What do you do when you're attempting a television comeback and not to mention you're still a very popular comedic figure? Well, NBC's "The Michael J. Fox" show has the best of both worlds with a surefire hit comedy series after a long hiatus from television from the show's memorable star charisma and dry comic wit that made "Spin City" and "Family Ties" so popular. Aided with the musical backing of the ultra busy musical workaholic genius, Jeff Cardoni, Fox has an ally willing to go all the way to make the series a huge success musically.
Jeff is a busy little bee that has created a resume that would be the envy of many young composers with series such as the current hit series, "Wilfred" and "The League" both on FX, "CSI: Miami", which lasted nine solid seasons and "Entourage", which of course needs no introduction. Add to this list Jeff's latest along side "Michael J.Fox Show", "Full Circle" starring David Boreanaz, Minka Kelly, Kate Walsh and Julian McMahon for the Direct TV/Audience Channel, Jeff's broad musical landscape is really getting bigger and bigger. Sprinkle in a few film projects and Jeff has had a successful career to date.
For this interview with the multifacited composer, Jeff tells me what it's like to work on three television series at the same time, his current work "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Full Circle" his theatrical film projects and touching upon his past works such as "CSI: Miami." So sit back and enjoy reading about the musical mind behind this very talented composer.
Hi Jeff , how are you and thank you very much for taking the time to conduct this interview with you today inspite of your really busy schedule. It really is an honor to do so once again.
JC: Thanks Danny, appreciate it. I read your reviews all the time!
Please tell the readers about who aren’t familiar with your work of what made you become interested in music and what led you to become a song writer/composer.
JC: Well, to keep it brief, I was trained at classical piano as a youngster back in PA. To rebel, I bought a drum set and played in some rock & roll bands. In college I picked up a guitar and became obsessed with practicing which led to playing guitar in indie rock bands in the mid 90’s. Which led me to Los Angeles. We had a manager who was a music supervisor for films and I got to play on a few and really just decided that composing was I wanted to pursue full-time. I took some classes at UCLA on orchestrating and conducting, and got to intern for a few composers: John Murphy ("28 Days Later") and Christopher Tyng ("Futurama") and then slowly just started getting jobs on my own.
Let’s talk about the highly anticipated NBC comedy series “The Michael J. Fox Show” which premiered last week. How did you become involved with the project?
JC: The Michael J Fox show came about through a demo submission from my agent. He called and said what they were looking for, I was out of town but came back early to be able to submit on Monday morning and just wrote one cue that I thought hit what they were looking for (which never happens)! I had worked with the music supervisor Wende Crowley on a film that I scored a few years earlier ("The Vicious Kind") and it just kind of worked out.
Please tell us about the theme you came up with for the show.
JC: Well, this was a strange one, because I went in to meet the producers (Will Gluck and Sam Laybourne) one day. Oddly, they hired me from my demo so I hadn’t physically met them when I got the job - which never happens! Anyway, so I get into the meeting and they said the first order of business was to try and come up with a theme song. Now, this could have gone horribly wrong, as usually this is so hard to nail with all of the people who have opinions. So I was a bit terrified that this was going to be my first task. But they were incredibly open minded and allowed me to just do my thing. I think I turned in twelve or so little demos in a three day period, and they would all listen separately and they both just happened to say #9 was it. So we had something to work with, then of course I tweaked but it was one of the little demos that stuck as the theme song. The cool thing about that was I started using the little melody in a bunch of cues so it felt connected, and while it’s a really simple little melody, sometimes I can use it in some emotional scenes so it feels organic to the show.
Was it difficult or easier for you to find a tone for the music as this first season went along?
JC: You know, it’s always a process, but I think tonally we have it pretty close at this point. The producers didn’t want to score this show with traditional comedic scoring, so a lot sounds like indie rock and not too much stinging of the action and such.
What was your approach for each episode musically speaking?
JC: I write a bunch of general show music that we can use for transitional cues and then some of the episodes have some more specific things and themes. There’s a news theme that I reprise a bit, a theme for Graham the son, and we’re working on a little bit for Anne Heche’s character who shows up in an upcoming episode.
How much music did you have to write for each episode?
JC: Not nearly as much as a one hour drama! It varies but so far it’s only been about seven to eight minutes an episode. However, when some of the cues are really short, they’re sometimes trickier to write. Plus, everything is live - drums,bass, guitar, rhodes, piano. There are no synths so even a 10 second cue, you’ve got to record every part so it still takes a surprising amount of time.
You’re also involved in another series premiering soon, “Full Circle” starring Bones’ David Boreanez, Private Practice’s Kate Walsh and Charmed’s Julian McMahon. How did you get involved with this show?
JC: I had worked with the music supervisor Mason Cooper before on a few films. He called me about it and I wrote some demos on what I thought the show should sound like musically, based on reading the scripts.
What was your musical approach to this particular show?
