Q: You just released two new CDs (Xena soundtrack 4, Herc soundtrack 3)Both of them were very well received by the fans and many see them as their favorite soundtracks of the series.
A: You already listened to them? They think they`re great? That`s good to hear! I was very lucky that they traveled a lot in both shows last season, so we could do things we hadn`t done before. I got the chance to do something with Indian music the Xena way, Irish music, Wagner and Amazon music.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for that kind of music? They`ve been to India, to Scandinavia?
A: When I grew up I listened to all kinds of music. If the images and the storyline demand that I have to do something like that the culture and rich musical heritage of that culture will inspire me. I always try to translate things I know about that culture into some sort of film language, some kind of film music. I just loved working with the Indian musicians because the base of their music is improvisation. I`ve been a jazz musician for years so if I have to make Arabian or Indian music - music directed by improvisation - with Indian musicians, who I`ve never met before and who don`t speak English, then it`s going easily. We made music right away and that was very rewarding. It absolutely is one of the best things I`ve experienced while working on this show.
Q: The music was great! It suited the Indian episodes perfectly and it really created the right atmosphere
A: I loved doing it, those were fun sessions. They`re very easy, very relaxed and we all got along together just great. The biggest challenge for me was the Amazon one, the Turangi episode.
Q: I was wondering about that yes. In India you have Indian music, in the Middle East you have Summerian music, but what is Amazon music? It`s not as if that does exist somewhere.
A: I have no idea what Amazon music is. At a given point we thought that the music of that certain Amazon tribe (note: Adventure in the Sin Trade) would sound like the music of American Indians, like the pow wow songs of the Indian women. If you listen to that and to how the women sing in Mongolia, you hear the similarities, big similarities. I think Rob (Tapert) made the right decision because at one point I was thinking of getting Indian women to sing the songs. He made a right decision because he didn`t want to specifically place this tribe geographically and Indian music is so specific, and it`s also sacred to them, that we didn`t think it was a good idea to go that way. I got some female singers together, all with different backgrounds, and we made up some sort of `tribal` sounds and language and tried to develop a culture for this tribe.
Q: Did you also make up the text of the songs?
A: The songs, the singing, the percussion, how they pray, the syllables. We tried to mimic a little bit the music from the outer regions of China. But we also tried to give rhythms that everybody would know. Like I said, we made most of it up. I bought some instruments of different cultures and played a lot of them, the John Coltraine way. I had some Tibetan trumpets, everything with which we could get that exotic atmosphere. It was a big challenge and it really was the toughest music I had to compose that season. Especially since there wasn`t any blueprint of it.
Q: Did the same go for the Ireland and Summeria episodes?
A: As for Ireland: Celtic music is so popular, so well known and so many times played. It was easy for me to do something with that. And the fun part for me is, with working on those episodes, that I`m allowed to play all those instruments. There was also a great bagpipe player who played along during that session, and a great group of singers.
Q: There`s much more singing on these CDs
A: That`s Rob again. He loves singing, especially on Xena. One can never have too much singing according to him. Especially in the last (note: 4th season Xena, 5th season Herc) it seemed as if they left a minute and a half open for me in each and every episode for some kind of song. We have had a lot of songs, ten or so. Those aren`t on the CDs but we hope we can release them some day.
Q: I was wondering about that. People were missing the Bacchae rap from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and the song Let The Spirit Move Me from A Tale of Two Muses
A: We`re still looking for a CD on which we could put them all together. That`s the reason. We are looking for the right CD and the right moment to present it all. I`m working on the second Xena musical right now (note: Lyre, Lyre). I can`t tell you anything about it at this moment but hopefully that will result in another CD. It is really interesting, there is still so much that we haven`t done before. Whenever I think that the writers can`t come up with anything new they surprise me with something new. And the result is the great music you heard last season. They keep finding new and interesting things. I was very happy with the last episode of this season (Ides of March), have you seen that one already?
Q: Yeah, I just saw it. It also is the most popular episode of the 4th season among fans. We just had the Argo Awards on the internet and Ides Of March blew the competition away.
A: And deservedly so: it was a great episode. I was very happy with how the music turned out. All the honor goes to Rob Tapert and the others: they gave me a complete orchestra and choir for that last ep. And that episode really deserved that.
Q: Since we`re talking about episodes, how does it work, scoring an episode? When do you see the script, when the dailies?
