"With music it's not what you hear with your ears so much as you hear it with your heart." Interview with TV and film composer Patric Caird
Award-winning Canadian composer Patric Caird has worked in television and film since the early 1990s, producing over 400 scores in the fields of animation, documentary, comedy and drama. Caird won several Leo Awards (Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Foundation of British Columbia) for Best Musical Score in an Animation Program for his work on Ed, Edd n Eddy and the Genie Award (Canada’s Oscar) for the Infinity Features film Here's to Life!
As well as his success in the field of animation, Caird is a prolific composer of horror. He has scored music for TV shows Ghost Wars, the 90s reboot of The Outer Limits and The Dead Zone. He is currently composing the musical score for Netflix young adult horror series The Order, which was recently renewed for a second season.
Originally from Vancouver, BC, Caird's musical career began as a jazz saxophone player -playing, touring and recording with many of Canada’s premiere jazz and blues artists, notably with the Juno Award (Canadian Grammy) winning band The Powder Blues. Caird now lives in LA as a full time composer.
I had the opportunity to chat with him over Skype from his recording studio in Laurel Canyon to discuss his early work with animator Danny Antonnucci, his love of horror music, Hallmark TV tear jerkers and that timeless question - is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
I understand you began your musical career as a jazz saxophone player, Can you tell The Digital Fix what it was like touring with big jazz artists like The Power Blues?
Oh that was great. I guess I joined The Powder Blues in 1984 and we did like a hundred and eighty days a year on the road. It was quite an experience. I was gone half a year from my home. I also had my kids at that time so it was a bit of a conflict of interest. You know, I missed his first steps, I missed his first words, as I was out making money. So, I started focusing more on writing music at that time, to try and make a living without being in a motel room somewhere.
So that desire to have a work / home life balance is what lead you into film and TV composition?
Yes. A friend of mine said "you know, every night you're up at the bandstand composing on your feet in real time - maybe you could put it to better use?"
As a musician and composer, what have been your biggest musical influences, particularly growing up?
Oh man, well Carl Starling obviously, all that Warner Bros cartoon stuff. And then I became more aware of music in film and television, Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith, Nino Rota especially. And then as the TV thing started happening more and more, you start to hear some really great composers coming out in television. Sean Callery and lot of other contemporary guys.
At your current success, what are your big musical interests now?
Have you seen the Italian series Gomorrah? Oh my goodness, I'm riveted! The music is by a band called Molecule. It's just magnificent what they're doing. It's hard to describe what they even do. It's kind of like electronica rock band that makes this weird, vibey underscore to this incredibly beautiful Italian gangster movie that goes on for three seasons.
You've scored a lot of musical scores over the years. What ones are you most proud of?
Certainly the work I did on Ed, Ed n Eddy, which was a cartoon series for the Cartoon Network. It was pretty fantastic; I got to record a live six-piece jazz band every few weeks to cartoons, which was magnificent at the time! I got to hire my buddies, which was fun.
And then I was nominated for a Canadian Award for a movie called Here's To Life! James Whitmore was in it and Ossie Davis and Eric McCormack and that was really a great high point in my career, for the recognition I got certainly. I loved the music; it was a family kind of thing.
Now I do quite a few Hallmark movies, so I go from this supernatural series The Order and a lot of horror films - I work with a horror director Karen Lam - so I'll be doing her stuff and The Order and then I'll go and do a Christmas movie for Hallmark. So it's really schizophrenic but it's a great pallet cleanser and I love all of it. It's sweet without getting saccharine; not too clean but really wholesome with warm melodies. And then the next day it's horror...
But in a good way! These Christmas movies are a nice change of pace?
Yeah I love them! It's great. In that context, you watch the film, you get a feel for the main characters - the woman and the love interest - and I'll write a melody for them. And then I just push forward with the melody and then season it with Christmas songs.
I assume you've probably seen Die Hard?
Oh yes, many times!
So Michael Kamen wrote the music for that. And we all know the main themes; it's brilliant and fantastic and super muscular and aggressive. But all of the counter melodies and all of the stuff that gets woven into the fabric of the score are Christmas carols. Slowed down, or played backwards or upside down, there's this fantastic tapestry where you get Christmas whether you like it or not!
Well Die Hard is one of my favourite Christmas movies!
Absolutely! People go "it's not a Christmas movie but it absolutely is!
Definitely. You've talked a bit about your work in the horror genre. You've worked Ghost Wars, The Dead Zone, the previous revival of The Outer Limits and now The Order. Is the horror genre something you're drawn to as a composer?
Oh yeah. It's just so much fun. People go 'oh you don't want to fall into the clichés, the tropes'. But clichés work sometimes because they work. And if it works, it becomes a cliché. But you do a lot of reinventing, coming up with a different angle or at least a different flavour.
