Artists have always borrowed from each other to create new works. The remixed songs of Rupert Parkes, or Photek as he’s known, are no different. Photek’s remix of Moby’s “Lie Down in Darkness” was even nominated for a Grammy in 2013.
The Los Angeles-based British producer remixed Bob Marley’s “One Love,” which was also nominated for a Grammy, as well as Daft Punk.
But he doesn’t just do remixes. He’s also the composer for ABC’s series “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Parkes recently came into the Frame’s studios to talk with host John Horn about the art of the remix and why venturing into TV was an easy choice to make.
You started out in drum and bass. Did you ever think that kind of music would lead to film and TV as a career option?
“I did think it would eventually, because I got a lot of my inspiration from film scores. I made sort of film score dance music, I guess... I’d watch movies and get an idea for a track and then go and record something, rather than hear another artist in a club, for example, and go home and write some music.”
What role do you see your music playing within “How to Get Away With Murder,” and how would you categorize it in a genre, musically?
“I think what Pete and I end up doing — Pete Nowalk, the showrunner and creator of ‘How to Get Away’ — we often talk in terms of an underlying theme that occurs during the show, and sometimes that can juxtapose what you’re actually seeing a lot of the time. So we talk in terms of a genre within the score as being ‘Oh, this is gonna be a people-are-all-terrible-type cue.' And loosely I know what he means instrumentally by that, and certainly the undertone of the cue.”
On his Grammy-nominated remix of Bob Marley’s “One Love”:
“I want to honor Bob Marley and not make a fool of myself. That was my first objective. This was a pretty quick turnaround on this mix too, so it was probably one of the most intimidating projects that I’ve done. The most amazing thing actually about doing this mix was having the multi-tracks of Bob Marley singing a cappella... The interesting was that there was several takes of the song. And knowing the song so well, you suddenly think, ‘Wow, that’s an extra breath that he put in there or he sung that slightly differently to the version that I know.’ And during making this song I would actually just play the a cappella through a delay and a reverb and just listen to his voice.”
How often does it happen that you remix something from a band and the band itself ends up adapting that remix into their repertoire?
“It happened with me, where I did a remix for a new band called Linche... They didn’t have, really, a way forward with their song and I ended up adapting it.
"We all loved it and decided to put it on my record. That’s a song called ‘Sleepwalking,’ which is one of the favorite things I’ve done in the last few years.”
Dapper British ex-pat Rupert Parkes, better known as Photek, made his name as a DJ in the burgeoning British electronica scene of the 1990s. His album Modus Operandi is a bona fide drum 'n bass classic, suffused with cinematic soundscapes and dark ambience. Looking back it's no surprise that he would end up scoring for TV and film, especially for projects as dark as How to Get Away with Murder. We spoke with Photek in between seasons 1 and 2 of the smash ABC show - the perfect time to reflect on his work so far, and talk about what he hopes to get away with in the future.
2014 was a mammoth year for you. You’re no stranger to TV and film music, but it seems like there was a shift in your focus last year, with How to Get Away With Murder and Gang Related both at the same time. Why did you decide to focus more on TV?
Around January [of 2014], I just got back from a tour and I was thinking “I want to stay at home more.” I still want to be productive working on producing music. I’ve always been about being a creator of music rather than a performer. My first love of music is actually making it. And I thought, “What am I doing in Los Angeles if I’m not working on film and TV as a priority?” I could live anywhere in the world doing what I do. And I made that decision. Literally the next day I got a call from Allen Hughes, the director, who heard some music of mine on the radio and said “this is the sound we want for our show.” That’s what led me off to Gang Related. From picking that sort of commitment in my mind, 24 hours later, I’d been asked to do a score.
Had you ever done a full series before?
I had, yeah. I’ve done a show called Platinum which was like a pre-runner to Empire - that kind of concept for a show. I did that back in the early 2000s. And I’ve done additional music on various movies and one score for an independent movie. But this is the first time I’ve sort of committed to it in my mind. And then of course from Gang Related, right off the back of that came How to Get Away with Murder, and I really couldn’t have asked for a more credible show to be associated with. It’s been phenomenal ratings. We’re going into season two in a month or two, andI haven’t looked back since.
It’s interesting that Allen Hughes discovered you when he heard a song of yours on the radio. It suggests that by hiring you, he was trying to access a specific sound that you brought to the table.
Yeah, I think it was a very specific track style which I’d just started doing. I thought “I want to do this grinding, heavy, half-time, pounding electronic music that you know it’s not dubstep but it’s definitely slow, heavy, electronic music.” And this track was “Slowburn” that I released. And I was into that kind of style at the time, and then I did the remix for “Moby” called “Lie Down in Darkness,” which got me a Grammy nomination a couple years ago. And it was actually that remix that Allen heard on the radio, and he said “This is what I’m looking for. It’s cinematic, it’s electronic, but it’s not cheesy dance music.”
