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Celebrating World Goth Day with “My Summer as a Goth” film composer Jana Cushman

By ANA AMMANN // Talking about music supervision and film scoring with Jana Cushman of Darkswoon on World Goth Day. Download the My Summer as a Goth Motion Picture Soundtrack on Bandcamp today.

Noting that Goths tend to shy away from the limelight, DJ Cruel Brittania “accidentally engineered” the first World Goth Day in the UK, when he encouraged followers to publicly embrace who they are and shine for a day on May 22nd 2009.

In the years since, May 22nd has grown into a global celebration of Goth subculture. Portland, OR has its own underground, yet prevalent, goth scene, which largely revolves around music and clubs like Lovecraft (where the likes of celebs Chloe Sevigny and Fred Armisen have been spotted); a weekly dance goth party called Hive at the Star Theater; DJ Wednesday’s Brickbat Mansion dance party; and Out From The Shadows - the “largest post-punk & darkwave festival on the West Coast,” presented by XRAY “Sounds From Under the Floorboard” DJ Dave Cantrell.

Playing music is what drew Jana Cushman, film composer and music supervisor for the locally produced feature film My Summer as a Goth, to Portland’s scene. A modern composer and the front creative force in Portland’s Electrohaze band, Darkswoon, Cushman was tapped by Portland-based, film writer/director/producer and #eldergothatheart, Tara Johnson-Medinger for the task of creating an authentic soundscape to her coming of age film.

All but one of the bands featured on the soundtrack are from the Pacific Northwest. Darkswoon, Cushman’s band, contributes three of the album’s 19 tracks, evoking old school goth and post-punk of early 4AD label darlings, while maintaining a modern edge and originality. 

I had a virtual “sit down” with Cushman to ask about her band, what the process was like to score a film and how she felt about recording a cover of what is considered by many to be “the most beautiful goth song ever.”

What brought you to Portland?

Music. I was born in Kalamazoo, MI and grew up in Grand Rapids, MI. (I still have shades of a Midwest accent when I've been drinking.) At the time, there was not much diversity in the SW Michigan music scene. I didn't know a lot about Portland, I basically rolled the dice and ended up moving here in 2005 to play music. 

When did you start Darkswoon?

I wrote my first Darkswoon song in 2013 with 'Ruin', actually. It started as a solo bedroom project, with an emphasis on mixing electronic music with guitar and vocals. Who knew 7 years later it would be reimagined here and on film. Since then, much has changed. We now play as a three piece with my partner, Rachel Ellis, and our good friend, Andrew Potter.  We're hoping to release a new full-length album in 2021.

Watch: “Ruin” by Darkswoon from the My Summer as a Goth Original Movie Soundtrack

How did the collaboration with you and film director Tara Johnson-Medinger come about?

We were introduced through a mutual friend, Mike Wyant, drummer for The Minders. He knew Tara was looking for a 'goth' band for her movie. I recognize we're in the Venn diagram of several dark musical genres, but I didn't really know what kind of music we were making until we started gaining fans.  It never occurred to me we were a Goth band, but we got the part.

Through this chance meeting, I continued to express interest in scoring the film and Tara entrusted me with the job.  It's a longer story, but it's been a transformative experience for me. I'm grateful for Tara's friendship and to be able to work so closely with a talented, creative force.  Expect to see more collaborations from us in the future.

The band actually has a cameo in the movie, what was it like working on a film set?

It was surreal. I've never been on a movie set before, and here we were in the middle of a recreated goth club, but at 7am, chugging coffee in the fog and doing just as much acting as actually playing music. 

Jana Cushman

In what ways was the scoring easier or more challenging than writing songs for Darkswoon?    

Although scoring is more freeing in an experimental sense, it can be challenging to find the balance and to create an effective, functional piece that meets the expectations of others.

Film score doesn't have to fit a format in the same way that more traditional songwriting often does (verse chorus verse), so in some ways it breaks the mold of a listener's expectation. 

I don't always follow a standard path for songwriting but scoring allows a bit more freedom from form.  What is challenging, is trying to capture the right mood in a moment - to help color it without flooding out the scene. It can be a bit of a tightrope walk. Sometimes you want the music to be more of a subconscious effort. Sometimes it needs to function in a capacity of leading a scene - to brighten or darken a moment. Score should mostly be guiding an audience unknowingly. There are exceptions to this, of course, a lot of it depends on the director and producers. I learned so much through the process. 

It was important to the director that the soundtrack be original and authentic to the Goth subculture to honor it, rather than parody it. As a music supervisor, how did you select the songs that were featured?

We tried to maintain a soundscape that was both familiar but fresh, showcasing underground artists while paying homage to the authenticity of the subculture.

The soundtrack is curated from a mix of bands from the PNW, with the exception of Anders Manga. Some of these people I knew prior to this project (although everyone was vetted by Tara so no nepotism or favoritism here). Others I met while working on the film.  Some bands I had admired for a while, others I discovered on Bandcamp, which I scoured for the right music for certain scenes. It was important to us to place an emphasis on women, non-binary and queer musicians as well.

For some scenes, I would receive examples, like “looking for a This Mortal Coil vibe here”, or “something Siouxsie for this moment”. I created the piece “Elegiac” from a note Tara gave me for an emotional scene in the film. She has often credited John Hughes as a big inspiration and wanted to emote a similar feeling created by the New Order song “Elegia” used in Pretty in Pink. So I used the song as a blueprint to write 'Elegiac' and named it as a nod to the original - although they bare no actual resemblance.

You were asked to record a cover of The Cure's iconic song "Just Like Heaven" for the film. Was that daunting?

OMG-yes. I told Tara I didn't want to do it-haha!  It's just a lot of pressure to cover a beloved song by a legendary band. Unfortunately, you'll have to see the film to hear it. Since we are an indie film team with a budget that reflects this, we weren't able to get exclusive rights to the song for purposes beyond the film.

As a first-time music supervisor and film composer, what was it like to find out that your soundtrack had won Best Score at the DTLA Film Festival?

It was back in October of 2019 and I think I'm still a bit in shock. I had been wanting to find a way into film scoring for many years before actually having the opportunity. Being a novice to the process, I was second guessing my work a lot. Having the score awarded is really a validating and humbling experience. I'm just very honored.

As we celebrate World Goth Day today, tell us, what is on your Goth Essentials playlist?

That’s hard to narrow down but I think I could listen to any of these forever...In no particular order:

  1. “A Certain Person” by Light Asylum
  2. “Spellbound” by Siouxsie and The Banshees
  3. “Wax and Wane” by Cocteau Twins
  4. “Iron Moon” by Chelsea Wolfe
  5. “I'm Not Done” by Fever Ray
  6. “Teardrop” by Massive Attack
  7. “Rivers” by Ash Code
  8. “Pain” by Boy Harsher
  9. “Sour” by Void Visions
  10. “Spirit” by Dead Can Dance

You can download the My Summer as a Goth Motion Picture Soundtrack on Bandcamp as of today, World Goth Day. Look for the film this summer, check out the trailer here!!

Be sure to join us every Sunday at 6pm on Facebook for OMN Live! Darkswoon will be our guest performers, livestreaming from their home, Sunday, July 5th.

Editor’s Note: Publisher Ana Ammann is an Executive Producer of the My Summer as a Goth film soundtrack.

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