'American Horror Story': The Inside Story Of Lady Gaga's Creepy 'Hotel' Theme

'AHS' composer Mac Quayle breaks down this season's 'creepy, synthetic' sounds.

"American Horror Story" often spins its horror narratives in unconventional ways, and "Hotel" is shaping up to be no different.

Urban vampires, addiction demons and serial killers run rampant in the infamous Hotel Cortez, and it's composer Mac Quayle's job to make their nefarious deeds and contemptuous glances really sting with his synthetic, post-punk score.

For Quayle, his "American Horror Story" journey all stared through his relationship with fellow composer Cliff Martinez. Quayle and Martinez worked together on a number of projects, including Ryan Murphy's 2014 HBO film "The Normal Heart."

"Through working with Cliff on that, I met Ryan and his team, and when they were looking to go in a different direction for 'Horror Story,' they gave me a call and said, 'Hey, would you like to submit some music?' So I wrote a piece, I submitted it, and they hired me the next day for 'Freak Show.'"

Composer Mac Quayle.

Now, back for his second installment of the anthology series, Quayle has taken a different approach to this season's horrors.

"The direction of the season initially came from Ryan," he said. "He was like, 'We want to do something retro. There's going to be songs that are sort of goth and post-punk.' He said he was really liking electronic horror scores, like from 'The Hunger' and 'Cat People' and different things like that. That was the initial idea of how it might sound."

"So I went into the studio and started writing some music, trying to have it be very synthetic and creepy," he added.

Quayle, who's currently in the middle of production for Murphy's "American Horror Story," "Scream Queens," and "American Crime Story," has made the majority of "Hotel"'s jarring cues on his computer.

"It's all virtual instruments, virtual synths, virtual samples," he said. "The rules are that I'm trying to be as synthetic as possible and as electronic as I can to not use real instruments. I have used a few samples of some real instruments, but most of it has all been done with synths."

The first music cue Quayle composed for "Hotel" was called "Creepy Kids." It was for a scene in the first act of Episode 1, where one of the blond Swedish tourists walks down the hall to get ice. This was also the first scene in which we're introduced, albeit vaguely, to Lady Gaga's The Countess.


Lady Gaga stars as The Countess in "American Horror Story: Hotel."

"She sees these kids in the hallway that appear and disappear, and that was the first cue. It was synthetic and sort of noisy and creepy. It was liked, but the first versions didn't have the melody that Ryan really wanted."

"But this is why I love collaborating with good people," he added. "They sent me back and pushed me to take it to another level, so I came up with this melody and sound, which to me sounds kind of like it's on an old record from the '20s, vaguely violin and very creepy. And he loved it. Now it's become a signature sound for the season."

In fact, Murphy was so in love with the cue Quayle created for that scene, he asked him to rework the show's opening title sequence using that same haunted violin sound.

"I got to work on refreshing the main titles, the theme that's been with the show from the beginning, and so I wrote a melody and put that sound on top of what had been the main titles previously," he said. "You can now hear this new melody with this sound that's sort of like a creepy violin. That was a lot of fun."

When it comes to Quayle's favorite "Hotel" cues, however, they couldn't be more opposite. One embraces the synthetic camp of the season, while the other is full-on drama. Then again, that's what makes "Horror Story" such a wildly unconventional and zany ride from start to finish.

"There's a scene when Lady Gaga shows Lachlan the room where the kids are playing these giant video games, and I quite like the cue for that," he said. "That helped me define the direction that we were going to be going. And then there's also a scene where The Countess breaks up with Matt Bomer's character and also turns Tristan into a vampire, and they're cutting back and forth between the two. It's this big, dramatic moment, and that was quite a nice scene to work on."

"Certainly, after working on 'Freak Show,' I wasn't expecting working with vampires this season," he added. "That was a nice surprise."