You may not be familiar with the name Graham Reznick, but I don’t think it will be long until you are. Reznick has been working in the independent film world for years now, wearing multiple hats. What hats, you ask? Well he’s done sound design, engineering, mixing, and scoring. He’s also acted, written, composed, and edited on films going back to 2001. Some of the films he’s worked on include The House Of The Devil, In A Valley Of Violence, The Mind’s Eye, V/H/S, Stake Land, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and he wrote and directed the 2008 film I Can See You. He’s been a lifelong friend to writer/director Ti West and he worked under the tutelage of writer, producer, director, and actor Larry Fessenden(don’t know that name either? Believe me, you’d know him if you saw him.) Reznick also wrote the hit PS4 game Until Dawn with Larry Fessenden.
So Graham Reznick is a guy that’s been behind the scenes for years doing the work and making some great indie films. He’s very adept at sound design, which brings us to his debut album on Mondo/Death Waltz Originals titled Glass Angles. It’s a hallucinatory musical trip. There’s elements of Berlin School, EDM, synthwave, and independent electronic like Boards of Canada, Four Tet, and even Flying Lotus at times. But really, Glass Angles is unlike anything you’ve heard. It’s quite brilliant. It’s also a kind of a concept album, really. Reznick wrote the album while adjusting to life in Los Angeles after being a New Yorker for years. The album is an ode to an alternate world version of Los Angeles. Odd angles in mirrors that turn the familiar into something new, unknown, and maybe slightly sinister.
I got the chance to talk to Graham about his childhood, how he got into film, and the making of Glass Angles. We also discussed musical influences, David Lynch, his stoner path in Austin, Texas not taken, and album number two that’s coming out later this year on Burning Witches Records.
J. Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Graham Reznick: Born in New Jersey, raised in Delaware, died in New York, live in LA.
J. Hubner: What was your childhood like? Were you making Hi8 films with your pals in the backyard?
Graham Reznick: I spent a lot of time taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Radios, science kits, clocks, whatever. Anything I liked as a kid I tried to replicate – so yeah, making movies with old cameras and two VCR’s, usually blowing up GI Joe’s in the backyard with Ti West, or drawing comics, or making patches for DOOM.
J. Hubner: So were you always interested in film and music?
Graham Reznick: I was always very interested in art and drawing, and movies, though I didn’t really know that you could express the things I wanted to express in film until I discovered Twin Peaks and David Lynch.
J. Hubner: So Lynch was the gateway for you?
Graham Reznick: He was the first director that I understood was an artist, able to synthesize all the elements of the medium into something greater than the sum of its parts.
J. Hubner: Lynch is a true auteur, mixing sound and music so incredibly flawlessly.
Graham Reznick: Music and sound went hand in hand with the other elements of film for me – they’re equal pieces of the puzzle and need to be treated with the same amount of attention as the script, the camera work, the acting, the editing. For some directors, the balance is different – music and sound are means to an end – but I’ve never been able to approach it that way. Cinematic gestalt is axiomatic.
J. Hubner: All the elements come together equally, at least they should. I think if you’re not giving equally to each then you’re doing a disservice to the art.
Graham Reznick: I’ve always felt that if a screenplay expressed an idea perfectly, it should remain a screenplay. If a photo expresses an idea perfectly, it should remain a photo. If a song… etc. Cinema should use all the tools at its disposal to express an idea impossible to express in any other single medium.
J. Hubner: So where did this commitment to cinematic artistic integrity come from? How did you get started in independent film?
Graham Reznick: I grew up with Ti West (director of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE); he went to SVA for film, I went NYU, both in NYC. We shared resources and experience – best of both worlds. Through Kelly Reichardt, Ti met Larry Fessenden, who was already a legend to us because of his incredible 90’s NYC vampire indie film HABIT (and Larry and I went on to co-write UNTIL DAWN and related games together). Larry financed Ti’s first film, THE ROOST, in 2003. I was just out of college and considering moving to Austin and becoming a stoner, but Ti convinced me to move back to Delaware for a year and live in our parents houses and put the film together. It was a remarkable opportunity to learn the entire professional filmmaking process. I did almost all of the post sound work, and some additional music (Jeff Grace did the great score), in my parents basement. I had a Pro Tools LE license and a Digi001, an SM57, a DOD Buzz Box pedal, a Line 6 Delay Modeler, two broken guitars and a Roland HS-60 – which I got dirt cheap because in 2000 when I bought it, people didn’t realize it was virtually the same keyboard as the Juno 106! That was basically my entire music setup for the next 10 years. After THE ROOST, my filmmaker friends asked me to sound design or contribute music to their films. It was a good way to collaborate with directors and friends I admired, as well as pay the rent while I tried to get my own projects off the ground.
J. Hubner: Speaking of your own projects, could you tell me a bit about your 2008 feature film debut, I Can See You? Where did the idea for the film come from?
Graham Reznick: In the mid 2000’s I worked with a group of friends from NYU who had started a company called Waverly Films (filmmakers who have gone on to direct some interesting things, including CREATIVE CONTROL and SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING) and they made a lot of music videos. I crashed on their couch in Bushwick for months and edited music videos for them (including The Juan Maclean’s “Give Me Every Little Thing” and LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum.”) One video, which will go unnamed, didn’t turn out the way the label expected, and things went pretty sideways. The experience of being part of a group of young, creative professionals being completely taken advantage of by a big company looking to scrape talent for peanuts had a big effect on me. I CAN SEE YOU is about a lot of things, but that experience was a major influence.
