Pop music is addictive and, when done right, can transport someone to a completely different world, imagining all sorts of scenarios and dreams with just a simple, emotive beat and powerful vocals. This is where Keeley Bumford aka Dresage comes in. Over the past few years, Dresage has carved out her place in the music industry and cemented her status as a genius in the field. She is most known to us (well, the managing editor) for her collaborations with other artists like J2, creating impactful covers of songs that are fan-favorites. And, in her recent musical project with Into the Dark‘s MY VALENTINE, she wrote, sang, and produced all of the songs featured in the musically murderous film.
For the release of the film, we had the opportunity to chat with composer and all-around songstress Dresage where we discussed everything from her friendship with writer/director Maggie Levin, the process in writing the music, as well as influences she pulled from modern pop stars.
Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved with MY VALENTINE?
Dresage: I had known writer/director Maggie Levin for almost eight years. When I first moved to LA, I worked on a food truck and she was within the same friend group of some of my co-workers, so I met her that way. As you do, you keep working in LA and hopefully start doing less food service things and more music things. She was on a production of Rocky Horror Hipster Show for a few years that was done every Halloween in a rock club. I was in it and I also helped do all the vocal directing for the cast, so I was able to work with her on that. She has this cool fascination with the dark side of popstars which I love (laughs). She approached me and told me that [MY VALENTINE] was her first big opportunity and she had gotten the script greenlit and wanted to know if I wanted to do the music. It was a cool thing to kind of be in that grind with a friend for a long time and have them bring you along for their first big opportunity. I think that’s the way it should be.
When it came to writing the songs how much input did Maggie have? Did she give you direction in terms of the characters as well as the feel of the film?
Dresage: Totally! She made these really great mood boards that visually represented each character. I’m very visual when I write and compose music so it’s really helpful to get a feel of the color palette, textures, and general mood that each person I would be writing for as an artist lived within. The songs are pretty much written into the script which is also very cool, so I knew exactly where they were going to be used, what the context was emotionally for the characters, and what songs should be portrayed in the larger story of this journey that [the characters] are going through.
I loved how the songs were very pop-like but they weren’t without substance. There is an emotional thread that ties everything together with what the characters are going through or have experienced. What was that process like?
Dresage: It was cool because sonically we had kind of landed on this dark synth world but also with [the character of] Valentine, the whole thing with her is that she had to be cool. You had to start to feel this deep unfairness that somebody this talented, who was the “real deal”, had that taken from her. The opening song is kind of her swan song where she’s gone through all this abuse and psychological warfare and this is her at the end of it. Writing this song was almost like her own pep talk to herself. A lot of it was kind of a cool writing assignment, really. We would talk about what each song needed to convey emotionally. That song was written post-breakup and it’s her stepping back into music which is what she loved. As a songwriter, it’s really helpful to get cues like that because I can then put myself in that person’s shoes. It’s a cool exercise to be given this kind of palette of what it should be about and what this character is feeling.
There seemed to be a lot of influences from the pop world in this film. I definitely got a Lady Gaga vibe during both Valentine and Trezzure’s performances. What artists influenced your songwriting in this film?
Dresage: I was definitely drawing from artists like Robyn and Charli XCX, that was Valentine’s world. Trezzure’s world was definitely leaning more Lady Gaga and Kim Petras. It’s funny because when the teaser came out and the song “The Knife” was in it, people were like, “Is that Chvrches?” and I didn’t even realize like I should have used Chvrches as a reference but I think it also fits into that world.
Along with writing, singing and producing all the songs, you also co-scored the film along with Mark Hadley. What was that experience like?
Dresage: Mark and I have worked together for a long time, he’s a fantastic artist. He goes by Hark Madley which is just the first letters in his name switched and he’s also a film composer. The songs are a really big part of the film but Maggie wanted the score to really weave in and out of the songs so that they became one and the same. In “The Knife”, Valentine is playing the song in the club and then it turns into the score as Royal enters. Maggie asked me and Mark if we wanted to score it and it was great because I had never done a proper film before. I had done a lot of ad work for shorter form media composing but Mark had that great experience of having done a feature and shorts so it was really fun to take a lot of elements of the production from the songs and then turn them into the score. We called it a sneaky pop-opera because it has so many elements like a vocal sample that will turn into a score moment. We weaved a lot of the same synths in the songs in the score and our hope was that it would feel very one together.
What was it like seeing the songs you wrote and sang performed by the cast?
Dresage: The first time I got to see it was on set because all four of these songs were filmed too. They had to be written and produced to a point where they could be filmed. I actually got to come to set and for the club scene, I was actually doing a total “Dance Mom” on the side of the stage. Britt Baron, who is the lead Valentine, and I had worked out what she would do on stage and all these different parts that she would trigger and play. I was almost like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls when she’s like, “I’m the cool mom” and she’s in the audience with a camcorder, I was doing that on the side of the stage for Britt (laughs). It was a really cool way to bond with the actresses first and foremost because I wanted them to feel comfortable seeing this film and performing these songs on camera. It was cool to be in the room with people asking who was singing [the songs] and asking if I had written them and me responding, “Yeah, that’s me, that’s my voice but that’s an actor mouthing my voice.” It’s kind of weird but it was great!