the film. Furthermore, because they have the fingerprints of both Electric Youth and Pilotpriest on them, their use is seamless in this context. They blend in with the film’s score so as to not seem like a cynical, jarring ploy to evoke emotion, but at the same time they each stand out in a way that complements the power of their respective scenes. It’s a tall order for pop songs, but it works. (In fact, even though Cliff Martinez wasn’t involved in “A Real Hero” nor Electric Youth in his score, that song and score have a similar, complementary impact in Drive.)

So, Burns had those tracks to reference while writing the Come True screenplay, but he also had a demo cue from Garrick that he’d play on repeat while writing.

It was a piece that would eventually become the beautifully intimate Come True cue “The Seeker.” Electric Youth had been working on it and Garrick shared it with Burns — the latter was ecstatic.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is the vibe. This is the vibe,” Burns said.

“So I started writing the screenplay to that and [the reworks], then I created a couple other tracks that were the vibe of the film,” he said. “I just listened to them over and over again — just to home in on what the tone of the film is.”

How They Made the Come True Soundtrack

A few years later — after the release of Innerworld and after the challenges during the production of their first feature film collaboration — Electric Youth and Pilotpriest were working on music to fill out the score for Come True. The idea was that Garrick and Griffin would handle the more emotional and heartfelt moments and Burns the nightmare sequences and horror-driven moments, “because they’re such lovely people and I’m the guy who has the darkness in me,” Burns says.

Burns experimented with his own demo cues to zero in on the intended vibe for Come True — even if it’s just “some simple notation” that captures it, he said. Then, when he’d arrive on set, he’d show the demos to the actors so they would understand the tempo.

“I think when a lot of people speak about the films I’ve made in the past, and this one, they mention a tempo,” Burns said. “And the tempo is derived from the tone of the music.”

The actors got the vibe from his demos and ended up inspired to make their own playlists based on that vibe, “and they were really great,” he said. “[Music] is 80 percent of the vibe of the movie for me always.”

“… I’m the guy who has the darkness in me.” – Anthony Scott Burns

In creating their cues, Electric Youth played to the heart of the film and the characters. Garrick compared his and Griffin’s approach to that of storied composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, Tequila Sunrise, The Firm and many more), a musician whom Electric Youth admire greatly. In a documentary on Grusin that they were watching recently, the composer mentioned that when he’s working on a film, the story is not the key source of his musical ideas for that project. Instead, it’s the film’s look and feel that resonate the most in his creative process.

“In a lot of ways we can relate to that,” Garrick says. “It was definitely a factor on Come True. The intentions with [the film] — not just for us, but Anthony as writer and director — were visceral in nature and I think the majority of audiences who have seen it so far get that and really feel it.”

Burns likewise adheres strongly to scoring to emotion.

“I actually write the score based on the emotion of the scene,” he said.

Anthony Scott Burns Come True review
Screenshot of Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) from ‘Come True.’

When you see Come True, you might be wondering how the emotional half and horror half are halves at all. This is because over time, as Burns edited the film, he cut out a bunch of the backstory and the two halves became much more a focus on the horror elements.

“It sustains a darker horror mood most of the way through now,” Garrick says.

As a callback to the more European approach Burns had for the MTV idents, he said he enjoys a similar Continental approach to his films.

“I don’t know why, but I prefer to take my time,” he said. “In the current market, genre movies are typically not front-loaded with a lot of character, you know?”

“I love to front-load with character, because I feel like… when something happens to these people you really care about, you really get invested,” he added. “We came up with a happy medium in this movie, where there is still enough character that I’m very happy with the cut.”

“We came up with a happy medium in this movie…” — Anthony Scott Burns

Garrick says there were specific instruments that Burns had in mind for the Come True score, and that blueprint carried over to Electric Youth’s portion: digital synths for the pads, analog synths for the basses, and then much of the score, outside of the horror elements, was built off that initial demo Garrick shared with Burns. Electric Youth ended up using their CS-80 a fair amount, along with a string section — “the two central components of that original [demo] piece” closest to “The Seeker” on the album, Garrick says.

Additionally, Moog released the Moog One while they were working on the score. Burns bought one and they used that a lot, too.