Was there any back and forth between you and Allen about the actual sonic palette for HTGAWM? Or was he pretty much immediately down with what you could do?
He was immediately down with just about all the cues that I wrote or demoed. I think once or twice he said “not too much strings. Let’s keep it cutting edge; I want this particular sound for the show and it’s gotta be bold.” But sonically-speaking, he’s got an incredible ear for music. He’s from a music background. And when I sketch things out, [he’s like] “the kick drum’s gonna come through harder than that, right? Because this doesn’t have the mix that your track ‘Slowburn’ has.” I think a lot of visual people generally say “that’s the vibe I’m looking for,” and then you’ve got a bit of time to scramble and satisfy your own needs to get the sonic quality exactly right for the record guy. Allen was looking for that right from the get-go with the score, so that’s a director with a really strong feel for music and a deep understanding with how music is put together.
How did that work with How to Get Away with Murder? Which, you know, is yet another aspect of this sort of vintage Photek sound.
How to Get Away definitely has four or five distinct types of cue that we keep coming back to. And Pete Nowalk is the showrunner on that series, and he has a very broad taste in music. He’s not from a music background but he’s got very particular sensibilities about what sound is telling the story in the right way. So it’s not a record guy you’re talking to but a storyteller. And his instincts on storytelling lead the way I create the music.
There’s certain palettes that I’ll understand he likes, but he’ll talk about story and occasionally pick out “I generally don’t like jangly guitars” or something like that, and I’m like, “Okay, got it.” That’s really clear and we can avoid that. With Pete, it’s definitely a more story-driven look at music, and that’s a great exercise for me. We’ve got some of the smartest people in the business on the show, and they’ve all got feedback on music. All of their instincts are always dead-on.
I have to say, you do your first pass on something and you think “Oh, this is genius! I totally nailed the scene!” and then you sit with Bill D’Elia, the executive producer and director, and Betsy Beers who’s running the show alongside Pete, and they have the same intelligence when they’re looking at music and picture together. I’ve learned a lot from them throughout the process, too. I mean there is as much “misdirection” as there is supporting the drama.
Can you give an example of a suggestion they gave or something that they pointed out that you wouldn’t have thought of?
Well my favorite suggestion that I’ve ever had is Betsy saying, “You know what? I think you should just, you know, go and f**king score it.”
The most specific ones have been “You’re pointing us in a direction which we’re expecting...because you know what happens next in that episode, you’re pre-empting that. What we need to do is set the scene for what we know so far, or what we might suspect.” So musically, you could respond to that in a lot of different ways. But in terms of scoring to picture, that’s a [good] bit of advice.
Talk about the idea of recurring themes in the context of the show. Do you have any of that? Is there material that repeats, or that follows the characters around?
We have musical themes in the conventional sense. There’s one cue called “People Are Capable of Terrible Things.” And it’s got a piano melody that’s thematic and that does reprise in the normal way that themes would. And that signifies, usually, an extended scene involving a lot of duplicity, and people being dishonest with each other in the show.
That’s a very straightforward, classic approach to a theme. But then you have other themes in sort of sub-genres that we’ve developed for the show, like the courtroom scenes for example. 90% of the time it will be played in a very upbeat and playful kind of way, because there’s a lot of cat and mouse in their preparation for the courtroom, and you see their strategies working over the course of time. A lot of courtroom drama is played as heavy drama or melodrama, and Pete was very clear from the start that he wants the courtroom scenes to be entertaining. And the way the students view a case is often like “Yeah, we’re gonna get this,” rather than “Oh my god, we’re gonna send this person to jail for the rest of their life.” So we’ll have a genre theme, the courtroom scenes, for example, which are sort of upbeat four-to-the-floor. A sort of cheeky, disco-y kind of piece of electronic music which you’d never expect in that scenario.
In the episode I watched, “Best Christmas Ever” [watch the full episode here], there were a lot of transitions between courtroom and classroom and the outside world. And then, of course, there are a lot of flashbacks as well. From a musical perspective, it must be really hard to bind those all together in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s an animated cartoon, you know?