And I got to do a lot of that on Ghost Wars with Simon Barry. I was really attracted to the scripts and I was hearing mid-twentieth century Polish music, you know. And so I was pitching him the work of Krystof Penderecki and it's hard to get those sounds out of the tools I have here in my studio with the samplers. I have a Cello here that I do unnatural things with to eek out these terrible sounds! So he was really excited by that and enjoyed pushing out in that general direction.
I guess you would say that that sound didn't begin in that direction but it was certainly perfected by the work of Kubrick in The Shining. He used the scores from the modern Polish, other Eastern European composers for that underscore.
Well there's something definite dark and intense sounds that comes out of Eastern European music.
Oh definitely, it's just otherworldly. You just know from the hair on the back of your neck going up and you start looking around. Even here in my studio, it gets late and I'll be working alone and hear a sound and start checking the door...
Do you find working late at night you freak yourself our with the music you're working on?
Well it can happen. I live up in the hills of Laurel Canyon [in Los Angeles] and there's really no one on the street. It's dark, it's quiet...
It's quite funny, a couple of years ago I was working on something in the middle of the day - I can't even remember what the show was, it might have even been one of Karen Lam's films. I like to get up quite early and work from about five in the morning, until five at night. Then I take a mandatory cocktail break, have a bite to eat and decide whether I'm going to back to work or watch Gomorrah!
So, I finished this day of work; I heard something at the back earlier but carried on working. I got up, and on the landing to my studio there was a little shrine. Someone had come down the stairs - the door was open - and collected bits of pieces - it was almost like a human crow collected shiny bits and pieces of objects - and made a little nest outside of my front door. And it freaked me out! And I thought someone could have been standing behind me the whole time! It got me thinking about privacy concerns; it was a bit of a wake up call.
So let's talk about The Order. What was your approach to scoring the music for the show?
It's a great question. Dennis Heaton, who is a very dear and old friend of mine, got The Order and asked me to score it. He sent me the scripts and I am reading all this stuff - it's young adult kind of supernatural, secret societies and werewolves - and I was thinking this can go in a modern direction; I'd like to experiment with extreme percussion sounds and synthesisers and distress samples and really start to tear it apart. And I sent Dennis some samples and he said great.
And as he got into the show, it definitely called something more - gothic is the wrong word - what kept coming up in the notes I kept getting from Dennis was, let's great but let's get a bit more operatic. And so I found that rather than going for that edgy, metallic, throbbing sound, I ended up digging into that big orchestral minor chord, darkness with some kind of tension going on. And that really seems to speak to the show, for the Edward character and the Order. It really brought a certain kind of intensity to those characters.
So yeah, the score over those ten episodes changed dramatically, and for the better. I still kept some of that edgy, distorted, distressed metallic stuff that I love, but it got more and more large.
I found, particularly in those early episodes that the music was very subtly done and then came out of nowhere, shaking things up, which is quiet interesting. But then the end credits are big, macabre, rather gothic piece of music. Was that your opportunity to let loose with the score?
Absolutely! And those end credits, normally they're a minute. I had written a minute-long version to revisit some of the themes or elements from the show. And then we're going into the mix and they say 'oh yeah' the end credit sequence is two minutes long! And I'm kind of like what?! [laughs]
So I grabbed that minute long version and broke it open and added some piano flourishes and went off into a different direction and tried to reprise the main theme again at the end of the credit sequence. I really liked how it turned out. It was definitely reaching into that bag and pulling out a severed head!
So looking then to The Order, which recently got a season two renewal. Is there anything you're planning to change your approach on when scoring the second season?
Well you know I haven't spoken to Dennis yet about the direction moving forward. But I guess that we'll just pick up where we left off and keep on scoring. I was very happy with where it was and I think everyone felt it was serving the show proper. You never know where the show is going to go and what the crazy writers are going to think up.
The other thing is, and I won't spoiler it in case people haven't gotten to the end of the first season, but it could go anywhere.
You've worked on a lot of different mediums; animation, documentary, comedy, horror, drama. Do you approach each medium differently?
Oh absolutely. They have different mechanical needs. An animated show versus a documentary and even a dramatic narrative has a different feel too. Ultimately you want to get into the heart of whatever it is that you're working on. To me, that's what music can impart, like nothing else; it's the beating heart of a character or a story or a show in general.
So that's what I'm kind of looking for as I dig into that. Every now and then you need music that's going to push you through a scene or make you feel a certain way. That's when it's kind of functional. Some people think a good score is a score that you don't hear. I don't agree with that - obviously because I love scoring - but I think with music it's not what you hear with your ears so much as you hear it with your heart. When you feel nervous, it's a sympathetic nervous system attack and that's conscious.
