Gloom Rocker Kevin Haskins Goes Hollywood
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because second acts can be so badass.
By Eugene S. Robinson
You might expect a guy like Kevin Haskins to be running a nice mortuary, or playing percussion in an Austro-Hungarian choral society, or cultivating alabaster orchids in a secluded greenhouse in the Alps, far from the trappings of this thing called life. After all, this is the original drummer from Bauhaus, the Brit band deified by the 1970s and ’80s movement known for dyed black hair, dramatic eyeliner and a flair for gloom. You know, Goth culturists.
But fast-forward to Los Angeles. No, Haskins hasn’t died and gone to a sunny hell of celebrity graves and traffic jams. It’s weirder than that. Yeah, he’s still in music, but he’s made a monster move from stage center to a world that perhaps only he saw coming: composing. And not for kiddie theater or rock documentaries. He’s become one of the most sought-after composers for movies and television, working with the industry legends who write their own paychecks. And at last count, Haskins is at 27 major credits and growing.
“It was an obvious choice,” says the 6-foot-2, lanky and bespectacled Haskins, without a trace of irony about his anything-but-obvious shift. Not even his biggest fans know exactly what he does. Monte Vallier, a well-known Bay Area music producer and creative director, did know, but in a burst of ebullience made the not-quite-right claim that Haskins was “the No. 1 producer of video-game music in the world!” This came from a place of deep admiration, forget that it wasn’t exactly spot on. “I’m actually not a huge video-game music producer!” says Haskins, more amused than anything, about the five game titles he’s worked on, Myst III being one of the more noteworthy.
Now 54, Haskins, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughters, started composing in earnest in 1998, a transition that was probably easier than it looked, since composing music for the mainstage is a markedly different animal from just being another flavor of a visual mix that has to succeed on-screen in multiple ways. When he first began composing for film and hadn’t yet grasped the art of creating music to underscore a visual event, Haskins says, he made the mistake of imposing the same process that we use in writing songs within a band setup. “I had no idea what I was doing!” he says.
Which is where a stern tutelage reading books, and heeding the hollers of some of his favorite composers — Clint Mansell, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Brian Reitzell, Clinton Shorter, Cliff Martinez, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis — helped him before he jumped into the deep end for his first big score, for a CBS crime-drama series, Robbery Homicide Division. A deep end that typically includes spotting sessions with the director, music supervisor, music editor and at times producers, and involves all manner of chatter while watching what they’re scoring.
Even in the early days, he says, he always wanted to compose for visual media like film. “I have no idea why, but I knew that I would do it one day,” Haskins says. He points to the atmospheric elements he’d add to Bauhaus songs like “Hollow Hills”: the eerie wind sounds and the guitar harmonics in delay. “I was always experimenting with sounds and samples to augment the musical elements, underscoring in a way.”
Where the songs start and end, why the scene should have music and what the director wants are all considered before Haskins takes it away and comes back with what works. And what works has worked well enough that Haskins is not just in the mix. Most of the time, he no longer has to name-check Bauhaus to keep his place in it. “Michael Mann [Heat, Miami Vice and Blackhat, among dozens more], who heard a CD of a student film I scored, hired me on the spot,” Haskins says, still sounding a little surprised. “Without any interview! I don’t think he was aware of my history.”
The filmmakers, though, seem to be aware, and a gander at his credits reflects a certain interest in his historical eye for darker climes. Ends that he reaches typically over five days if he is scoring an hour-long TV show, and about six to eight weeks if he’s doing a film. A lot different from the flash and bang of a live show — a comparison Haskins puts to bed quickly. “It’s fairly comparable to being in a band, though. Mostly in that budgets vary enormously, but because the composer is the last component, the producers, for small indie films at least, have run out of money. And unfortunately, some composers work for free just to land a job, in the hopes that it will lead to more work. But there is good money to be made.”
Good? According to David Bell in his book Getting the Best Score for Your Film, some might be earning at least $300,000 a score, if not more, with some reports pegging the figure at twice that. Haskins, however, seems much less interested in money than he probably should be.
“Money’s important,” says Austrian filmmaker Paul Poet, “and I am sure Haskins could use more of it and deserves it, but the problem with his kind of genius is you can hear that he clearly cares much more about great sounds than he does what he gets paid for those great sounds.”
An inclination that’s also presently returned Haskins to his roots, with the next six months seeing him putting together a coffee-table art book on Bauhaus, an instrumental LP with Patina Creme, remixing a solo piano piece for Sam Harris’ photography exhibition and composing a bunch of movie-trailer music. “After enjoying a wonderful 25 years on the road,” Haskins says, “I really wanted to spend more time at home with my family, and becoming a composer was an obvious choice.” Obvious, and obviously brilliant.