INTERVIEW WITH JOHN BERGIN BY JEREMY SAFFER
The Crow has been a cult classic for 25 years, but what many may not know is before the film’s incredible soundtrack featuring Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Stone Temple Pilots, there was a soundtrack made for the comic book. James O’Barr, creator of The Crow, and John Bergin, creator of Ashes, teamed up to produce a soundtrack with Bergin’s industrial band Trust Obey that would accompany The Crow comic, and thus Fear and Bullets was born. Recently, this iconic soundtrack has been remastered and reissued. We look back at the history of Fear and Bullets with John Bergin and the creation and longevity of this iconic soundtrack. Be sure to see below for your chance to win a copy of the Devil’s Night special edition vinyl with an artist proof cover.
How did you and James O’Barr first cross paths?
In the early 90s, we were both making comics for Caliber Press. James was working on The Crow, and I was making an anthology called Ashes. We met in real life for the first time at a comic convention in Chicago around 1989. It was like long lost brothers meeting for the first time.
“WE SAW THE STORY AS CINEMATIC, SO WE WERE GOING TO MAKE A SOUNDTRACK FOR IT AS IF IT WERE AN ACTUAL FILM”
The Crow has a very heavy influence from the music James was listening to, and you’re also a comic book creator and a musician. How did you two come up with the idea to team up for the soundtrack to the comic?
There were so many musical references in The Crow comic—New Order, Joy Division, The Cure, Big Black. It seemed obvious to us that The Crow should have its own music. At the time, I had recorded a handful of albums, and James was always writing poetry essays. It was just a natural teaming up—James writing words and me setting them to music. Honestly, I think half the reason we did it was stubbornness and the DIY attitude we both had. We saw the story as cinematic, so we were going to make a soundtrack for it as if it were an actual film, whether other people saw it that way or not.
What was the process of creating the soundtrack?
When James and I first had the idea to make a soundtrack for The Crow comic book, the film hadn’t been made yet. It was just an indie comic no one had heard of. The first version of The Crow comic book soundtrack was something I recorded in a home studio on a 4-track cassette recorder. Once the collected graphic novel and film were in the works, we saw an opportunity to re-record the songs and polish them up in a real studio. Those initial recordings were made with very limited resources, well before the days of free digital multi-track workstations that fit in your pocket. In the early 90s, our recording options were either renting expensive studio time or using fairly rudimentary home recording equipment. At the time, James and I didn’t consider this Fear and Bullets cassette to be a demo. It was the final product—a zero budget soundtrack for a black and white indie comic book no one had heard of, recorded in a basement, and published from the back office of a comic book store in Detroit, Michigan. James and I duped 100 cassettes and gave them away at comic book conventions in late 1991. That same year we took The Crow comic from Caliber to a new publisher, Tundra/Kitchen Sink, where we saw an opportunity to revisit the soundtrack and record a more polished album to be packaged with The Crow collected graphic novel. Working with guitarist Brett Smith under my band name, Trust Obey, we finished recording the soundtrack in 1993, just as Ed Pressman optioned The Crow for film. We partnered with Graphitti Designs and Tundra to produce a deluxe hardcover limited edition of The Crow, packaged with the Trust Obey soundtrack on CD. The book was released just as The Crow film hit theaters in 1994. Fear and Bullets remained unavailable as a stand-alone album until 1998 when we remixed it for release on Invisible Records. Over the following years, the album went out of print, as Invisible Records closed its doors and CDs became an obsolete format. Some of the music found its way onto streaming platforms in the late 2000s, but in general, it has remained somewhat lost to time…until now.
Do specific songs tie in directly with specific pages or scenes?
I composed most of the music to accompany specific scenes from the comic. When it was time to write lyrics, James and I simply turned to the book and read through the scene I’d just scored. In most cases, all the text on those pages fell right into place as song lyrics. “Seven Blackbirds,” for example, was written to accompany Eric’s confrontation with T-Bird’s gang and subsequent shoot-out in the Gin Mill. I wrote the long, second part of the song to accompany pages and pages of brutal violence—guns blasting, glass shattering, and blood spraying. We turned to that scene in the book, and there were the lyrics in the text and dialog. In other instances, I wrote lyrics and James worked them into parts of the comic that were still in production—“True Love Always,” for example. When the song was finished, James used my lyrics and the song’s title in the book. The TLA symbol—True Love Always—also found its way into the artwork. You can find it near the beginning of the “Crescendo” chapter where it appears as a pin on Eric’s leather jacket.
At the time, a soundtrack to a comic book must have been one of the first of its kind?
It was! As far as I know there hadn’t been anything like it prior.
Do you have any favorite songs from the album?
I’ve always liked “Seven Blackbirds.” It was the first song I wrote for the album. I’ve always liked the simplicity of the heavy beats and the guitar riffs. The apocalyptic ending was always great to play live. Screaming, “You’re All Gonna Die!” at a crowd is cathartic.
And, of course, you’ve also made soundtracks for your comic Wednesday, Crash and Burn, etc. Was the process of creating those similar to Fear and Bullets?
Yes, very similar! Comics are like storyboards for a film. Similar in the sense that I went through the story, pulled key scenes, and wrote music to accompany them. I also used dialog for lyrics again, too.
