Exclusive: John Kiernan Talks Theme Writing for IMPACT, ROH, NJPW Stars

John Kiernan with Balaguer Guitar
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“Life is not a straight line,” John Kiernan told me multiple times during our interview. His journey through music and wrestling lead him down a path that ended with him writing wrestling themes for stars such as PJ, Black, Fred Rosser, and Brian Myers. We talked a bit about everything from Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, and Shayna Baszler to Iron Maiden, Sabaton, Unleash the Archers, and Nightwish. In this exclusive interview, John explained his journey with music, wrestling, and how he combined the two. Let’s learn a bit more about the man behind the music, John Kiernan.

Musical Beginnings for John Kiernan

LWOS: How did you get started with music? Was it at a young age? 

John Kiernan: “My family is very much into music, there aren’t a lot of musicians in my family [professionally] but there are a lot of appreciators. So I grew up with a lot of appreciation for music. I did a lot of music lessons in middle school with orchestra but I didn’t feel like it was my speed. My brother ended up getting an electric guitar and getting lessons.”

“He got me into electric guitar and my dad took me for lessons. The guy I took lessons from was probably the meanest guitar teacher ever (laughs). I actually ran away from guitar lessons for about a month and a half to the Burger King next door (laughs). My dad didn’t know about it, I am 32 now I told him when I was 30. I stopped playing guitar for about five years but then I moved to Florida with my family.”

“A friend of mine I made down there was really into guitar and started playing things like Senses Fail and Atreyu and I got really into that and got really into guitar from that. Since I was 14 or so I have been really in love with music. I have been performing ever since and have performed in the US, China, and very grateful to have landed here with wrestling themes.”

What are some of your musical influences? 

Before the interview began John Kiernan and I talked about a mutual love of orchestral metal and its influence on him. He went into more detail on his musical inspirations.

“It changes all the time [musical influences] when I was younger Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani were huge influences on me. For me, Nightwish can do no wrong. It is the personification of merging styles. If it wasn’t for them I probably wouldn’t be thinking about different backgrounds of music and have fun with it. Now I am kind of all over the place, I listen to a lot of melodic hardcore, midwest emo, even country. All of them have so many different influences. Once you start learning guitar and music you see there isn’t always so much of a difference between styles. I never thought I would be influenced by country but I can listen to a Brad Paisley song and see a similar chord progression to a Yellowcard song or an Epica song.”

How did you break into the music industry? 

“When I was in high school I started playing in bands as many do. I really liked that, I loved playing with people and making music happen. I went to college for music. Through school, I learned how to record and use the programs coming out at the time. I always wanted to write music for video games or TV I thought it was so cool. For me, the performance side is what really drove me to want to break into the industry. When I left Florida I released my own studio album. My goal was really to see how far I could push myself.”

John quoted AJ Styles from his interview with Steve Austin of “Taking a bet on yourself” “And I started to do that, I sent out feelers for endorsements and got to perform at NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and meet other people in the industry. Life is not a straight line but that was really the start of me getting into the industry. I attribute a lot of where I am now to that first solo record.”

John and the Kiernan Family Wrestling Gateway

LWOS: How did you become a wrestling fan? 

“My brother was really big into wrestling. My dad worked with a guy who was a referee for a local promotion so he and my mom were pretty into it. We would watch Smackdown back when it was on UPN in the 8 pm-10 pm timeslot. I was a little kid eating ice cream and watching The Rock get super kicked by Shawn Michaels (laughs). My brother got me started with the Wrestlemania XII match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. A 60-minute iron match that goes to a draw you wouldn’t think would enamor a kid but to me, Shawn Michaels was the most entertaining. I remember being so mad at Bret Hart thinking why is he beating up Shawn Micheals (laughs).”

“There was a little time in high school where I got out of it. The college I went to required you to stay on campus for one summer and take classes. There weren’t a lot of people on campus but my buddy Seth and I roomed together. We played a wrestling game on the N64 and one day I asked if he had ever seen Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker. He hadn’t so we watched a clip of it. It spiraled from there and over time I started to get back into wrestling. I am back into it now pretty feverishly so I have to thank college for getting me back into wrestling.”

Kiernan 8x10
Artwork by Hiban Huerta

Becoming a Theme Writer

LWOS: How did you get into the wrestling industry? 

John Kiernan: “I was doing a podcast called the Armchair Bookers Podcast. We were looking for different ways to get more eyes on the podcast. One of the hosts asked if I had ever thought of doing wrestling themes? I didn’t know how to get into it but I asked Eddie Pearl and Ricky Gibson of Four Minutes of Heat (now called Midnight Heat) if they needed a theme. They said they were getting to the point where they needed one so I wrote the theme “All Night Overdrive” and they started using it.

“I reached out to other people we had interviewed on the podcast like Christina Marie, Masha Slamovich, Johnny Moran, and over time I started reaching out to other wrestlers and started getting referrals which I am super grateful for. I have locked in about 70 themes between June 2019 and now. It really just started from asking questions and asking wrestlers how this works.”

ROH and IMPACT Theme Writing

LWOS: How did the ROH and IMPACT themes come along? 

“I reached out to PJ Black, he’s one of my favorite wrestlers so I tossed up a hail mary. He responded and said let’s do it, he asked if I could bring in Michael “Monster” Tarver to rap. We put together the theme for him and he loved it. John Morrison put it on Instagram and I was like what is happening (laughs)?”

