Today, we sat down with the composer of SyFy’s supernatural series SurrealEstate Spencer Creaghan. He let us know how he got started in music, information of SurrealEstate and much more. Be sure to follow him below on social media and of course check out SyFy’s SurrealEstate for his music.
How did you start in music?
Hi Victor, pleasure to be here!
My journey to become a film composer is perhaps unlike that of others. I always knew I was going to be a part of the film world, either as a director, writer, or actor. I loved music and loved film music, but it was always film first; music second. Around early high school I discovered a subgenre of heavy metal called Symphonic Metal, particularly a band Nightwish. Diving into their influences opened up new sides of Film Music I had yet to be exposed to. This discovery, along with a deep rooted passion of storytelling, film, and constantly being told my own original music told stories, I decided to go forth into the film composing path. I was a terrible piano player at the time, could only play with one hand, and got into the high school Jazz band class purely because no one else auditioned. I was told I had to get my chops up and studied with an incredible teacher, David Miller (who also taught the great TV composer Trevor Morris). He taught me 8 years of piano and composition in 18 months. Knowing I wanted to start my career immediately, I chose York University in Toronto to study, as the film and music program were in the same building. I met many filmmakers there, collaborating with people I still work with to this day. Coming home during the winter break of first year, my dad asked if I’d be reapplying at the factory I had worked at the previous summer to make some money for school. I said no, I wanted to do music full time. He said, okay with the condition that I had to make the same amount of money doing music as I would at the factory. The challenge was accepted and successful. I made more from music than I had at the factory and those connections and films lead to wonderful films and connections. After university I joined the prestigious Canadian Film Centre Slaight Family Music Lab there I was taken under the wing of composer Lesley Barber whom I worked under for a few years learning more than I could have imagined. The connections met throughout every part of my career has branched off into others, including working with Blue Ice Productions and the SYFY channel on a great Horror-Christmas satire, Letters To Satan Claus, which lead me to connection with the team from SurrealEstate and thankfully joining as a part of their wonderful production. If I could do it all over again, I would choose the same path in a heartbeat.
What type of music did you listen to while growing up?
SurrealEstate was in many ways the perfect series to score for me. Its music is inspired by Irish folk, pop, metal, progressive rock, and big thematic film music— all the music I grew up listening to. My parents would play Loreena McKennet, Enya, Peter Gabriel, and The Barenaked Ladies around the house. Every kid has those movies they’re obsessed with and watch a million times, mine was The Lion King and Fantasia. In many ways the SurrealEstate score is inspired by all of this music of my youth and the music of my teenage years which, funny enough, also included a large amount of Celtic Folk, Metal, and Pop music. In many ways SurrealEstate is the amalgamation of all the music I’ve enjoyed and been inspired by up to this point.
What are some fun stories, that you can talk about, while in the recording studio?
You know, composers tend to spend much of their lives in solitary confinement in their studios, so working during a pandemic feels much the same as a normal work day. Thankfully web video calls have gotten as good as they have so that my team and I were able to stay connected despite being all over Canada. I love putting non-musical instruments in my scores and seeing how to make them music. My original pitch for SurrealEstate included a door creak, door knocking, and door bells. This was an element I wanted to take into the score. One episode really needed this house-orchestra touch and I was on Zoom with my team talking about what we could use to create this sound I wanted, “like floor boards creaking, as if the house is wailing: a banshee house.” My one assistant had these friction mallets and tried them on different household items, mirrors, doors, windows… and then he tried it on his bathtub… “THAT’S IT.” We built a playable digital instrument out of the sounds recorded of the bathtub and I played them into my sequencer, experimenting further with pitch, stretch, reversing, and other production to see how to get it even creepier. The result sounds like if you sung a Ligeti choral piece within the pits of hell. It’s chilling and, well, surreal, and a sound I still can’t get out of my head to this day.
Could you tell us a bit about SurrealEstate?
SurrealEstate follows the Roman Agency, led by Luke Roman. They are a team of Real Estate agents that sell the houses containing paranormal and supernatural qualities… the haunted houses. Each episode follows a different house, a new kind of supernatural entity, and a deeper look into these character’s lives, stories, and their own personal ghosts (whether metaphorical or literal is for you to find out!). The music, like the show, pays homage to many haunted house stories and films throughout history. While we’ve got our strings, woodwinds, and brass, there’s also a lot of vocal and choral elements, Irish and Baltic instruments, electronics, guitars, and many found household sounds to help bring the houses to life and follow these Real Estate Agents as they dive deeper into the Ethereal Plain.
Was there any difficulty composing and creating the music for each episode?
Every single episode was a challenge in its own way. We made the decision early on that each house should have a unique sound pallet. While the show includes many, many musical themes and leitmotifs, there is a fair amount of music each episode that must be unique to the particular episode. You think you’ve got the handle on the show’s sound, and then you see an episode with a whole new house and set of rules. This makes you think beyond the box, “how can I transport us into this house?” “How can I be scary without doing the same things I did last week”
“What other instruments or non instruments can I use today?” These challenges lead to a variety of unique instruments used in a show like this. From the Irish instruments, to Medieval Strings and Horns, to the Bulgarian choir, and Grandfather Clocks, Fog horns, Screams, and of course, the Bathtub.
Is there a piece of music you composed that your very proud of from one of the episodes?
Oh boy, there are too many to count! SurrealEstate is my proudest work to date. Every episode has more than a few things that bring excitement and good memories creating the music. If I had to choose just one, I might choose a piece of music from episode 1 that reoccurs throughout the series. It appears when Luke Roman, played by Tim Rozon, and Susan Ireland, played by Sarah Levy, are at a batting cage. Susan aims to learn about Luke’s history and persona, to which Luke opens up and share a bit of. Susan has a line that goes, “If you want me to be a flight attendant on the Ethereal Plain.” This line struck me with so much inspiration, that I thought what if the music was Luke bringing her into the Ethereal Plain, what if the show’s score was the bridge between the characters and the Ethereal Plain; they are always surrounded by it, and only when they let themselves be vulnerable do they tap into it (consciously or subconsciously). Everything clicked from here on. The inclusion of folk instruments, the modern pop feel, the atmospheric and ambient production. It all came together. This theme is one of the big three in the show. It shows up a lot, often when Luke and Susan are together at the end of most episodes. I’m very proud of this theme, it’s arrangement, and how it develops throughout the show. I’m excited for audiences to follow its journey.
What is your next project that you’re working on?
Immediately after SurrealEstate I jumped into a powerful feature film called Quickening, directed by one of my long-time collaborators Haya Waseem. The score is influenced by French Impressionism in both the musical style of Debussy and the paintings of Monet. It was just announced that it will have its world premier at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival, which we are all very excited about. Currently, I’m writing orchestral arrangements for a heavy metal band, and preparing themes for a new feature I’ll be starting soon.
When does SurrealEstate show start on Syfy?
The great news is it’s started airing! Woo! The first two episodes are out now, you can watch them on SYFY and the SYFY streamer. It airs every Friday at 10pm EST/7pm PST. Hope you’ll tune it, it’s a blast!
Where can our fans find you on social media to stay in touch with your latest news?
You can find me on twitter and Instagram @SpencerComposer. You can find my music on all your musical platforms at Spencer Creaghan or go to my website www.spencercreaghan.com. I love talking films, music, nerdy things, story, and SurrealEstate so be sure to drop a line anytime!
Thank-you for having me today, this was so much fun! Take care