A: Once we`re under way we don`t have the time to really go into it. I see a rough cut, then a locked cut. Most episodes, all episodes apart from the special ones, I see for the first time in the locked cut, a couple of weeks before we`ll dub the episode. So I have several weeks. Every song you hear in an episode is some sort of `a day in the life`: it takes me a day to do it. If it`s done with an entire orchestra than there`s a second day naturally, because we have to play it and mix it. That`s roughly the schedule. When we have a special episode, like a musical or something else, it takes longer. Normally I have about 10 days to work on an episode, sometimes less, sometimes just 4 days.
Q: At one point you were doing then music for Hercules, Young Hercules and Xena. Did you sleep at all?
A: [laughs] It is a lot of work and very demanding but it really is the best job a composer can get. I`m a very lucky man (for having that job), and that`s why I can keep doing it. As for Young Hercules: I did most of the work for that series during the summer months, when Herc and Xena were on hiatus. And of course with Young Hercules we were lucky that we could use a lot from Hercules. They`re brothers after all. I didn`t have to find lots of new stuff.
Q: How did you come up with the theme songs of the series?
A: I try not to think about it too much. The Herc theme I wrote one and a half hour before my plane would take off to my first meeting for the show. I think I`d already seen some images. Those gave me some idea on what Kevin`s character was about: a traditional hero, a real good guy. It was clear to me what I`d had to write for him.
With Xena we could work with the music that described her in the 3 Hercules episodes. We could work with her character that way and when it was time to get a theme from it we all were of one mind: it had to be Bulgarian, with singing in it. The first time we presented it to the studio they didn`t like it, it wasn`t something they`d heard before. But Rob fought hard for it and it stayed in. Now it`s difficult to imagine her without the music. Young Hercules became a faster version of the music in the direc to video Young Hercules. We took the sountrack from that pilot. The same goes for the theme.
There are some new series coming up and I`ll have to go through the same process again. That is the interesting part about themes: one hopes that, without thinking too much about it, one can capture the essence of the series in the music. Rob is very specific: he really wants a strong melody for the theme so we keep that in mind. We`ll see, it`s always different. You hopes that you get it fast, you don`t want to spend too much time on it. You hope that all your instincts are right and that everybody goes with it. I`ve been really lucky with themes thus far.
Q: You mentioned Rob Tapert, about his influence on what kind of music is being used in an episode. What kind of influence do the directors and producers have on the choice of music?
A: Directors don`t have much influence. Some of them call me and give me some ideas. It almost never happens and I think that`s the same everywhere, with tv series, that`s just how it works. Once we`re busy and once we know what happens to the characters we have a lot of freedom. They trust us. As you know I live in Michigan. I work on the episodes from Michigan and work closely together with our music editors Philip Tallman and Nic ten Broek. We divide the work per episode. How much new material in this episode? What is it about? Is it different, what is unique about it? Does it require special musical things? Hopefully we can answer those questions and if we really succeed each than each new episode will have a musical theme and idea that`s been developed. And hopefully well developed.
Q: I often recognize music from earlier episodes. Like you said: with an episode there`s some new music, often with scenes that have a big impact on the audience. Several episodes later that same music is used again, with another scene. Aren`t you afraid that it evokes the wrong kind of emotions with the audience? Because of that link with the first scene in which the music has been used?
A: You`re right, it could be a problem but I think that only happens with the real, hard core fans that really listen to it. There is a song that I wrote early on. There are always people being cremated in the series. For such a scene I`d written a piece which was sung by a soprano. Rob fell in love with it and couldn`t hear it often enough. Same goes for certain fight music: one can`t hear it enough. He really wants to hear it then because it really describes the situation. There`s about 36 minutes of music in an episode of 43 minutes. That is a lot of music. We can reach that by using a orchestra library, by repeating music. It is something that has developed that way. Music helps to keep the atmosphere, to emphasize the drama, to refrain the viewer from channel surfing. That`s the value we attached to it during the years. When you watch the early Hercules eps you don`t hear that much music. It has developed that way. We do it each week by introducing new music, which takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of production to make those couple of minutes of music that aren`t there yet. The first time I spoke to Mark Snow (composer X-Files) he said "I also have to put in extra minutes of music but you actually have to write notes!" Of course he can write music notes but with the X-Files it mainly is about creating filler, atmosphere and texture instead of the more traditional music that we use. For that I indeed have to write notes for every member of the orchestra, be it played on the synthesizer of with a real orchestra. It is a method that we developed to cover as many areas as possible.
Considering the time, the budget and the demand the show creates, this is a good solution for that problem. We try our best to treat each episode as a movie. We really try to present the music hat way. When you listen to it it really has `film music` qualities, it`s not just some cheap extract.
