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Meet Dennis Tenney: The Monster Music Maestro

Gory Greetings my fellow horrorphiles! Welcome to another interview screamer with your Horror Host Slaughter Cin, She-Wolf Empress of Gore! My next gruesome guest is a real treat for all you music driven monsters out there. He’s the ghoul behind some of your favorite classic horror film soundtracks and scores. Now, let’s get started on this meeting of the Macabre! The full moon is approaching soon, and I wouldn’t want to eat my guest before you meet him.

1. Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

I am Dennis Michael Tenney, born in Dublin, California (Alameda County) May 21st, 1957 to Chief Master Sargent Christopher Joseph Tenney and Juanita Lucille Tenney. One older brother, Kevin Sullivan Tenney, 18 months my senior (Who was born in Hawaii). I picked up a guitar as a freshman in high school and learned “Who'll Stop the Rain” by Credence Clearwater Revival. Never looked back... that lead to becoming a career musician/composer.

2. How long have you worked in music?

I started out at 15 years of age playing light rock, country, folk, and pop with a friend at the Travis Air Force Base Non-Commissioned Officers Club (NCO Club). He played guitar and was a really good singer, I sang a little and played really good guitar. We played most every Friday and Saturday from 4:00 to 8:00 and got paid $500.00 a night! For years I was making $500 a week working 8 hours in 1974. That was $2,000 a month for 32 hours of work. A 15 year old kid making $62.50 an hour in 1974 dollars. You'd have to understand how the separate government agencies do their accounting. Spend it, or loose it for the next fiscal year. I asked myself, “Why would I ever do anything else”? I toured with a variety of bands for years after that. Alaska, Hawaii, Western USA, Japan, opened for Molly Hatchet, Y&T, Night Ranger, Eddie Money, Graham Nash, Greg Kihn, to name a few.

3. What inspired you to be a musician/composer?

Being a musician was a no-brainer. Make money, see the world, have fun and, the chicks dug it. My brother made home movies in high school. I mean hour long epic spy stories with exploding cars and death defying stunts, sync sound, and music scores. I, being the most available to him, as I lived in the room next door, was always a major character in his films. I also scored them with guitar, with the help of one of my guitar mentors, Jesse Barber. After Kevin graduated from USC (where he won an Emmy for his film “The Book of Joe”) he got the chance to make a feature film of his script “Ouija”. Known to y'all (due to threats from Parker Brothers Games, Inc.) as “Witchboard”. He asked me to score it, for “money” this time. And the ball kept rolling from there.

4. When did you start working in film? How did you come about landing your first gig?

My first gig in film was as a set Production Assistant (PA) on Witchboard. The Art Department head (Sarah Burdick) hired me because I needed a job. We were friends beforehand. Then after it wrapped, I scored it. Mom said Kevin had to hire me. Thanks Mom!

5. Can you name some of the films you’ve worked on?

Witchboard 1+2, Leprechaun 3+4, Night of the Demons 1+3, Brain Dead, Tick Tock, Demolition University, Pinocchio's Revenge, Peace Maker, Witchtrap, The Book of name some of the ones that I like. There's more, but I'm not tellin'.

6. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A great producer once told me, “Dennis... good musicians borrow. Great musicians steel. His point was, “Do not reinvent the wheel”. I draw from those who went before. I did a western called “The Law at Randado”, and I just listened to a bunch of Aaron Copeland CD's before I started.

7. Can you explain the difference between “scoring vs source music"?

That's a really good question. I think a lot of people get this one mixed up. But in a nutshell, if the characters in the film can hear it (on the radio, TV, in an elevator or bar) it's considered “source” music. That is, there is a source in the film from where the music is coming. The “Score” is intended solely for the audience. However, they can change hats. It is not uncommon to have a piece of source music turn into score, or vice versa. Music may start on a car radio, and as the camera pulls back the “phutz” (an EQ setting making the music seem thinner) is removed, the stereo image is expanded and it becomes part of the score.

8. Are there any special techniques or methods in regards to sound/audio/mixing that you feel was the most unique to your style on a film?

Not really. You work with the tools you have. On Night of the Demons I had a Yamaha DX-7 rack and a Roland drum machine and a crappy first generation sequencer. On Night of the Demons 3, I had several Roland S-770 Samplers, several Roland Synths and an amazingly advanced (for the time) sequencer.