Some of these just happen to come together during the writing process, and some of them you struggle [with] for a long time. Maybe one of the cutback scenes, the music that was playing previously that needs to continue, is completely inappropriate for that scene. So we’re endlessly tweaking some of these cues. Some of these cues will end up taking as long as the rest of the episode in terms of how much work I’m putting in. Because you’re right, you’ll have a flashback to some horrific moment after you’ve just had a courtroom gag, and you need to continue with that courtroom humor. And then again, the flashback, you’re not even sure it’s true or even happened. A lot of these flashbacks are the lie, and then some of the flashbacks are what really happened. So some of them are extremely tricky to deal with. It’s just a little bit of finessing here and there that makes them all tie together. And some of them come a hell of a lot easier than others.
It’s like you have to consider the tone of what you’re writing, almost more than the actual melodic elements. Like you can build this sense of something questioning, or something propulsive, that will guide you through, instead of a melody that will work in each of four situations.
Yeah, and I think that’s why melodies only occur in a couple of different things. I may be wrong, but I think we got about three recurring themes that signify a particular type of drama. And then you’re right, often it is just setting the tone, because you need to have a little bit of flexibility depending on what you’re coming back to. If you put humorous music to a scene that’s really not supposed to be, you could really wreck it. But if you put slightly moody music into a scene that’s humorous, you could get away with more. We err on the dark side generally, and then you can bring in a fun element for a second if you need to. But then it does end up being a sound bed or an atmosphere rather than a melodic theme a lot of the time.
EDM is a very rhythmic form of music. Do you have to think about rhythm differently when you’re scoring to picture as opposed to building a dance track?
Yeah, it’s such a different discipline. I think there are such great music supervisors out there who find the perfect complement for a driving bit of dance music and put it with a scene that just makes it seem like dance music always works. And the truth is, it hardly ever does. It has a very distinct purpose, most dance music. And sometimes you’ll get a brilliant fit, where you couldn’t even compose a piece of score that would do the same job.
But a lot of the time, you’re playing a supporting role to picture, and the groove comes secondary. And you know in EDM, you might spend a whole day on a groove, or longer. And if that ends up not working for that scene, you have nothing to fall back on. So you have to approach it a different way. You can’t place everything on a rhythm on the majority of scenes. And, you know, you’ll get lucky in some scenes where you can just see right from the get-go, “Oh yeah, this just needs something to drive it along.” But that’s less frequent than you think.
To make the kind of electronica that you make, you can’t just think about rhythm anyway. You’re working a lot with ambience and mood to begin with.
Yeah. And also one of the main things about dance music, it’s very much on a grid. It generally takes twists and turns in 8, 16, 32-bar increments. It spills to another moment where it transitions into another section of the track. And dance music generally stays on one course. And that’s usually opposed to what score needs to do, which is to be able to change appropriately and in a cool way. If you go one and a half bars and then you need to change for another 2.8 bars, it rhythmically becomes a mess! And the whole purpose of establishing a groove in dance music is immediately lost.
You’ll hear it in bad music editing in a lot of visual productions where that completely rubbed me the wrong way, because somebody just tripped it halfway through a beat. It switches to another part of the song and it sounds horrific. As a music person, that stands out to you. I guess a lot of stuff slips through and ends up being horrifically edited together. I try to make sure that absolutely everything that is rhythm-based, I’ll set a tempo that happens to fit with the editors’ tempo that they’ve established.
What’s the biggest adjustment you have to make, mentally or creatively or otherwise, when you’re making music for screen as opposed to the more dance-oriented stuff?
I think the biggest adjustment that you have to make permanently -- it hit me years and years ago now -- is that you are secondary in this process. And you really are serving someone else’s vision. I remember the first couple of things I was asked to score, I came with a whole aesthetic for the show which hinged on music. You know, “You need to make the show like this because then this music would fit!” It’s a very naive and, I think, a very common approach for anyone coming through from the recording world. And as soon as I understood that I was serving someone else’s vision and ultimately the picture, it became a hell of a lot easier, and I also became much more creative. I’ve got to say that the more that I’ve worked with picture, the more versatile I’ve become and the better my repertoire has become.
Is it always just you in the studio creating score?
Pretty much. I have a couple of guys, assistants who help out and do arrangements, pull up sound palettes and play stuff around, and I’ll yell from the next room “What’s that thing that you just did?” ::Laughs:: Generally it’s me running the whole operation, so I probably spend about 50% of the time making music and 50% of the time liaising with the production. And that’s another big learning curve for me, which is you’ve got to keep communicating. If you spend half a day working on something that’s not appropriate for the showrunner or the director, then you’re giving yourself major problems. Time is of the essence and you’ve got to do your best work in the shortest amount of time possible.
