Italian dance music legend Giorgio Moroder has the almost unique distinction of twice changing the face of popular culture forever. First in the 1970s when he pioneered the the sound of disco and italo-disco both solo and with artists like Donna Summer and directly influenced the development of electronic music as a genre along with countless subsequent artists. And second, beginning in the late ’70s and early ’80s when his contributions to film soundtracks helped define the era’s cinematic aesthetic. Among the numerous films for which he wrote or co-wrote scores and soundtrack songs are Midnight Express, American Gigolo, Cat People, Flashdance, The Neverending Story and Scarface, as well as the two songs for which the Top Gun soundtrack is best remembered, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”
Moroder put his music career on hiatus in 1992, and for the next two decades released no new albums and contributed to only one soundtrack, Leni Riefenstahl’s final film, the marine documentary Impressionen unter Wasser. He returned to songwriting and recording in 2013 with a contribution to Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories, following that up in 2015 with his first solo album in 23 years, “Déjà Vu”. And now he has returned to soundtrack work as well alongside frequent collaborator Rayne Shockne, himself a prolific songwriter and composer who has written or produced for artists like Moroder, Britney Spears, and Foxes, on soundtracks for films such as The Age Of Adaline and Scream 4, and on television with shows like Project Runway, Anger Management, and Burn Notice.
The pair’s first big soundtrack is the moody, synth-heavy original score for USA Network’s Queen Of The South that sees Moroder returning to his signature style as though no time has passed at all. Recalling his classic album From Here To Eternity as well as the eerie melodies he wrote for Midnight Express, the Queen Of The South soundtrack also feels like the direct descendant of his work on Scarface, fitting given that the show focuses on the rise of a drug kingpin in the American South, and that their work uses digital re-creations of many of the instruments Moroder used on his classic scores. You can listen to the wonderful main title them above, posted here with permission.
With the debut of Queen Of The South on June 23, and the duo working also on the score to Walter Hill’s upcoming Tomboy: A Revenger’s Tale, Deadline had the chance to speak to Moroder and Shockne about their music and working together, about Moroder’s long hiatus and return, how Moroder would like to branch out into orchestral scoring, and more.
DEADLINE: You took a long hiatus from music, and returned recently in a very big way. And now you’re doing soundtracks again. For most of us in the United States our experience with your music came first from your soundtrack work. Why was Queen Of The South the project that sees you returning to them?
MORODER: With Queen Of The South, I loved the idea, it reminded me a little bit of Scarface, it’s so well done with the actress who is absolutely great. I just loved the idea of going back to doing soundtracks and this was the perfect opportunity to do it, as well as [Tomboy].
And another thing, I was kind of getting a little jealous about movies like Drive. [laughs] I was listening to that soundtrack and thinking, “I could have done that” now or 25 years ago. And the news sounds are so much better and so much easier to work, so I said “What a shame, I was [the] one who started soundtracks like this with Midnight Express, so why don’t I do something like that?” So when Mr. Shockne asked me I said definitely yes.
One more thing — when I talked to someone about the film later, I was told that they said “during the film, we only listened to Giorgio’s music.” That’s quite interesting.
DEADLINE: You’ve always been a collaborative artist. How did you come to work with [Shockne] on these two soundtracks?
MORODER: When I met Raney, we worked together on my album (Deja Vu), and we co-produced Britney Spears, and he came to me to me with the idea, asked if I was interested in working with him for the movie. And I thought, great, that’s a great occasion, he’s an absolute great not only composer but keyboard player. I could never do the work he does, he knows his programs, he knows everything so well.
DEADLINE: How does that work for you both in practical terms?
MORODER: We work together, come up with a melody, and Raney records them. It’s a beautiful collaboration.
SHOCKNE: This is an absolute honor to work with somebody that I’ve had — when I was about to be brought on to work with him the first time, the manager was like, “Hey are you familiar with an artist named Giorgio Moroder?” I didn’t say a word, I picked up my phone and on iTunes I had Cat People playing. And I was like “you mean this?!” Knowing his stuff so well, and to have the opportunity to work with him on score is incredible. It’s like working with a true master — it is very, very exciting.
