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The Maestro and the Mutant: A Chat with Fabio Frizzi and The Last Drive-In’s John Brennan

Joe Bob Briggs and famed horror score composer Fabio Frizzi converge for the Season 5 opener of Shudder’s The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, which features not only the Lucio Fulci flicks Zombie and The Beyond, but also the composer himself performing LIVE some of his key themes in new ways. That’s not all, though. The kick off coincides with Ship to Shore PhonoCo. announcing the pre-order of Frizzi’s contributions on vinyl, Fabio Frizzi Live at the Drive-In. In addition to Frizzi’s Last Drive-In numbers, the release also has the premiere’s two original songs from John Brennan and the Bigfeet (collaborating with Frizzi and his band), an exclusive set of new Frizzi songs composed for the The Last Drive-In, and dialogue highlights from the show.

Keep reading for Rachel Reeves’ deep-dive interview with Frizzi and Brennan about The Last Drive-In, in addition to information about Ship to Shore’s new release of an audiophile, expanded 2xLP of The Beyond, cut at 45rpm for extra fidelity. It’s presented on a limited edition “Joe the Plumber’s Zombie Bathtub Soup” colored vinyl and delivers Frizzi’s complete original score on vinyl for the very first time.

All in all, you’re in for a treat my friends.   -Aaron

Joe Bob Briggs has been preaching the gospel of cult, forgotten, and under-appreciated horror b-movies through his writing and television shows for decades. Part cinematic scholar, part comedic personality, Briggs’ blend of educational information and humor has cultivated a massive and passionate community who endearingly call themselves “mutants.”

So massive in fact, when Shudder first brought Joe Bob back to television after almost 18 years for what was supposed to be a one-time gig, the reception demanded a more regular Joe Bob presence. Now in its fifth season, Shudder’s The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs shows no signs of stopping with its most ambitious season yet.

To kick off the season, which premiered Friday, April 21, Joe Bob selected two absolute all-timers by one of horror’s most iconic directors—Lucio Fulci. Although the show had previously screened The House by the Cemetery, two Fulci fan faves had quietly been waiting in the wings. Finally, the time had come for Zombie and The Beyond to make their Last Drive-In debut.

Alongside series regulars like Darcy the Mail Girl, music director John Brennan and the Bigfeet, and Yuki Nakamura, there was no better guest to invite into the studio than composer Fabio Frizzi. Over 15 years, the famous Italian maestro collaborated on 10 films—including Zombie and The Beyond—with the renowned Italian director. Despite Fulci’s reputation for being a bit difficult to work with, Frizzi developed a fruitful working relationship with Fulci, as well as a lifelong friendship.

An integral part of Fulci’s films, Frizzi’s music adds a much-needed layer of balance, nuance and light to the often eye-popping, viscerally surreal and intense Fulci aesthetic. As a result, many of Frizzi’s melodies and themes have become a beloved and inseparable part of Fulci’s works, typically executed through a thoughtful blend of synthesizers and keyboards with traditional orchestral elements. Even now, the legacy and power of these pieces continue to live on through Frizzi’s long-running live shows and releases of reimagined, reworked and refreshed versions of his classic film music.

This joyful willingness to reapproach and toy with his musical creations is just one of the many things that make Fabio Frizzi a true treasure of a human. Eternally radiating positive energy, his sense of humor and talent is magnetic. It also results in some incredibly fun music.

For example, when The Last Drive-In team asked Frizzi to record shortened”muzak” versions of his themes, they were impressed when he and his band offered black metal, hip-hop, disco and rumba renditions.

Frizzi and his orchestra happily obliged. However, the show isn’t the only place to hear the music. Available for pre-order now is a new LP entitled Fabio Frizzi Live at the Drive-In from Ship to Shore PhonoCo., featuring the show’s snippets of Frizzi’s reworked classic themes; original songs performed by Brennan and The Bigfeet and Frizzi and the his band; and a suite of completely new and original material by Fabio, composed for The Last Drive-In called “The Drive-In Suite.”

fabio frizzi live at the drive-in interview vinyl
Fabio Frizzi: Live at the Drive-In. Pre-order now via Ship to Shore.

To celebrate the triumphant return of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs and the jam-packed, marvelously musical premiere, I sat down for an engaging conversation with Brennan and the maestro himself, Frizzi. Another genuinely iconic duo.

Fabio, you have been touring with a live band for years, so seeing you bring that energy to The Last Drive-In was wonderful.

Fabio Frizzi: Frizzi 2 Fulci has been bringing me around the world for 10 years now, and this participation as a guest on Joe Bob’s Drive-In was a great joy. And also the present confirmation of my role as ambassador of Lucio Fulci among genre cinema enthusiasts. So speaking about this project with our friend Justin Martell, the producer, we decided to try and joke a little bit with my main, most loved themes — play them in another way, and just reinventing them out of the usual context. I think that was well done, and it was also amazing for us.