That was a big adjustment, because the previous couple of decades, I’d just lock myself in a room and I’d call people back when when I was done with my record. You’re working with a completely blank canvas, and you know nobody wants to tell you what to do even if you ask. ::laughs:: I think working at someone else’s very strict pace is also something you’ve got to learn how to do. I see now that there’s not a surprise why there’s some great recording artists out there who don’t score movies, because knowing what it takes to make one happen, you’ve got to know that they’re gonna do what you need them to do when you need them to do it. And I don’t think many artists are used to being told what to do too often.
Are there routines or tricks that you have to get into that frame of mind where you’re ready to produce at your best in a short time frame?
One of the main routines I had to keep reminding myself is keep trying new things every 30 seconds. None of it’s in the arrangement but, you know, if you’re sitting there listening to a loop for more than a minute, you’re wasting time. You’re ruling out the possibility of coming across some fantastic new sound you hadn’t thought of using. The golden rule is to keep moving and keep creating, and keep trying ideas at a very high rate, so you don’t have time to sit with something for ages and ages and finesse it and then figure out after half a day that it actually is not the right sound. You’ve got to keep moving. Don’t sit there gazing off into the corner of the room while you’re working. Keep looking at the picture and keep trying new things.
Are there ever times where you fiddle around with a cue and then you realize at some point that it really makes more sense not to have any music at all?
Yes, that happens. And as much as you don’t want to admit that you’ve failed to improve the picture by music, sometimes you have a 15-minute stretch of an episode where it’s wall-to-wall music, and actually it would be more effective to go to silence. And that’s happened on both my most recent shows. I remember there was one particular episode of Gang Related where we sat at the mix and everything had been approved and we all looked at each other and thought “You know? There are three major, core cues here that just need to be pulled.” The good thing is, you get to use them a different way on another day. If they were working very much with that cast and that show, you’ll be able to come back to it. There must be at least 10 great cues that we haven’t heard in the show yet because they ended up not being appropriate at the time, but we love them and we know they’re gonna fit somewhere.
And it’s a bonus track on the first score soundtrack.
::laughs:: There’s a bunch of them on How to Get Away, because sometimes we’ll go on a crazy mission to try three rhythmic dance tracks that actually come out so great, and I think I’ll release these myself. And they’re like, “No no no, we want to save this. We’re not gonna forget about it.” I have a small library building of things that are waiting to be used on the show.
At the end of the “Best Christmas Ever” episode there’s a song that plays, it almost sounds like a Sigur Ros song. Was that also you or was it a licensed track?
That’s a licensed track. There’s probably about 25 minutes of original score in each episode and then usually three to four major licenses.
Do you have to work your score around that or integrate it in any way?
There’s been a couple of cues where we couldn’t find a good segue between the licensed track and the score, and I ended up starting an arrangement based around the licensed music, fixed the tempo, and I basically built on an additional layer over the end of their track which sounded like part of their song. That was interesting. It’s something I’ve always thought was a great idea, but this show was the first time I really heard that happen. I think most artists would rather their songs stayed, but not get messed around with a little bit. But then you can’t attach or write anything to it. And so you know you add this layer at the end of a needle drop, and then it segues perfectly into the next cue and everything works just fine.
Well it sounds like a cool challenge for you. Maybe you get to bring in instruments or textures that you hadn’t brought in earlier in the episode.
Yeah it’s great fun for me because that’s basically DJing ::laughs:: I need to get from this song to this song, and they’re both in different keys, and they’re both in different tempos, and how does a DJ deal with that? Well I’ve got much more time to figure that out right now and I can actually write a bridging piece between these two pieces of music. So I love doing that. And especially I think it’s cool for artists to get music licensed into a show like this, and I love to make this solve that problem. Because they stand a chance of not having their song licensed if it doesn’t fit. And I think “Ah, I love these guys!” And sometimes I’ll talk with Alex Patsavas, the music supervisor, and she’ll say “We really want to make this work. Can you fix the end?” I’ll give it a go. Usually it works out.
You said you’re in a break in between the first season and the start of the second season. Do you have any sense of what the second season is gonna sound like?
Sound-wise, I know that Pete Nowalk does not want to ease up and say, “Oh we’ve got this covered. Let’s just recycle things.” So I’m not expecting it to be a walk in the park. But I think we like what we’ve established, so I think we’ll be building on that palette. I’ve got a feeling our courtroom stuff might take the same format, but maybe evolve a little. But you know the main thing is that none of us really know what’s going to happen in season two! ::laughs::
I saw the whole cast and crew last night at the screening, and everybody’s asking the same question and nobody really knows the answer. “What’s gonna happen? What’s the format gonna be?” You can’t really predict with this show what’s going to happen next, and often the writers leave things very open-ended, and try to leave as many doors open as they can, because it leaves room for them to take unexpected twists and turns.Even on a macro level, we’re not quite sure how season two is gonna go down so it’ll be as much of a surprise to me as everyone else.
