Appetite for Production: Slash Talks Movie Scores with Composer Duncan Sheik

Slash at First Time Fest.

Slash at First Time Fest.

The guitarist Slash was sitting alongside the musician and composer Duncan Sheik at the “From Rock to Score” panel at NeueHouse, a membership-only workspace with tons of natural light, a boutique coffee shop, and a sub-level film studio equipped with stylish and conceptually discomfiting robotic cameras. The conversation was part of The First Time Fest, an independent film festival with an eye towards promising and quirky young filmmakers.

Slash was speaking about his work on Nothing Left to Fear, a horror film he co-scored and produced and is now available on video-on-demand. He was dressed in the same attire that he has always worn since his time with Guns N’ Roses: a leather biker jacket and a pair of tight black jeans with a bandana hanging slackly out of his back pocket, though his face was puffier and his stomach sagged slightly. (It feels unfair to say that Slash, who is now 48, had “kinda let himself go,” but age does catch up to us all.)

To his right was Mr. Sheik, who was decidedly more buttoned up (literally, his denim shirt was buttoned all the way to the top) and prim.

Moderator Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice had both men speak about their forays into composing music for films, and in Mr. Sheik’s case, his experiences scoring the music for the Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening and the recent stage adaptation of American Psycho.

For Mr. Sheik, the romanticism of touring on the road as a singer/songwriter, playing show after show in rock clubs and little theaters, has increasingly lost its allure given his recent experiences and successes as a composer.

As an indie rock act in the mid-90s, “you didn’t have amazing choreographers and you didn’t have this great amazing narrative kind of arc to the show, you didn’t have amazing lighting or costumes,” said Mr. Sheik.

“I mean, you had pyrotechnics,” Mr. Sheik said to Slash.

“… Not really,” Slash replied.

As for Slash, whose real name is Saul Hudson, he made a few attempts at scoring bits and pieces for films, including contributions for Quentin Tarantino, and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

“I don’t read music,” said Slash. “I’m not good with dealing with a counter and so forth, so it’s actually a lot of fun.”

“I don’t play anything that you bow or you blow,” said Mr. Sheik.

One attendee during the Q & A session that followed suggested to Slash that the Guns N’ Roses’ album Appetite For Destruction could possibly work as a heavy metal musical.

“Uh… no,” said Slash.

Later, while in the downstairs lounge of NeueHouse, when asked again about the possibility of a musical based on Appetite for Destruction, Slash told me “yeah, it would really be the antithesis of what Guns N’ Roses is all about.”

Slash was passing through New York City after spending the past three months in Orlando recording his new album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. He knew Johanna Bennett, the co-founder of the First Time Fest, by way of the guitarist Nile Rodgers.

“In Orlando, there’s only a few things really to do: There’s Disney World, there’s Universal Studios which is where I was living, and then there’s Gatorland,” said Slash. We’ll put the definition of Gatorland aside in favor of emphasizing the fact that Slash lived for a time in Universal Studios.

Standing near Slash, Mr. Sheik said that he was still working on his musical version of American Psycho, based on the Bret Easton Ellis book that has Matt Smith, the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who, playing the role of Patrick Bateman. The show had just finished its run at the Almeida Theater in London and Mr. Sheik has been tinkering with its electronic score, which he said is meant to sound as though Kraftwerk were playing in the orchestra pit, in anticipation of the show’s move to London’s West End.

“There were some real musicians in the pit, but frankly it is all coming off of laptops, and it’s specifically meant to be that way,” he said.

There are pop hits from the 1980s that are in the show, some of them sung a cappella, like Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” and Huey Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square,” which the serial killer Patrick Bateman calls “a song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself.” Mr. Sheik said it was inconceivable not to put that song in the show.

“We used it because it’s such an iconic moment from the film, and also that monologue in the book is pretty iconic as it is a piece of incredibly bad music.”