Q: The success of the soundtracks speaks for itself I think. The fans seem to think the same about it (film music quality)
A: It`s really nice to hear that the people appreciate the new
soundtracks this much.
Q: And it also gives some great discussions on the internet: in what language do they sing? What`s the text?
A: As for the texts on the Hercules album: the Summerian songs are sung in Assyrian and those are translations of poems that I`ve written. The same goes for Ireland: that`s Celtic. I wrote the music after how the texts read in those languages. So they`re just translations. In other cases it`s all made up, like with the Amazon music.
Q: How about the future? You mentioned the other spin offs you`re going to work on.
A: Yeah, there are new shows coming. I don`t have much information at this moment but they will be as adventurous and action filled as what we`ve done before. Fortunately I work for Renaissance Pictures and they let everybody work hard. The stunt people work hard, the visual effect people work hard.
Q: That can also be seen on the screen, the love the people making the shows have for their shows, it really explodes from the screen.
A: I think so too. This Summer I will be going to New Zealand for the first time and I`m really looking forward to meeting people I work with, people I talk to over the phone a couple of times a week, in real life. We never had the chance to meet each other in person, of we`ve just seen one another on Rob and Lucy`s wedding.
I`m really looking forward to it. I really feel part of the team, I really feel a bond with the people I work together with, even though we never see each other. And when I talk to them I really feel that it is mutual. We all know that it is a special time in our career, that we`re all working together like this.
Q: It sounds familiar. The same happens with the fans on the internet: they only know each other through the internet and many see their internet friends for the first time in real life on conventions. It often resembles one big family reunion.
A: Where have you been to, to experience that? Did you go to Los Angeles?
Q: Yeah, to the convention in LA and to the convention in Valley Forge, in 1998. I`ve been to the States 4 times in two years to meet up with internet friends.
A: That`s great! It`s a great way of bringing people together. I wish I could`ve joined the conventions but they never work out: they`re always during the time we`re really busy. During the LA con (Santa Monica 1999) I was in LA to record the India sessions. I just couldn`t leave, even though they wanted to bring me with them to the convention. Those were 18 hour days and I just couldn`t leave. Some said they would visit me but they never did. I did go to a convention once, because it was here, in Michigan. That was very nice.
Q: What`s up with Hercules now, since it has ended?
A: Yeah, it has ended. We just filmed the last 8 episodes. I`m in New Zealand on time for the wrap party. It is a good way to close that chapter.
Q: Will there ever be a 4th Hercules soundtrack
A: There are still some songs that we`d like to release on a seperate CD: all the songs with singing in it as a collection on a CD. There have been so many songs and I would love to release them one day.
Q: Someone wondered what you`d think about Kevin Sorbo`s guitar playing on your song `Air Herc`
A: We actually did it the other way around. I saw Kevin`s performance and wrote the song to his movements. When I got the tape of the episode I had no idea what he`d done on the set. Normally I do know but somehow I didn`t know it in this case. When I saw it it seemed that what we had in mind wouldn`t work out. So I had to look at what he`d done and wrote a song around that. So it was some kind of `guitar synchronisation`. I tried to do it as good as possible, with the appropriate slides and so on. I loved doing it. The song that would follow it would at first be `A Hard Day`s Night`, then a Beatles like instrumental song.even though the Beatles have never done
something instrumental. But I had one and a half minutes to fill. I wrote a song fast and we taped that the next day. It was a fun song and I`m glad that it turned out so well. And I could play some guitar again, I`ve been a guitar player for years.
Q: So it was back to the roots.
A: Believe me, every experience I`ve ever had (with regard to instruments), I really need for the show.
Q: It really amazes me, that you can play so many instruments. You always surprise me, I mean, the only musical thing I can do is whistle.
A: Well, there you have it, I can`t whistle so you have something over me [laughs]
Q: Back to Hercules: is the song We Go Now from And Fancy Free your ode to the bolero?
A: We Go Now? Is that song from And Fany Free? It does have that rhythm doesn`t it? [hums the song]. Mmm, yes, I think that`s the bolero. I hadn`t actually thought about it. You try to do what works at that moment and apparently that was something that looked like the bolero. I hadn`t thought about it but you`re right.
Q: See, people actually do listen do your music.
A: Yeah, apparently. But believe me, they often also find more in it than I`d put in there.
Q: Well, that`s about it. I`d like to thank you for the interview, it was great.
A: My pleasure. Thanks for calling me. Thank the fans, thank everybody. It was fun doing it and maybe we`ll meet each other in real life some day.