You get to be an audience member again, just waiting to see what happens.
Yeah. That happens week to week, you know. About halfway through the season I decide not to read the scripts anymore. You go to the spotting session, there’s usually at least 10 of us in a room, producer, director and showrunner and everybody else, and often we’d all be watching it for the first time. You’ve got the editors and a couple of the producers who’ve seen the latest cut. And we’ve been reacting like a TV audience, sitting on the couch. Pete would be able to say, “Oh wow, that’s not the reaction I was anticipating. Let’s pause right here and let’s talk that through and hear what you guys think is going on here.” That will have an immediate effect on the music direction, like “Wait a minute, you thought that that piece of action meant that? That’s not what I wanted you to think. Let’s talk about how we’re going to redirect people with this.” So a lot of it happens on the fly with this show.
Are there any musical crimes you hope to get away with in the future?
I’ve got a bunch of new types of movies or people that I’d like to get to work with, but there’s some stuff that’s a little bit out of my lane that I’d like to do, as well. I’d like to score an animation. I think that’d be a challenge for me. And a comedy as well. Most people don’t think of my music as being comedic. And I think what a lot of creative people have, is once they’re known for one thing, people assume that that’s what they like in their life. Like, I’m sure that Marilyn Manson will sometimes laugh, and sometimes just kick back without the make-up, you know? Watch a romantic comedy. ::laughs:: But what he does in his life is a separate issue from his artist persona. So I’d like to try some things that no one would expect from Photek that I could score as a composer. Maybe even some crazy children’s program. Maybe Photek does Yo Gabba Gabba or something like that ::laughs:: It’s some cool music on some of these shows.
You’re in the process of joining ASCAP now. What makes you want to become a member? Why do you care about this company?
One of the major things is how much ASCAP’s tried to do to protect the rights of people who write music. There’s so many people talking about what artists need to be doing who don’t understand what it means to create music. You’re not a pop star, you’re not a DJ, you might be a songwriter, you might be a composer or someone who writes fantastic music that gets performed by somebody else who’s famous, and the vast majority of people making incredible music that matches to other people are behind the scenes.
I always follow the Twitter feed from ASCAP, and I see what they’re doing in Washington. In this country and all around the world, you need a really dedicated team with some leverage who can actually go out there and defend music makers’ rights. And that’s a big appeal for me with ASCAP. You guys are looking far ahead and approaching some really big issues that individuals don’t get to tackle, because they’re too busy trying to make ends meet, too busy trying to make the next genius song. It’s a great critical mass to join in terms of defending what little there is left for musicians out there. And you know, it’s musicians, it’s their families, and it’s all the other industries that are attached to the music industry that stand to lose a lot if there’s not somebody out there fighting for those rights. I respect and appreciate everything ASCAP’s doing.
This list is going to deal entirely with drum and bass (sometimes written drum n bass). In this list I’m going to cover some of the best drum and bass artists, the best drum and bass albums, and the best drum and bass songs. I’m going to try and touch on a few different subgenres of drum and bass music, too. This includes dark drum and bass, jungle drum and bass, reggae drum and bass, liquid drum and bass, and atmospheric drum and bass. This way, you’ll hear everything that the best drum and bass music has to offer.
Photek- Modus Operandi:
Photek is pretty much always mentioned whenever you talk about the top drum and bass producers in the world today. Modus Operandi is his first album and is a necessity for anyone interested in drum and bass. Photek does a great job creating some really “pure” drum and bass tracks that never feel boring or repetitious.
Photek – Modus Operandi: This, not 'Timeless' or 'Newforms' was what drum & bass was all about. Deserves to be more than a footnote. Tears for Fears – Elemental: Roland and Kurt closed the door on the 1980s with their ...
So, change is afoot at EDJ and I am lucky enough to be taking on the long established old skool feature. To kick things off I am going straight for the jugular with one of my favourite tracks from one of drum & bass' most revered ...
Fortitude Magazine Moby & Mark Lanegan Announce Limited Edition 7″ Single Fortitude Magazine 'The Lonely Night' 7” comes backed with a remix from electronic music legend Photek and is being released on Moby's own label Little Idiot.
Brooklyn Vegan (blog) legendary DJ Goldie preparing new releases, working w/ Flying Lotus, Burial ... Brooklyn Vegan (blog) In addition to Flying Lotus, he'll also be working with Burial and Photek on the new album.
“We're recreating how we experienced it when we first got into music & dubstep, if you want to say that.” (C Dubs)Bassic is a six-year tradition “that evolved from a group of local bass lovers on a quest to change the tides of the ...
