Most people don’t realize the importance of music in any production. It adds suspense, feels, fear, humor, or leads you to the emotion your meant to endure during that scene. Without it, it’s like watching a very long table read when everyone but you has a script to follow along. Basically it’s painful.
That’s why the originality and creative mind of composer Christopher Drake for films such as Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, just to name a few, was so instrumental (HA…no pun intended). This time around he takes on something a bit different with Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers that premiered at Sundance last weekend. The story follows two 15-year-old yoga fanatics Colleen Collette and Colleen McKenzie (played by Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) who are addicted to their phones and can’t stand their after school job at Eh-2-Zed in Manitoba. After their invitation to a Grade 12 party is threatened by an ancient evil that arises, they take it on in the most yoga way possible – by fighting for their lives using all seven chakras and “one Warrior pose at a time.”
Recently, Christopher and I discussed how Guillermo del Toro gave him his big break, what made Yoga Hosers different from the rest, and other projects he has in the works.
Just to clarify, this will sound like a standardized test question, but do you think all composition is music or all music is composition?
All music, I guess by the nature of what it is, needs to be composed, whether it’s a rock song, or if it’s a country song, or if it’s a piece of Classical music, so all music is a composition. The composer’s the author, and therefore, yeah, I would say all music is a composition.
All right, cool. Now, how did you get started?
I think it was my third or fourth birthday, I got a record player, and this is going to really age me, I got two records. One was Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta and the Bee Gees, and the other was the soundtrack to the original Star Wars. So this is 1977. My mother is a nurse. My father’s a police officer. I’m adopted, so didn’t have any relatives that were musicians or anything like that. I just listened to those records over and over again, and Star Wars really, not so much the Bee Gees, although I have nothing against the Bee Gees.
Star Wars really imprinted on me that idea of hearing what an orchestra was. I wasn’t exposed to classical music or anything like that so that was kind of a gateway to orchestral music. It was story telling through music. I didn’t really understand it as a kid, it was just something I played over and over again, in the background. Film music can be kind of subliminal, but I always noticed these names I’d see over and over again – Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, John Berry. I noticed how music could affect story telling.
Fast forward later, I did the whole teenager thing. I picked up guitar, girls like guitars (laughs). I loved Van Halen and stuff like that. This is the ’80s and then going into the ’90s, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. I was in a lot of bands, and getting into a lot of progressive electronic music. While all my friends were out partying, I was this hermit that saved up his money. I worked graveyard shifts. I bought synthesizers and equipment and I just kind of tinkered in my weird Frankenstein’s laboratory in my house. I learned that listening to electronic bands like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, I was like, “Wow, that’s one guy, and you can create this huge sound. You can be a band, a one-man band.
That kind of like switched my brain, and there again I was like, “You know, I’ve always loved film music.” I’ve always in a way even with my rock and roll or electronic, my bands I was always composing almost in a film music kind of way. I just thought, “You know maybe I’ll take a stab at this.” I was living in Arizona at the time. The first time I did it, Turner Classic Movie channel, at the time, had this competition called the Young Composers Film Competition, I guess. The idea was they had a snippet from a black and white silent film that had no sound and you wrote, I think a five-minute compositional piece to write to picture. I wrote this, then a couple months later I think I won second place. I was like, okay, cool. That was the first time I wrote to picture. I really enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it.
Where were you then?
I was still living in Arizona at the time. At that point that’s when I was like, “I’m going to chase the dream.” Saved up a couple thousand dollars, moved to California, to where I am now. All composers have different stories about what they’re path is, how they got their first break. There’s no rule to be a composer. You go to school, you get your degree and then you intern for someone. All of that is a viable path to become a composer but it’s really all about you have to have some kind of basic talent, a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time.
So what was yours?
I happened to be at a place where my music was heard by Guillermo Del Toro. He loved the thing I did for a Halloween live performance of an old film called The Thing From Another World. He responded to it. This is before Guillermo is where he is now. I mean he’s like on a Spielberg level now…he was more accessible. You could go out and get pizza with Guillermo back then. This is like 2000. He wanted to work with me. Then he gave me my first break on the Hell Boy animated films. From there that’s where I am here.
Oh, wow! You’ve done tons of work from scores in the superhero sector films and gaming. How was making Yoga Hosers different?
Here’s the funny thing. In some ways it isn’t because Kevin Smith, he found me because he was a fan of my work. Years ago when I still lived in Arizona, Kevin had an animated version of Clerks, his breakthrough movie. It was on ABC. I was thinking to myself, my plan was if I want to get into the film business, there’s no way I’m scoring Star Wars. There’s no way they’re going to give a 20-something kid that’s never done anything a big movie so I have to start small. I was thinking maybe animation because it’s not quite as large of a budget. Usually the people making animation are younger, my age at the time, and they’re willing to take more risks.
So I actually sent a demo out to work with Kevin. Again, this is maybe ’99 actually, ’97, ’99, and I was still living in Arizona. I sent it to Walt Disney studios. I didn’t have an agent. I don’t know how the business works so I had my friend who’s like, “I’m from New York, I know how to talk to people. I’m your agent.” He calls up Disney and he’s like, “Yeah I’m representing Christopher Drake and we’re going to submit this thing.” They’re like okay and even though I didn’t get the job it was amazing that I was like this is real, this is possible. I just sent music to Walt Disney, they called me back, and they’re taking me seriously.
