From The Pixies To The Golem: Black Francis Likes Jewish Stories

We’ve always wanted to interview Black Francis of the Pixies. His score for “The Golem,” was our excuse. Read More

By / November 29, 2010

Black Francis needs no introduction; unless, of course, you don’t know that Black Francis is also known as Frank Black, Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, or simply as the front man of the Pixies.  If I tried to explain his significance, it would take hours to even scratch the surface, and I really suggest you read his Wikipedia page and then buy everything he’s ever been involved with.

That canon now includes his latest release, The Golem: How He Came Into The World, a soundtrack to the silent 1920 German film version of the tale about the Jews of Prague, and the monster they created to protect them.

Why would a guy who uses a backing band called “The Catholics” tackle one of the most well-known Jewish stories ever?  We figured it was worth finding out.

The first thing that I noticed about your score was the opening: the song in the opening credits was pretty upbeat. I’m wondering why you decided to go with such a song like that?

I the instrumental version of my favorite track, “You’re Gonna Pay”; also, I think it needed to have an exciting opening. We’re about to see a movie AND hear a rock and roll band! It’s a big evening!

What was the process for writing the music for the soundtrack? Did you watch the movie and then write it, or did you write it as you watched it?

As I recall, I watched the movie a couple times, made notes of the scenes, my initial impressions of those scenes, and also how long those scenes were. Then I organized the film into sections, although I think at some point my original notes became almost meaningless as I got into the writing of the music. Then I booked a studio, the band and producer (Eric Drew Feldman), and a room at my favorite hotel in the Japantown area of San Francisco. I would get up early in the morning before the recording session and write chord progressions and general musical arrangements of what would eventually become songs or themes. The band would gather at the studio, run down some music, and then we all recorded together while screening the scenes from a projector onto a wall in the studio; this way we could make sure that the arrangements were fitting into the scenes, or not, as the case was sometimes. Some re-writing would take place on the spot if something occurred to me. After this session Eric and I went to Oregon, where I live, and I wrote lyrics and cut vocals. We mixed the record there, too.

Were most of the lyrics inspired by the film?

Yes, but also the real historical figure of Rabbi Loew, and also what I imagined to be their stories outside the framework of the film or outside the framework of history. I guess I was also inspired by the real life stories of the film maker, the actors, cinematographer, etc.; these were people working at the UFA studio in Berlin just before WWII; of course, some of them were Jews who ended up fleeing to California (the cinematographer) and some of them were non-Jews who ended up making propaganda films for the Nazis (the actor/director who also plays The Golem).

I know you’ve stated you’re interest in Old Testament characters, and now you tackle the golem. Do you just really like Jewish stories?

I never met a Jewish story I didn’t like.

Certain parts of your score reminded me of Neil Young’s score for Dead Man, or a Kenneth Anger film. Any particular influences for the music on this soundtrack?

For sure the Dead Man soundtrack was an influence, particularly the first scene’s music.

What drew you to the story of the Golem? More specifically, what was the moment when you said to yourself “I want to score this film!” ?

Well, to be honest, I was simply asked. I had been asked a couple times I think, and finally I had time to do it. They gave me a choice between two films, and I had seen some German Expressionist films as a student, so I thought I would be able to dig it, and I did. I probably Googled Der Golem and thought it was the right one to pick.

Do you see yourself doing more film scores?

This is a silent film score, which is obviously different than doing a score for a modern talkie. I would like to do that, but it’s not something I would pursue, but rather I would wait to be asked. Now doing another silent score, that I could really enjoy doing. There is so much freedom, and so it more closely relates to what I already do as a writer.