Do you like to hear the scripts first to score the music or do you like to see the finished footage before getting a feel for how you're going to work?
On a new project, I like to get a script to see where we're heading into, to start that discussion with the directors and producers and showrunners as early as possible. And I like to pitch sounds and colours and say is this the right idea? But ultimately, so much is done in the actual craft of film making; the DP, the set dec and the actors. Basically I won't really know what I am going to do until I see them on camera. You read a scene and you see it in your mind's eye and then you see it shot.
You know, they talk about the three movies. The movie that you write, the movie that you shoot and the movie that they edit and deliver. And that's kind of true. And so I feel to get the flavour of the show and head off in the right direction, it's nice to see the scripts. but once you're in the trenches, I need to see the picture and I need to see what the director has done and what the actors have done up close. How close is that is that shot?
I was working on this scene on this Hallmark movie, and I work on my computer with its thirty inch screen. And usually it's shrunken off to the side; I don't need to see it large. But we were spotting the movie at the Hallmark building and that had it up on the big screen. And I was watching this performance - our starlet gets some disturbing news - and her eyes start to fill with tears. And I was thinking, oh my god, this is so powerful. I wasn't noticing this on the small screen, I was too busy with my head down. But I thought that's the start of the music cue right there. When her eyes start to well up, I want to hear music under that.
So before we wrap up, let's talk a bit more about your work on animation. You worked closely with Danny Antonucci on series like The Brothers Grunt and of course Ed, Edd n Eddy. How did you start collaborating with Dan?
Danny and I were neighbours in a housing co-op. And we both had kids about the same age and we bonded on scotch and Sinatra! It was pretty easy to do. He was animating at that time, out of a place called International Rocket Ship that was run by a guy named Mark Newman, most famous for Bambi Meets Godzilla. I don't know if you've seen it?
I haven't but it sounds wonderful!
It's pretty funny. Anyway, he had this great animation studio in Vancouver with a bunch of terrific animators, Danny included. And Danny had done a short called Lupo the Butcher which was fantastic. Something else people should look up. We started working together on MTV and Nickleodeon - I was doing sound and music for them; I think the first thing I did was a little film called Deadly Deposits with Jake Faulkner. Dennis Heaton was the producer on that and that was he beginning of my relationship with Dennis who is now of course the creator and show runner of The Order.
Danny had done these MTV IDs and invented this weird, veiny, naked pasty skinned guy wearing Bermuda shorts. MTV had hit it big with Beavis and Butthead. They thought found a goldmine and so they said we need more animation and it needs to be crazy and ridiculous! Get Danny Antonucci to do it! So he created The Brothers Grunt and it's nuts! MTV wanted us to meld animation and their MTV brand, which was mainly music videos.
So we'd do two or three minutes of this random craziness and then we'd morph into a video that the Brothers Grunt would appear in. And then it would come out of the video and back into a video of The Brothers Grunt. It was this completely weird and funny thing and very out there. However MTV made the mistake of taking one of their half hours of Beavis and Butthead off at prime time and replacing it with half hour of this weird show The Brothers Grunt. And everyone went where's Beavis and Butthead? We hate this! Though I think we got sixty or seventy episode of that show out before they pulled the pin on it.
From there, Danny left International Rocket Ship and formed his own studio called AKA Cartoon. And that's when he started the Ed, Edd n Eddy show. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Are you planning on working with Danny again on any future projects?
Oh man, I would love to! We're still very close friends. He did have a show on to the go called Snot Rocket but for some reason it didn't catch on with the big networks! But it was this brilliant concept; basically this kid, loosely based on one of Danny's boys and his crazy imagination. The kid's dog would get pulled into these fantasies with the kid and mayhem ensues!
As we wrap up, is there any TV or show you would love to work on?
Excellent question. I haven't thought about this one! What would I love to work on? Well I love working on what I'm working on, it sounds like a corny answer but I do. I love working with the Netflix people and The Order is fantastic. There's another Netflix show with Simon Barry that I was hoping to be involved in. I don't know what's happening with that; they're making creative decisions so I wait patiently for some good news there.
I feel pretty lucky that I've got a kind of broad spectrum of work that I do. I get to work on independent stuff; I have some friends in Toronto who make a web series called Save Me. I really enjoy working on that. The first series was really about coming up with songs without words, very much inspired by Bon Iver and that kind of transcendent indie sound.
So I like doing that and then I get to do some crazy horror stuff and do a documentary and then a narrative, long form TV series, which is really, really fun.
A big thanks to Patric Caird for taking the time to chat to The Digital Fix and to Impact24 PR. You can catch Caird's latest score for The Order on Netflix here.