James Iha Talks Scoring James Franco's 'Mother May I Sleep With Danger?'

The former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist discusses his latest project, scoring James Franco's Lifetime Film. 

James Franco is making a Lifetime film — a queer vampire spin on the classically campy Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? This is intriguing enough on its own, but when you throw in an unlikely collaboration with former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, it’s elevated to a whole new level. We obviously had to find out more, so Inverse spoke with Iha about the film and his career.

What attracted you to this project?

James Franco; vampires. It seems like a fun, crazy, evil movie. If I’m doing a score, I look for something that has a good story and director. [Franco] has a strong vision about this and wanted it to come across a certain way. I don’t think he wanted a straight remake of the original — he wanted it more edgy and crazy in a different kind of way.

Are you a horror movie fan yourself?

I don’t watch too many horror movies, although with one exception. I really love the original John Carpenter’s The Thing. That has a great score. It’s a classic.

Did Franco give you much guidance on the score, or leave you to your own devices?

He gave me some references for one aspect of the score. I did three kinds of themes: The opening theme is a guitar driven ominous “here come the vampires” sort of theme, which was rock-based with scary sounds and whispery vocals. Another, which James Franco gave me a reference for, was a quieter sounding theme that uses old school ‘80s drum machines, ethereal vocals, soft keyboards, and clean guitars for a certain kind of sound. I used that theme for the more intimate moments. The music doesn’t do comedy or anything that’s wink-wink, the music is pretty earnest and heightens what’s going on in the scenes: Drama and tension and scary stuff.


To briefly pivot to your recent Smashing Pumpkins reunion after 16 years, what was that experience like for you? Was there a particular song you enjoyed re-visiting most?

Billy [Corgan] and I reconnected recently and they were going to do this tour, so he invited me to play a couple shows with them. We played songs from our second record, Siamese Dream, and those were all great.

What’s surprised you the most about your career?

It’s amazing I’m still in the music business. I feel like I’ve been really lucky to have played with the kind of bands that I’ve played with — the Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle. And when the Pumpkins were big, we got to meet and play with a lot of different people with a lot of incredible bands: Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Guns N’ Roses.

How have you seen the music industry evolve during your time in it?

The internet changed music the most. Obviously music is kind of wide open about what you can do, but for me it’s worked out to try doing a lot of things and not just be a band guy every day of the year. It keeps it interesting working with different people – songwriters, bands, people in TV and films.

Do you see yourself pivoting to scores more in the future or collaborating with more people like James Franco? What do you have brewing on the horizon?

There are some band records I produced that are coming out, there might be some more scoring and composing stuff I can’t talk about yet, but I’m pretty happy with the music. There’s always a chance A Perfect Circle might tour again or record again. Getting anything made and seeing it through its completion is a big thing. There’s a lot of singers and bands out there I’d love to work with.

‘Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?’ premieres on Lifetime on June 18. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.