If you’ve ever heard the music of Wasted Wine, the Upstate band that singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Robert Gowan fronted for years, you know how skilled Gowan is at conjuring a mood in his music. A combination of eerie studio effects, world music instrumentation and Eastern European gypsy music, Wasted Wine’s songs were often like a soundtrack without an accompanying movie.
Which is why Gowan’s latest move makes so much sense. While the pandemic raged and Gowan couldn’t perform live, he turned toward scoring material for movies and TV, working on music for various locally made independent films and on ads for Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing Pub.
“I’ve always loved film music,” Gowan says, “and I’ve always strived toward being cinematic and telling stories. And I always loved the Beatles and how cinematic their music was.”
Starting March 28, Gowan will be releasing the music he made for three very different films from director Kira Bursky on his Bandcamp and Spotify pages.
The first release is the soundtrack for “Period,” an experimental surrealistic film. The second is music for the award-winning short film “She Was Once Distant,” which was made for Asheville’s 48 Hour Film Festival. Per the Festival rules, both the movie and the score were made in a 48-hour stretch, from June 15-17, 2018. The third is the score for “Beautiful Mess,” a dance-based film.
The music for “Period” is both dreamlike and sinister, mixing demented-sounding carnival music, snippets of effects-laden vocals, elegant, classical-style violins and droning, ambient sounds.
“She Once Was Distant” is far more accessible, concentrating on small-scale acoustic arrangements highlighted by Gowan’s mournful violin playing. And the three pieces for “Beautiful Mess” are lush, dramatic orchestral arrangements, swelling and receding like ocean tides.
It’s a stunning variety of sounds that Gowan created with his longtime collaborator (and Wasted Wine cohort) Adam Murphy.
Depending on the project, Gowan says he could be working with a full slate of visuals, or none at all.
“It varies from project to project,” he says. “Sometimes, especially with commercial work, I basically get a blank, finished cut of something; then it’s up to me to fill in what they’re looking for, sound-wise and style-wise. And then you also have to hit certain beats; I have to compose down to the second when things are going to change, or when a big accent is going to happen.”
As demanding as that might sound, Gowan, a lifelong musician, producer and music teacher, loves the challenge of shaping something to fit an ad or a film scene.
“Those are like fun puzzles,” he says. “I get to experiment with genres. And especially during COVID-19 times, when I’m not performing very often, this has been like a really great outlet. It’s really fun just to sit down at home and record and work out music without having the pressure of a gig.”
Gowan says he’s putting out these soundtracks as standalone releases because he’d like to know if the music is evocative enough to work separately from the films.
“It might not make a lot of sense if you’re not watching the film,” he says, “but I want to experiment with seeing what has legs in the world of listeners. Also, it’s just nice to have your stuff out there where you can share it with people.”