R E V U E
RALPH HEIBUTZKI INTERVIEWS RICK SHAFFER
Soundtrack Composers & New Wave Noir Duo
THE REDS Keep Those End Credits Humming
What happens when the winds of fashion blow cold, and the spotlight shines on somebody else? For three decades now, guitarist Rick Shaffer and keyboardist Bruce Cohen have answered that question by working their New Wave noir mojo in movie and TV soundtracks. “Never listen to anybody tell you that you’re not big enough, (or that) it doesn’t sound as good as an artist that’s really big,” Shaffer declares. “None of that really makes a difference to film people. What you write – you’re the only person that’s going to write that.” Shaffer knows this all too well. Like many working musicians, Shaffer and Cohen have weathered their share of ups and downs.
From 1977 to 1984, the duo fronted Philadelphia-based New Wave band, The Reds®, touring with a host of big names (Joe Jackson, Police, Psychedelic Furs, Public Image). Everything looked good when their first album, The Reds (1979), entered the Billboard charts at #159 — until the powers that be summoned Shaffer for 10 days of meetings in Hollywood. “They got into (saying), ‘We have offices in Madison Avenue, do you understand what the rents are on these things? It’s pure economics,” Shaffer recalls. “I knew all that stuff. They didn’t have the big hit records (with The Reds®) like they did with Joe Jackson or The Police. It was either change, or leave.” The future didn’t look encouraging when Shaffer and Cohen looked to rebuild after losing their bassist and drummer – until director/producer Michael Mann got their album, Shake Appeal (1984), and began using their songs on NBC’s classic cop show, “Miami Vice.” “All the big acts were really going after the ‘Miami Vice’ thing,” Shaffer said. “It was great exposure, and we didn’t even realize the kind of money that was involved with it – I mean, the licensing fees for the stuff was tremendous.”The response sufficiently impressed Mann to invite Shaffer and Cohen toLos Angeles, where they recorded the soundtracks for Band Of The Handand Manhunter. Those experiences, in turn, led to solo and collaborative work for movies and TV, which is an ideal job if you realize one thing, Shaffer stresses: “You’re really working with the director for the film. It’s not about your thing. We don’t have that ego thing, so it’s really not a problem for us.” Music can also be changed or dropped during the final edit – as in 2004, when Shaffer’s song, “Looking For Right,” didn’t grace Mann’s filmCollateral. Politics are never far from the surface, he adds. “When we were doing “Band Of The Hand,” a guy from the film company, Tri-Star Columbia, was trying to tell Michael – right in front of me – ‘I don’t know why you’re dealing with these guys, I’m bringin’ REM here to do this music,’” Shaffer said. “And he (Mann) said, ‘But they’re not the (bleep)in’ Reds!’ In his mind, we were like the second coming of the Doors.”
Shaffer and Cohen review The Hollywood Reporter to find new projects and production offices’ addresses. Then request their manager to send packets with music and information, explaining “why this piece we have is something they should listen to for their project,” Shaffer said. “The thing I can’t emphasize enough is, it really comes down to the thing of never thinking you’re too small — because you never know what somebody’s going to need for that particular scene, or that part,” he adds.
The Reds® brand itself remains proudly intact, following the fall 2007 release of Fugitives From The Laughing House (Tarock Music) – their first album in seven years. It’s a sound best labeled “New Wave noir,” built around pulsing drum machines, Shaffer’s brittle guitar, and Cohen’s Arctic keyboards – laced with hardboiled, Raymond Chandler-style lyrics. (For details and MP3s, visit: TheRedsMusic.com.) Cohen and Shaffer will record a new Reds album in June. As far as Shaffer is concerned, such moves are welcome insurance against ever-changing trends: “It’s not an extravagant living, but we’re able to get by, and we like what we do. We’re not looking for a whole lot.”