CS Score Interviews Wild Mountain Thyme Composer Amelia Warner
Welcome back, film score lovers, to another edition of CS Score. This week we’ve got a handful of great interviews with Wild Mountain Thyme composer Amelia Warner and Call of Duty: Cold War composer Jack Wall. We also speak to Waxwork Records co-founder Kevin Bergeron, who discusses the recent vinyl release of Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands. Let’s do this!
WAXWORK RECORDS KEVIN BERGERON TALKS EDWARD SCISSORHANDS
Edward Scissorhands is a bonafide masterpiece! Composed by Danny Elfman, the film is practically unmatched in its stunning use of choir and sweeping, gothic themes. This holiday season, Waxwork Records released a gorgeous vinyl presentation of the album, complete with new artwork by Ruiz Burgos, a 180 gram “Ice Sculpture Blue with Snow Splatter” colored vinyl, and re-mastered audio for vinyl from the original masters.
ComingSoon.net reached out to Waxwork Records’ co-founder Kevin Bergeron who took the time to discuss the new release and the work that went into its creation.
CS: First of all, thank you so much for this new release of Edward Scissorhands on vinyl. It truly remains one of my favorite scores and a must have for any soundtrack fan. What was the reason behind this release of Edward Scissorhands?
Kevin Ellen: We love Tim Burton’s imaginative stories. There’s this carnival nightmare thing going on, but then there’s this whole goth aspect to it all. Somehow he manages to make it all work in an accessible and family friendly sort of way. We are obviously fans of his work, and also of composer Danny Elfman. We released Beetlejuice back in 2018, and soon after that we acquired Edward Scissorhands. Perfect follow up.
CS: How difficult was it to pull this release together — getting artwork, creating the amazing looking record, etc.?
Kevin: We have a strong relationship with Universal, so that part came together swiftly. The artwork by Ruiz Burgos is really incredible. This was our first time working with Ruiz, but we felt confident that he would nail it, and he totally delivered. People are saying it’s some of the best album art for a Waxwork release, ever. The vinyl needed to tie into the film, so we went for an ice sculpture blue with snow splatter. We really wanted to keep everything tasteful. It had to look cold. Winter-like. There’s this tendency right now within the soundtrack community to create these cumbersome, elaborate packages with pop ups, and die-cuts, and liquid filled vinyl, and recreating actual items from the movie to include in the packaging. We’re partly to blame for this. But for Edward Scissorhands, we kept it straightforward, with high quality packaging and killer artwork. Keep it classy. It wasn’t difficult.
CS: What is it about this score that has allowed it to stand the test of time?
Kevin: Elfman’s scores are instantly recognizable. When we received the test pressings, we were reviewing them in the back offices at Waxwork. People at Waxwork would creep by, stick their head in and ask in an excited whisper, “Oh my god, are we releasing Edward Scissorhands?!” Good stuff sticks around.
CS: What are you most excited for fans of Edward Scissorhands to see/hear in this release?
The re-master sounds great. The packaging is awesome. The art is beautiful. I think it’s going to make some people happy.
CS: How important is vinyl in the musical world and why do you think it continues to be a popular part of music all these years later?
Kevin: With respect to recorded music, I think vinyl is the most important thing in the music world. Now, more than ever. We absorb entertainment differently now, and everything is so expired within a month of it being released. That kind of sucks really bad. The short attention span of everything now. People are getting hip to the fact that CD’s were these bogus things that never benefited the consumer in the long run. Like, CD’s are near extinct now. The idea of discussing releasing something on CD in 2020 is looked at as more absurd than if you were to say in 2000, “Hey, let’s release this album on vinyl”. Ultimately, I think people want nice stuff that they can feel proud of owning.
For more information on Waxwork Records upcoming releases, click here!
INTERVIEW WITH WILD MOUNTAIN THYME COMPOSER AMELIA WARNER
Amelia Warner’s Wild Mountain Thyme ranks among the best scores of the year. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to the soundtrack, pick it up at the link below. It’s a truly majestic blend of luscious themes and Irish influences that works wonders for John Patrick Shanley’s quirky comedy-drama.