9. Have you done any Foley work on a production?

I owned a post production audio studio in Hollywood. I have played every role imaginable. Foley artist, Foley recordist, Foley editor. I've been a Voice-over actor in two films because the directors needed some thing on the fly (in “Dream a Little Dream 2, I am the radio DJ at the start of the film. We added it in on the mix stage. In “Second Arrival”, I am a newscaster). I've cut sound FX, music, dialogue, and have been Re-Recording Engineer, Production Assistant/gopher, therapist and referee.

10. Which projects were your most favorite and why?

Lots of favorites. “If... Dog... Rabbit”, Written by, Directed by, and starring Mathew Modine comes to mind. He wanted to post his film in New York, where he lives, but the producers (the guys with the money) wanted to post it at my place in Hollywood, where they live. So the producers hired me, and we all went to work. About four days into it I get a buzz on the sound-stage from my secretary, Miss Bielenberg, saying that Mathew Modine was on the line for me. I picked up and said “good morning”. His response? “What the fuck are you doing?” It was a great experience as in the end we became good friends. It turns out the nicest man in Hollywood is a New Yorker. Also “Boondock Saints” comes to mind. The director delivered, what I was told was, a two and a half hour film. The producers mercilessly cut it down to 90 minutes. We were delivered the shorter version of the film with the original length mix stems with nary a cut list. It was a jig-saw puzzle. Along with the fact that the mix stems (Separate mixes for dialogue, Music, and Sound FX) were a mess. There was music in the dialogue stems, FX in the music stems etc.) But we pieced it back together, and delivered “clean” stems. The titles were already shot (an expensive ordeal back in the day), so neither myself nor my crew got any screen credit. But it turned out well.

11. What was your most memorable experience in your career?

Playing the “Budokan” in Tokyo (where Cheap Trick recorded their hit-laden live album “Budokan”), and playing the Hiroshima Peace Concert on August 6th, 1986 on that same tour, to a full stadium and a TV audience of six million people, with the band I was playing with, and I got to play an encore with Graham Nash, JD Souther, Russ Kunkle, I believe Lee Sklar, and my personal favorite, David Lindley. Why me? I could play “Teach Your Children” on guitar. Those early days of playing folk music payed off.

12. What was your most challenging project?

I'd have to say my first film, “Witchboard”, strictly because I had no freaking clue as to what I was doing. I had never worked with time-code, or “stems” or a myriad other things. I was flying by the seat of my pants.

13. Did you win any awards for your soundtracks, scoring, sourcing etc.?


14. Are you currently working on any projects?

I am involved with an indie horror film called “Reunion from Hell”. I asked the director Hayden Newman about scoring it because I saw that my crush, Cathy Podewell, Judy/Alice in Wonderland from “Night of the Demons” had signed on. And I thought that if my affiliation could get them one more dollar in financing and help this film get made for her, I'm in.

15. Name your top 3 horror films.

Here's a nasty little secret. I don't watch horror films. They scare the crap outta me. I've obviously seen the ones I've worked, but that's a lot different. You see them naked. No sound effects, no music, and often not even finished visual effects. In the early days, there would be B&W shots, and “Slugs” that said things like “head explodes here”. I have seen what I would think of as main stream horror like Jaws, Exorcist and the Sixth Sense. I've seen the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien and Aliens, but was never brave enough for Saw, Friday the 13th, Scream, It, or any other really popular franchises. I did recently watch I Know What You Did Last Summer because Hayden, the director on “The Reunion From Hell”, said that was the kind of vibe he was going for. Watched it with my wife, in the middle of the day, with the volume really low.

16. If someone wanted to find out more about you, where would they go?

The shameless self-promotion section? I like it.

  1. My website is a good place to start. It has all of the following links on it.

  2. My IMDb page, where you can find NEARLY everything I have ever worked on in any capacity.

  3. iTunes: “Dennis Michael Tenney”

  4. Film Scores:

  5. YouTube: “The Uncle Dennis Show”

Isn’t he TERRORIFFIC creepsters? Make sure to follow him and grab all those killer tunes on his soundtracks. It’s a must have for all horror music lovers and collectors! Make sure to Revisit your Horror Tour Guide next week for another interview massacre! Now, would look at that full moon Dennis. Don’t worry about the transformation. I promise to eat you quickly but can’t promise it won’t hurt. Dinner is now served (Dennis screams)


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