The superstar wrestler dramatically enters the arena and intensely makes his/her way to the ring. Normally, this entrance is accompanied by theme music specially chosen by the athlete, not only to amp up the crowd but also to help define his/her character. Whether we realize it or not, music plays a pretty significant role when it comes to wrestling cinema.
Someone that can attest to this is composer Andrew Gordon Macpherson.
Macpherson currently has Season 4 of Vice TV’s hit docuseries Dark Side of the Ring airing and also scored Vice TV’s Tales from the Territories, produced by Dwayne Johnson. Not only has he scored wrestling documentaries, but he also recently scored the RJLE Films feature, Kids vs. Aliens, which also has a heavy wrestling element to it.
So what is key to bringing characters to life in this specific genre?
We spoke with Macpherson about this and much more in the below interview.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
No Film School: First off, how did you get your start in the music industry?
Andrew Gordon Macpherson: I was working as a video editor by day and DJing or playing shows in noisy bands at night until I got invited to Red Bull Music Academy in 2010, which led to a lot of opportunities in the music industry. Strangely, it wasn’t obvious to me that I would become a screen composer throughout that time. Even though I was making music and sound design for various projects, I never thought I could rise to the demands of that job, but now I feel like everything lead to it!
NFS: How did you get involved with so many wrestling projects?
Macpherson: I have to attribute it to the success of Dark Side of the Ring. The show, and hopefully the music, has resonated with people and that has led to more seasons and spin-offs. The stories involve murders and kidnappings and the whole breadth of human experience to the extreme and that has led to lots of musical directions that I’m proud of.
NFS:You have scored Vice TV’s Dark Side of the Ring and Tales from the Territories. Musically, what is the biggest difference between the two shows?
Macpherson: Generally, I think of Dark Side as a piano/synth show and Territories as a guitar show. To elaborate, Dark Side kind of merges neo-classical and electronic music which I write primarily on keys, and Territories allowed me to try and make two-minute hits songs of the '70s and '80s like you might’ve heard on the radio, which I start writing on bass guitar.
'Dark Side of the Ring' Season 4Credit: Vice
NFS: What would you say is key when creating a good wrestling score?
Macpherson: We wanted to treat the stories and these athletes with esteem and reverence but not ignore the palette of music from that world. So it’s striking a balance of emotional resonance, excitement, nostalgia, and some fun. I also try to nail the transitions between moods between what’s real and what’s “kayfabe” or wrestling. And that can be interpreted in a lot of ways from mixing live and synthetic instruments to creating drastic contrasts. Also, lots of SLAMS.
NFS:Music plays a big role in wrestling, especially around a signature theme during entrances, etc. Did you recycle any of those classic themes in Dark Side of the Ring or Tales from the Territories?
Macpherson: Jim Johnston’s work on the WWE themes is a huge inspiration, but I couldn’t exactly use those themes. Sometimes I used them as a point of contrast, for instance: in the "In the Shadow of Grizzly Smith" episode, we hear from Jake the Snake, and, although his electronic WWE theme (Snake Bit) is my all-time favorite, my theme for him was totally the opposite, featuring snake-like slide guitar and violin. In another case, on “Becoming Warrior” I try to imagine Johnston’s warrior theme as the first hymn in a book from Jim Helwig’s warrior culture and I was writing the rest of the book.
NFS:It seems like the wrestling world allows you to be a little more creative and over the top with some of the music you create because wrestling can be over the top. Do you agree with this?
Macpherson: I try to make bold choices in the music. For instance, filmmaking often finds its way into horror-esque territory, but I still try to create strong themes and quiet moments. So yes, I agree wrestling can be over the top and so can my music, but ultimately, it’s whatever the story demands that is necessary.
NFS: What are the challenges of scoring a wrestling series?
Macpherson: Quick turnarounds can be a challenge, but the biggest creative challenge is not jumping to conclusions about certain characters and writing music that may cast them in a bad light. I think there was an episode early on where I thought the interviewee (who I won’t name) was full of shit and we would want to play his comments for comedy, so I wrote music to that effect, but Jason and Evan didn’t want to create that judgment. They wanted to let the audience decide and respect that.
NFS: Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, what do you do to get over that?
Macpherson: I don’t think writer’s block really exists. If you’re a professional writer of any discipline, you need to find your strategies to get the work done, no matter your state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of times I’m banging my head off the desk trying to get motivated, or I’m drained and don’t feel like writing, but the solution to that is to write badly until the hemisphere of your brain that is actually creative kicks in.
'Kids v Aliens'Credit: RLJE Films/Shudder
NFS:You recently scored the feature film Kids vs. Aliens, which also has a wrestling element to it. Was your approach to this different than your Vice shows?
Macpherson: It was a bigger undertaking because we had 30+ minutes of live orchestra, so I had to coordinate all of that and it meant that a big chunk of the music had to be arranged that way, but the rest of the movie; the synth-based cues and pop songs, were done almost exactly like a Dark Side episode, mostly because Jason Eisener directs both and that’s our shorthand.