The Greasy Strangler is one of the funniest, oddest, wrongest and weirdest films in recent memory. Whilst it’s populated with savage, somewhat ludicrous murders by a naked man caked head to toe in grease, it’s also an endearing tale of love, and acceptance by way of disco, bizarre catchphrases and totally nonsensical nudity. You can read our review here. Co-written and directed by UK filmmaker Jim Hosking, what makes Greasy Strangler so unique is that despite moments of awful gratuitous comic book violence, it possesses a certain naïve sweetness that is difficult to pin down. This is in a large part due to the score, which was composed by Andrew Hung, best known as one half of psychedelic noise duo Fuck Buttons. It’s not a stretch to suggest that you have never heard music like this before. It is the unlikeliest soundtrack ever, a jaunty hit of 8 bit video game dementia on a sugar rush. Track titles include ‘stoned on fart fumes, ‘ and ‘fizzy barf.’ I think you get the picture.
After viewing the film more than once, with the music frying the synapses in what was left of my brain, it felt like I had no choice but track down the genius composer behind this incredible music, if only to ask one simple question: What in the hell were you thinking?
When I do finally manage to get on to Hung over skype from his home studio in the UK after I’ve engaged in more than a little harassment of Monster Pictures (The Australian distributor of The Greasy Strangler), and Andrew’s manager, he is somewhat sheepish, perhaps slightly concerned about the potential lunatic he is letting into his life. After gushing hysterically about the merits of his score and its place in the pantheon of modern cinematic music for a few uninterrupted minutes, the look on his face suggests that I have not managed to abate his concerns one iota. So I ask him what he thought when he first watched the film?
“I was completely kind’ve gobsmacked to be honest with you, he laughs. “I think I sat for five minutes after watching it with my girlfriend just staring at the screen not knowing what to do.”
This kind of reaction is not entirely unexpected and it’s possible to sympathise with him, as The Greasy Strangler is not your normal kind of film. This may be compounded too by the fact that Hung had never previously composed for film. Just a few weeks earlier he had met with director Jim Hoskings and producer Andy Stark and didn’t think much of it. Later they asked if he would be interested in doing the score and sent the film over with a temp soundtrack.
“I had a lot of questions to ask him,” he laughs. “At the end of that conversation, I don’t know how he did it, but at the end of the conversation Jim was like ‘just do what you want.’
“But I still consider it like a collaboration really, because he’s kind’ve really anal about what he wants but at the same time he gets the best out of people by letting them do their thing…He gave me the space to explore. The thing he was saying was ‘I just want to be surprised, I want to feel like it’s good,’ which is what I’m interested in when it comes to art. I guess we both went on this journey. We both egged each other on to get to this place with the music I guess.”
Given its uniqueness you’d have to imagine that the tone of The Greasy Strangler would have been extremely difficult to pin down for Hung – particularly initially. Between the odd stilted dialogue, the meanness with which many of the characters treat each other and gratuitous violence you could be forgiven for only picking up on the bleakness.
“Jim said do what you want, and I watched the film and thought, I don’t think I can really do what I want,” Hung laughs. “So I went and met up with him and I got some key words from him. Because at first I thought ‘oh is it a dark film?’ I didn’t understand if it was meant to be scary, and he said ‘no no no, they’re like kids, they’re children,’ and I was like ‘ah okay.’ That was the first keyword that I used. That was the entire framework for the soundtrack for me: kids. I wanted it to sound not childish, but the feeling of being a child again.“
He then went to work over a focussed three-week period, creating a simple, minimal at times precociously annoying score with minimal ingredients like a software synth, and bontempi keyboard.
“It was finding melodies that conjured the feeling of what it was like being a child. Because being a child is just being annoying basically.”
It’s an approach that softens the film a lot, making everything, even the violence naïve and playful.
“My area of expertise is to try and make people feel a certain way, as a musician, as a producer,” suggests Hung. “But I don’t really know that much about film, and that’s a good thing. So I kind’ve approached it in a way that was naïve in itself.” He pauses for a second before laughing to himself, confessing; “I still don’t really know that much about film.”
Which may explain why his score doesn’t sound like every other film out there – which all pretty much sound like each other, and why his approach feels so honest – albeit demented.
“Not being particular about my work is really important now,” he reveals. If I start to critically evaluate it as I’m making it, that’s when it starts going wrong. With this it was just so natural, I just loved working on it, I wasn’t thinking about it, I’d send it to Jim, Jim would love it…I remember when I first added the chipmunk voices to it, I remember Jim’s face, vividly, you could see his brain ticking away, he was doing that thing where his eyes were moving from left to right when people think. He was going ‘oh yeah, yeah yeah yeah…”
Oh yes the chipmunk voices, I didn’t mention them earlier did I? But it’s 100% true. Hung added chipmunk style vocals to many of the tracks/songs/ pieces on his score. And it sounds incredible. But it’s really really weird.
“So the chipmunk voices,” I ask nonchalantly. “What made you do that?”
“Do what?” He replies innocently.
“Well it’s a soundtrack,” I reply, “but you added vocals, that’s pretty rare. And those voices are demented.”
“Yes they are,” he laughs. “You know what it was? At first I wanted it to sound like kids around a campfire singing, but obviously my voice isn’t like a kids, so I pitched it up and I thought…these things, when you open yourself up to ideas that’s when the magic happens. You can call them mistakes, but if you’ve got an open ear and an open mind you can pick up that stuff and run with it and that’s what happened with this. I didn’t intend it to be chipmunks, I wanted it to be kids singing around a campfire.”
“It doesn’t sound like that,” I say.
“It doesn’t sound like that does it?” He laughs.
And that’s the story behind The Greasy Strangler soundtrack. A truly bizarre jaunty score of sugarfied weirdness that provides a sweet natured soul to one of the oddest films in recent years. It’s a film and score that has a profound effect on all those who come in contact with it. Not in the least its composer who after a series of bandcamp EPs under the title Rave Cave released back in 2015, now has his first solo album proper on the way.
“After I did the Greasy Strangler soundtrack I loved it,” offers Hung. “The last track I wrote was the one where Ronnie is dancing down the street. It was really poppy, and there was momentum there already, so I tried to carry that on. I though there’s space in me for a weird pop album. And at first I was using the chipmunk voices as well, but then I thought I don’t want the Greasy Strangler 2. But I guess there’s elements of all the collaborations I’ve had. That includes Greasy Strangler, Beth Orton who I’ve worked with recently, and obviously Ben who I’ve collaborated with for a long time in Fuck Buttons.”
For Hung it’s all about collaboration at the moment, suggesting it’s the quickest path to learning. As an example he cites eccentric UK Producer Andrew Weatherall (Two Lone Swordsmen), who produced the Fuck Buttons 2009 album Tarot Sport, as a prime example of how collaboration can help you grow.
“I remember at the time being confused by him. But the more I grow in terms of my ability, the more I see how he worked, and its true of Beth as well. I think there’s a bit of genius to that guy. He didn’t touch any equipment in that studio when we were producing with him. And at the time I thought, ‘oh you lazy bugger.’ But I learnt so much from that guy and I still continue to learn so much from him. I remember him saying he was a bit apprehensive when the label were going to come in and listen to the music, he said ‘anyone in the studio will affect how the music sounds regardless of what they do,’ and its totally true, he knows so much. I’m acutely aware of that now too. If I’m in an environment where someone is writing or being creative I’m acutely aware of how much I’m affecting them, because these things are connected. I guess that’s what he was saying.”