Corey Wallace is a former engineering student turned film and television composer whose work fills the sonic space in works that include NBC’s Siberia (now streaming on Tubi), the 2019 horror film Artik and award-winning animated shorts such as The Wishgranter and Dust Buddies to name a few. He also contributed to projects such as Blumhouse’s The First Purge and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.LD.
Artik made its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights in South Florida. It has since gone on to great success in the cinematic world. The film centers on a comic book obsessed serial killer who teaches his son how to get away with a series of brutal murders. However, things may unravel when the boy befriends a mysterious man.
PopAxiom took some time to speak with Corey about jazz, going from engineering to music-making, and the process of creating the sonic palette for Artik.
Trumpet & Jazz
Corey’s first “… musical step …” began with the trumpet. “I was playing the trumpet in a band … a lot of people start on piano, but I didn’t take piano lessons until college because it was a requirement …”
Corey, the student did well overall across the gamut of subjects but with minimal motivation. However, when it came to music, Corey says he “… became a nerd. I studied all the time and practiced all the time because I was fascinated by music theory and composition.”
In high school, Corey “… joined jazz combos … They allowed for members to make arrangements and create original music.”
Corey credits this time as a vital training ground for writing music. “On the technical side, writing jazz music is more straightforward than writing for symphonic orchestra. Essentially, you’re just writing some melody and chord changes and then letting the band fill in everything. That’s different than writing for a big band arrangement where you’re composing the notes for everyone to play.”
The freedom and experimentation of jazz were “… a great way to start writing music. That lead to writing more sophisticated stuff for jazz.”
No Berklee For You
For Corey, his love for creating music was undeniable. “I wanted to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston and study jazz performance. That was one of my dreams.”
However, the tragic truth comes to light. “But I was discouraged. I hate to put this stain on my parents’ record. They’ve always supported me. But this one time I came to them and said ‘I want to be a gigging jazz trumpet player,’ and they said it’s probably a better idea to go to school and get a degree and you can always make music on the side.”
Corey’s road of life steered toward another educational institution. “I ended up going to the University of Wisconsin … studying industrial engineering.”
Music Vs. Engineering
Not to be denied, Corey used a little advantage to satiate his music-creating cravings. Corey accrued enough credits to graduate sooner from the engineering program. Instead, he joined the school’s jazz band. “I would spend about a quarter of my time during the first semester working on music in addition to engineering.”
By his second semester, Corey was “… spending half my time on this music elective. At some point, it clicked. I’m spending so much time and energy on music because that’s what I love to do.”
By the end of his sophomore year, Corey decided to be a “… composition student full-time. By then it was too late for me to apply to the music school.”
Corey joined a study abroad program and ended up in “… Australia.” The journey kept him creating music, but he had to “… talk his way in …” since he arrived during their second semester. Corey had “… the same problem when I got back. I was accepted into the school, but I had already missed the first semester.”
Twenty-first-century technology includes digital libraries of sounds that make it generally easy to start composing. To emerging composers, he says, “You want to try and get your sound and do what you specifically want to do instead of what these pre-determined sounds are having you do.”
For ten years, Corey’s been making his own sounds. “It starts with recording things or taking old recordings and manipulating them in different ways using digital and analog techniques to turn something into something else. All of a sudden, you have a brand new sound to use. It’s a time-intensive project.”
Corey points to a scoring legend as an example. “If you look at a Hans Zimmer’s score, he’ll have like ten people in the music department in sample development. It’s a tedious process, but when you’re done, you have this palette of sounds.”
Corey jokes, “Now I have to score the movie.”
Creating sounds for a sonic palette doesn’t begin when Corey’s signed on to a new project. The composer devotes days off to recording and experimenting. “That’s the best way to do it. There’s a limited time when you’re on a movie. That’s not the time to start staring out the window. You have to jump right in. Do your homework and kind of score for imaginary films.”
Corey’s process includes a “… sounds diary. I date it, and a description of how I made the sound, what plug-ins I used or hardware I was using. It’s a technique-based diary. I put keywords and what kind of projects it might be good for so that it’s searchable. I can look for inspiration in there.”
Corey’s connection to Artik came via a simple referral. “Artik came about because of The First Purge. [Director] Tom Botchii reached out to Kevin Lax [composer, The First Purge], who was unavailable and recommended me.”
The work for Artik was already underway before Corey. “Tom had a specific musical vision. When we got to talking, he was already working on the score with somebody else. Tom is a guitar player and played in experimental bands. He wanted this de-tuned, broken sound and wasn’t getting that. So that was one of our first conversations and how I would accomplish that.”
Corey was happy to let Tom know, “I’ve been working on these kinds of sounds for at least a decade. It was really exciting to do this.”
Typically discussions between composer and director include movie references. For Artik, the director referenced a specific aspect of a movie. “Tom referenced a trailer to the Joaquin Phoenix movie You Were Never Really Here. There’s a big hit in the middle of the trailer, and then the rest of the trailer has these dissonant sounds and big hits.”
Corey explains, “Tom wanted the movie and the music to feel like an 80-minute trailer. The first scene after the main titles is like a minute long and has like 32 cuts, so it hits in that minute. It’s emblematic of what he wanted. These dirty hits constantly.”
Creating the palette consisted of “… little plunks to giant metallic clanks. I just started forming this palette of hits.”
You won’t find many modern film composers who don’t love John Williams, and Corey is no different. He connects his early love for jazz to the legendary composer’s brilliance. “Jazz is essential to John Williams and the way he writes.”
In the hall of fame with Williams, Corey lists “Alan Silvestri, James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, and Hans Zimmer. What they all have in common is this big, orchestral, blockbuster sound.”
Another prominent figure forming Corey’s creative DNA is Marco Beltrami. “When he was doing Scream, The Faculty, I, Robot, and Hellboy … that was impactful on me. I hadn’t heard scores like that before. It aligned with the kind of music I was writing in college. I wondered if there was a place for me in scoring with that sort of sound and I heard Marco and thought ‘Yes, there’s a place for me.’”
What movie would Corey love to score the remake? “NeverEnding Story. That was my favorite movie growing up. That music is so 80s, and I think you can do something great.”
Artik is available on-demand, so what’s next for Corey? “I’m pre-scoring Super-Cell from Jamie Winterstern, who is a photographer and an avid storm chaser. He’s making a movie based on that world.” We crack a few jokes about Twister and Sharknado. Corey asserts, “This ain’t your daddy’s tornado movie.”
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Thanks to Corey Wallace and Impact24 PR
for making this interview possible.
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