Known best for his work scoring the majority of Albert Pyun’s films, Tony Riparetti has always blended elements of new wave synth and guitars, and soaring drums into his compositions for a signature sound integral to Pyun’s style. Recently, Deathbomb Arc released the score to 1997’s Crazy Six to the world for the first time ever – on both vinyl and digital formats. The sound sets the tone for this extremely ’90s slice of action, bathed in dream-like, melodramatic eroticism.
You have this really solid filmography of video store staples roles over the years. How did you come to work with Albert Pyun?
Back in the day, I was in a band called Sue Saad and the Next, and we had an album release out and we were playing around town and the woman who was our lead singer, Sue, knew another woman who came in and saw us play and she worked within some capacity in film work.
She played Albert a couple of songs and he liked the songs from the album and he called us up one day and asked us if we’d ever done any scoring for films. It was me, Sue, and Jim – her husband and drummer and producer of the band. We were the head of the band. We’ve been playing together since we were about 13 in 1980. When he called us, it was ’85, so we had been playing around a lot. He heard some music and one day we got a call from him and he asked if if we could had we done any scoring for films.
And of course we said, “Yeah!” without ever doing that before. And that was the start of a long relationship. I did a number of films with Jim and Sue. We had songs in the films and stuff like that. Sue was playing and singing in one of the films, Radioactive Dreams. She’s singing in that. And Albert didn’t want us being in there. I don’t know why – we were part of the band – but he got these other people to play the other players, I guess.
I didn’t know if that was his choice, but then he liked what we did and he asked, “Well, can you do try a little bit of this, a little bit of that?” – a couple of cues, short cues, and we did that. That’s how we started. So Jim and I did a number of films with Albert together, but I kept going. I just stayed with it. And so that’s really how we started.
We’re talking 35 years at this point, so I’m assuming the working relationship is a really good one and that he knows what you can do and you know what he wants from you by this point, I’m assuming?
Yeah. I mean, yeah, that is true. We have a good working relationship and Albert always pressed me.
He always pushed me and pushed me, and it was good. I needed it. There’s some, a lot of things that I’d never done really musically before and I never knew what he wanted, you know? He was always this guy who’s shooting. And he’d say, “Come on over,” or he’d drive over to the studio and we’d go down the parking lot.
He’d open up the trunk of his Volvo sedan and it was just packed with CDs and he’d just kind of Frisbee CDs at me: “Here, listen to this, listen to that, listen to this,” you know? So I had an idea of what he wanted which was helpful because it’s easier than explaining it to me because he wouldn’t know in musical terms. He just said, “Here, listen to this” and “These are the things that I like,” and we would go, or I would go from there. He did that all the time.
That’s kind of interesting. Most composers I speak with, talk of the terror of the temp track where you’re basically almost being asked to mimic, if not outright rip off a certain piece of music, and then there’s also the “This is my vision board that I want,” and it seems like it’s a little more of the latter in this case.
It depended on who was editing the movie because a lot of the times the editor would have a temp track and yeah: terror, terror, terror, terror! It was always like, “Can you get closer to this?” And I said, “I get any closer, they’re going to sue me!” I don’t want to do that. Please hire me for what I can do.
I’ve always found it funny that the editors tended to get in this thing where they’ve listened to the what they put as the score and then anything that was different from that they go like, “Well, this just isn’t it,” and I always wanted to send them my version of their edits: “This is how it should be with my music,” you know? That never really happened, but a lot of times, in some of the films later on, we’d never have spotting sessions anymore. He’d just say, “I want music,” and it was like, “Albert, just say you want music for the whole film.”
He never stopped. He never wanted me to stop. And I don’t agree with that, but he wanted it to be where there was just tons of music – way more than I would really want it to do, or I thought was best for the film that I would write. I mean, he’s the director, he’s the one hiring you, so you would do that.
But yeah, I’ve definitely had my share of those, sometimes with other directors and stuff like that. It got tough sometimes. No composer likes it. We want to have a blank slate and just do what we do. If it works, it works, you know, and he was pretty good with me for the most part, but sometimes he’d be, “You got to do this here or that there,” but those are understandable things.
I was always afraid of the editing. Once you went into the digital realm and anybody could edit anything in a second, then things got tough because then you’re redoing and redoing and redoing at the whim of the editor or the director and the film never ended. It was tough sometimes. I got tired of that.
It seems like never stopping is an Albert Pyun hallmark because looking at your IMDb page where your work intersects with his, you have literally, in some years, three, four movies that, that are all coming out.
He was prolific that way. It was great. He always kept me working, and sometimes doing it, I hated it. That was hard: doing two films at once. I would kind of get lost in both. He said, “Can I use this cue for the other movie?” It’s like, “What movie am I on?”
It’s hard, working, because it was just me later on, so I could only yell at myself for my mistakes. It was all right but yeah, he kept me working. It was a good career with him. I’m glad I was able to do it. I know that there are all these lower-budgeted films, but Albert was amazing for what he did with how little he had to do what he did.
He was something else. He was really brave, going to other countries and just bringing along the cinematographer and a couple of actors and then everybody else, he just hired when he got there. It’s amazing how some of the films turned out, you know?
