Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you come from and what do you do?
I originally come from Walnut Creek, California. I am a composer for TV and Film, and every so often, I still get to play guitar.
You’ve performed as a guitar player for a number of popular musicians including Michael Buble and Josh Groban. Which do you prefer – touring, or scoring for TV?
I made a lot of really great friends touring. When you live day in and day out with people for years at a time, you develop some really close bonds. You also see first hand that maybe our criminal justice system could afford to be a little stricter.
All kidding aside, I wouldn’t trade my time touring for anything in the world. It helped me develop a lot of the skill that keep me going on a daily basis. Learning how to perform at a high level when you are physically and mentally not at your peak is a very important skill. The fact that performing is a temporal thing- it has to be done right there, right then- that adds a level of pressure that you don’t have in the studio. If you screw up a take, you can do it again. Obviously, there’s far more pressure being responsible for creating music than there is being a performer in a band, but I think some of that performance experience helped me develop my mental game to be able to deal with the pressure. That being said, I love composing and recording. It’s really where I get to explore sound in a way that I just can’t do in a live setting. They’re both great, but I’m very happy where I am right now.
When you first started working on Teen Wolf, how did you find and settle on “the sound” or “sonic palette” that you decided to use?
That was something that developed over the course of the first season with a lot of interaction between myself and show creator Jeff Davis. He loves classic film scores of the 80’s and 90’s, and more than anything, he loves melody and great themes. I made it my goal to marry those ideas with a sonic identity that I thought matched the visuals of the show and also was as modern and unique as possible.
While scoring Teen Wolf, how do you create consistency in the music you write for each show?
Well, one way we do that is to have themes that we keep coming back to. That really helps bring certain cohesion to the show, compositionally. As far as the actual sounds and instruments that we use, we have honed that over the past three seasons. For example, you’ll never hear a double-reed instrument like an oboe or a bassoon in Teen Wolf, even in comedy situations- Jeff Davis just doesn’t like them.
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
My system is Pro Tools-based, which is a bit of an odd choice for a sequencer, but coming from where I come from, musically, it’s the environment I feel most comfortable in. Also, I use a lot of audio in my sessions- a lot of the MIDI gets converted to audio and processed further and chopped up, so Pro Tools works for me in that respect. The sequencer computer records into the print rig, which is running Pro Tools HD. I’m running all my VIs in Vienna Ensemble Pro on a slave computer.
What’s your favorite software right now and what software are you looking forward to most in the future?
I’m excited to try Pro Tools 11 because it’s finally 64-bit, and that could make a pretty big difference in my workflow. Also, I’m really excited about BitWig – that looks very cool. As far as what I’m using right now, I’m obsessed with u-he Zebra. I use it all the time, and I think it is without question the best sounding software analog modeling synth available. I also have to give a mention to a program I just found called transMIDIfier– it is a utility, so no fancy sounds, but it is really a great program with tremendous creative potential- I’m actually using it right now!
How important is having an “identity” or “sound” to you as a composer, as well as to the clients you deal with? Alternatively, is being good at your job and being able to tell the story more important?
Well, I think the best composers are able to take an identifiable sound and make it work in a number of different contexts. I don’t think anyone wants a composer, who can just “sound like anybody.” I think most directors and producers want someone who will add a unique perspective to their project. Within that context, though- it’s extremely important for a composer to be a great dramatist- someone who really understands storytelling. I don’t think it’s possible to separate the two.
What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?
What was your favorite project to have worked on so far?
Without question, Teen Wolf. Jeff Davis is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, but he has a work ethic that is second to none. He also treats people well and really respects the work of everyone on the show. That’s a very rare quality, and it makes for an environment where people work very hard to create something new and worthwhile.
Many of the projects you work on most likely require long hours and working through the night in order to make the deadlines – do you ever just burnout? If so, how do you deal with it?
I have learned to respect my body a little more- if you push it enough, it will eventually push back, sometimes in scary ways! The physical burnout of lack of sleep and concentrating for long periods of time is always tough. Sometimes, I’ll just do pushups or take my dog for a walk to try to get some measure of physical release while I’m working. I really enjoy kickboxing, but when we get heavy into a show, there just often isn’t time for it. As far as mental burnout, it’s always important to remember that everyone else on the show is working just as hard as you are, so you just suck it up and push through- don’t think you’re special just because you’re working your butt off. That’s also where technique really comes into play. Anyone can create something good when they’re well-rested and the situation is ideal. It takes more technique to do it when you’re half-dead, and you know that music has to go out NOW. Sometimes, however, you just have to walk away for a few hours- you don’t want to waste precious energy if it’s clear you’re hitting a wall.
What’s your definition of success?
It’s a constantly moving goalpost for me. I think freedom has a lot to do with success- working on things you want to more than things you have to. That being said, I don’t think anyone at any level gets away from doing some things they have to.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
Have more fun, Young Dino- you’re seven years old, for god’s sake! Also Pop Rocks won’t actually make your stomach explode.
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
My assistant. What am I gonna do- leave him there?