Boy Harsher interview The Runner

How dark wave duo Boy Harsher segued into horror filmmaking

“The music we’re always making sounds like it would mesh well with a good noir or scary movie, so with The Runner, it just made sense.”

Over the past decade, synthwave — a genre that dominated 1980s video game and movie soundtracks — has been making a steady comeback. Actually, it never truly died out, but was limited to niche circles as grunge took over the world. In recent years, however, a legion of fresh synthwave bands have made their way onto the charts and into clubs, with even more mainstream pop artists, like the Weeknd, dipping their toes in.

One duo riding this wave and slowly manipulating it over time with their diverse soundscapes is Boy Harsher. Made up of vocalist Jae Matthews and electronic soundscaper Augustus Muller, you could call their sound darkwave — blending the gothic industrial sounds of Sisters of Mercy with the more modern lush waves of someone like Beach House.

They have always been heavily inspired by the art of film, creating soundtracks for non-existent movies, but for their latest release, The Runner, they actually had the opportunity to create their own. 

“It’s always been our dream to make a film,” says Muller over the phone. “And with COVID cancelling all of the touring opportunities for us at the time, we finally had the time to make one.”

Boy Harsher was already in the process of making what they call a “wacky COVID album,” but quickly found themselves once again writing a dark soundtrack to a film. 

“It was very difficult to write music for the club, because at that time, it seemed like clubs and those types of concerts were going to be extinct,” says Matthews. “So we experimented and pretended to write a soundtrack for a film idea and it evolved into actually filming something.” 

Written and directed by Boy Harsher, The Runner was released by Shudder back in January. It’s a short film that follows an unnamed, speechless woman (the eponymous Runner, played by Kristina Esfandiari of the doom metal group King Woman) as she silently rampages through an unsuspecting country town, haunted by bloody, vague memories and sinister motivations. The film also splices in live performances and music videos from Boy Harsher, and at times acts as a documentary about the duo’s musical inspiration.

“I think the music we’re always making sounds like it would mesh well with a good noir or scary movie, so with The Runner, it just made sense,” Matthews says. “We also incorporated some of the characters we’ve created over the years that never made it onto the screen.”

One of these characters is credited as the “the Desperate Man,” whom the Runner calls and listens to over the telephone as she ruminates over the horror she just caused. 

“I think Gus wrote him 10 years ago and he always found his way into our songs. Another is the lonely woman, and then, of course, the Runner, who has crept into our music for some time,” Matthews says. 

It’s hard to feel sympathy for the Runner in the film as she goes on what you could call a killing spree, even though the film gives a vague justification for her carnage. But at one point someone asks, “Do you see yourself in the Runner?” The question, directed at Matthews herself during the interview/documentary portion” of the film, gives a feeling of stark terror becuase we never get her answer. 

“I think if I take it literally, for me, then yes, of course, because I’ve been writing this character for so long, but the point of that question in the film is to suggest that everyone might see themselves in the Runner,” she says. “There’s always a part of you that is going to self-sabotage in order to get what you want, or, just like this prescription of desire, as a manifestation of something entirely destructive.”

Boy Harsher’s sojourn in the world of filmmaking may become more of an extended stay now that Matthews and Muller have a taste for it. So could there be a sequel to The Runner? The conclusion is left pretty open. 

“I mean Jae and I are both ready to quit music and make music — I mean, films,” Muller says. 

“That was a bit of a Freudian slip there,” Matthews laughs. “But seriously, I think the pandemic really gave us a perspective of what’s valuable in life. We love music, and there’s nothing more special than performing music for people who also enjoy it. But at the same time, it would be really nice to get back to our roots and produce some films.” ■

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cult MTL. 

For more about Boy Harsher, please visit the band’s website.

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