Interview by James Murphy
Q: As I ask everyone of late, how has the last year been for you, all things considered? How did you get the work done?
A: On the positive side, if there was one, the weight of being on deadline was lifted and I got a lot more practice done on the piano than I might have. I started working more effectively remotely with my team and I was able to connect with some musicians and singers that might not have been as available before the shutdown. Since I mostly work from home in my studio, I was not as impacted as other industry professionals that rely on leaving their homes to work.
Q: So, Brady Bunch, in drag. Presumably therefore, the trick in style, music and every way, is to somehow capture the spirit of the original whilst remaining fresh and modern?
A: That show was shot frame for frame to match an iconic Brady Bunch episode. The conceit was to have the music be inspired by the original series’ music. Some of the cues were licensed and I recreated them exactly as they were written and some were done in that 60’s sitcom style, but newly composed. I recorded the music for the theme in my studio at home and went to the sound stage to record the cast members’ singing while they were shooting the show. The cast was a mix of members of the original series and some were Ru Paul’s Drag Race alumnae.
Q: What is the first step of your composing process? How do you get into the right mindset to score a project?
A: That depends on the project. I’m working on a project now that is a scripted TV movie and that started with getting a copy of the script and having a phone call with the director. With documentaries, it depends on when I come into the process. If I come in early on, I start doing sketches of motifs. As I start to see rough edits of the film, I’ll go through those and exclude things that don’t feel right. Then as the edits progress, I start working more and more to picture. These mediums are so collaborative, and as the film evolves so does the concept of the music. I’m always incorporating notes from the directors, editors, and network as things move along.
Q: With working so often with World of Wonder, who bring marginalized characters and communities into the mainstream, in contrast to some of your work on projects in prestige drama and doc-series, does your musical approach differ? Do you enjoy working on such a variety of projects?
A: My work with World of Wonder also includes prestige drama and doc-series. Yes, I do enjoy working on a variety of projects. I started my composing career in advertising and in that world, I always seemed to be working on something with a different musical perspective. My personal taste in music is eclectic and I think I would get bored if I was constantly writing the same type of music. More often than not, I’m finding similarities rather than differences with how I approach a project as a composer. I may orchestrate things differently and the scores will have different tones. I feel lucky that I get to work on projects that have an impact and make people more aware and tolerant of people with different backgrounds.
Q: What is the secret to creating effective music for documentaries, and how did you apply that to your recent docu-series Catch and Kill and Small Town News?
A: I think the secret is being aware of the pace of the film. You should understand where and when to slow things down or speed them up, where to disappear and where to drive the film more with music. It is important to know where to be simple or be more active. I love looking for ways to marry the music to picture to create some magic. It could be the way that the wind is blowing a flag or how the lighting looks in a specific sequence. There is nothing better than being able to get the score just right and nail down these transcendent moments.
It was a challenge to find the right tone for the music to Small Town News. It’s a documentary series, but it is light-hearted and comedic. We didn’t want it to sound like the music was snobbishly poking fun of the cast working in this small town news station. Most of the music has a slightly classical tinge to it, but it’s whimsical.
Q:How was working with Carrie Fisher? Tell us more about your experience on that project.
A: Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey asked me to do the score for HBO’s filmed version they were directing of her one-woman stage show. Most of my work on that film was underscore, but I also had the opportunity to record with her which was amazing. She was singing a big opening number and I went into the studio with her to track her doing my arrangement of that big show open. I had not been aware of what an excellent singer she was and I had no idea what to expect when we went into the studio. She was also so gracious about doing multiple takes to get the right performance. She was hilarious and so much fun to work with, a real delightful person. It is one of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on. It’s really sad she is gone.