Chris Farren believes in chasing his ridiculous ideas until the end. Whether it’s creating a series of paintings depicting the funerals of famous cartoon characters or releasing a Christmas album of completely original holiday songs, he will commit to a project once he’s got it in his head. A little after 4 AM one night in April, he was lying in bed when he had an idea so wild that it fully woke him up.
“I’d been listening to this album called Trouble Man, this movie soundtrack by Marvin Gaye,” Farren says. “I thought: Man, I can’t wait for the time in my career when I’m able to do something like that. But then I thought: Well, I could just do it, and not wait, because it seems like a fun creative thing to do, to make music for movies. Maybe I won’t wait. Maybe I’ll make a soundtrack to a movie that doesn't even exist.” Before he knew it, he was sitting up, jotting down ideas and potential song titles for a film soundtrack—“Attacked by Dogs,” “Red Wire Blue Wire,” “Car Chase!”—and then a title for this imaginary movie struck him: Death Don’t Wait.
Farren started studying action movies and their scores for inspiration, specifically thrillers from French, Italian, and American cinema of the 60s and 70s , and of course, a healthy dose of James Bond flicks. “I thought about what every action movie has,” he says. “There’s usually at least two car chases, maybe a boat chase, hand-to-hand combat, a heist scene. So I just chose 15 different types of scenes, and I’d watch those types of scenes in different movies. I watched a lot of bank heist scenes and scenes of people diffusing bombs, and tried to pay attention to what the music was doing, and thought about how I could do that in my own way.”
In under just three months, Farren scored his entire made-up movie—11 instrumental tracks that would properly suit the specific moods of helicopter shoot-outs or villain headquarter explosions, yet somehow feel distinct to his own style of indie rock. And while he didn’t have the luxury of employing a full orchestra like Ennio Morricone or John Carpenter, he did rope in a few hired guns to help flesh out the sound of Death Don’t Wait, including Jeff Rosenstock, Macseal’s Frankie Impastato, and AJJ’s Mark Glick.
And of course, every good action movie needs a killer title track with an elegantly delivered vocal performance. For that, Farren enlisted his secret weapon, his friend and collaborator Laura Stevenson. “I didn't want to sing on it,” he says. “I thought it would take away from the concept of the record if I sang on it. And the nature of the song, it wasn’t meant for my voice. It’s meant for more of a classic voice, and Laura has one of the great voices of our time, I say.” Like Nancy Sinatra or Shirley Bassey before her, Stevenson croons a sultry title track that brilliantly sets the tone for the entire film, albeit a fictional one.
The novelty of Death Don’t Wait ended up being the perfect pandemic project to pull Farren out of a songwriting rut. Without having to worry about touring or performing live, he was able to focus entirely on this fresh avenue of songwriting. “During the heart of the pandemic, I'd tried to write some of my normal songs, and I was just not feeling it. I wasn’t excited about anything I was coming up with,” he says. “But this was a great muse to follow, and it became a good use for all my pent-up creative energy.”
But while his passion for the project led him into exciting new directions as a musician, he was still concerned about how his record label, Polyvinyl Records, would react to the unconventional idea. “I can’t imagine any record label being stoked about their artist coming to them and saying, ‘Hey, I made a new record, but guess what, I don’t sing on it, it’s all instrumental, and it’s a specific concept. Are you ready?’” he laughs. He compiled the potential art and larger concepts together into a pitch deck and presented it to the label and, to his surprise, they were just as excited as he was. And with their backing, Death Don’t Wait became real. Or, as real as a soundtrack for a nonexistent movie could be.