Interview: "Turbo" Composer Henry Jackman
Mon, 15 Jul 2013 09:43:38
Every underdog story needs an uplifting soundtrack. Henry Jackman devised the perfect score to DreamWorks Animation's brand new epic, Turbo. The tale of a snail who dreams of racing the Indianapolis 500, it’s a heartwarming and hypnotic affair, and it required music that was not only as emotionally resonant but also revved up at the right moments. That's exactly what the composer provided.
The soundtrack drops on June 16 and the movie hits theaters on June 17.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, composer Henry Jackman discusses the score for Turbo and so much more.
What attracted you to Turbo?
Well, I worked with DreamWorks Animation before on Monsters vs. Aliens and Puss in Boots. I got a call from the music department saying, "We've got another one coming down the pipeline. We think you might want to have a look at it". It was very early days. I hopped in my car and drove down to meet the director David Soren. This was before there was any major footage. He had this big room with all of these storyboards and some artwork. He spent basically an hour going through the story and his vision for the film. It was a really good story, and he'd done a great job of presenting it. I was really excited about it. The fact that it involved racing opened up the door as far as the score goes. It didn't have to be only symphony orchestra. It would be symphony orchestra plus other cool elements. From the description of the story, it was clear there was a chance to do something interesting.
How did you approach it musically? What was your vision?
Well, I knew there was going to be some cool production in there from the beginning. It's really important to figure out the themes you're going to need. Once I'd seen some previews with more animation, I really started to get a feel for it. Watching the film, it was obvious we were going to need a racing idea. Just as importantly if not importantly, we were going to an aspirational dreamer theme which would really help the narrative and the story. It isn't necessarily action-based heart-pumping idea. It's really a dreamer theme I'd have to go away, sit at the piano, and write. It's an underdog story reminiscent of Babe. It's also got a bit of Rocky in there. You've got this snail who believes he can race the Indianapolis 500, which is ridiculous, but he won't let go of that dream. Way before he gets near racing, there's this longing and aspiration he has. That needed to be represented in the music. That's why I thought it would be good to write this dreamer theme. As things start to fall his way and he undergoes the classic superhero transformation, he goes from being an ordinary snail to a super snail, his dream starts coming true. It collides with the racing thing though. It's important to have that sense of aspiration. It's my job to support that feeling of reaching out to something beyond your ordinary capacity.
What exerts a bigger impact on your musical choices the characters or the plot?
It's both. It really depends on the cues. In a good film, the two are really linked. Sometimes, you get very situational music cues, especially if a cue is about a dream being fulfilled. Some of the characterization in music is often instrumentation, whereas sometimes some of the use of themes can represent the bigger picture or wider story arc. It's a combination of both. You should never lose sight of your main characters, but sometimes music's job isn't to focus what an individual character says or what he or she is thinking but place them in a wider context of the overall story arc. Sometimes, it's important for music not to foreshadow something and have a character reveal the next part. Other times, it's good to have it pre-shadowing something. It depends on what you're trying to achieve.
Is writing the more bombastic music especially fun for you?
A lot of that is pacing yourself. Particularly in this story, there's a heart-thumping intro to the film. After that, there's a lot of story. It takes a little while to get to the races. You don't want to unleash the energy when you don't need it. When you get to the races and the anticipation Turbo faces, you build it. When the race starts, you let the action out of the bag. It's interesting. In some live action films, you can have pounding action for minutes on end, and the purpose of the music is just to support it. In this movie, even in the racing part, there are still a lot of character, story, and emotional beats. Even within the more bombastic material at the end, there are a lot of story points. You get the visceral speed and bombast of racing, but you still hold on to the story.
What composers do you always come back to?
My background is really weird. I went to strict almost Monasterial British boarding schools to study classical music. It was incredibly straight-laced. I spent all of my early years studying Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, and it was all classical music. It was constant practice. There was all of that. Around sixteen or seventeen, I got a home computer with a little sampler, and the whole rave thing was kicking off in England during the late eighties. I literally abandoned classical music overnight and launched into underground electronic music. I made dance records and whatnot. I kept the classical background as a lurky secret because I was too busy being too cool for school. That took me to thirty. I got a little tired of the record industry. At three-to-four minutes, pop music doesn't have the scope of a film score. Hans Zimmer heard my album Transfiguration and was like, "What are you doing in the record industry? You should be doing film music!" In terms of influence, way before worrying about being influenced by film composers, I was influenced by the history of Western classical music from 1600 up to Stravinsky. At the back of my cupboard, my influences stretch back to actual classical concert music. A lot of my electronic music production chops stretch back to actual important records. Not all of those things have just been gleamed from film music. There are a lot of composers I love though. Hans Zimmer is big. I really love Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, and John Powell. I'm just saying I'm glad my knowledge of orchestral music doesn't start with post-1970s film score [Laughs]. It goes back to 16th century church composers. It's a deeper well to pull from. It's nice to know the source, if you know what I mean.
Have you heard the Turbo soundtrack?
Listen to it here!