“It was probably one of the first films to combine the forces of a CS-80 and Moog One together on a score,” Garrick said.

And, of course, Griffin’s potent, memorable, and enchanting vocals were a central instrument, too.

This is particularly noticeable on a cover of Shriekback’s “Coelocanth,” the original of which Michael Mann famously used in his Brian Cox-starring film about Hannibal Lector (and which also appears in Come True). A flute plays the lead melody on the original track to gloriously haunting effect. Griffin tackles that part with supreme aplomb on the cover version. (It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first release of a non-rework featuring the musical talents of Garrick, Griffin, and Burns. The latter played electric bass on “Breathless” on Electric Youth’s 2019 album, Memory Emotion.)

True Emotion

Composers often have a few cues that stand out, when all is said and done. Sometimes the pieces are tied to a character and in other instances it’s a particular scene. Sometimes, it’s just a particular vibe or emotion that sticks.

“I think it’s not an uncommon situation for composers, but some of our favorite moments in this film to write to were for some scenes that were the strongest emotionally,” Garrick says.

For Burns, the musical foundation for his main character was a noteworthy quest.

“Creating the sonic landscape for Sarah was great,” Burns said, “because I was able to tap into that emotionality and try and bring something out of that character with the music.”

He also really leaned into the darkness with an instrument you might not have expected.

come true film
Julia Sarah Stone plays “Sarah” in Come True.

“I think all the nightmares were a blast,” Burns said. “I’ve been using a lot of granular synthesis, and so my voice played a huge part in the sonics of the film. All the weird sounds — even the main sound in the film — is my voice.”

“I think people can feel primally that it’s a voice and not a synthesizer… there’s something real about it,” he added.

And then there’s “the love theme” of the film that Burns says is really more a “we’re-similar-but-apart theme.”

“That was a lot of fun to create,” he said.

And the theme at the very end of the film — when Sarah walks into the bathroom — that was something Burns actually wrote after filming concluded. He was toying with a demo and got really into it. Then he showed it to Garrick and said “I’m going to redo this for the film.” Burns says Garrick talked him out of changing the demo at all, noting that redoing it would strip the emotion out of it.

“And he was right,” Burns said. “So what you hear in the film is the demo. That happens all the time.” He noted that something like that happened during the making of the film once called Breathing and now called Our House. Garrick had a demo that he re-recorded with a real piano and a nice studio and it didn’t have the same effect as the demo.

For Electric Youth’s own contribution to the world-building of Come True, a few key scenes and characters were quite memorable to which to score. Some were cut for narrative economy, but one scene that stands out for Garrick uses their cue that shows up on the soundtrack album as “Don’t Know Her.” This was a scene that intercut Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington) — one of the principal scientists behind the sleep study — watching footage from the study while concurrently Sarah was shoplifting.

“Anthony shot it in a really interesting way, somewhat in the tradition of a Hitchcock or De Palma moment, where you don’t actually see what the character sees — in this case, the screen Dr. Meyer is watching — but it’s implied in other ways: through their reaction… the music… and other visuals,” Garrick said. “… Your mind fills in the blanks and what you don’t see is what frightens you the most.”

Originally, the music for that scene showed up a couple times in Come True, according to Garrick. In the final cut, you can hear it when Sarah is hospitalized.

Creative Intensity

As Come True made its way through the global festival circuit, one aspect of it that intrigued audiences was Burns’ pervasive creative role in the film. As I hinted earlier, Burns isn’t merely the film’s director, screenwriter, and score co-composer. He’s also the film’s director of photography, VFX guru, and editor.

Garrick has admired Burns’ multidisciplinary talents, saying he “defies the old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ in that he has somehow mastered several lifetimes’ worth of trades.”

Burns said he does a bunch of jobs simply because it’s part of a cohesive vision.

“I see the film very clearly,” he says. “And I think that’s one of the reasons why I like being able to do all the jobs — I don’t have to speak through another person. It’s like I get to paint the whole picture… Can you imagine you’re painting something and you’re like, ‘Now I need a robot there,’ and you need to find someone who can make that ultimate robot for your painting? It’s fun to be able to create the whole picture.”

