If you're a fan of truly unique horror music, The Greatest Show Unearthed from LA-based band Creature Feature should be on your short list of all-time favorite albums. (Be sure to check out our CD review here.) Since that auspicious 2007 debut, the band has gained a large following – partly because band founder Curtis RX has done a great job providing fans with all sorts of ghoulish goodies. Between multi-media projects and recording the band's follow-up release, Curtis somehow found time to create an entire solo album, under the handle Rufus Rex. Entitled Dead Beat, this record is partly based on his own feature film screenplay... which may still become a movie someday, but for now it's ready to rock the earth in musical form, with a comic book also in the works.
Curtis kindly lent his time to FEARnet to discuss the making of Dead Beat, as well as to tempt us with the prospect of more Halloween fun to come (including the long-awaited sequel to Greatest Show). Read on for a review of this new rampaging rock 'n' roll beast, and a few words from the mad genius who brought it to life...
First, let's check the contents of the goodie basket. Creature Feature's first release was one of the best musical Halloween treats ever – seriously, the whole record feels like having Autumn leaves, candy corn and apple cider injected straight into your brain – so naturally I was totally amped to hear Curtis's guitar-centric offshoot. I was already impressed with the preview tracks he shared online over the past few weeks, and I'm happy to say the rest of the songs measure up in every way.
From lyrics about ancient lore, unnameable monsters and reanimation, further enlightened by album illustrations by Thomas Boatwright (whose credits include the comics Cemetery Blues and Zeke Deadwood: Zombie Lawman), Dead Beat plays out like a vintage horror story in musical form, what Curtis describes as "Indiana Jones meets Lovecraft." While deliberately putting the focus on guitars, Curtis mixes and matches genres like progressive rock ("From Dust Returned a Titan"), carnival marches ("Rise Lazarus Rise"), '80s new wave & punk ("Body in Revolt") and pogo-stick pop ("Buckets of Blood"), even jugband-style vaudeville ("You'll Never Guess"), much the same way Creature Feature mashed up styles to fashion a new subgenre of their own. Best of all, the frantically witty lyrics are delivered with a Danny Elfman-meets-Rocky Horror style that will have tunes like "Lazarus" and "Miss Me to Death" stuck in your head all through the season. The whole brew is spiked with movie soundbites and all the awesome haunted-house-record sound effects that spooked and fascinated me as a kid.
Need more proof? Here ya go!
Now that you know what kind of freaky fun waits inside this CD, it's time for a little backstory from its creator, who graciously chatted with FEARnet about the making of Dead Beat:
FEARnet: So how did the concept of Dead Beat originate?
CURTIS: I've always approached songwriting the same way I approach short story writing, so once I stumbled upon the idea about turning the Dead Beat film script into a series of songs, it was a no-brainer. The script starts in 1888 and is about an adventurer who travels to the island of Malta in search of a forgotten relic that will bring to end the carrion curse of death. The script follows his misadventures as he awakens a timeless evil that inhabits all those around him, and how he struggles to keep his sanity while dealing with a new evil even worse than death.
The Lovecraft influence really comes across in the story and the artwork.
I've always been fascinated with Lovecraft, his otherworldly creatures and how insignificant the human race is to them. We're just ants at the picnic and they'll squash us if we get too curious. When I was writing the original script, I really wanted the whole mythos to have the feeling of a lost Lovecraft story, so I packed it full of ancient sects, tentacled beasts, bloody runes, mystical tomes, and dead languages.
The songs put together call to mind a Rocky Horror-style musical... have you ever considered writing a stage show along those lines?
I've always secretly wanted to do some sort of rock opera. Early on I had plans to turn The Greatest Show Unearthed into a horror musical about an evil carnival that rides into town under the cloak of darkness to steal children, but we did two years of heavy touring after that release and I just never found the time. That's actually why I went more in that direction for this new project, as an experiment to see how close I could get to the rock opera feel, but still making the songs stand on their own individually. My original idea was to make the whole album one thirty-minute long song with no breaks, but that idea always seems cooler then it actually is, especially when you just want to skip ahead to the next track.
I get a strong Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo vibe, but I also picked up lots of punk elements and vintage hard rock & prog-rock. What led you to fuse so many different genres & styles?
I really wanted to approach this album differently than my other musical endeavors and make it guitar first and everything else second. I like guitar and lots of it, so I shoved as much as I could into every second of this album. As far as the different styles, I grew up on Queen, Oingo Boingo, arcade games, and horror film soundtracks, so that really changed my internal wiring and the way I think in musical terms. I don't want just a verse and a chorus. Dead Beat was really a labor of love and a hefty helping of blood, sweat, and reanimation. I put everything together in my spare time by stealing a half-hour here and there, and just ended up writing, recording, producing, and playing every instrument on the album myself... except the drums, which were handled by Victor from Creature Feature.
On top of all this, you're also working on a comic book version... does it stick to the original story?
It's actually pretty close to the original concept, except shortened a bit. All of the fat has been cut off and only the meaty stuff remains on the bones. I'm nearly done with the finished outline and now the bloodletting begins...
Is Thomas Boatwright involved in the comic too?
Thomas is an amazing artist and he's onboard for this wild ride. Hopefully you'll be seeing news on this very soon.
Speaking of news, isn't the new Creature Feature album coming soon?
The new album is called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, and that will be out on October 28th.
Can't wait to hear it! Any other irons in the fire?
I've been diving head first back into screenwriting, and I have a few ghoulish projects in the works... I've teamed up with Gris Grimly and we've nearly completed a horror script we're writing together; I recently finished up writing a horror anthology with the one and only Ted Raimi; and last, but hopefully not least, I wrote a thirteen-episode horror webseries and I'll be directing the first three episodes next month that we're going to be shopping around for an online home.
Stay tuned for more on Creature Feature's new album...