JC: Minimal, very minimal. The whole episode is, for the most part, based on dialogue between two people. Very sharp and witty dialogue - thanks to Neil Labute’s scripts. So, the big fear was to not make it sound like a soap opera. I felt that it should be very minimal. The demos I did were basically ambient guitars through a looper pedal, bass guitar with a volume pedal, and bowed xylophone.
Did the producers give you an idea of what kind of music or tone the show should have musically?
JC: No, I don’t think anyone had any idea. It was a real struggle to get, because everyone was so nervous of it being too traditional. After the initial demos that got me the job, I had to try a ton of other approaches, from solo strings to guitar, to piano, and ironically it all came back to my first batch of cues. Which was really gratifying in the end, although it was not the easiest process to get there.
You’re involved in yet another hit-series and this one for FX with the show, “Wilfred” starring Elijah Wood. Please tell us about how you got involved in the series.
JC: I was brought in on the second season for “Wilfred”. I’m not sure what happened with the original composer but they were apparently making a change. I sent in some music and they sent me an episode. With no direction or anything, I basically just started scoring the first episode of season 2, and eventually they just said ‘you’re hired’. It was really strange because I wanted to obviously respect what they did in season one, but the episode I started on was so out of the ordinary. The score was really heavy, orchestral and a lot of tension. Not really comedic at all. So that was a nice way to kind of come on board and establish a bit of what I can bring to the show.
The tone of the series is very, very dark in a black comedy sense, did that aspect reflect on how you composed the music for the show?
JC: I think the writing and visual style of the show is so great. I often call it the “Lost” of sitcoms, because we definitely score it much more dramatically than a comedy that’s for sure. I think the first season was a bit more of a straight comedy, but in seasons two and three we really spent a lot of time on the mystery of Wilfred and Ryan’s mental well-being. But musically, that’s been great fun. They just picked it up for a fourth and final season, so it will be fun to have a definite ending to build up to. I would imagine it will be pretty epic.
Of the three series you’ve been working on, which has been the most enjoyable and rewarding for you so far?
JC: Man that’s a tough question. They’re all so different. I’m an orchestral guy at heart, which you wouldn’t really get from some of the comedies I’m on at the moment. But it’s nice to not be pigeonholed and to work on a variety of projects. As far as most rewarding, I would have to say the 9 seasons I spent scoring "CSI:Miami." That was a once in a lifetime experience - to be a part of something that big worldwide. I’ve always been so proud of that one musically and miss some of the great friends that I got to hang out with on that one every week.
Was it difficult for you to go from one show to another in keeping with the each of the shows’ schedules?
JC: Nah, this job just kind of suits my personality. I find that the busier I get, the more I can do and the better it becomes. It’s kind of training for some type of athletic event. You just get better by doing it everyday. So, while sometimes the schedules get a bit nutty if you’re on three jobs and things keep bouncing around, it usually just all works out. I’m a bit of a workaholic and just love to be making music, so I’m not one to complain about any aspect of it. I’m too lucky to be doing what I love to do every day.
In writing the music for the series, do you use an orchestra or do you perform the music yourself much like other composers in television do?
JC: Again, depends on the show. But none of the series I’m on at the moment are live orchestra. I did a TV film for director Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") this summer called “Teach” and for that one we had a live string orchestra, which I orchestrated and conducted. But for "Michael J. Fox" and "Full Circle", it’s all me. I’ve got a live room here with drum kit, guitar amps, a real rhodes, a grand piano and record pretty much everything myself (outside of the occasional orchestra). I’m a big believer in live organic sounds, so I really try to get as much live playing on every cue.
Is it fun writing for shows such as “The Michael J. Fox Show”, “Full Circle” and “Wilfred”?
JC: Sure it’s fun. I’m writing music for a living! It’s a gift. Granted they all have their own challenges but even at the lowest moments, it’s still fun.
You’ve also been involved in a lot of direct to video and theatrical films such as “Firehouse Dog”, “Just Friends”, “Miss March” and “Guns, Girls And Gambling” to name a few. Please tell the readers about what these projects and what they mean to you as well as the process you came up with to write the memorable music for each.
JC: You know, I’ve actually done more films than television. I love the process of writing for a film. I love that you are creating this suite of music for a film, that’s all tied together sonically and thematically and hopefully people associate with the film. They all are meaningful to me in different ways.
“Just Friends” was really special because it was my first studio film and first time with a huge orchestra.
“Firehouse Dog” was special because the music was so featured - there was like 80 minutes of full orchestra so it was great to write for something where you didn’t have to worry about being subtle.
“Open Season 3” was great because it was a live orchestra and something I could actually have my son watch and give me feedback.
I’ve also got a new film coming out on November 1st this year called “A Perfect Man” that I’m really proud of. It stars Liev Schreiber ("Ray Donovan") and Jeanne Tripplehorn ("Big Love") and it’s a romantic drama. I went to Prague to record the orchestra and it has a nice sweet theme that I’m pretty proud of.
Is it harder or easier for you to write for television as opposed to film? Do you think the process is a lot simpler for a composer or just as difficult?
JC: I think for the most part the process is the same. You can work on a film that’s super easy or a television show that’s a total nightmare and vice versa. That usually has nothing to do with the craft of the music or process.That’s about as much as I’d like to say about that!