John, this wasn’t your first time collaborating with Fabio, but still. It’s Fabio Frizzi! What’s it like having him as an honorary member of the Bigfeet? Do you ever have to pinch yourself with moments like these?

John Brennan: Well, I felt like it was more that we were an honorary member of the Fabio Frizzi Orchestra, to tell you the truth. How can I possibly lead when you’ve got the maestro! It was amazing getting to write two songs together. I did a remix of the theme song for the Joe Bob show, and Fabio was nice enough to play on it. And then I wrote a song just called “Thank You, Maestro” — thanking the maestro for even being there! It was amazing.

One other thing, there was one moment not caught on film. It was behind the scenes while we were taking a break, and Fabio and his great band just busted into the theme from Silver Saddle [Fulci’s 1978 spaghetti western]. I got so emotional—the harmonies! I almost started crying. It was beautiful.

FF: I remember that. It was in a pause, and it was magic. Everybody was looking at us with great emotion. It was absolutely great.

Fabio Frizzi and John Brennan enjoy each other. Photo provided.

On this episode, Joe Bob covered Zombie and The Beyond, which were obviously released in pre-internet days. However, they have both made a huge impact inside and outside Italy. So Fabio, when did you discover how popular these films were, and are, outside of Italy? Were you at all surprised? 

FF: I must say and admit that until, let’s say, 15 or 20 years ago, these two things were just good memories to be proud of. But at the beginning of the internet, I understood how important they were around the world. Many, many new friends were telling me this. And yes, at the beginning, I was a bit surprised. I couldn’t imagine! But after that, it was satisfaction and great pride.

Fulci was known for having a strong personality, but you two seemed to work really well together. What do you think made you two such good collaborators? 

FF: When we met, I was very, very young. I was 24 the first time. But, as always in my life, I was also very passionate and tireless in finding the right direction of musical commentary. So I think that we understood each other very deeply. We were different in age and other things, but I think that we were cohesive on professional goals. That’s all.

I’ve always thought you don’t just watch a Fulci film; you experience it. How did Fulci’s style and affinity for gore and intense practical effects inspire or influence your approach to those scores?

FF: Actually, let’s say that this is my working philosophy for every film or television series I face or that I faced. It’s even more important when the themes dealt with are so strong and profound, like in horror cinema. You have to immerse yourself in the story like a pool of emotions. It’s the best way. You have to enter, forgetting everything else. And Lucio was very clear about the objectives and the sensation he wanted from his audience. So it’s also thanks to him that this approach has been my professional creed ever since.

the last drive-in joe bob darcy season 5 shudder
Did someone say Season 5?

Speaking of objectives, John, you’ve written songs and created stories about everything from cheese to shitstorms. How do you know which ideas to develop? How do you make sure none of the good ones slip away?

JB: [Laughs] At this point, I’ve written about 800 songs, for better or worse. Some of them are so horrible, but some of them are OK. And the thing is, with the show especially, that we try not to repeat ourselves. Austin Jennings [Director, The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs] and I, and Joe Bob himself, try to make sure that we cover all different kinds of genres. So sometimes, it starts with just a genre idea.

Austin one time was like, “What would you like to tackle this season?” And I said, “A rap song.” So of course, that birthed the Spookies rap, which is pretty much, besides the theme song, the one that everybody points to as their favorite.

As far as losing ideas or getting the best ones down, phone memos have changed my life. Just getting the iPhone and singing into the phone. Sometimes I wake up from a dream, and I have a tune in my head, so I’ll go [sings a simple tune], and then I remember it later on down the line. So before phone memos, it was very tough to remember the best ideas.

FF: John, you know, this is absolutely my identical way. [Laughs] I remember when I was a little younger, I used to wake up because maybe I had something, and I went to the restroom because my wife and kids were sleeping and then…[sings a simple tune while cupping his hands around his mouth].

JB: You dream music!?

FF: Yeah!

JB: Oh, that’s awesome. Me too!

FF: I was afraid that sometimes it was the music of other people that I could be remembering. But it’s something I always did. Before, I had a small recorder and now, it’s with the phone. It’s fantastic. It’s easy.

fabio frizzi joe bob the last drive-in interview vinyl ship to shore
Fabio Frizzi brings the goods to ‘The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs’ for the popular horror series’ fifth season’s premiere. Photo provided.

One of your most iconic melodies is from The Beyond and can be heard in “Verso L’lgnoto.” It represents the character of Emily so well. Can you tell us a little bit about creating that melody?

FF: The process was very, very easy, because it was one of the rare situations where I was on set. It was the scene when Emily dies and she’s bitten by a dog. During a pause, there was a piano. Cinzia Monreale [Emily] was in another place and there was an older piano. As you can imagine, we are musicians, and we are always like children. So I went to the piano, but it was an old one. It was out of tune, exaggerated.