Trust Obey famously signed to Trent Reznor’s record label Nothing and was dropped shortly after. What is the story behind that?
Trust Obey was one of the first bands signed to Nothing. We met Trent through The Crow film, when he was working on the Joy Division “Dead Souls” cover. We recorded an album titled Hands of Ash for Nothing Records, but just before we released it, there were some major changes at Interscope that affected Nothing’s ability to release records—Nothing was a sub-label of Interscope. Trent graciously returned ownership of the Hands of Ash masters to me, and we released the album on Fifth Colvmn Records. Usually, when a label has administrative changes like Interscope did, unreleased albums get shelved forever. There are so many stories of that happening to bands, so it was really cool that Trent got our album back to us.
“THE CROW WAS THE FIRST TIME I EXPERIENCED THAT WEIRD, UNREAL FEELING OF HAVING A TINY PIECE OF MY IMAGINATION GO OUT INTO THE WORLD FOR SO MANY PEOPLE TO SEE.”
How did you feel about The Crow movie when it was released?
I loved it. Alex Proyas had such a distinctive vision for the film. The first time I saw the final print was at an early screening in St. Louis sitting with James. It’s amazing to watch a story go from just two people talking, writing, and drawing, to a movie set and a production company with hundreds of people working on the concept, to a movie theater with hundreds of people watching the film, to a worldwide success. The Crow was the first time I experienced that weird, unreal feeling of having a tiny piece of my imagination go out into the world for so many people to see. People who work in the entertainment industry can often be jaded about how amazing that is. I always think back to the moments of just me and James hanging out in my basement talking about The Crow—just two people talking. I remind myself how amazing it is for an idea to go from a tiny, tiny moment like that to a worldwide phenomenon.
After all this time, what do you think keeps The Crow such a beloved comic and movie to so many fans?
Love never dies.
25 years later, you are releasing a handful of different versions of Fear and Bullets. Can you tell us about the differences in each release?
To recap, the first version of Fear and Bullets was included with a special edition of The Crow graphic novel originally published by Kitchen Sink Press and Graphitti Designs in 1994. The album was later remixed and re-released as a stand-alone CD in 1998 on Invisible Records. Here are the four Fear and Bullets re-issues and special releases that were released on October 30 (Devil’s Night), 2018.
1) Fear and Bullets remastered 1998 Edition. A remastered version of the 1998 remixes. This album is available digitally on all platforms.
2) Fear and Bullets remastered 1994 Edition. A remastered version of the original 1994 album. This album is available digitally on all platforms.
3) Fear and Bullets Demo Tapes. These are the recordings James and I originally made and sold at comic book conventions in the early 90s before The Crow film was made. Available as digital downloads, exclusively on my Bandcamp [johnbergin.bandcamp.com] with original cassette artwork and liner notes.
4) Fear and Bullets Devil’s Night Special Edition Vinyl. Released by Enjoy the Ride Records, the vinyl collects a best-of of songs from all versions of the album. Extras include liner notes and a poster of James O’Barr’s first ever Crow drawing from 1980.
Can you tell us about the remastering?
Mastering an album in the mid and late 90s was pretty different from what we do today. I mean, today’s tools are so much better. There are many more platforms to consider, too. I felt the music needed to be remastered to give the music more depth, more fullness. The remasters are by Robert Rich, who is an amazing mastering engineer. He brought a warmth to the new masters that I just love. The kick drums and guitars are so thick now, whereas the previous masters sounded somewhat brittle to me. We’ve had a great response from fans that love the new masters.
How did the Devil’s Night Special Edition Vinyl come to be?
The CDs were long out of print, and much of the music wasn’t available on streaming services. We knew the 25th anniversary of the album was coming up, and that was a great reason to get it all properly remastered and re-released. It was overdue. In re-releasing the material, it made sense to get some of it on vinyl, too. I love the quality of Enjoy the Ride’s releases, so it made perfect sense to partner with the label. The extras that come with the vinyl are something I’ve always wanted to share more widely with Crow fans for years, particularly James’ first ever Crow drawing.
How did you select the songs for the vinyl release?
I picked songs that gave a good overview of all the different releases, from the 94 version, the 98 version, and even the previously unreleased demos. There’s certainly room for a second vinyl best-of for a future Devil’s Night.
What do you think makes this soundtrack so special to so many fans?
Perhaps because it is so close to the original work—the comic. It comes from a time before the books took off and before the film became so widely known. The music has been somewhat obscure for over two decades. The music has flown under the radar for so long that maybe the insularity has kept it feeling like it’s our music—music that belongs to true Crow fans.
How has the response to the re-releases been so far?
It’s been great. I’ve loved hearing from fans that already knew about the music and were excited to see it remastered and on vinyl. It really is a nice vinyl package!
You and James have teamed up a few times since The Crow. Will you two team up again on anything in the future?
I never rule out anything! As always, these things are usually just a matter of time…of finding the time.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
I’m always working on new music and artwork. Find me on Twitter [@JBXX] or Instagram [@johnxbergin] to keep up. Visit my Bandcamp [johnbergin.bandcamp.com] to see what’s new with my music. I’m working on a new album with Jarboe right now, and I’m quite excited about that!
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