What is your favorite film that you have scored to date?
JC: That’s tough, because they all have their own meaning to me. There are some indies that never got a huge release but I’m really proud of. But, I’d say the film I mentioned earlier “A Perfect Man”, just because it is not a comedy and the kind of film that the music can add another layer instead of scoring the action onscreen. I’m also proud of a film called “The Vicious Kind” that went to Sundance, a few years back because it was a totally different kind of score for me, very indie, atmospheric, with the bowed saw as one of the featured instruments.
What is your favorite television show that you have scored?
Which composer do you think has had an effect in your career personally?
JC: Personally, it would be John Murphy. He’s been a friend and mentor and just one of the few great true artists that I’ve met. He doesn’t compromise his integrity for anything or anyone, which I think is a rare trait in this crazy business.
Your all time favorite film score?
JC: North By Northwest or Edward Scissorhands
Do you have a dream project you would love to do?
JC: My dream project is a sports film, because I love writing emotional music and a sports film is one of the few places you can do it without being melodramatic. Non-specifically, I’d love to work on something that gets some type of critical respect. This business is sometimes so brutal - you work on something for months and really feel like the project is good and you’re doing the best work you can, and then it just gets hammered by critics. It’s such a bummer sometimes, because everything seems to build up to the release and a couple of bad reviews can make it seem like it was all a waste, which you know it wasn’t.
Please tell the readers about future upcoming projects you may have.
JC: Man, this sounds so cliche, but I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I hope work out that I can’t talk about yet. So, let’s just say for now I’m enjoying season one of "The Michael J. Fox Show", Season 5 of "The League", Season 1 of "Full Circle", Season 4 of “Wilfred” coming up, and check out “A Perfect Man” released on Nov. 1 by IFC Films, I believe NY/LA to start and then we’ll see what happens.We’re hoping to release a score album for that in late October on MovieScoreMedia.
I'd like to personally thank Jeff for being gracious with his time and busy schedule in writing the great music you hear for the shows he's mentioned. A class act! I'd like to also thank Chandler Poling for setting up this great interview with a cool musical genius.
The Michael J. Fox show airs on Thursday Nights on NBC at 9:30 P.M. EST
Please visit Jeff's official website http://jeffcardoni.com/ for latest updates on his current and upcoming projects as well as samples of his terrific work.
Here's Jeff's Bio:
"Jeff Cardoni’s talents range from intimate independent fare to full orchestral majesty. With over 30 feature film scores and several network series to his credit, one can hear his work worldwide every day. His unique ability to cross genres has made him a powerful player in the film composing industry.
Jeff originally studied classical piano, while playing percussion in school orchestra. But it would be rock and roll that would lead him to Los Angeles in 1997. After a brief stint as lead guitarist for the Warner Bros. band "Alien Crime Syndicate", Jeff left to pursue film scoring full time. He worked under several Hollywood composers including John Murphy (Snatch, 28 Days Later) and Christopher Tyng (Futurama, The O.C.) while studying conducting and orchestration at UCLA. He has received several ASCAP Film and Television Awards for his work on the worldwide hit CSI:Miami and was nominated for an Ariel Award for his score to the 2005 feature 7 Dias.
His body of work ranges from studio features films such as Just Friends for New Line, Open Season 3 for Sony, Firehouse Dog for Fox, Miss March, and the latest in the American Pie franchise, to television scores such as the CBS drama The Defenders with James Belushi, Wilfred starring Elijah Wood, The League on FX, and the worldwide Jerry Bruckheimer produced hit CSI:Miami. He has also worked extensively in independent film, including the Sundance hit The Vicious Kind, directed by Lee Toland Krieger and produced by Neil Labute and Oscar nominated director Roland Joffe’s You and I. Other highlights including creating a new live score for the 2011 Super Bowl on Fox, recorded with an 80 piece orchestra in the world famous Dvorak Concert Hall in Prague.
Jeff is also an active songwriter, penning the theme songs to MTV’s hit “Pimp My Ride”, MadTV on Fox, and FX’s The League, with songs appearing countless films, including "Hard Knock Life" with Mike Myers in Austin Powers: Goldmember, Harold & Kumar 2, Eurotrip, The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz, A Walk To Remember, New York Minute, National Lampoon's Senior Trip and many others. He also produced several songs with Jon Lajoie for the upcoming soundtrack album to The League, and recent albums by indie pop artist Jules Larson, which have appeared recently on the soundtrack to The Lucky One.
Recent scores include the Oscar-winning Davis Guggenheim directed documentary Teach, the new drama series Full Circle for DirecTV written by Neil Labute, and the upcoming The Michael J Fox Show for NBC. Films slated for release later this fall include drama A Perfect Man starring Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) and Jean Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct),The Secret Lives Of Dorks, produced by Steven J. Wolfe (500 Days Of Summer), and Authors Anonymous starring Kaley Cuocco, Teri Polo, Tricia Helfer, and the late Dennis Farina."