1) JOHN, YOU HAVE COLLABORATED REPEATEDLY WITH DIRECTORS SUCH AS JON FAVREAU AND GARRY MARSHALL. WHAT MAKES DIRECTORS COME BACK TO YOU OVER AND OVER AGAIN. IT’S NOT JUST GREAT MUSIC, RIGHT?
Having “repeat customers” is essential in any business. It’s of utmost importance to foster good relationships with directors and essentially, all members of the creative team. It’s not enough that a composer has talent, that’s expected. What is essential, is that you exude those qualities that make everyone “want” you to be on their project. The Media composer must exude confidence, collaboration, positivity and massive work ethic. If one is lucky and works very hard, relationships like the ones I’ve enjoyed with Garry Marshall and Jon Favreau, will become reality. Longevity is key in our business.
2) SCORING ‘THE JUNGLE BOOK’ SIGNIFIED YOUR RETURN TO COMPOSING FOR DISNEY FILMS AFTER A LONG TIME. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT AND HOW DID YOU APPROACH THAT SCORE?
“Jungle Book” came to me through my relationships with Jon Favreau and (Head of Disney Music) Mitchell Leib. I have a very long history with Disney starting with my Dad’s career spanning 40 years at the studio. I truly grew up on the lot meeting people along the way such as Disney Legend Richard Sherman. You might say that Disney is in my DNA. I literally grew up on the sets of films like: “Mary Poppins”, “Babes in Toyland”, “Davey Crocket and countless others. I went to Cal-Arts alongside Tim Burton and John Lasseter. In fact, I was an employee of the Disney music dept. right out of College and spent my time composing for the parks and Disney television. John Lasseter and I were best friends and we would go on Disney Ski adventures together. So, you might say that composing the score for Jungle Book was the end of a journey that started almost 50 years ago.
The score itself is grounded in Disney technique and tradition with a world music attitude. The goal was to create a timeless, melodic score, that reflects the cutlural specificity of the story and locale. One interesting aspect of the scores role was to tell the story through the musical language. There are vast stretches in the movie where there is little dialogue, so the score had a very important job unlike other films I’ve worked on. Jon Favreau wanted me to pour my heart and soul into every note and that’s what I did.
3) FROM ‘SPIDERMAN’ TO ‘THE 3 STOOGES’ TO ‘THE PASSION OF CHRIST’. YOU ARE UNDOUBTEDLY VERY VERSATILE. WHAT KEEPS YOUR VOCABULARY FRESH AND INNOVATIVE?
Striving to stay fresh and innovative is important, but it is equally important (maybe more so) to stay relevant. To stay relevant, one must always keep learning and challenging oneself. A few years ago I hadn’t delved into Electronic music as much as I would’ve liked, so I looked for a couple films that would enable me a little experimentation time. With films like: “The Call” and “Alex Cross” and (History Channel’s) “Houdini”, I dove into the darker side of my Electronic soul and it was a great learning experience. Staying relevant is about studying, always studying and embracing style and change, never being satisfied with the status quo.
4) WHAT WOULD BE THE DEFINITIVE JOHN DEBNEY SCORE AND WHY? AFTER COMPOSING SO MANY SCORES, DO YOU HAVE A SCORE THAT IS DEAREST TO YOU?
I have a few that are near and dear for differing reasons…. I’l list a few:
1. Jungle Book. Nearest and dearest to my heart.
2. “Cutthroat Island” The sheer size and bombast and creative freedom I was given.
3. “Hocus Pocus” first major feature.
4. “Passion of the Christ” for many reasons
5. “Dreamer” my Ode to my father
6. “Princess Diaries” Ode to my mother
7. “Elf” My first journey with Jon Favreau
5) WHAT WORDS OF WISDOM CAN YOU OFFER TO NEW COMPOSERS WHO WANT TO BREAK INTO THE BUSINESS?
This question is perhaps the most difficult to answer. The business has changed so greatly from the time I started. I’m always about the music. Strive to become the best musician you can. Study all genres of music. Learn to create a melody that “sticks”. I find that some younger composers don’t work enough on melody. I also feel that some younger composers could benefit from study of harmony and counterpoint. I don’t want to get too scholastic, but a little time spent with books like “Piston’s” Guide to Orchestration, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Orchestration book would be time well spent. I also think that studying Hans’ scores and other contemporary composers is an excellent idea. Try to find your own style. It helps to try and create your own unique sound, especially right now. Never be satisfied with your music. It can always be better. Stay Humble and grateful!!