If you’re lucky, you’ve seen the power that music can have on people. But in his new horror sci-fi novella Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You (paperback, Kindle), writer Scotto Moore takes it well beyond anything Tenacious D might conjure on their best day. In the following email interview, Moore discusses the origins of this story, and why the playwright didn’t make this his next stage production…but could if he wanted.
Photo Credit: Ian Johnston
I always like to begin with an overview of the plot. So, what is Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You about?
The story’s about a music blogger who discovers a new band called Beautiful Remorse. The band’s first track produces unexpectedly powerful responses in the people who hear it. They announce their plan to release one track a day until an entire album is out in the wild. They’re also touring to support the album, so the blogger decides to follow them for a few concert dates to see what the music is like in person. As the band sort of scoops the blogger up in its wake, you start to see real supernatural properties to the music when it’s played live. The tour winds up being bizarre and dangerous. Each new track the band adds to its live repertoire amplifies the overall supernatural effects of the music, and you start to realize that something pretty diabolical may be on the horizon once the last few tracks are released.
Where did you get the idea for Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You and how different is the finished story from that original idea?
I’d been a hobbyist music blogger for many years by the time I came up with this story, so there must have been some unconscious desire to glamorize that side of my life a little bit. I wrote the first two chapters kind of in a whirlwind, but my main focus as a writer at that time was playwriting. I was in a rhythm of writing one full length play a year for production in Seattle, so the idea of completing this book wound up taking a back seat to theatre.
Fast forwarding a few years, I eventually started a humor blog called Things That Cannot Save You, which I call a “Lovecraft-themed meme generator” — it’s very dark comedy. It built up enough of a following that I started thinking I should write something serious for that audience. I sort of inexplicably remembered this book, and when I dug up the chapters I’d written, I found myself really hooked. I didn’t leave myself an outline, though, so I don’t know what I was originally planning for the rest of the book. I suspect I didn’t know at the time, either. But the voice of the narrator was very easy and fun to drop back into in order to revive the story.
It kind of sounds like Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You is a horror story, or maybe horror-adjacent. Is that you see it?
I think it’s safe to call it horror, with a sci-fi twist.
In deciding how the band Beautiful Remorse would look, sound, and behave in Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, did you base them on any real bands or combinations of bands?
I didn’t base Beautiful Remorse on anyone specifically. I mean, I don’t know anyone touring that wears matching cultist robes, for instance. But I’ve been a music blogger for so long now that I get probably a hundred different press releases a week from artists, bands, labels, and PR firms. As a result, I’ve got a feel for how bands describe themselves and how they craft images for themselves. It varies based on genre — acts in certain genres tend to present “authentically,” others are more theatrical or glamorous or whimsical. All that promotional material is kind of a substrate for thinking about how Beautiful Remorse would present itself to the press and to potential fans. In this case, they’re going for a very mysterious approach, where the first track you hear is a tantalizing instrumental overture, but then on track two, the band’s singer is introduced, and you start to understand the force of personality at the center of this maelstrom of musical energy.
Along with being a music blogger, you’ve also made some music yourself. Was there any talk of making music for a soundtrack album to your book, or a song to promote the novella online?
Oh, there was definitely talk about doing exactly that. We wanted to make an album that mirrored the album Beautiful Remorse releases in the book, track for track. But for starters, anything we released would have essentially paled in comparison to what your imagination could dream up as you were reading the book. And ultimately making good music is a significant time commitment, and I wanted to focus instead on writing my next book. Talking about making an album was a good seed, though. I might still wind up collaborating with some friends on a new electropop project once my new book is locked up.
As you mentioned, you were writing plays before you wrote Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You as a novella. Why did you decide to write Band as prose instead of as a play?
I was at a point in my life where if I committed to writing a play, I felt I was committing to its entire life cycle all the way through production. And I think I just wanted to try something that felt looser and with fewer restrictions on things like cast size or location. Also, the voice of the narrator just kind of emerged organically as an extension of my own sense of humor and my worldview about music. First person narrative for me feels very similar to writing dialogue, in terms of revealing character specifically by what they say about themselves or what they say in various situations. So by the time I started writing this novella, I’d had a lot of experience writing dialogue in many different voices, and it was exciting to revisit prose writing from that perspective.
So, do you think Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You could be adapted for the stage?
There’s a part of me that believes any story can be told on stage with a sufficient amount of ingenuity and inspiration. And I’m not talking about budget. I’ve only worked in fringe theatre, where you’re constantly operating under many constraints, and as a result you’re required to be creative in a completely different fashion than if you had money to throw at every problem. I’ve never had the kind of budgets that shows like the Harry Potter play have, where they’re able to invent amazing new forms of stage magic to tell the story, and I don’t particularly believe you need that to effectively tell genre stories on stage. Certainly we pulled off many sci-fi plays over the years without giant budgets for special effects. So I think even in fringe theatre, if you had an inventive approach and motivated collaborators, you could tell this story somehow. But it’s tricky because horror can be a tougher genre than others on stage. Theatre operates on the willing suspension of disbelief, and it can be a challenge for a play to convince people to scare themselves.
How about a movie or TV show? Do you think Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You could work as either of those?
Yeah, movies or TV would certainly work. I think the trickiest part to adapt would be the music. You know, taking the music out of the realm of imagination, how would you capture the sonic assault of what Beautiful Remorse is doing, while also producing music that’s genuinely listenable and intriguing? I mean, the supernatural elements of the music wouldn’t be realized by the characters in the story if they weren’t also fantastic musicians. So the soundtrack would be super fun to bring to life.
If Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You was to be adapted into a movie, a TV show, or a play, who would you want them to cast in the main roles and why them?
The lead singer of the band, Airee Macpherson, is the critical role here. You would want someone who is a bit chameleonic, given you see so many different sides of her throughout the story — her onstage persona, her backstage persona, her identity underneath the personas. I’m just going to go with Tilda Swinton [Doctor Strange] and call it good.
The narrator is more difficult for me to cast. I don’t really stay current with TV so I’m not sure who the go to performers are for sort of the sardonic hipster roles these days.
Actually, I could see Kristen Bell [The Good Place] doing it justice.
Finally, if someone enjoys Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, what novella in a similar vein would you recommend they check out next?
I think you’d actually want to look at a comic series called Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It’s three collections of stories about “phonomancers,” people who can harness the power of music for magical purposes. Some of those stories have a definite shade of horror to them. I hadn’t read Phonogram when I started writing Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You, so some of the parallels are a little uncanny to me.
Actually, there are concert sequences in The Wicked + The Divine, also by Gillen and McKelvie, that remind me of how I imagined Beautiful Remorse in concert. That’s a story about gods incarnated as modern day pop stars, roaming the culture and wreaking havoc, which of course is very appealing to me.