To learn more about this lovely film score, check out the following interview with Warner, who sat down to discuss what drew her to the project and what it was like working with Shanley.
ComingSoon.net: So how did you get involved with this project?
CS: What aspects of the script lured you to the film?
Warner: I think that like, John Patrick Shanley just has this incredible, unique way of building a world and kind of creating a world that you absolutely believe in and characters that you really care about. And the minute I started reading it, it was like entering this kind of, you know, magical space. And the dialogue, the lyrical dialogue, and it was so funny and it was just so weird and so wonderful. I mean, it just really got under my skin and I just kept thinking about the characters. I kept thinking about, you know, it made me cry in so many places. He’s just an incredible writer.
CS: Yeah, I’ve been a big fan of his ever since I saw Joe vs. the Volcano as a kid and Moonstruck. What was it like working with him and how much freedom did he give you on the project?
Warner: He was incredibly generous. I mean, I felt like I had such a lovely, loose reign on the whole thing. And he was just very supportive. And I think the main thing that he kind of did was just embolden me and give me confidence, which was really wonderful. He was just very economical with the kind of notes he gave, and he was very specific. He knew what he wanted, but he wasn’t bogging me down with language or kind of specific details. He would just get very kind of broad. He’s just give me a word or an idea to think about or something quite esoteric. You know, he’s very esoteric. And he’d just kind of be really thought provoking in something he would say that would make me approach something a bit differently. But he was just very kind.
The main thing that I found was that he was just incredibly kind, and yeah, and kind of gave me confidence to try things and to be bold. And he was just wonderfully kind and receptive to all of my ideas.
CS: Well, like most of his films, this film has a lot of quirky characters and comedy, but much of your score is played very straight and it’s very elegant and it features a lot of very sweeping themes. What was your approach to the film or what aspect of the film are you most interested in highlighting with your music?
Warner: Yeah, I think that’s really true, and I think that probably is where I focused and that was mainly my inspiration for the film was very much, you know, island and very much the kind of – it felt like a classic film, like it felt kind of old fashioned and it reminded me of just those old movies, like Ryan’s Daughter. And I just thought that it needed like a classic thematic score, you know? I kind of felt like it needed these melodies and these sweeping themes going through it. So yeah, so that was my main inspiration and kind of having that love theme was a really big part of it. And then also, I mean, I kind of tried – I remember trying some more kind of comedy cues and making them more out and out comedy and more fun and more silly. And then, I just remembered John actually saying, “Yeah, silly doesn’t really work, does it?” And I was like, “No, it kind of doesn’t.” And so, we definitely experimented. And I think early on, that was more the direction, was like, making it fun, make it silly, make it quirky. And it just didn’t work. And actually, what seemed to work, was kind of playing it really straight, and then that made it funnier, weirdly. It made the scenes funnier. It made the characters more ridiculous. It made those moments kind of work, whereas actually playing the silliness just didn’t really, it didn’t work for some reason.
CS: Were there any instruments that you had to become more familiar with that you hadn’t used before in other films that you’d composed?
Warner: Yeah, for sure. You know the kind of biggest surprise for me on this score was the accordion. The accordion was like the hero of the score, like the accordion, I couldn’t believe how versatile it was. And initially, we kind of featured it in more of the kind of folky trad band Irish cues. But then, I’d say the accordion is in every cue, and actually where I love it is when it’s kind of sitting underneath the strings, so there’s quite a lot of cues that just, you know, are strings with accordion underneath. And it just adds this amazing warmth. And I guess because it kind of has a drone quality to it. So it’s like this beautiful layer that just, yeah, it created this kind of depth and this warmth and a slight character. You know, so a kind of signature and a character that I felt was really wonderful. I was so, so happy with that. That was a real surprise, actually, of just how much the accordion was featured, and how kind of delicate it can be as well, because you always think of it as a kind of characterful, quite loud instrument. But actually, it has this beautiful delicacy to it. And so that was great. And then, I think with the more kind of Irish led themes, we had an amazing violin player called Sam Sweeney. And he came in and played on those pieces and he’s an amazing folk musician in the UK. Like he’s just brilliant and he’s amazing. He’s kind of improvising and he just has an amazing energy in the way that he plays, so kind of bringing him in to just, you know, give those cues, that energy and that fun and that slight wildness and kind of make them feel a bit more raucous and a bit more characterful, that was really great, having him on board, yeah.
