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Writing Sample: Campus Review Article About John Swihart

MUSIC

INTERVIEWS


Campus Circle > Music > Interviews

JOHN

SWIHART

O

n Writing the Loser’s Anthem

BY GEOFFREY ALTROCCHI

IF YOU EVER WATCH THE OPENING SCENE OF

John Carpenter’s

Halloween

with the sound off, all you see is

a camera slowly moving up a set of stairs. It means nothing.

But when you cue that now famous and haunting track, it all

comes into place.

It’s the honest opinion of this author that the music

makes the movie. John Swihart, composer extraordinaire,

whose brilliant licks are featured in the recently released

Michael Cera vehicle,

Youth in Revolt

, couldn’t disagree more.

“It takes a big group of people, there are so many people

from beginning to end [making a movie] . . . I’m just the guy

that comes on at the end,” Swihart says.

Youth in Revolt

follows a loser on the exterior who has

some winning qualities on the inside, and who strives to win

the love of a beautiful, young woman. Swihart’s contribution

to that movie alone, most notably the “Nick and Sheeni Make

Love” and “Keys” tracks, hint at deeper beauty and redeeming

qualities hidden within the protagonist.

This same “loser with a heart of gold” motif reminds

me of one of my favorite film protagonists, another closet

winner – Napoleon Dynamite. This social reject eventually

wins hearts and minds with his creativity, heart and passion.

Interestingly enough, it is in this 2004 movie that we

heard some of Swihart’s breakout hits.

Youth in Revolt

and

Napoleon Dynamite

are two, among more than 40, movies

Swihart has scored. He has also put a big dent in composing

for television. He recently recorded with a full orchestra for

the 100th episode of “How I Met Your Mother.”

Swihart’s musical journey started in Boston. A former

jazz enthusiast and metal head, he attended the renowned

Berklee College of Music, where he studied production and

engineering, which, Swihart says, was the closest he could

get to popular music at the time. After he graduated from

Berklee, he found himself working on industrial videos and

commercials in a post-production studio.

“I was the audio dude, and I’d be in there, just writing

away,” he says.

Even though he’s always been a huge movie fan, Swihart

says that for a while he didn’t know exactly what direction

he was going to go with his talents. It was at this postproduction

studio though, where he met some film students

from Emerson College, and he began writing music for their

films. That’s where he seemed to find a niche for himself.

While these days composing is a full-time job for Swihart, in

his early years he worked for free.

“The money will come,” he assures, “you just have to

write.”

As in other creative fields, Swihart says there is no set

path for the film composer and that more often than not

you go where the work is. So naturally, to find patterns or

overriding themes in the movies that he’s worked on might

be a stretch. While he has scored several quirky comedies,

he has done music for a couple of brooding dramas as well.

He just finished working on a movie titled

The Perfect

Host

with David Hyde Pierce, which he describes as a darker

thriller. Thrillers can be especially different, he explains,

because they have a lot more layers or tracks than some of

the comedies that he has scored.

On paper Swihart is very much a journeyman, proficient

in several areas and genres. If, as Swihart humbly insists,

the music doesn’t make the movie, it certainly provides the

best layer to a cake – the icing. And as I listen to my favorite

Swihart tracks from

Napoleon Dynamite

, or as I ingest the

simple melodies from

Youth In Revolt

, I can’t help but feel

that in addition to all his other accomplishments, some of

Swihart’s music provides an elegant soundtrack and minianthems

to the misunderstood with an inner beauty just

waiting to burst out into the world.

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