That’s a common theme of some of the films you’ve been involved with. You’ve worked with Fred Olen Ray, who is a fairly notorious low-budget director, and you did the music for Tammy and the T-Rex, which is infamous for just being like, “Hey, we’ve got this mechanical T-Rex for the next four weeks. Can we make a movie with it?” You alluded to the difficulty in working with some of these lower-budget, independent films in terms of trying to score like several at the same time, but what are the pleasures that come with that independence?
I’ll just say that, with Albert, it was usually just Albert and I didn’t have any other people on, looking at me or listening and making suggestions without really knowing what they were talking about. I liked that with Albert. He was just being him. Producers never had a call with the music.
Some of the other directors, yes. That made it tough sometimes, you know, although the director is supposed to be the last man you’re talking to, sometimes it wasn’t that way, depending on where they were at with the film process or maybe they were already shooting another film.
That’s the thing I liked about working with Albert: he gave me a lot of leeway, really, and I was kind of left to my own devices to try and make it all work. It was hard, but it was enjoyable too. Otherwise, if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have worked with him that long. He let me do a lot of stuff the way that I thought it should be done and then later on, I was doing sound design and mixing and handing it into whoever needed it, whoever the film company was, so I got more involved in the film process on the post side. I just did everything.
When you’ve done sequels, such as for the Kickboxer and Nemesis franchises, have you looked to the other films which have come before, like Paul Hertzog’s score for the original ’89 Kickboxer, or are you just attempting to craft something entirely your own?
Well, Albert would always say, “I hated them.” That’s what he’s telling me. And maybe he’s just doing that to just get me going, you know, but it was usually the case. He said, “I didn’t like what they did and I don’t want you to do that.” I’ve looked at the movies because you see him occasionally go, “kay, what did they do here?” And then it’s like, “Oh yeah. Okay. I get that,” but we got along musically.
A lot of the times, the producers or the film company said, “You got to use this guy” who was really more classically trained than me. I was just a rock guy – you know, the guitar guy – so my ideas for the for the the original Cyborg, which is not the cut that came out, but Albert’s cut, which has been out on Blu-ray. You know, it shows our score. The score was great. It’s a great rock score or one of the first that came out that way with big guitars and big drums.
I love orchestras, but it’s not an orchestral score. It’s a rock score and Albert let us do that. Unfortunately, Van Damme didn’t let us. He didn’t want to release it. He fired everybody, including Albert, so it came out a different way, much to the chagrin of – that was one of Albert’s biggest films. We did the film and we did a good version, but there’s only a few people who have ever heard it. And I say bought Albert’s director’s cut.
I mean, it could go either way on it. The guy that they brought in, he did what he did. I know he listened to what we did because I can hear him trying to emulate some cues of what we did in it in a different way that wasn’t – I’ll just say it wasn’t as powerful. I’ll put it that way. We had already done a few scores before we got to Cyborg and it’s still one of my favorite scores.
What’s it been like, revisiting Crazy Six‘s music from almost 25 years ago?
I had a VHS version of the film, which I couldn’t play anymore, so I got online and was like, “There’s gotta be at least a DVD.” I was bummed that it wasn’t in 5.1. I don’t think we were doing 5.1 at the time though, but because it was so integral – there’s music and sound design and the sound designer did a good job on it. I’m kind of interweaving with the score and the songs are interweaving with the film and it was good. I just watched it again. I watched it the other day just to make sure I knew what I was talking about if you asked questions about the film, because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, and it’s like, “Wow, this actually turned out to be a pretty good film.” I liked it. I know it’s interesting to see Rob Lowe as a skanky drug dealer. You just don’t picture him like that at all.
I was going to ask, how do you score Rob Lowe smoking crack?
It was more there was the intro piece which kind of repeats itself a lot. And I’ll say this: they didn’t send me very much of the movie. We wrote the songs and most of the score was done without seeing the movie, so I just handed in pieces of music. There’s a really, a long song that’s on the vinyl and that was like 13 and I cut it down to 11 minutes, but there was a song that I stretched out into kind of a score song and that kind of interweaves in the movie, but they brought a lot of sound design up instead of the score. It kind of weaves in and out, but it was, it was because Albert just said, “We need it like four minutes or three minutes. We need some song here,” you know? We just did it that way with my co-writers that helped me on it.
I had a great woman singer and Ivana [Milicevic] did a great job. In the film, it looks like she’s singing it. I thought she did great. It was cool. I knew that storyline and stuff, and maybe I saw something for this long, this long cue that we did that I stretched out, but I don’t remember seeing it and never really putting it up to picture all the rest of the cues.
I remember just being in the studio and just writing these. I would be like, “Here you go. Here’s some music and I’ll fade out” or “Do you want me to end or shall I make a fade or an end?” and that kind of a thing and just go to it. First, you’re editing the film to my music. That’s in my contract.
How does writing songs for film differ from scoring them? Do you have specific concerns for something like Crazy Six in regards to the fact that there is a performance aspect with that character of Anna? Not only are these songs that you’re writing for the movie, but they’re going to be a performed live.
We just started writing. It just happened to work. We never saw those things because they weren’t filmed until after the songs were done. She’s doing the film after the song has done. I would just know that what the story was sort of was about. And she had some tough times. It was all that kind of stuff. Nothing too happy. ★
The score for Crazy Six is out now digitally from Deathbomb Arc.