CS: One of my favorite cues on the entire score is the moment when, I can’t spoil it for people, it was when a certain character ends up in the hospital about midway through the film and we get this beautiful montage of Rosemary at the church and the changing times …
Warner: Oh that’s my favorite cue.
CS: Is that the cue where you started from and sprung out of?
Warner: Yeah, that’s so interesting and really perceptive of you to kind of pick up on that that is actually where everything sprang from. So it was kind of funny because I wrote that cue – so I’d written kind of the main theme, which is in the opening and it’s on several other points with Rosemary and Anthony’s characters. And then, I wrote this theme just kind of, you know, based on just watching that montage a couple of times. I absolutely love that montage. It was almost like a vignette or a short film and I felt like it was just this perfect, beautiful sort of filmmaking. And I wrote that theme just kind of very instant, you know, very much as a reaction to it. And I wrote it and I really loved it and I felt like it worked really well. And I remember I sent it to my orchestrator and I said, “This is the only point that this theme, like it should just be a standalone moment and I don’t want to hear it again.” Because actually, I didn’t plan to do any piano, either. I didn’t plan to have any piano themes, which you know, so I kind of wrote this one piece on the piano and I just thought, right, this is just going to be this one moment that you hear this music. And that’s it. And then, John watched it and he was like, that’s the scene and I want to see it here. Can we have a look at it on this? Can we have a look at it on this? And it ended up, yeah, being this kind of theme that grows and grows throughout the film.
And I think the first time you hear it is when you see Rosemary looking at Anthony and you realize how much she – you know, the love that she feels. And then you hear it when he has the ring and then he loses the ring. And so, it was so versatile and it was just one of those themes that just – it really just took to the film. It was like an amazing thing. And I remember when John said, oh, you try it when she’s looking at him in the boat, I thought he was crazy. I was like, this is like grief. This is the sorrow theme. And then, actually there was a way of making it this really hopeful theme and this really beautiful kind of, so and everywhere we tried it, it just kind of worked. And then, it ultimately became the song that we wrote. It just has this amazing journey through the film. But it did originate in that cue that you mentioned.
CS: How did you get involved with film composition? Because you worked as an actress for a majority of your career, correct?
Warner: Well, I actually was only an actress for probably, when I was about 17 to about 22, so it wasn’t actually a long time. It was about five years, four or five years. So that was I guess my way into kind of films and filmmaking. And it was an amazing way of understanding the process and how films are made and the kind of collaboration and what everybody does. And I loved that whole aspect of it. But you know, I didn’t feel that acting was just the right fit for me and I was very uncomfortable, and it was a bad kind of fit. But I knew that I wanted to be involved in telling stories and involved in film in some way. And then, I’d always written music since I was really, really small. But I guess I’d never really – I’m not classically trained, and I play mainly by ear. That’s just not a possibility and what a shame because I love music and I love composing and I’m always writing things and I’ve always thought I can’t do that because I don’t have the theory. And then it kind of changed for me when I got Logic for the first time. I got that software and I had a laptop and I had Logic. And then suddenly I could write, you know, arrangements and I could put things together and I just loved it. And I guess it was kind of like a slow journey. But I kind of did, a friend of mine asked for some music for her short film that she’d written. They didn’t have any money and she was like, “You play the piano, don’t you? Can you write something?” And so, I did that, and then I think once I had that experience of writing something to picture, it kind of just clicked, and I was like, oh my god, this is like everything that I love together.
And so, I never felt like a songwriter. That wasn’t the thing that kind of, you know, got me excited. And it was always kind of writing to picture. And also, I just always listened to soundtracks and scores and I think it just felt like something unattainable for a really long time, and then I just kind of started, you know, doing it. And then, once I was making my own music and releasing my own albums, I guess that was a way of kind of, you know, just sharing the music that I wanted to make with people. And the first film that I did was because the director heard one of the tracks and asked to license the track. And it was from one of my albums, and he wanted to license it. And I could write a score around that track. And so, that’s kind of how that happened. And once I started doing it, I mean, I just loved it so much and it felt like, you know, the thing that I’d been kind of searching for for such a long time.