Before conducting this interview I noticed John Kiernan had written Brian Myers theme. The theme always sticks out to me and I can identify it immediately. 

LWOS: How did the theme for Myers come about? 

“I am the new guitarist for It Lives It Breathes” who did Will Ospreay’s theme Elevated. The singer Kevin reached out to me and said we were asked to do Brian Myers theme and would like to have you on it. He sent me a screenshot of him talking to Brian and I couldn’t believe it. We wrote a theme that is one of my favorites that I have been part of. Kevin wrote some banger lyrics all about his journey pre, during, and post WWE. It needed to be rock, driving, and emotional. I sent some snippets to Brian and responded saying he was rocking out in his car to it (laughs). We built the song and he loves it. Seeing it on IMPACT the first time was another what moment (laughs).”

The Creative Process

LWOS: What is your creative process look like to theme write? 

John Kiernan: “My big question that I always ask every wrestler is who are you, and what do you want people to know about you before you hit the ring? I ask that to people even that have been in WWE. It’s not really important what you see on TV [for theme writting], my question is to wrestler what do you want people to know about you? That is what needs to be portrayed. I think we can agree sometimes we agree we hear themes that are cool but does it really do something to amplify the character? Or if you heard it on its own would you know who the character is?”

“Someone for example who is an MMA fighter. Even though it’s not a lot of info or context but if you compare them to say a high-flyer, the MMA fighter may be more methodical. It can have some interesting elements, it can be a bit heavier. I think that is how you draw the best theme and the best traits that they really want to highlight. It also helps to write a theme that can be used for either a heel or a babyface.”

Memorable Themes

LWOS: Are there any theme you have worked on stick out to you in particular?

 

“Fred Rosser’s new theme No Days Off that one was… it’s interesting to me the themes that mean the most to me are the ones where a wrestler really knows what they are going for and really know what the character is. I think it is very different to write a theme for a wrestler who is a very good wrestler. I think when you have someone who knows who they are and even if they are just a wrestler but they know how they want to be presented it makes it easier to write a really engaging theme. Again Tarver put down some amazing lyrics. I really wanted him to feel larger than life. I wanted to make something that when you hear it and see him you know you are getting a high caliber talent. That one really sticks out to me.”

John and I initially connected when I came across the new theme for Lilith Grimm which featured a member of the band Eluveitie. John went into more detail on the theme and how it came to be.

“Another one that really sticks out to me is Lilith Grimm. It was such a different theme. Again being able to push the limits of what a theme can do. Take Fred Rosser’s theme, it combines rock, rap, hip-hop, but really feels like The Rock’s theme. Then let’s go to Grimm’s theme which is the Bone Collector Demon and let’s create something that is very tribal and woodland, and let’s go ahead and put the hurdy gurdy player from Eluveitie in there”

The Division

John Kiernan: “Another theme or collection of themes I always bring up is the theme for The Division stable. It’s six different people from different promotions but they all come from The Monster Factory here in New Jersey. Their head guy Benjamin King wanted to have a theme for the stable, and also has Tarver on it. As I started working on it, other members The Notorious Mimi and Rico De La Vega reached out and wanted themes too. I thought it would be really cool to have a theme that is “parent” of the other themes. So when I write for someone from the Divison you’ll hear a similar thematic material that goes through all of the themes even though it is specific to the character.”

“When you listen to Rico De La Vega’s theme it is very about his Puerto Rican pride. If you listen to the Divisions it is really heavy and has these lyrics about them taking over the world. Mimi is an angel so it has a lot of choirs and things like that, but you’ll be able to put them all together and say this is the stable they are all part of, but they are their own thing.”

Dream Themes

LWOS: Who is a dream wrestler for you to write a theme for? 

“I would have to say Miro is someone I would love to write for. Miro is great and he has had some great themes in AEW and WWE, but he is someone I would like to do some damage for. I would love to revisit Masha Slamovich’s theme. One person I would really have wanted to write for quite some time is Thunder Rosa I feel like there is really cool potential there.”

“Ricochet is another one that I think could really have something… I think there is something there with Ricochet that is there, he’s there, he’s amazing but I think there could be a little bit more for him. Danhausen I think we could do some damage, he’s such a character. I feel like I could bring out some interesting characteristics there. I’m also going to toss Shayna Baszler in there too. She is one of my favorite wrestlers of the past decade, I feel like I could probably do some damage with her. I would basically sit in a room with her for a couple of hours and say you’re this, what do you want people to know?”

Other Projects for John Kiernan

LWOS: What projects are you involved in outside of wrestling? 

“Kind of still connected to wrestling, there is a wrestling card video game called Mark Out coming out on Steam that I was able to do music for. I do music sometimes for video games and commercials. A lot of the music I write outside of wrestling is more solo instrumental stuff. I really try to keep it [wrestling] in the pocket. I am grateful to have the amount of wrestlers that trust me to create the music for them, but there is a lot of themes I need to attend to [laughs], I have a folder full of about 70 different demo songs packaged away that aren’t for wrestling. Every now and then I do put those out. 2019 was the last time I put out a record, which was called Firestarter. I have songs that are very orchestral metal, some that are country, all different styles.”

You can find themes John Kiernan has worked on YouTube and Spotify. Connect with him on Facebook and Instagram, and find his merch here.

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