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How Michael Massey gave teeth to Madison Ballet's Dracula score
Interview with the vampire's composer
on
The score brings out the drama.
The score brings out the drama.

Filled with libidinous dancing and steampunk costumes, Madison Ballet's Dracula was one of the most provocative works to hit local stages this year. It's also one of the most inventive, even though it's based on Bram Stoker's well-known vampire novel. Much of the production's impact stemmed from an original rock score by local composer Michael Massey. Massey will release Dracula's soundtrack on Sunday, June 2, at the High Noon Saloon, where he'll perform the score with a dream team of Madison musicians that includes Gomers Biff Blumfumgagnge and Dave Adler.

I asked Massey about the project as he put the finishing touches on the CD.

So you were tasked with composing a rock score, but many people know you as pianist who performs at the Ivory Room. How did your former band Chaser help you summon the rock 'n' roll gods?

Chaser came very close to a deal with Atlantic in 1981. We did a demo, and a single from that session went into heavy rotation on stations around Madison. And the band remained friends. Mike [Ripp] and Tony [Cerniglia] and I have been playing together since we were 15.

I've spent the rest of my life chasing the same kind of camaraderie we had in that band. That's one reason I asked [Ripp and Cerniglia] to perform for Dracula. And I recruited Dave [Adler] and Biff [Blumfumgagnge] from the Gomers because I thought we'd have good chemistry and lots of fun.

I know that your camaraderie with W. Earle Smith, Madison Ballet's artistic director, was also important. Did he want a rock score from the outset?

It was always a rock score in his vision, but I think the definition of "rock score" evolved as we worked together. Originally there were a couple of ideas. One was using established rock songs, buying their rights and redoing them. Led Zeppelin and the like. I convinced [Smith] to stay local. I sent him some ideas, which turned out to be right up his alley. But the cooperation is what was really integral to Dracula's success.

Are there any particular artists or sounds you had in mind while composing the Dracula soundtrack?

It's funny. Listening to it now, I hear bits of music from throughout my life. It wasn't conscious, but there are little pieces of what sound like pop songs from the late '60s and early '70s, like WXRT on AM radio, which had so many genres being played together. You'd hear the Stones and the Carpenters and B.J. Thomas. Then there are the obvious sources [of inspiration], like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

How did you envision the Count Dracula character when you began the project, and did this picture change over time?

I was thinking more about the story as a whole, the original Bram Stoker novel. It was the litmus test for the different characters. We set out to come up with recognizable themes for all of them. Dracula needed to be sexy and spooky at the same time, which I think we pulled off.

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