As if in direct response to the love-filled gesture, Photek took to the decks and opened with an aggressive break-beat drum pattern that stood in stark contrast to the previous positive grooves. No more messing around....
Electronic music DJ, record producer and three-time Grammy nominated remix artist Photek (a.k.a.Rupert Parkes) has always had a full plate when it comes to his career in the music industry, but his newest role as composer for the hit ABC crime drama How to Get Away with Murder definitely stretches his talents to the fullest. In a new exclusive interview with Music Times, Photek spoke to us about scoring the Viola Davis series, working on tight deadlines with short turnarounds, his relationship with showrunner Peter Nowalk, and taking on the composing world as an electronic producer.
How did you get into writing music and composing for film, TV, & video games? Was it something you'd wanted to do, or did the opportunity arise on its own?
Well, I think I've had a lot of inspirations from film scores and movies, you know, and I've always thought my music would suit it well. As time went by, more people would say "hey, you should be doing this, your music is very cinematic and it would make total sense." Then around 2001, I got asked to do the score for a TV pilot with Paramount Pictures and that was my first opportunity and I've loved it, you know. I think over the past few years I've gradually done more and more of it.
How did How to Get Away with Murder come about?
I got the script from my agent and I read the script on a flight to San Francisco, and I'm a pretty slow reader [laughs] but that script, I got through on the hour flight to San Francisco from LA, and I was immediately hooked. It's not often you get a script that's such a page turner and I think just reading, I immediately got a sense the pace of the music. So much was on the page that when I met with Pete Nowalk, the creator and showrunner, we were talking the same language as soon as we met. That's how that came about- I got the script and was just immediately hooked.
What's your professional relationship with showrunner Pete Nowalk like? It sounds like you have a pretty close working relationship with him. Can you speak a little more on that?
Yeah it is; Pete's got really great music sensibility and instinct as far as what the picture needs. He's just never wrong [laughs]! I never question what he asks me to do even when it's something pretty bizarre, and he's sort of led me down some really unusual music and picture decisions that I have total trust for what he's asking me to do. Throughout the process we talk in great detail down to, specifically he has particular instrumentation he doesn't like in a particular type of scene. In the process of doing an episode we'll have at least two meetings to discuss music and you're doing an episode a week pretty much, so we've spent a lot of time together. A lot of what I do is interpret his needs for the show. So we have a pretty close working relationship.
For each episode, there's a request for about 25-30 minutes of music to be produced in a 48- to 72-hour window ...
Yeah, that's about right!
... Is this a challenge or do you enjoy working under this type of pressure?
Well there's definitely a huge amount of pressure but I take a sort of sick pleasure of being able to get it done in the amount of time available [laughs]. I've spent my whole life making whatever music I feel like on whatever timeframe I feel like. I had my own record label when I was pretty young-in 1994 I started that label-and I merged into record producing after that. I've had a whole lifetime of doing whatever I want, and I actually loved the boundaries and structure of working on somebody else's project and trying to hit the mark for somebody else's needs, rather than getting up in the morning and you have a blank canvas every day. It's actually a much harder challenge to work with a blank canvas than one where you've got to fill in the gaps. So although it's extremely demanding and there's a lot of different skills and disciplines that you need to work with picture and work as part of a team. I like the challenge of making it happen in a short space; it's been actually liberating [laughs].
Does that process hinder or allow for more creative freedom?
It forces me to be more creative. There's no question that you're restricted, extremely so, but you have to come up with a creative solution. I guess it's like if you were a packaging designer trying to brand a product or something, you'd have all kinds of things that you weren't allowed to do, but it doesn't mean you can't come up with something genius that fits within those lines. I think it's a similar challenge to that. You've basically got to help the director tell the story and they're deciding what the story is. You know, with any slight nuance of sound you can make a very serious and intense scene laughable by putting the wrong sound with it. So you have a lot of power to f*ck it up. [Laughs] You could, very drastically. You have to be very creative. You have to satisfy yourself; you have to satisfy the director, the producers, the creators, and ultimately the picture. I found myself pushed to all kinds of things I wasn't sure I could do. I think it's added to my artistic abilities and my sort of range of skill.
Will this process continue for season 2?
I think so, yeah we've established some recurring themes or types of queues that we know will occur. But I think the whole crew, from the producers to Peter, I think we all want to make sure that things are fresh, so we probably won't have quite so many recurring themes that you might get in a more classic show. The show's very exciting; there's always new information happening, and I think if we all start to feel we've heard queue too recently, we'll all sort of come to the conclusion: "Well let's do something that does the same job but a completely new piece of music." So, I think it's going to still be pretty intense.
