“The Sins of Dracula.” “Murder University.” “Frankenstein in a Women’s Prison.”
These are just a few of the movies that soundtrack artist Timothy Fife has helped create.
Enter his studio and you’re greeted by a low mechanized growling. It’s joined by other noises — fast-paced drums; bright, angelic synthesizers, the sudden introduction of horns — blending together into a purgatorial tension.
“I like to make it a little bit beautiful and a little bit crazy,” Fife says of his soundtracks. Talking to Fife as he concocts experimental organ riffs feels like interviewing the Phantom of the Opera, only instead of a subterranean refuge, his studio is a third-story roost overlooking Sheafe Street in Portsmouth.
“This is my passion. I look forward to doing this every day,” he says. After his workday is finished, he comes here to put in another night of work at his piano. For those who’ve seen the movies Fife scores, full of grotesque murders and re-animated monsters, his day job is surprising.
“I wanted to do something that had some meaning,” Fife says about his job at Seacoast Mental Health, where he works with people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and are ready to move on to a new chapter of their lives.
“They want to go to college or get a part-time job or volunteer, or they just need support to advance their life a little further,” he says. “A lot of people in my program want to succeed, so it’s really gratifying when they do.”
Fife knows something about success. He has received several awards for his 13 film scores, been praised by Fangoria magazine, and participated in hundreds of projects over the years — from co-hosting the Let’s B Reel cult film series at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre to DJing at The Press Room with his group, The Butler Brothers.
“Everybody’s got a dream they might as well try to achieve. If it doesn’t work out, there’s another dream to follow.” — Tim Fife
Fife’s path to composing scores for B movies started with the cult classic “Escape from New York.”
“A band I was in opened for Glass Candy. They played (the “Escape from New York” soundtrack) in their van when we were waiting for the show to start,” he says. “It just blew my mind. It sounded like all of these bands I liked, but so atmospheric. I was pretty much hooked from that point on.”
In 2011, a friend recommended Fife to Scorpio Film Releasing to write music for their movie, “The Disco Exorcist.” Fife and a friend wrote some disco tunes and sent them to the director, Richard Griffin.
“He liked them so much he asked me to keep working with them,” Fife says.
Today, Fife’s studio is a small museum of memorabilia. Between blinking orange lights and the ghoulish mask looming over his chair, it’s easy to miss a 2013 award for best score (for “Frankenstein’s Wax Museum of the Hungry Dead”) from Motif Magazine stuffed away among knickknacks.
“I didn’t even go to (the awards show) because I didn’t think I was going to get it,” Fife says, laughing.
Fife seems to genuinely love his work, and he strives to help his clients find similar gratification. “To keep that support there is important. Sometimes their goals are not realistic, so you have to go through the steps to show them how realistic things are,” he says.
Fife learned this the hard way, interning at New Hampshire Public Radio 14 years ago. “I just really wasn’t very good at being a journalist. Really quickly I learned I was being too idealistic,” he says.
Now, he shares his experiences with his clients, hoping to direct their paths in the same way his own was directed. “I don’t think it’s wrong to be idealistic; I just think it’s good to be reasonable. Everybody’s got a dream they might as well try to achieve. If it doesn’t work out, there’s another dream to follow.”
Fife has found his own dreams to follow in film. And, like the movies he scores, which ask viewers to accept with unwavering credulity some extremely bizarre premises, his music lives in a world where unchecked idealism is not a mythical construction. Though his nights are filled with phantasmagorical creations, he awakes each morning to help people make their own fantasies concrete.