Throughout all of this, Burns was also second-unit directing Canadian-American genre guru (and Come True executive producer) Vincenzo Natali’s adaptation of Stephen King’s and Joe Hill’s In The Tall Grass for Netflix. (Burns wasn’t paid to make Come True, so he had to support himself and his family through another gig. Nevertheless, because of Burns’ talent, Come True doesn’t look nearly as low budget as it really is.)

On top of that, he was working on a score for the horror film The Education of Fred Fitzell, which stars Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Guest) and Hannah Gross (Mindhunter, Deadwax, The Sinner).

The problem with that much responsibility is, of course, it can wear a person out. This is true even if what the person is doing is their passion — sometimes this makes it even more likely.

“I got complete creative exhaustion on this film — to the point where after I finished I was kind of a zombie for more than a year and I’m just recovering now,” Burns said. “It’s like a marathon for me, where I’m just going hard every day and I wake up and I just work really hard.”

An Ending

For Electric Youth, working with a director who was also involved heavily with music creation was atypical, but their relationship with Burns made it fairly easy.

“We have a shorthand with [Anthony Scott Burns].” — Austin Garrick

“… The process of Anthony approving cues was really smooth,” Garrick says. “We have a shorthand with him. So if [a cue] wasn’t approved on our first pass, it was by the second pass; after taking his notes and making changes.”

But there was one cue that was just not clicking and it was supposed to be used all over the film.

“We kept coming back to it and each time it wasn’t quite right,” Garrick said. “It had to work in a few different contexts.”

They were working on a piece to replace a temporary cue — Brian Eno’s influential “An Ending.” Garrick says it is “arguably one of the best and most universal pieces of music ever. [It’s] used in temp tracks so often and usually it’s blatantly obvious when a composer has tried to do their best imitation of it.”

Sometimes a production company will just license the Eno track, because “it can’t be beat,” he said.

With that in mind, Garrick and Griffin had to replace “An Ending” with something original and different that hits all the emotional elements of that piece.

“We even went as far as changing the location where we were working on it from Toronto to Hamilton, the nearby city where we met as kids, as that is [also] the city ‘An Ending’ was recorded in,” Garrick said.

Eventually they determined that a track Burns had made long before the film was shot — that he was using as a temp track for the film’s finale — was best suited to cultivate the “An Ending” vibe.

“We made him promise to leave it in there, which he did,” Garrick said.

Epilogue

When Come True concludes — when that controversial ending is over and the last note of the film’s end-credits music subsides — what does Burns want the viewer to take away from their experience?

“I think what I would love for people to take away is a feeling,” he said. “And whatever feeling it is, I hope it’s something they will want to revisit.”

That is important to Burns, because (especially as a viewer) he values character and emotion over plot.

“I don’t care what the plot is,” he says. “For me, when I watch a movie, it’s about the feeling it leaves me with.”

For Garrick, an important message to take away from Come True is to “get out of your head [and] into your soul.”

“Do your best to find the courage to face yourself and your feelings,” he said, “and don’t overthink things too much.”

One thing anyone interested in Electric Youth and Pilotpriest will be overthinking is the prospect of the artists working together again in the future. Burns says he’d love to and Garrick is even more conclusive.

“We look forward to working on his next film and he’s going to be working on our next studio album as well,” Garrick says. “We never imagined a filmmaker we work with would be involved in the production of one of our studio albums. Anthony comes from a rare heritage of filmmakers truly adept with music as well. We’re just getting started still, and I know he’s just getting started, too.”


The Come True (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is available now digitally via Milan Records and for vinyl pre-order via Waxwork Records. The film is available on major video-on-demand platforms now.


DVD Extras

When I interview people, I often end up with material that doesn’t exactly fit. It’s a bit like what a filmmaker would experience with scene-cutting or a musician would encounter when trying to create the best work possible.

When I interviewed Garrick and Griffin about their Breathing release back in 2017, we ended up with some really great anecdotes and tidbits that wouldn’t really work in the narrative context of the big profile I published. However, I didn’t want to leave them languishing in my Google Drive, either. So I created a separate page for them that served as a kind of “DVD extras”/bonus footage.