Is there anything else you share about season 2, are you excited about it?
I am super excited and word is I get to see new picture somewhere towards the end of July. I can't wait to see that! I'm full of questions about what's going to happen with the show next. I'll ask Pete and some of the other people in the crew, "how are you going to take this any further?" and they're like, "I don't know, but we'll figure it out" [laughs]. We've got some of the best writers in the business here and they always do, you know? Just when you think they've sort of boxed themselves into a corner with the story, they always find a way out. I admire their writing skills and their ability to keep you interested; it is quite an art.
Would you agree that, as an electronic producer composing music for TV and films, that you're in a minority of composers in this industry since most composers use orchestration and "classical" approaches?
I think that composing and scoring is generally a classical space, but there's definitely a cultural shift which television and film need to follow, so of course they need to apply some current, modern music into their creation. I think guys from like Hans Zimmer all the way to Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell and these kinds of guys, they use electronics. They've incorporated skillfully and tastefully electronic music into their composing work I mean Hans I think actually was originally a Fairlight programmer, a Fairlight operator so he has a very strong foundation of electronic music but obviously a lot of his work is this huge orchestral stuff. I think that they're all very aware and very capable and where the classical composers aren't, they're usually willing to work with somebody who's got expertise, who's specialized for a particular style or a particular area. I think they're very flexible in their approach and I think everyone's open to electronic music but by and large the majority of it is still classical. Having said that, it's pretty tough to score in these kinds of deadlines with a full orchestra, that's a real skill. You've got to be a very seasoned composer to make that happen. But I think everybody's very open to all kinds of music. I think you'll see more and more electronic music and then probably a backlash over the next few years where people want to go more classical, more organic sounding. There's always room for something in new in film and TV scores.
You've worked with some amazing talent over the years like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Daft Punk, and Bjork, to name just a few - are there any artists out there that you're hoping to work with in the future?
There are so many great artists out there, I think what I've decided is, my focus right now is composing so I tend to think less about that and more about what directors I'd like to work with or what producers. I'd like to work with somebody like Michael Mann on one of his epic films. I tend to think more now in pictures than I do with other musicians. I'm very lucky; the background I come from I got to work with Trent and obviously met Atticus Ross at the same time, they've both gone on to win Oscars [laughs] and score movies themselves. I guess that was a dream come true at the time and now my dreams have shifted focus a little bit. Now I think more like how I would love to score a Paul Greengrass Bourne movie or a Michal Mann crime thriller movie...I think in those terms more these days.
Are you working on anything else musically right now?
Well you know it all points to How to Get Away with Murder kind of looming and I've been taking some time out, actually working on music for my own record, which, you know, the pressure's off I can take as much time as I like making my own music now. So I've sort of been taking it easy in the few months off that I've had, working on my own music at the same time.
Do you have any advice for aspiring producers and/or musicians?
I guess I'm pretty new myself but I suppose my first step into this world was about you know, ten eleven years ago...I guess what I would say is, what I've learned is always be a positive force and never the guy who's complaining because it's pretty easy to feel the pressure of what you're being asked to do. So I'd say never whine, never complain, always say yes you can do it. I would say remember it's not your project, the picture and the producer or the director is the most important thing, so it's never about what you think about, it's what you can do for them. If I could give two bits of simple advice it would be that. Don't complain, always say you can do it, and remember it's not your project; you're playing a supporting role. If you have that in mind you'll have a fantastic time [laughs]!
Grammy-nominated producer Photek welcomed the challenge of composing the score for "How to Get Away with Murder." As he recalls during our recent webcam chat (watch below), his original idea -- "to have different motifs for different storylines that all converge at the end of the episode" -- was scrapped "in favor of serving the picture once we’d all seen what it actually looked like."
The first idea was very conceptual,” he says, “and what we settled on was telling the story scene-by-scene. Over the next few episodes, after the show got picked up was, themes started to develop and become very obvious to us." He concludes, "I think there ended up being about five or six different genre types for the musical score, depending on what the scenario was.”
He details these various musical cues. “I think sometimes we play quite an obvious hand when needed, and sometimes we rely more on misdirection than anything else." As for the latter, "that’s something that I learned from Pete Nowalk, the show-runner. His way of storytelling will often flashback to something that supposedly happened previously, that turns out to be a lie later on."
Photek readily admits, "As the season went on, I was struggling more and more to keep up with the web of lies that they were weaving with the script." He details the process. "Sometimes I’d score a scene how you’d interpret it as a viewer watching it for the first time, as I often was, and then Pete would say to me, ‘No, no, we need to spin this in a different direction. You know what’s going to happen ultimately from this scene, but we actually want to misdirect people at this point.’”