What’s been happening is the idea of all the leaps in technology that have been happening, but leaps are such a strange thing because it’s almost like a leap in an MC Escher drawing, we’re going backwards, for example, some of the biggest leaps in technology is the ability to have virtual synths that are exactly like the synths that Giorgio was using back in the day. I’m bringing up this Moog synthesizer and he tells me, “This is exactly like the synthesizer I was using on ‘From Here To Eternity’.”
What I think I bring to the collaboration is the ability to work on the insanely tight production schedules that are happening now, and be able to be extremely malleable with some of the themes that Giorgio is creating, and turning them around in hours, and doing revisions, and being able to meet those deadlines.
DEADLINE: The music from Queen Of The South sounds exactly like what I would think of if someone asked me to describe Giorgio’s music.
SHOCKNE: It’s funny because first thing, when we had the creative direction for Giorgio and I when we started work, and they looked at Giorgio and said, “All we want you to do is reinvent the future just like you did in the past.” That was my favorite quote and really defines everything that’s happening with our work here. It’s perfect.
DEADLINE: Speaking as a fan of your music, during your hiatus, especially in the last decade, there’s been this massive reawakening of interest in your music. What was that like for you to experience?
MORODER: I was told things that I didn’t realize when I was doing it – they told me “I Love To Love You Baby” inspired so many women, tied into liberation for women which I never thought. And of course “I Feel Love”, which of course I knew would appeal to the gay community but I never thought about the impact, and now I’ve been told, “Giorgio, you kind of liberated me.” When I do the DJing, it’s absolutely fantastic the audience and their reactions with me. To be honest, I kind of forgot the music I did because I’d been doing so many things, and now I’m learning again what I did. I was at an award ceremony in Rome recently and the guy was telling the audience about my music and what it meant to him, and I thought “My god, that was me?”
DEADLINE: When we think about your impact on film, very commonly people think of films like Scarface and your work on Top Gun, which were based around individual songs, as defining moments. Queen Of The South is instrumental like your work on Midnight Express, but are you open to returning to soundtrack work that is based more around pop songs?
MORODER: Absolutely. The thing about Queen Of The South is that there’s not really space — I don’t know, maybe around some of the better pieces — and make them into a song. But that would be my very great interest for a movie if we have a song that fits, that would be the combination of writing the score and music, like Scarface. That’s something I want to do again.
DEADLINE: And Raney, what about you?
SHOCKNE: The music we’re working on is where I was hoping that all roads would lead creatively… I think of my favorite films, like Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Midnight Express, Scarface. I’m really a fan of those films at that early electronic score, to be able to actually do that, to have this beautiful resurgence in that score and to be somehow serendipitously aligned with the godfather of that electronic idea, it couldn’t be a more perfect celestial lineup. I think that I would love to stay in this particular comfortable spot of really dark, heavy electronic stuff that we’re doing.
It’s actually ironic that half the stuff that I’m working with are literally contemporary emulators of old Oberheims and Rolands and Korg synths and Giorgio will sometimes turn to me and say they’re exactly the knobs and buttons he was using on Midnight Express‘ “The Chase.” I’m able to bring up anything virtually. We’re working on one of the big themes for Queen Of The South and I’m like, “Giorgio, you gotta tell me what is the drum that you were using on Scarface,” I’d been trying to figure it out for years. And he says “it’s a Linndrum,” and I punched that in and it just popped right up. It sounded so good. It’s crazy to be dialing in the creation of the sound and adding the modern layers on top of it to add so much depth and stereo.
MORODER: I am at least interested in doing some scores, not just electronic. I love what Hans Zimmer does, I think he is fantastic. It’s electronic but with real instruments. I’m sure that if we get the project that would have songs but also a real score, we are going to be as well prepared to do that as we are prepared to do the electronic ones.
Queen Of The South airs Thursday nights on USA Network. Tomboy: A Revengers Tale is in postproduction with a 2017 release date to be announced. Moroder and Shockne are both repped by ICM Partners.