Years later I found out, of course Kevin never even heard it and he was like anything, he was having battles with Disney. He was like, “If it came from Disney, I tell you, you could have been John Williams and we would have thrown your CD in the trash.” Disney was the man, you know. The great irony was I wanted to work with Kevin back in the nineties and only through my work through Batman, that’s what got me on Kevin’s radar.
That’s crazy! So are there Batman nuances in this film?
Kevin homages a lot of things, so Yoga Hosers is really like a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure with two girls and there’s a lot of homaging to horror films and it’s funny because he told me, score it like a superhero movie. He wanted to write a superhero movie for girls because his daughters in it. There’s this fantastic movement right now where women and girls are being included in these roles that were always [for men]. For example, the new Star Wars movie and I think Kevin wanted to create again, a fun comedy where these girls are kind of like, it’s like a Bill and Ted but they do become superhero’s in the end.
In many ways I scored a lot of it like a superhero movie in the end and there’s a funny thing too because he is a huge Batman fan. One of the voice actors for the Batman animated films, Kevin Conroy, makes a cameo in the movie as a patron in the store. I’m also in that scene. I’m in the background as a customer, and I have no lines, but I’m there so you have these two Batman things. Not only am I on screen in that scene, Kevin talks and there is kind of a Batman joke and I homage myself, my Batman music in the score, so I have two cameos. I’m on screen and I’m playing my Batman music, a rip on my Batman music in the score. It was a really weird, meta-surreal thing. So this particular movie, nothing’s really changing. I’m approaching it the same way as a Batman movie.
Have you ever seen a film and been blown away by the score? Or thought that score could have been stronger or done differently?
Absolutely. Of course we have, it’s an occupational hazard. I’m sure you probably do the same thing with your profession if you read interviews and stuff like that, and you’re like, “Wow that was a dud. I try to keep an open mind but you do kind of have your arms folded and you’re like, could I have done this better. Would I have thought of this, or I never would have thought of this. There was a movie called Under the Skin with Scarlett Johansson. That score it was written by a woman, I think Mica Levi and she’s an experimental, a vanguard artist, I think this is her first film composition and that movie not only is elevated by the score. I can’t imagine that movie with any other score. It’s such a weird, alien, bizarre. I mean it sounds like that score came from another planet, it just blew me away and it was organic to that story.
I mean of course John Williams scores are integral to Star Wars. Jerry Goldsmith is a huge inspiration to me because he’s so progressive and thought outside the box and used different instrumentation, electronics and weird things and he could score something very populous like Star Trek.
So you are more blown away?
Yes, I’m constantly surprised, however there is kind of a strange thing in our modern time of film scoring. Especially when you listen to a lot of action movies and the fact that studios now don’t like to take chances on new ideas. Films are temped before composers are even signed on to do the project, they have music editors basically put music from the previous movie. It’s usually whatever was the big popular action movie from the year before; it’s called a “temp score”. For example, if I get a job, Kevin doesn’t work this way but a lot of times for big expensive, the more money the movie costs the more hands are involved and the more business people and suits are involved in it and they don’t want to take chances.
For example, if I were to get a big action movie, before I even sign onto the film, the first time I would see it would probably have music from another composer or maybe my music that I’ve done for previous films already setting the tone of what that story is. So you’re kind of stuck in a position of where that the studio heads, what they call the “signing off on the tone”. The studio head expects that sound, because they don’t want to take chances with some new punk rock experimental thing. It’s kind of homogenized. If you listen to a lot of big action movies, things kind of sound the same.
Right, is there another genre of film or maybe music, or maybe another industry that you can have a hidden talent that we don’t that you have, that you’d like to delve into?
It’s such a Los Angeles thing because you meet an actor and they’re like I really want to direct or a screenwriter and they’re like I really want to do this. I love story telling and this is the difference between being a composing music for film and television versus being just a musician. Being like a recording artist, the fact that not only do you have to write the tune, you’ve got to create music, but you have to be a storyteller and you have to support storytelling. I mean that’s true, you can listen to music, songs carry stories but I think as a composer you need to, in a way I’m kind of thinking to myself if there’s two actors on screen I’m like the third invisible actor because I’m also reacting to those two actors, their dialogue, what is the scene about. I’m manipulating the motions.
I do have a couple of screen play ideas but it’s one of those things that making movies takes a long time, it takes a lot of money and I’m busy. The day jobs keep it and I’m happy doing the day job and if someday I have money and time to maybe explore one of these things, I’d love to. But it’s a craft like everything else; to do it right you have to be doing it. If I wasn’t a film composer feeling comfortable in my craft in a year, it took me like five or six years where I feel like I have technique and a style and a craft to call on. Same thing for you at any job, you just do it and you kind of develop your skill set.
I would be remiss if I said I wish I were doing something else. I get paid money to write Batman music or work with Kathy Smith or Guillermo del Toro, I can’t think of anywhere else that I would want to be.
For sure, and before we go can you tell us about other projects you’re working on?
Yes, I have to be careful because I always get in trouble with publicists with this last question. My good friend Fil Eisler is composing music for this documentary on the Sandy Hook story. It’s a really beautiful documentary, talking to the families. It’s not really a movie about political statements or anything like that, it’s just showing you this strategy and how it unfolded and the gun situation. It was kind of an honor for me to, after all these fun fantasy things that I do that I love, but this was something that was a true human story to be part of and bear witness to. He got quite a few composers to form and we all became a collective. We submitted music for that, which is going to be at Sundance as well.