Photek, who has reaped three Grammy nominations for his production work on tunes by Daft Punk,Moby and Bob Marley, is on the lookout for his first Emmy nomination. Watch our full interview below to learn more about his work on “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Photek is composing the music for the upcoming Fox drama Gang Related. The show is created by Chris Morgan (Fast Five, Wanted) and stars Ramon Rodriguez, RZA, Sung Kang, Inbar Lavi, Terry O’Quinn, Shantel VanSanten, Cliff Curtis and Jay Hernandez. The series follows a rising star in Los Angeles’ elite Gang Task Force who teams up with a longtime Task Force member to take on the city’s most dangerous gangs, including one he has an allegiance to. Morgan is also executive producing the 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Entertainment production with Scott Rosenbaum (The Shield, Chuck), Brian Grazer (24, Friday Night Lights, A Beautiful Mind) and Francie Calfo (The Great Escape, The Playboy Club). Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli, From Hell) directed and served as an executive producer on the pilot episode. Photek is best known as a record producer and DJ and has done remixes for such artists as Nine Inch Nails, Moby, Lana Del Rey, David Bowie and Bjork. He received a Grammy nomination for his remix of Daft Punk’s End of Linefrom Tron Legacy. His previous credits as a composer include the drama Dreamland and the TV movie Invincible. His music was also featured in such movies as Blade, The Animatrix and Stealth. Gang Related is set to premiere on May 20, 2014 on Fox. For updates on the series, visit the official show website.
HYPETRAK Premiere: Moby & Mark Lanegan – The Lonely Night (Photek Remix)
By Matt Morris / Electronic, Music / April 17, 2013 / 5351 Views
Record Store Day is right around the corner, and you know what that means: tons of new, exclusive music. Lucky for us, a lot of it gets released online beforehand, because most people still aren't buying vinyls despite their resurgence in popularity over the past several years—it is 2013, after all. One product that hits the market this Saturday on R.S.D. is by none other than electronic music pioneerMoby, who teamed up with Mark Lanegan—the renowned frontman of 80s/90s grunge band Screaming Trees and a respected solo artist in his own right—to create a track called "The Lonely Night," which will be released this Saturday on a limited edition 7" vinyl and for which they just unveiled a beautiful time-lapse video. The song features delicate, yet fitting production from Moby, accompanied by gritty vocals and poignant lyrics from Lanegan. It's one of those songs that you listen to and can just tell that these guys have been doing this for a very long time and know exactly what they want out of their creative process. But quite possibly even more appealing is the official remix by Photek, which will serve as the b-side of the 7". The versatile producer took a minimal approach on this one, but appropriately so. Sometimes it's best not to try to dramatically change a song's feeling. Give it a listen below and head over to RecordStoreDay.com to see where the celebration is happening near you this Saturday.
I heard a super chilled DJ throw down some experimental dub tracks before I saw James Blake early April of this year, and though I don’t have Shazam, my trust ear was on point to clock a gem when I heard one.
The progression through the tune made me react as if I was listening to Grime, screaming ‘f*%k off! Pull this one back!’, and is still my reaction up until this day when I play it in my bedroom. It proper sounds like Jazz is moving luxurious on a Miami strip.
More dusky, pink-sky, beachside sweetness from the Friends of Friends camp. Evenings' first long-player comes shortly after the release of his west coast glo-fi (yes, I said it) swinger “Friend (Lover).” Taking tips from his ...
Dubspot contributor Michael Emenau investigates the magic behind Photek's Modus Operandi – a masterpiece album that established Rupert Parkes as one of the most innovative producers in modern electronic music.
Drum 'n bass instigator Photek was for a long time a man of many monikers, one of which was Studio Pressure. Despite being dormant since '96, today the producer revealed via Twitter that there is a new 12″ due under the ...
Clash Magazine Goldie Working With Flying Lotus, Burial Clash Magazine Chatting to FACT, the producer said he was having a “very busy year” with “some very interesting collaborations – Flying Lotus, Photek, Burial” in the pipeline.
Music News Moby and Mark Lanegan collaborate for Record Store Day Music News 'The Lonely Night' 7' comes backed with a remix from electronic music legend Photek and is being released on Moby's own label Little Idiot.
The Guardian Goldie: 'Melinda Messenger is like a small, really powerful monkey' The Guardian I think Sonny is no different from Burial or Photek in that he has his own sound that is essentially him. He's the most humble guy.
Driven by his years of studio discipline; sharpened by an acute awareness that he'll be received by the heads that know him well and ears that don't know him at all, Photek's new sound carries all the barbed motifs and icy ...
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