It is but his first time composing the score for a full-length film, yet Nick Davis is already the proud winner of the Best Original Score award for local Mandarin horror thriller Two Sisters at the recent 30th Malaysia Film Festival.
What makes it even more exceptional is the fact that Davis is not even a formally trained musician.
In a recent interview, the singer-actor shared that he only started toying with writing music for film in 2012. “I like writing songs. Music has always been my big thing. I realised then that I really wanted to make music as part of my career, other than acting. At that time, the technology in music was already very advanced, so you don’t have to be a music graduate,” he said
“… Since I am not a music graduate and I did not go to music school, people refer to me as a street musician. But I know music; I learnt it on my own,” said the singer-songwriter, who has served as vocalist and frontman of Rosevelt and played in several local rock bands including The Snow Symphony and LastLogic.
Davis says he got hooked on music ever since he picked up a guitar at the age of 15. Inspired by teenage heartbreak, he also wrote his first song then.
“I only knew three chords that my cousin taught me on the guitar. So, I just used those three chords to write a song. And I sang my heart out,” revealed the 31-year-old musician who now plays the piano, guitar, drums and bass.
Hitting the right notes
Two Sisters is a Malaysian horror mystery revolving around strange events that befall a pair of young ladies who decide to visit their abandoned home after one of them gets released from a psychiatric hospital.
Directed by James Lee and produced by Kuman Pictures, Two Sisters stars Emily Lim and Lim Mei Fen as the titular siblings.
Davis has previously only scored short films, so the haunting musical score for Two Sisters took him a little more than two months to complete.
He began the project by viewing the movie footage before deciding how to break it down into more manageable pieces.
“I watched Emily and Mei Fen a lot. As an actor, I am also a big fan of them and their work. So, their characters, their relationship as sisters, and the way they move on camera inspired the tempo of my music, and how it flowed.
“But the theme of the music was actually inspired by James’s idea. James wanted to use (Beethoven’s) Für Elise. He liked that composition. So, I took it and made it into the score, by breaking it down.
“And because it was so long, I had to break the score into six parts and work on them separately. But the problem with doing that is that sometimes you may lose sight of the direction that you are aiming for. So, I guess the challenge was to make sure I stayed on track when I worked on the music.”
Due to the film’s modest budget, Davis worked on the score alone.
“So everything you hear on the big screen is played by me, every sound, the ringing of bells, the scraping on wood, every little thing. I used a lot of sound design.”
He pointed out how the score evolves from the start to the end of the film, and “gets more demented” as the tale progresses.
“Working with these kinds of sounds, gives you goosebumps. So, I can honestly tell you, sometimes when I was in the studios, I needed a time out. Because I’d get all these goosebumps. I’d feel like there is something behind me. And, my hair will be standing on end.”
Another person who ended up getting scared a lot when he worked on the horror scores was his wife.
“There’d be times where she gets really annoyed, at home, because that’s where I work. She’d say ‘Can you stop it with all these scary sounds? I cannot take it any more!’”
Sounds of triumph
But now that he has tasted success for his first horror feature film score, Davis is raring to take on more long-form projects.
“I actually do like working with horror, especially with James, I get so much freedom to explore. We didn’t want the typical horror movie soundtrack. We wanted it to be weird and different.
“I got to just play with sounds. I guess that’s just the fun part in making horror films. If given the freedom, I’d just go crazy with it.
“If there was another horror film, I’ll definitely do it. And, make it even more scary this time. Now I know how. We always learn from each project. Then, next time we can do it better. And, I can’t wait for the next opportunity!”
As a movie buff, Davis says he watches all sorts of movies from comedy and action to horror and gore. And, when he watches a horror film, as a musician, he observes that “there’s a lot to do with timing”.
“It’s all about layers, and making sure the audience don’t know when it’s coming. That’s of course for the jump scares.
“But, the point of Two Sisters was not to focus so much on jump scares, but to really use the music to tell the relationship between the two sisters, and the psychological factor.”
Besides his love for music, Davis also has a deep passion for theatre and filmmaking and actually took a course in performing arts.
The theatre enthusiast will be making his film acting debut by appearing in Nam Ron’s (tentatively titled) Masterpiecisan/Gadoh Part 2. Nam Ron, of course, was Davis’s fellow winner at the film festival for Crossroads: One Two Jaga, which won a total of six awards.
Two Sisters is currently showing at cinemas nationwide.