This time around, there’s not enough for a whole page; but there are some interesting things Garrick said in the interview that I’d like to share:

electric youth breathing
Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin of Electric Youth. Photo by Anthony Scott Burns.

On the Future of Electric Youth

Austin Garrick: Scoring films vs. making records — each has its different sets of freedoms and limitations. We love both for different reasons. I think in the long run we’re happiest scoring films, but there is still a lot we want to communicate in the“album full of traditionally structured songs” format… that we haven’t done yet on our first two studio albums. It’s going to be at least two more albums at this point. 

… Making music to serve picture is our favorite way of working. For us, our music was cinematically-driven and -inspired from the start. I think that’s evidenced by how well our songs play in cinema — even ones that weren’t specifically made for the films they’re in. And our music is more inspired by films than it is by other music. 

It’s going to be at least two more albums at this point.

We’re fortunate to have an outlet with Electric Youth for studio albums, and it’s fulfilling to lead the vision of our own records. But then to us, film is the ultimate art. We enjoy music being just one component of that much bigger piece, and that we get to play our part in serving somebody else’s vision, helping bring their story to life. 

With both film and music, often the things most interesting to us personally we find at the intersection point of art and commerce. We’re never interested in making something purely for commercial gain, but at the same time we also have no interest in making something purely for the sake of art — if it’s so obscure in its qualities that not enough people appreciate it to result in real monetary value. So we love the moments when art and commerce successfully intersect, and in no place does that happen more interestingly than in cinema. 

Drive was the first thing we were involved in that truly embodies that great art-commerce intersection point. It wasn’t the biggest film commercially — it was too cool to be the biggest film commercially — but it wasn’t too cool to make its $15 million budget back many times over. It’s a balancing act that can be easier said than done, but we love finding things at that art and commerce intersection point and playing our role within it with music.

“… We love the moments when art and commerce successfully intersect, and in no place does that happen more interestingly than in cinema.”

We’ve learned with Electric Youth that one of our strengths as composers is writing to the heart of a film. So films connected to their heart are a great space for us. And we’ve observed that it takes great commitment for a filmmaker to stay connected to the true heart of a film throughout the ups and downs of the filmmaking process. Ultimately, the closer a film stays to its heart, the better it ends up being in the long run. 

And we love films that feel interactive, that are in touch with the visceral. We like things that elicit strong emotion, to where it becomes a physical reaction. Come True is like that. A goal with our music is always to make you really feel something and in that way it becomes interactive.

Genres in both music and film aren’t particularly important to us. We’ve talked about it —  that romantic period pieces and Netflix teen dramas can sometimes have the sort of moments we live for as composers, just like more critically accepted films in other genres do. Sometimes it’s the cumulative effect of emotionally moving moments in a film that make you fall in love with it. Horror and sci-fi have been drawn to us, and it makes sense because we grew up watching more of that than anything, and at the end of the day the greatest horror and sci-fi stories are human stories full of heart. But ultimately genre doesn’t matter to us. We just want to be involved in emotive stories with heart.

“… Ultimately genre doesn’t matter to us. We just want to be involved in emotive stories with heart.”

We identify with the models that Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream had, for the way they kept a presence as both composers for film and artists that create studio albums. We see ourselves now at the beginning of a natural progression into film scoring becoming a bigger focus for us. And it makes sense — a lot of our favorite composers came from the world of being artists and in bands. Danny Elfman was the frontman of Oingo Boingo during his early films; Clint Mansell was the frontman of Pop Will Eat Itself, Cliff Martinez with The Red Hot Chili Peppers; Trent Reznor; and even Hans Zimmer was with the Buggles before scoring became his primary focus.

1 comment

  1. Awesome piece of writing illustrating the fascinating details of Come True, Anthony Scott Burns and Electric Youth.

    Come True is a stunning work of passion that gorgeously washes over the viewer. ‘Viewer’ as a descriptor is inadequate. ‘Participant’ is more apt. Sound and vision work synergistically here to potentiate each other beyond the simple sum of the parts.

    ‘Modern Fears’ and ‘Runaway’ are simply beautiful.

    ‘Forgiven’ and ‘Rested’ are devastatingly effective in augmenting the participant’s emotions.

    A true piece of cinematic art…a modern classic.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: