Music fans who like their playlists on the dark side will want to hear what Justin Melland is creating for Showtime’s original series "Dark Net." Melland is creating an electronic sound that’s meant to startle and scare as the series tells stories about the dangerous side of the Internet. You can listen to selections from his work here. Ahead of the "Dark Net" season finale on May 25, AXS conducted an interview with Melland to learn how he created the music and how working on an Oprah project had a huge impact on his career.
AXS: "Dark Net" is a series that is disturbing, challenging and edgy – so it might surprise music fans to learn that before that, you composed the music for Oprah Winfrey’s series "Belief." Was that an important part of your career?
Justin Melland: It certainly was. I wrote seven hours of music for that series, and it is some of the most epic, emotional, and soaring music I’ve ever written. Oprah played a huge role in the development of "Belief" as a whole. She did multiple rounds of notes on the stories and worked very closely with the entire team. It’s a blessing and curse being a composer sometimes, because when you’re getting it right, you don’t get talked to very much, and in this case I didn’t need to be talked to very much. So my interactions with Oprah were limited to the various premier events once we were all done. It would have been fantastic to work closer with her, but again, being a composer is a solitary process. "Belief" definitely takes the cake on the epic side of my career.
AXS: Then how do you get from an uplifting program like that to something as intense as "Dark Net"? Because those two bodies of work may not sound alike but they do have a connection.
JM: The team that made "Belief," Part2 Pictures, was hired to make "Dark Net," and once I heard that was happening, I really started to freak out. This was exactly the kind of gig I love doing, and it was for one of my favorite networks! I joked to my friends that if I didn’t get it I was going to jump out the window. Of course I was joking, but it was definitely one of those moments where I was saying to myself, my entire career has led up to this opportunity, and I am 100 percent the exact right guy for the job, and I just have to get it. Fortunately Part2 Pictures also agreed, but the creators of the show, Vocativ Films, had never heard of me. So we had to go through a huge process of meeting, submitting my music, answering questions, and waiting – lots of waiting. Then one day when I was on vacation in the south of France with my friends and family, my agent called and told me we had got the project. It was one of the happiest days of my career.
AXS: How would you describe working on "Dark Net"?
JM: It’s been so great scoring "Dark Net." I’ve had to use all the tools I’ve been sharpening all these years. I play all my eclectic instruments, and design all my electronic sounds on my modular synthesizer, and my array of vintage analog keyboards. The tone of the music is a fantastic blend of sci-fi, film noir and modern electronica that is my own signature sound. Right now, it has been the most perfect opportunity for me to write the music I’ve always had in my head.
AXS: Which songs from the project stand out to you? What would you want to point music fans toward?
JM: The first one is from Episode 3 and the piece is called "Am I Asleep?" This is a crazy story about a teacher whose students decimate her career and torture her by using Twitter to unite themselves. It’s an unbelievable thing that they do, and this piece gets at the frustrations and helplessness that the teacher is feeling while this horrendous thing is happening to her. I made this piece with a lot of strange sounds from my modular synth wall which was perfect for finding a really nasty tone.
The second one is from Episode 4, called "On The Run." This is a piece about a hacker who is about to get caught by the Feds, so he goes on the run. It’s an intricate piece with a lot of twists and turns, and I really love how the piece marries so close to the action on screen.
The last one is from Episode 5 and it’s called "Whose Face Are You Wearing?" This piece needed to feel like a brave new world. A world where everything is monitored, your face is in a database, as well as everything about you. This world is starting to happen to us now, and this cue follows the show into the FBI where we learn about just how deep the facial recognition technology is, and how much they already know about us.
AXS: Given the incredible variety of the music you’ve composed, do you follow the same process or do you have to use different methods for each new sound you create?
JM: The thing that varies from project to project are the emotional tones, and the sound pallet itself. But I most definitely have a process. When I start to work on a film, I dive very deep into the psychological expression of the film itself, and the raw emotional expressive need the film has for music. Once I get that into my head, then I start experimenting with sounds and dreaming up soundscapes in my head. I start sketching out ideas without asking a lot of other questions. I just write, write, write. Then I do as many perspective shifts as I can within my own mind to judge the effectiveness of my ideas. Once they pass the test, I start to bring that sensibility into actually scoring to picture. Then I enter the phase of fitting my vision into the director’s. I love working with amazing directors, because once I succeed in fulfilling their vision for the music, we have made something truly fantastic that elevates the larger vision of the project. And that is why I do this – to see my music as just one building block inside something awesome.
For more on Justin Melland, visit his official website. You can also download his back catalogue on iTunes.