CS: Do you have any other future projects that you can share with us that you’re currently working on right now?
Warner: No, not at the moment. I’m not sure. I mean, there’s a couple of things potentially in the pipeline, but it is such a weird time and it’s just not knowing when things are going to be in post, because obviously there’s been this kind of weird delay where like, nothing’s shot for a while. So I think, I mean, yeah, I’m not certain. I’ll definitely do another album next year. I know that much. But in terms of another scoring project, I’m not sure yet, but I mean, hopefully there’ll be something next year and I’m very keen to, you know, get my teeth stuck into something else.
INTERVIEW WITH CALL OF DUTY: COLD WAR COMPOSER JACK WALL
Check out this amazing interview with Call of Duty: Cold War composer Jack Wall, who breaks down the process of scoring a video game and reflects on his time in the COD franchise.
ComingSoon.net: What made you decide to tackle Call of Duty?
Jack Wall: Well, they asked me to audition and it’s one of the biggest entertainment properties on the planet, so you really can’t say no to that can you? It’s always a juicy enterprise to take apart the single player campaign and figure out the musical journey. Beyond the single player, Zombies and Multiplayer really shake things up. I’ve had the opportunity to write big band jazz and heavy electronic music. It’s always interesting.
CS: I love the usage of Soviet Choir — very ominous and dark. What made you decide to implement the choir into your score?
Jack: Having 32 people in a room singing in the era of COVID is going to be a superspreader event, so I honestly tried very hard not to. But after learning about the story and the backdrop of the Cold War, it just felt necessary. Also, being American and having grown up in that era, I wanted to think about the Cold War from the Soviet perspective. I thought it would give the game a real feeling of the time to have the choir singing in Russian.
CS: What were the challenges presented by the score? Or, how did this Call of Duty score challenge you compared to your other Call of Duty scores (which are fantastic, by the way!)?
Jack: Thank you! I suppose the biggest challenge was getting the choir recorded. Since we couldn’t put 32 people in a room to sing, we had to find the best singers in LA who had their own recording setups at home. Ayana Haviv, my choral contractor, did the ground work to source the necessary talent with the ability to record themselves in a professional way. Then we had to have all of these English speakers sing in Russian. I and Cindy Shapiro wrote the lyrics in English. Then we had a Russian translator, Nino Sanikidze who works at the LA Opera, translate them to Russian, then transliterate them for the singers phonetically. Nino gave us a recording of her pronouncing each word slowly so we could fully understand how to say these words so they sound convincing. Ayana then tweaked the spelling of the transliterations and provided a written legend so her singers could easily understand how to pronounce the lyrics. Once this was done, each section leader would then sing a guide track that would then be approved by first Nino, then me. After approval, Ayana would send out the tracks to the rest of the singers who were instructed to follow just their section leader’s guidetrack so it all sounded like one performance. There was even more to the engineering instructions for everyone to record each take well. This entire procedure took about 2 weeks and we did it twice! Compare that to knocking it all out in about 4 hours with the group in one room. But it was all worth it in the end I think. We’re all pretty proud of how it came out – a real team effort.
CS: You’ve worked on TV series such as Shadowhunters and Emerald City — how different is video game music composition from television? (More difficult, easier?)
Jack: Each medium has its challenges. TV – You have to write 20-40 minutes of music every week. Film – You have to write, record, mix and get 90-120 minutes done in 6-9 weeks. Games, we have 6-12 months to write the full score – in the case of Cold War, we had 2 ½ hours of music by the finish, fully orchestrated and recorded and mixed but with adequate time. Some games have less and some have much more.
I would say that it’s easy to know when you are done for the day in TV. You get your 5-6 minutes done every day and then you can turn it off and do other things. With games, even though you have a LOT more time, I find it hard to know exactly when to quit for the day. You also are not really following a linear medium like TV so there is the added complication that music has to be implemented in such a way as not to be too repetitive and account for any change the player makes. You don’t want to write too long a piece for a short section of the game. Transition writing is also an enormously important part of writing effective game music. In a sense, nothing is really different between Film, TV, and games in how you produce the music. It’s just how the music gets into each one of these media – that is the main challenge. In games, you have to think about that much more than the other two.
