Interview: Composer Dominic Lewis Talks Peter Rabbit 2, Monsters at Work and The King’s Man

Dominic Lewis scored the recently released Sony Pictures Animation feature Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, starring James Corden, Margot Robbie and Rose Byrne; and the upcoming animated series Monsters at Work, starring Ben Feldman and Billy Crystal, which is currently streaming on Disney+. Lucky for us, Dominic reached out to to discuss what it was like scoring these projects along with the anticipated Matthew Vaughn feature, The King’s Man.

Lewis’ music can also be heard on Disney XD animated series’ DuckTales, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and Allison Janney. In addition to his score, he has also written original songs for the series including “Just Not Good Enough,” which he co-sings with Ben Schwartz, who plays Dewey on the show.

Notable credits include Free Birds, starring Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler, for which he received an Annie Awards nomination for “Outstanding Achievement in Music”; Ridley Scott produced Emmy-winning series The Man in the High Castle, starring Alexa Davalos and Rupert Evans; Sony Pictures Animation’s Peter Rabbit, starring James Corden, Rose Byrne and Domnhall Gleeson; Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, starring Wendi McLendon-Covey, Chris Parnell and Ken Jeong; Amazon Studios comedy/family film My Spy, starring Dave Bautista, Kristen Schaal and Ken Jeong; and many more.

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Ames: What was it like retuning to the world of Peter Rabbit?

It was amazing! It was like coming back to family. It was really cool because I was actually in England doing The King’s Man when director Will Gluck started filming the second one so I was able to visit the set as well and hang out for a bit and start talking about the musical process way earlier — the first one was super early as well. I was involved even earlier on the second one.

Obviously, coming back for a sequel it’s nice to have themes already in place and have a chance to let them evolve and come up with new themes for new characters. I’ve done sequels before, but sequels where I didn’t work on the first one — so, in those instances, I’m always trying to push new themes and get rid of the old ones [laughs]. It was nice to have a lot of existing material on Peter Rabbit to play with.

Ames: I would imagine a sequel is challenging because you want to up the ante without losing what people loved about the original, correct?

Totally. And that’s the fine line we have to tiptoe. They are difficult, but also — it’s hard to explain. You don’t want to rely too much on the original material because people have already heard it, but you don’t want to create too much new material because you want a repeat of nostalgia of the first one. The good thing about this [movie] is that we’re in a completely different location, so I was able to kind of run with that and adapt the thematic material in a way that I was basically changing orchestration and changing instrumentation, which gave it a new flavor. But also, it was the same themes, so you’ve got that element. Then, obviously, you’ve the new characters which is always difficult to interweave their themes into the preexisting material.

Rather than difficult, I would say it’s a nice challenge. It’s a challenge to come up with something that’s cool and fresh but also an ode back to the original as well.

Ames: What piece of music for Peter Rabbit 2 are you excited for audiences to hear?

I had a lot of fun writing on the soundtrack it’s called, and it’s the most terrible pun — I called it “The Fast and the Furriest” [laughs].

Ames: Timely!

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Yeah, I know! And I had no idea when I was doing the soundtrack that it would be out at the same time as The Fast and the Furious. At the end of both movies, there’s this big kind of wrap-up of lots of adventure — jumping out of planes and they’re on a boat and on a motorcycle and in a DB9 and skiing in the Alps. So, it’s this big montage where I was able to really dive into all my favorite genres of action music whilst intertwining all the original Peter Rabbit themes and the new stuff; and it’s sort of a big collection of everything I loved writing for the movie. That’d be the first track I’d point people to.

Ames: You’ve worked on a number of high-profile films, what do you look for before jumping onto a project?

Well, it the past it was always, “Oh, you want me? Great! Let’s do it! I need work!” But, as I’ve got busier and been in more of a position to be able to choose, I guess, I often get sent the script first and if the script excites me then I take it to the next stage, and I like working for people I’ve worked with before. Really, though, I try to mix it up. I don’t want to do too much of the same thing one after the other. You can probably see from my profile on IMDB, one minute I’m doing animation and the next minute I’m doing a thriller, and the next minute I’m doing an R-rated comedy. I like to mix it up and dip my toe in all of those areas because I think if you do too much of one thing, one you can go a bit crazy; and two, it can grow a bit stale. You need to go away and come back refreshed. Even doing two different styles at the same time is good too because it enables me not to get stuck in a rut.

If someone comes to me with a project in a genre I’ve just finished, I’ll usually stop and think about whether I really want to accept it. Unless, of course, it’s a huge project I can’t say no to.

Ames: Were there composers or artists that you patterned your style off of or used as inspiration?