Lucio saw me, and I was joking, but he heard my approach and said to me, “Well, Emily’s theme must have this mood.” So in the evening, I went home, was in front of my piano and I knew exactly where to start.

You worked with keyboard player Maurizio Guarini on Zombie, who frequently worked with Pino Donaggio and later replaced Claudio Simonetti in Goblin. What was it like working with Maurizio? How close-knit was the Italian film music community during the ‘70s and ‘80s? From the outside, it seems there was a lot of personnel crossover and collaboration. 

FF: You know, it’s never so easy because it’s not an easy world, but in those times it was absolutely different. Maurizio was a man who played keyboards for discographies of great Italian musicians and for cinema, obviously. He’s a musician of great culture and generosity. He used to enter the projects, always ready to give his best. You can imagine, when we work, we need our collaborators to give us the best they can.

Back in the 70s and 80s, there was a good complicity between us young musicians and others. In addition to the great friendship with Goblin, I’m still a friend with Claudio, Fabio Pignatelli and the other ones. But for example, maybe you know Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, the Oliver Onions; they did a lot of movies in Italy. We were friends then, and they’re still friends here nowadays. Very often we have a telephone call and we are still great friends.

“He’s a musician of great culture and generosity.”

John, I’d like to pull on this thread a bit more with you as community is something The Last Drive-In is great at fostering, along with the indie spirit you have embraced with your career. Have you always approached things with that DIY attitude?

JB: Well, for me, when it came to art in general, I always just made stuff no matter what I had lying around. So when I first started making music, I was using a DVCAM, using the microphone on that, and then just taking the audio into Final Cut, mixing that and exporting wav files. It wasn’t a proper way to make music; it was just that I realized you could take the wav file, mix it and then make an album. So I’ve always had the DIY spirit.

Over the years, I got to work on some bigger stuff and that was very cool. But still to this day, I love home recording. I love the idea of having that lo-fi aesthetic and that lo-fi sheen all over everything. And with the Joe Bob show, sometimes it has to be very DIY, and it just shines through that. The fact is, even though it’s a DIY situation and not as polished as some things might be, everybody on the show behind the scenes is a fan of Joe Bob. We all want to make it the best possible version of what we used to watch, which is either Drive-In Theater or MonsterVision. And I think it shines through! Even when we have to use popsicle sticks and crazy glue to get it done, we get it done.

Fabio Frizzi on Joe Bob the last drive-in vinyl interview
Frizzi et al unveiling some unique versions of his tunes on the Season 5 premiere of ‘The Last Drive-In.’ Photo provided.

There’s a real power in that authenticity, and that’s something people love about Joe Bob.

JB: Yeah. A lot of people behind the scenes, like Justin Martell and Matt Manjourides, also come from the Troma system. For me, and I think for those guys, that was really the greatest film school ever. If you have 50 bucks, you still have to get it done—by hook or by crook! I think that taught us how to move forward with the other things that we’ve been doing lately.

Fabio, thinking about limitations and budgets, I’d like to talk about gear. You’re well known for using the Jupiter-8, Prophet-5, Moog, and Mellotron in your scores, but these instruments were certainly not cheap in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then again, neither was (is) a full orchestra. How did the budgets for this era of films affect your instrumentation and orchestration choices?

FF: The orchestra was often an impossible dream, you know, because the budgets we had as young composers were often not enough. And I can tell you guys that nowadays, for other reasons, it is more or less the same. The cinema is not in a great moment also in Italy.

But keyboards were totally fascinating. So many bands we loved used them. The analog era was wonderful. So partly to save money, partly to emulate other great musicians, keyboards were an excellent system. But it’s also true that the cost was huge.

For example, the Fairlight was a great keyboard of this age, a the value of an apartment in Rome. You could buy a small apartment for the same sum of a Fairlight back then. We made a lot of sacrifices. For example, my Jupiter-8, my Moog, and other beautiful things are still with me. I use them sometimes in my soundtracks alongside pure electronics, obviously.

Or, we could rent them. I remember, for example, for The Beyond, I needed the Mellotron with the voices. So I had a brand new Mellotron that came from a shop in Rome and it was fantastic. It became the voice of the main theme and it had a greater taste.

Italian film music from the ‘70s and ‘80s has remained incredibly popular and influential for many musicians and filmmakers. Who were (or are) some composers, musicians, or bands that have influenced you? 

FF: Back then, I used to listen to a lot of music. You can imagine, there was a lot of prog: Genesis, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson. But there was also a lot of Italian music from cinema. For example, I was in love with Nina Rota and Ennio Morricone.

There is something very detailed on Zombie. While I was writing and producing the music for Zombie, I was totally fascinated by Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. That was one of my real inspirations in that moment.

frizzi the beyond ship to shore vinyl new
Ship To Shore’s reissue of ‘The Beyond’ is, well, beyond extraordinary. Photo provided.