CS: What is your process — in other words, from start to finish, how do you go about creating your scores?
Jack: At the top, I ask questions. What’s the title? What is the story? Do you have playable levels I can look at? Let’s discuss tone. What are our references for the score? Is there a script for the actors yet? And so on.
Then I start to come up with ideas about the kind of music I’m thinking of writing. For Cold War, we initially came up with 80’s synth but modernized, mixed with orchestra and maybe choir. Choir solidified when the story did. This can all take some time – I really like to get way into it before I start writing anything.
At some point when I feel I have a grasp on the heart and soul of the story for the game and how the game will flow, I begin sketching a few themes. Once these are developed and approved, we have thematic material that will be injected into the score at appropriate times. At this point the real work begins but not before we come up with a naming convention for each music file that will end up in the game. Getting all the technical as well as creative prep can save so much time by the end of the development and prevent a load of headaches.
Next, we’ll start with the most ready level to score. We do what’s called a spotting session where the audio director and I go through a video capture of the level which was recorded by someone on the dev team doing a thorough playthrough of that level. They don’t go too slow or too fast but play the level through its golden path. The spotting session happens over Zoom or Slack. We sync the video up between us and watch it start to finish with frequent stops to discuss a particular scene. At each pause, we can discuss where music should go, what type of music it should be, the style, the instrumentation if necessary, and musical references or styles, etc. Once we finish that spotting session, my assistant writes up the notes and creates filenames for each piece, our initial thoughts of how the music will work in the game and a basic guess at how long the piece should be, whether it loops, transitions or functions as an in-game cinematic or a pre-rendered cinematic. This is now our roadmap to writing the music through the level. We continue this process through each level of the game until we finish all levels.
Intermittently, the major pre-rendered cinematics – usually level intros or big important moments in the game for character and story – will come in with a final timed cut. I can then score these hopefully before the next recording session. At the end of the production, we’ll typically get a bunch of these movies and have to add music very fast. This is where my experience in TV writing 20-40 minutes of music in a week helps very much!
CS: What is it like being a part of such a historic video game franchise like Call of Duty?
Jack: It’s an honor and a privilege to be trusted with something that is so big, so expensive to make (so hard to make!) and where hundreds of people are involved in bringing it to life. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be a small part of that team. The team at Treyarch, Raven and High Moon – the people I worked directly with – are such dedicated professionals. It’s such a pleasure – truly.
CS: According to IMDB, you’ve worked in the industry since 2000. What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way that have helped you develop as a composer?
Jack: Well I’ll have to get in there and correct that! It’s actually 1995. I would say that writing music for games is a team sport. You have to respect the overall vision for the project and understand that you’re there to serve that vision. Be easy to work with. Communicate well and be a problem solver. I’ve made plenty of mistakes over these 25 years but these are the main things that make the job much much easier. Oh yeah – regarding the actual music parts, always strive to be better at what you do in every way. Be an artist but also be a great producer striving to achieve the vision that the directors and designers are going for.
CS: What do you believe is the primary objective of a video game composer — particularly for something like Call of Duty? (Is it to underscore the emotion, drive the action, etc.?)
Jack: Equal parts of both and both need to tell a story. Use themes to make important parts of the story relate to one another and make sure there is a big musical payoff at the end. Be cinematic. Act like you are scoring a blockbuster movie, because you are – it’s just that this is an interactive movie. This is the big leagues, and it has to measure up musically to the best movies. Hearts need to beat fast and emotions need to be shaken (and stirred!)
CS: How did you get involved in your line of work?
Jack: Mostly it was all an accident. But I love where I ended up. I have a degree in Civil Engineering, but I always played in bands on the side. Then I got interested in recording engineering and mixing. Then games showed up at just the right time and someone invited me to score one. One follows the last, new opportunities arise and I never said no. The rest as they say, is history.