Loads of people! I like to think I have a big ole library of music up in my skull – everything from my parents being classical musicians and my mom listening to opera and my dad being in a string quartet and going to classical live music from the moment I was born to having a cool older sister who was listening to Harvey Hardcore and Jungle in the 90s as well as Brit Pop and Soul. My sister shaped the cooler side of my music taste and my parents brought me back down to earth with classical education that I needed to write for the orchestra. So, no real specifics spring to mind. The whole catalog of classical music from Bach to Strauss … I have so much music. My library is so eclectic. I’m a huge vinyl collector. I’ve got everything from classical to loads of 60s music, lots of Beatles and Beach Boys – just everything! I like to listen to everything and absorb as much as possible. And that’s a huge reason why my resume is so eclectic because my music taste is eclectic, and I want to keep it that way.

Ames: That’s what’s cool about it! And then another project you’re working on is Kings Man, a sequel to a pair of films you were familiar with because you worked on the original as an assistant, correct?

Yeah, I was in the wings as a ghostwriter on the first one – did a couple of cues for Matthew Margeson and Henry Jackman on the first one. The second one I was off doing my own thing. And this one, which is a prequel, Henry couldn’t do it with Matt — I think Matt was working on Rocketman at the time. Matthew Vaughn felt he needed his trusted process of two composers on the show, so I was suggested by Henry and Matt. And Matt and I had always talked about doing something together because we worked in the wings for various composers for years. We get along so well and we’ve always said we’d love to co-write together, and this just seemed like the perfect opportunity.

And it’s great. The movie is fantastic. It’s a prequel and it starts off pretty serious but then slowly but surely Matthew Vaughn pulls you into the world of the Kingsmen and it turns into the usual Matthew Vaughn romp. It’s brilliant. It’s a really cool mixture of everything. And we were able to use a traditional orchestral score. We didn’t use any synths or any guitars. It’s very traditional and a nice homage to the late 70s and 80s of big, sweeping orchestral scores. It was an amazing experience.

We were on that picture for 22 months. Originally it got pushed and execs being execs we were like, well we’ve got time to fiddle with this [laughs]. We were on it for ages!

Ames: Did the extra time change the score substantially?

Yeah, well, it was always going to be that thing. The things that changed, because the cut was changing, it wasn’t one of those scenarios where you could just get a music editor to come in and chop it up and you’ll be fine. Story arcs changed in the process and there were bigger changes coming from editorial, so we couldn’t just cut around what we had. We had to slightly change the viewpoint of characters and adapt. Basically, we had to score three or four times. It was incredible. When you score a movie with one of your best mates, and you’re just in the trenches — going through that experience by yourself would’ve been really difficult having to move all the time with the cut and adapt to things getting pushed. Having Matt there — and I’m sure he’d say the same about me — to take the weight off either one’s shoulders at any point was great. You know, something wasn’t working when I was trying something and Matt would say, “Let me have a go.” We would flip on it to see who could get the cue improved basically [laughs].

Ames: You’re also scoring the Disney+ series Monsters at Work, in which you follow in the shoes of Randy Newman. Did you adapt his previous score or bring something completely new to the table?

I should change my answer to the previous question when you asked if sequels were difficult [laughs]. Following someone as esteemed as Randy — and when I did Goosebumps 2, following Danny Elfman — that’s when I’m like, “Oh my God, how do I do this and not annoy anyone by ruining the music of their childhood?” It was a case of using Randy as inspiration and taking it to a slightly different — the story goes to a different place within Monstropolis and within Monsters, Inc. So, it was kind of easier to adapt the sonics and style of the music while keeping it very much in the Jazz oriented world. It was easier because we were introducing new characters to find that slightly different strand of what Monsters, Inc. is. Obviously, I have to fully dive in when it comes to being on the Scare Floor or when we’re with Sully and Mike – I’m heavily playing into the world that Randy created.

It was nice to have that grounding in the original material as a spring box. And Roberts Gannaway, the showrunner, was very adamant that it being Disney that every single theme had to be an earworm. It had to be catchy. I think I went through a two or three-month process of basically just sorting out the themes before looking at any picture because he wanted the themes to be so strong. That was cool because I had this awesome toolkit of catchy tunes that I could sprinkle anywhere. It was a daunting experience, but super fun.

Ames: Is there a genre or musical style you’d like to tackle that you haven’t already?

I’ve sort of done a little bit of everything. The thing I’m doing right now that I can’t talk about is sort of that one thing, I haven’t been able to do on a large scale … I’m scared to say what that even is because I haven’t been given the green light to talk about that yet. The one thing I would love to do is to do more floral orchestral writing to a non-animated film. I’d love the chance to be able to do something very orchestral and very complicated in that kind of John Williams/Alan Silvestri vein … in a Steven Spielberg/Robert Zemeckis world, ala Amblin. You know, late 70s and 80s?

The King’s Man is all orchestral, but it also has that Matthew Vaughn thing of being very cool. Any time I used too many woodwinds he would say, “What are you doing, it sounds like animation! We don’t do that!” I would get slapped on the wrist. So, it would be fun to work in that classical world that shaped all those 70s and 80s action movies. I’ve done that on a small scale, but I’d love to do it on a big ole film that everyone recognizes as a big ole homage to that world.


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