Inside One Day In April: The Music

I jokingly tell folks that the only reason I made One Day In April was so I could write the soundtrack. I spent most of my teens playing in rock bands and while my music career culminated in a single date on a single Warped Tour I never gave up writing my own stuff. As a filmmaker, I've always found cinematography and music to be complimentary and necessary partners. Going into ODIA I knew that I'd be scoring the film and editing it simultaneously. 

I'm not sure if that's my ADD or a truly artistic part of my process, but with every job I have to bring music into the edit as early as possible. Before I lay music down the edit feels like a sequence of shots, but once I lay some music down everything starts to make more sense. The pieces fit together and I have a better sense of how the film works.  I can hear what it's trying to say. 

I wanted the film's music to reference the bands I grew up seeing in church basements throughout Indiana. People might think of Hoosiers as country music fans, but for thousands of kids across the state (and throughout the Midwest) local hardcore and metal shows held in churches, VFW halls, and random basements in the middle of nowhere where life defining experiences. I'm Straight Edge because of those shows and largely came to my personal faith through those bands. To me, the DIY ethic, emphasis on community, and celebration of the work of local folks that I loved about the hardcore scene were the same in the Little 500. 

So I wrote music that would've felt at home in VFW hall, but worked cinematically as well. 

In 2012 I had started experimenting with eight string guitars, using the extended range to give my low end riffs extra heft without sacrificing the ability to also voice melodic chords and leads. One of my first demos on an 8 string contained many of the themes and motifs that ended up in One Day In April. 

You can hear the notes that would become the main theme for One Day In April in the opening moments of the song, before it's transposed to the guitars lower register.  I wrote that in 2012 and it would be almost two years before I returned to that melody. Initially I was hesitant to use some of my more metal riffs for the film - I wanted the film to have an aggressive edge but I also didn't want to alienate an audience that might not enjoy aggressive music. I pretty quickly found that when mixed tastefully and matched with visuals the music I was demoing would fit right in. 

Our first opportunity to present a musical approach for One Day In April was with our second trailer. We were using the trailer to kick off our fund raising campaign and I knew this was a great opportunity to present the film's aesthetic to the world. The music was a big part of that.  EP Peter Stevenson, DP Ryan Black and I sat together for hours working up the trailer. I remember knowing the trailer was done when I finally nailed the guitar solo at the end of the trailer. ODIA was going to be the kind of documentary with very important guitar solos. 

At the time I was listening to post-hardcore bands like Thrice, Thursday and Norma Jean. Thrice's "Firebreather" was a particularly strong influence on the track in the trailer. 

Later in the film we used Thursday's Turnpike Divides and Norma Jean's A Small Spark Vs A Giant Forest as place holder tracks. 

The trailer had the heavy guitars that would fill out sections of the film, but it only hinted at the more ambient and tonal pieces that appear throughout the film. That's partially functional as this trailer was really supposed to get folks excited for the film. The trailer helped us kick start our film with a successful crowd funding campaign and also build interest in our vision of an edgier modern take on the race. But, it wasn't really a full picture of what One Day In April would actual be.

In a film, the music has to ebb and flow with the emotions in the scene. Sometimes you have to transition on a pin. Having only composed music for short films, I didn't have a lot of experience scoring complicated dynamic changes. To draw inspiration for it I really dug into the soundtrack of Friday Night Lights. Both the television show and the film built on tracks by Explosions In The Sky. I fell in love with the way the music built upon itself, combining a somber tone with hopeful optimism. It sounds like you feel when you look out the window of your car as you're driving through the rural Midwest. Barren, but full of possibility. 

Another persistent influence was Trent Reznor's score for The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo and later Gone Girl. Reznor's work perfectly matches the aesthetic that David Fincher creates in his films: sterile technical perfection with chaos brewing beneath. Especially in The Social Network, Reznor's music helps turn the mundane - a legal deposition or a kid in his dorm room - into the cinematic. Especially during the Victory Banquet scene in ODIA, Reznor's influence was felt throughout the darker, moodier parts of the film. 

As a huge fan of Christopher Nolan's films I spent a lot of time listening to Hans Zimmers score for the Dark Knight Rises. ODIA is a documentary, but it felt like an epic to me. We were interweaving different stories to try and tell a timeless story, so Hollywood blockbusters were a frequent source of inspiration, especially Zimmers work. For the race sequence I wanted music that had drive, but didn't over power the scene. Gotham's Reckoning heavily inspired the percussive odd meter track that opens the race.

Another film that heavily inspired ODIA, was Ron Howard's Rush. 

There were three exceptions to my policy of using only original music: Joe Heath's I'm Not Afraid, Charlie Patton's War's The Deal and an accapella rendition of Back Home Again In Indiana performed by the IU Men's acapella group Another Round. All three of these songs have vocals and I felt like their inclusion helped sent the tone for a few visual heavy scenes. It was also a nod to the garage rock music scene that dominates house parties across the city.  

The film culminates in a sequence of portraits set to Back Home Again In Indiana. I knew the ending of the film had to not only wrap up our storylines, but imply the timelessness of the race. The accapella performance of the song was made popular by Jim Nabors yearly performance at the Indy 500 and has become a fixture of the Little 500 as well. More than a few riders tear up during the song on race day - thinking about everything that's lead them to that moment and what's to come. On race day the song has special meaning for Hoosiers. 

Every part of making ODIA, especially writing the music for the film, was a huge learning experience for me. For a lot of the editing process I only had a few good ideas and a lot of dead space. The emptiness was intimidating. At times I thought about going the route of buying stock music, but every time I slid in a stock track I felt like I was missing the point.

The team that worked on ODIA did so because we wanted to tell a story that we wanted to tell. There wasn't a client paying for it. It was entirely self driven. So when I got stuck I just wrote something. Even if it was garbage it got me thinking about what I thought the scene should feel like, how it should sound. How I wanted it to sound. I spent months editing the film and thinking about the music, but I wrote the majority of it in about 48 hours. One thing that was true for both my client work and ODIA was that I often do my best work on deadline. 

 All the way until our festival premiere at Cinequest in San Jose, CA I was nervous about how the film would be received. After the film ended an older women came up to me and talked to me about her experience with the race in the 1950's. As she left she told said something to the effect of "you totally captured what it was like when I was there". All those years later and yet she saw her own experience in the film.

At that point, I totally stopped worrying about wether the film would connect. For all the modern edge, we'd captured the timeless spirit of the race - complete with guitar solos.  

The soundtrack for One Day In April will be available in June.