Like Nicolas Cage’s unplanned devouring of a live cockroach for a scene in Robert Bierman’s metacognitive Vampire’s Kiss, the beginning of Claudio Simonetti’s and Dario Argento’s professional relationship sounds like one of those film school myths that turn out to be entirely accurate.
The story: Argento, Italian horror auteur and unofficial master of giallo horror, initially used jazz pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini to score his 1975 slasher Profondo Rosso (Deep Red). The filmmaker hated Gaslini’s soundtrack, so he fired him and pursued Pink Floyd to write a new score. Floyd turned down the offer, so Argento approached Goblin, an Italian prog-rock outfit.
“Dario loved [Goblin’s] music,” Simonetti tells me before a show in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside Boston. “He asked us to write the music for Deep Red, so I started with one of his most famous films.”
The kicker: Argento told Goblin they had one night to compose a set of themes for the film—and one day to record them. The band ended up completing it in 10 days. Simonetti used a Mellotron, an Elka organ, a Logan violin, Fender Rhodes electric piano, grand piano, a harpsichord, Minimoog and System 55 synthesizers. Not only did Goblin pull it off, but the original soundtrack for Deep Red sold a million copies in its first year, and four million total.
“Goblin was never supposed to write music for films,” Simonetti says. “We played prog-rock like King Crimson and Gentle Giant. I started on piano when I was eight years old, then I studied music in school at the Conservatory of Rome.”
For the most part, synth-heavy film scores were nonexistent, but Goblin’s Deep Red soundtrack changed that.
“I used [synthesizers] because I was a big fan of Keith Emerson,” Simonetti says. “It seemed to work quite good, so Dario asked [Goblin] to do Suspiria after that. We had more time, luckily.”
Simonetti leaped into composing film scores without any background, but he did know one thing: “Music is 50 percent of a film.” He was also inspired by Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Hitchcock’s go-to composer and one of the driving forces behind Psycho’s “shower scene” and North by Northwest’s chase scenes.
Argento’s 1977 witch epic Suspiria is layered with restrained textures of Simonetti’s gangling keyboard parts and synth, ominous moans and ethereal cries, and Goblin guitarist Massimo Morante’s additions using various stringed instruments, including Indian sitar. The result is “witch prog,” which fits perfectly with Argento’s unsettling and influential film, elevated by unconventional camera angles and vibrant colors. The 1977 Suspiria soundtrack has sold millions of copies, and been sampled by the likes of Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah and Raekwon.
One of the most meaningful compliments one could ever hope for when scoring a horror flick is a nod from the man behind the most famous of them all. John Carpenter has frequently said that Simonetti’s work directly inspired Halloween’s simple 5/4 piano rhythm, which is one of the most recognized pieces of music in horror. Upon meeting, Carpenter told the Italian composer, “I know you very well—I stole all your music.”
Meanwhile, Argento and Simonetti have a bond that’s comparable to Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. (Incidentally, Morricone worked with Argento on a few films). They’ve been working together for 47 years and have made over a dozen films. Simonetti has worked with other filmmakers, too, including George Romero—most notably, he created the score for Romero’s 1978 opus Dawn of the Dead. Stepping back and looking at his body of music, Simonetti can’t say he prefers one over the other.
“They’re like children to me,” he laughs. “Of course, I had all of these [opportunities] thanks to Suspiria, because it’s so popular—but I wrote a lot of soundtracks that I love even if they didn’t have the same success.”
Simonetti’s thoughts on the 2018 Suspiria remake? “Before the shows, I say to audiences, ‘Don’t worry, this is not the new Suspiria.’ Everyone starts clapping, because nobody loves it. I love Thom Yorke. He’s a very good musician. In this case, the music is good, but not good for the film. It’s like listening to something that doesn’t go with the film. But if you listen to Thom York’s soundtrack without the film, it’s very good.”
The 45th anniversary of Suspiria marks Goblin’s fourth tour in America. Earlier this year, original Goblin guitarist Massimo Morante died, so the current outfit, called Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin, includes members of the Portuguese nu-metal band Black Mamba. There have been various iterations of the band, featuring many musicians throughout the years, but Simonetti has been a constant.
Some of the online chatter among Goblin purists have noted that there’s too much “conventional shredding” now. However, the consensus is still that Simonetti sounds better than ever, employing multiple keyboards with acrobatic aplomb. After 45 years, the music from Suspiria still holds up, as does the film—which is undoubtedly why every show on this tour is sold out.
“I was lucky in my life because I did a lot of things,” Simonetti says. “I think that any band’s dream is to have a big tour like we are doing now.”
The ‘Suspiria’ 45th Anniversary Tour featuring Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin will be performed Monday, Nov. 28, at 8pm, at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $30. riotheatre.com.