You have both released an incredible amount of your work on vinyl over the years. Which is amazing. Why is this important to you? Does having something released physically feel different or mean more to you personally than a digital release?

JB: I love physical media. I mean, I still have VHS tapes. So for me, it’s having the collection. It’s being able to feel good when you’re in your house and look around at the things — just from a collector standpoint — being able to pick it up and read the liner notes of the lyrics and admire the art.

But as an artist releasing it, I was just lucky enough to know Justin Martell, who had his own record label [Ship to Shore PhonoCo.] and said, “I would love to put your music out on my label.” Not everybody is as lucky as me, and I know that, and I really thank him for that.

It was [Justin] and Aaron Hamel who took a chance and put out some of the Joe Bob stuff. It was a success to the point where we’ve now put out six or seven 45s, and we’re working on the second LP for Joe Bob, so this is great. They also put out a solo record! I’d never in a million years thought I would be on vinyl. It’s all about having a physical thing, looking at it, listening to it. It’s a tangible thing that you don’t always get with digital.

FF: For me, I think that music today can be listened to in many ways. I can say that digital creations and releases are welcome. I mean, it’s music obviously. But the album, the LP, was my first approach, as you can imagine. It remains, in my heart, the most high form of music communication. And then, I always said, an LP, you can make a gift, you can embrace [it] because it’s something really physical. And for our graphic artists, they are the best way to express themselves.

I think, in my opinion, they’re so beautiful. I also think [they have] the best sound. I prefer it. I don’t know why, but when I put something on the record, I feel something different and I love it so much. But in any case, long life to music in all its forms.

You’re going to make me cry—[Laughs] Better move on.

John, what can you tell your fellow mutants about this upcoming season without revealing too many Drive-In secrets?

JB: I think as always, with each season we try to level up a little bit and do an amazing thing. [The premiere] was just an insane amount of work. That was the most guests that we ever had on the show and juggling all the people’s travel and all that stuff. But you know, our team was able to handle it. And that just goes to show that we’re really ready for this whole season.

There’s so many great movies coming up and so many great doubles. We’re returning to Walpurgisnacht which was a fan favorite from last year. And then, there’s been a little bit of talk about how the season is split in two, but there’s a good reason for it. People will understand closer to June why that happened. Justin Martell, Matt Manjourides, Joe Bob, Darcy, Austin, they’re always trying to find ways to one-up themselves. And I feel that this time they have. I’m also excited about the finale. If you thought that the premiere was good, wait until you see the finale.

There’s also a new album coming out, right? What can you tell us about that?

FF: Last year was the time of Joe Bob and The Lone Stars. That was my first with them, with John and obviously, Justin. Justin is not old, but he’s an old friend. I met him some years ago and he is a great person. He is a great producer. He is very young, but it seems like he is really an old producer because it is clear ideas.

One year ago, they called me, and they said, “Would you like to do a record together?” And John was the boss. John was the arranger, the producer…

JB: Nah, I wasn’t the boss. [Laughs] All I did was try to make a new flavor for the songs, and then you guys ran with it. We also had Count D. and Piggy D. from Rob Zombie’s band and Frank Iero from My Chemical Romance, and it was a great collaboration. You just added your layers, and the layers just kept coming until we had a finished product. And I think that was great! Now we have a new album that’s your music from the season premiere! My two songs just bookend your beautiful work.

FF: I have to say that it’s funny, because we are so far. I am here in Rome. You are there. But it’s really like a group of friends, a real group of friends. When we came with my musicians over there, that first moment, we were home. And it was great working with everybody. I knew some of them before, like you, but it was being together in a great joke. It’s really well done. Fantastic. And so, I really hope that this story will last a long, long time.

JB: Some of my favorite moments, some of the best parts, were when Fabio and his band were looking at the craft services. They were taking things like Uncrustables and being like, “What? What is this?”

FF: [Laughs] Fantastic. It was a great experience.

[Editor’s Note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and house style.]

The Records

fabio frizzi live at the drive in joe bob vinyl ship to shore

Fabio Frizzi Live at the Drive-In is now available to pre-order via Ship to Shore PhonoCo., with records currently set to ship at the end of July. The release features Frizzi’s Last Drive-In set, the premiere’s two original songs by Brennan’s and Frizzi’s bands, original Frizzi numbers, and dialogue highlights from the show.

frizzi the beyond vinyl interiew ship to shore

They have also released a pre-order for the new, audiophile, expanded 2xLP of The Beyond, cut at 45rpm for extra fidelity. Presented on a limited edition “Joe the Plumber’s Zombie Bathtub Soup” colored vinyl, this pressing delivers Frizzi’s complete original score on vinyl for the very first time!

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