J. Hubner: And you worked with Larry Fessenden once again on that film. Besides being in the film, did he have any other role in the production?
Graham Reznick: Larry Fessenden financed the film (which was ultra low budget) and allowed me complete creative freedom. I knew I had the opportunity to try things and say things I would never be able to achieve in a larger budget, more traditional situation – so I went for it.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your Death Waltz Originals debut record ‘Glass Angles’. I’ve been filling my head with it for the past couple weeks and it’s amazing. How did you get involved with Death Waltz?
Graham Reznick: I met Spencer Hickman, founder of Death Waltz, after he released Jeff Grace’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL score on vinyl, but I’d been familiar with the label already because of his incredible run of soundtrack reissues on vinyl. Around the time I’d put the album demos together, I heard through a few friends that he was considering putting out original material as well as soundtracks, so I took a chance and sent it over.
J. Hubner: Regarding the record, what was the writing process like? You’d said that you were learning to work with Ableton and soft synths while writing the album. Was the software inspiring you to create? The album also feels like it has the specter of Los Angeles haunting it.
J. Hubner: So learning Ableton helped the process along?
Graham Reznick: Ableton 9 was a huge revelation and I started writing a ton of material immediately. The HS-60 only makes one appearance – as a lead line halfway through the final track, “Palm Freeze.” There’s a unique, buzzy, disorienting, thick sound you can get when using the 106 / HS-60’s dual oscillator monophonic mode – I’ve never heard anything like it in any soft synth. But that’s the only true analog synth on the album – the rest is entirely software.
J. Hubner: And the subtle nods to Los Angeles in the song titles?
Graham Reznick: The culture shock of jumping from NYC to LA informed my mood and I’d write songs during the day, and drive around the city late into the evening, listening to the mixes. I realized that depending on where you positioned your car, on particular streets, around the city, at particular times, you could look into your mirror or out your window, and if you were listening to the right music, you would see another Los Angeles.
J. Hubner: There’s a real hallucinatory feel to the album. Listening with headphones on, songs like “Beverly’s Crop” and “Highland Steel” have a really psychedelic, sensory overload feel to them. They make you feel off-kilter, but in the best way possible. Even with something like your film ‘I Can See You’ there’s a real hallucinogenic feel, as if you’re not sure what your seeing is real or not. What was the influence on the sound of ‘Glass Angles’?
Graham Reznick: There’s an interesting theory about brain plasticity (which I’m sure I’m misrepresenting here) that says we create new neural pathways when we think about familiar things in a new way, and we rely on preconceptions and existing pathways when we are presented with the familiar – which means we may discount important new info that is hidden by the familiar. For a piece of art – story, music, film, whatever – to be effective, I think it should find a good balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Sometimes the complete unknown can be exhilarating, and sometimes the familiar can be comforting – but a good balance of the two can allow the audience a way in and then hold their attention while their brain has to literally rebuild itself to keep up. That’s all just a way to say that there’s always a new angle on things, and those new angles should be explored.
J. Hubner: So from a mixing and engineering standpoint, did you intentionally want to create a dizzying, almost psychedelic feel with the songs?
Graham Reznick: In regards to the album specifically – I did a lot of the initial work and mixing in headphones. It wasn’t ultimately mixed for headphones specifically, but a lot of the creative choices were geared towards a dizzying, psychedelic, headphone experience.
J. Hubner: Speaking of hallucinatory, your video for “Highland Steel” is insane. It’s dark, nightmarish, and you can’t stop looking at it. What was the influence for what you created? And should there be a seizure warning on this thing?
Graham Reznick: I wanted to capture the experience of the way the mind works, or doesn’t, during a panic attack. I didn’t want to recreate the unpleasant experience of a panic attack in the viewer (who wants that?) – but I wanted to find a way to express the terrible awe of how our racing, spinning minds malfunction in fear.
J. Hubner: It’s really hard to pinpoint influences on your sound. The record has bits of 80s electronic in it, but your sound is very much your own. What are some albums that have made an impact on you that may have made their way into your sound?
Graham Reznick: It’s very likely that I’m directly ripping off the artists and music that influenced me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will list at least some of the artists and pieces of music that I was consciously aware of directly ripping off while making Glass Angles. I cannot claim that the music I made comes anywhere near the excellence of any one of the pieces in this list.
In no particular order:
Also, I’m between 15 and 90 percent certain that if you play every one of these albums simultaneously it will be no different than listening to Glass Angles.
J. Hubner: Glass Angles isn’t the only album you have coming out this year. You have ‘Robophasia’ coming out with Burning Witches Records. How did this record come about? How does it compare stylistically with Glass Angles?
Graham Reznick: Glass Angles is very specific mood, tone, moment in time. Robophasia is a much darker record, in a much brighter package. Less textural; more acid electro-funk with vocoders and sharp edges. Faltermeyer factored heavily in some of it.
J. Hubner: It seems like 2018 could be Graham Reznick’s year? With two albums and a great video, what else do you have planned? Are you working on any films? Maybe a feature you’re writing and directing?
Graham Reznick: There’s a ton more music in the pipeline. Some more videos, too, hopefully… And on the film side, I directed a first episode of a live-action interactive show last year called RAPID EYE, about a sleep study gone very wrong. It’s full of surprises – it’s going to be a heck of a mindfuck. Stay tuned on the release info. I’m also a few weeks out from shooting a new series for SHUDDER, called DEADWAX… but that’s all I can say about that for now!