Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mark Isham: Making Music For Movies by Nick Arnold

Mark Isham is a GRAMMY®-winning film composer whose works include Never Cry Wolf, Crash, The Black Dahlia, and Of Mice and Men. Before he was a world-renowned film scorer, he played trumpet and saxophone with many artists and groups. Mark was participating in a GRAMMY Camp® panel this week, and I chose him because I was a large fan of his work in the movie and music industries.

Nick Arnold: How has your work as a musician influenced your work scoring movies?
Mark Isham: I think, as a trumpet player, I know what a great melody is. I know how much fun and how inspiring it is to play a great melody, and the power of it. As a composer, then, I am compelled and inspired to want to do that. I don't just say, "Oh, I just need a melody." It's got to be one that people will enjoy playing as much as they will listening.

NA: That's really cool! How did you transition from a musician to a film scorer?
MI: Well, it was almost by chance.

NA: Oh, really?
MI: Yeah, I was writing a lot of music for my own records and record project, but I also had a great interest in electronic music that was more almost classical. A film director heard some of that and said, "Would you consider scoring a film?" And, well, I said I would consider it. (Laughs) That became the first film score I ever made, and I really enjoyed it.

NA: Sounds like it's led to good things! What is the process of scoring a film?
MI: Basically, I see the film, then I discuss with the creative people, which is usually helmed by the director, picture editor, music editor, and sometimes a producer. You know, a small team of people who are "shepherding" the film through it's making. I listen to their ideas. You're a sponge at that point, just taking in everything about the film, learning about what it wants to say. You're listening to other types of music, maybe from other kinds of sources up against the film to see what works, and then you go away and come back. Then a couple weeks later, I'll come back with my own opinions on how I'd like to work and what I'd like to offer, and then we do the actual recordings based on what everybody agrees on. We just go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until everyone's happy.

NA: Sounds like a very complicated system!
MI: It is, it does take some time.

NA: Oh, I'd imagine! How did Group 87 come together and why was it so short lived?
MI: (Laughs) You're not old enough to know about Group 87.

NA: Well I've listened through lots of your different projects, and I found it very interesting and entertaining.
MI: Group 87 was a bunch of us who went to high school together and discovered we had the same [interest] in music.

NA: I'm very familiar with Terry Bozzio [drummer for Group 87, Missing Persons and other works], and I thought that he and you were a great combination.
MI: Oh yeah, I love Terry. Right around the [the beginning] of the group, Terry was finishing up with Zappa, and was thinking about doing Missing Persons. I had written all of this music and presented it to a record company, and I was offered a deal. Terry said, "Well, I don't want to be in the band, but I'll play on the record," because he knew that he was gonna do Missing Persons in the next year. Peter [Maunu], Patrick [O'Hearn], and I formed the band, but Terry played on it. Why was it so short lived? I think we made every mistake that a young band can make. You know, we made the record we wanted to make, we didn't listen to the record company, (laughs), but we didn't have the solutions of how to overcome the problems that making a record like that would have. There's nothing wrong with making a record that isn't commercial, but you have to be willing to confront the problems that a record like that has, and do something about it.

NA: Have you kept in touch with other members of the band?
MI: Oh, yeah! Peter's still one of my best friends. I don't see Patrick much, he's moved back east, and I haven't seen Terry in a while either.

NA: I think he's been doing lots of drum clinics and stuff like that.
MI: Yeah, he's everywhere (laughs).

NA: He's jumping all over the place nowadays. Well, thank you for your time! It's been an honor and very insightful!
MI: Oh, it was my pleasure, you are very welcome!

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