I recently had the privilege of Interviewing Composer Paul Leonard-Morgan for InvestComics. Yes fortune was on my side. Mr. Leonard-Morgan is an award winning composer and quickly becoming a household name. His credits are quite impressive; Cinema – Limitless, Television Documentary – J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, and Music Group – Snow Patrol. The video “Amazing Awaits” which aired on NBC is provided below as a sonnet to this man’s amazing work thus far. This is one of my personal favorites. But, we also must touch on another masterpiece of Mr. Leonard-Morgan’s that will be hitting U.S. theaters on September 21, 2012. A NEW Judge Dredd movie. Judge Dredd! Dredd 3D!
And now Mr. Paul Leonard-Morgan.
Jay Katz: Thank you very much for coming to InvestComics to chat with us Mr. Leonard-Morgan. Tell us a little bit about yourself…
(JK): When did you first develop a love for the arts?
PLM: I’ve always been into music, as my mum’s a music teacher, so there would always be music waking us up every morning. Just occasionally it would have been nice to sleep late on a Saturday morning! It was only when I went to Glasgow that I started getting into the whole band scene, and getting interested in how the classical and modern worlds could combine.
(JK): You went to school at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
PLM: I was there for 3 years, studying film music, but I ended up working with tons of bands at that stage. Glasgow had such a vibrant music scene, with all the bands recording in this great studio called Cava, which was in a beautiful old converted church. It was definitely the right time to be doing music in Glasgow.
(JK): Within your bio, it states that you developed a reputation as a composer, arranger and producer at the Academy. How does one get a “reputation” like this? And for those of us not familiar, can you tell us the differences of the three?
PLM: It does? I’ll have to have a word with my manager! I guess what they mean is that people started using me for lots of different things. I was classically trained, so was really at home writing for orchestra. I play loads of instruments, but 2 of my main ones are violin and piano. So I was composing concertos at the Academy. Then these bands would start contacting me, asking me to help out on their albums. If they wanted to have real instruments playing on their songs, then they needed to have someone around who could write for orchestra, so I would come up with new tunes to go over the top of theirs and work out which instruments should play what. That’s what arranging is. If you listen to a track like The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, the strings at the start of that are taken from a track by The Rolling Stones, and were written by an arranger. So any time you hear real instruments on a track, they’re written by an arranger. Film directors would hear some of the bands I had worked with, then get me to go and score their films. Then some of the bands would come in with a guitar and play a melody, and then ask me what I would do with it. So I would come up with a vibe for drums, work out what direction, musically, to take the tune and get all the musicians in. That’s what a producer does. So basically, people gradually heard my stuff and started getting me in to work on their projects, and word of mouth kind of did the rest.
(JK): The equivalent of the Oscars/Grammy’s and the Emmy’s here in the U.S., but in the U.K. would be BAFTA (British Academy Television Awards) and the Ivor Novello Awards (Honoring Excellence in Music Writing). You have been nominated and won a BAFTA award and have been nominated for an Ivor Novello. One of your works that were awarded was a successful British Television Show called Spooks (MI-5 in the US). What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated for these prestigious awards?
PLM: Everyone always goes on about awards not meaning anything, but it was actually pretty cool. I got a BAFTA for the first film score I did, called Pineapple, and then the first Television drama I scored, called Fallen, was nominated for a BAFTA and an Ivor Novello. BAFTA’s are a huge honour, but the Ivor Novello nomination almost means more, because it’s voted for your fellow composers. The fact that they thought my score was really bold and original affirms your belief in what you do. As far as Spooks goes, that was also unexpected, as it wasn’t the first series of the drama, but my 3rd series of it, so trying to keep the music fresh and integral to the show is a real challenge.
(JK): After watching that scene, we’re going to shift gears here too. You not only are involved with television and movie scores, but rock bands too? What was your involvement with the rock band known as Snow Patrol? And do you have any other links within the pop culture “MTV” genre?
PLM: When I was starting out my career in Glasgow, my studio was in the back of Cava Studios. As I said earlier, all these bands would be recording in the main studio, and they would come to me for help with strings, etc. Glasgow had such an awesome music scene, with bands like Mogwai, Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol, Franz Ferdinand, Travis, etc, all coming out at the same time. Everyone always used to hang around in the same bars! I had been doing a bit of stuff with Belle and Sebastian, and got on really well their drummer, Richard Colburn. Snow Patrol asked the two of us to do a remix of one of their tracks. We did a funky Northern Soul vibe for it. Fun! So from there I would be working with other bands. Isobel Campbell went solo from B & S, and I worked on all her albums. She’s awesome, and such a talented singer. She’s done a few collaborations with Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) which have been great to work on. Then when I came to LA, I did a bit of electronic programming for No Doubt’s new album for their producer, Spike.
(JK): Keeping up with the pop culture theme here. You know Harry Potter too! Well not Harry himself, but one better. You worked on the documentary special called J.K. Rowling – A Year in the Life. It’s a captivating piece of work watching and listening to J.K. Rowling detail her story. Here’s a three part question. What was this like for you working with such a successful brand? Do you approach this differently at all? And how do you fit your mastery of music to this?
PLM: That was a really interesting project. I was one of only 6 people in the world to know the project was happening, as it was filming over the space of a whole year. James Runcie, the director, who I had worked with before, was actually filming her when she wrote the very last sentence of the entire Harry Potter series. He was sitting around in her hotel room for about a month waiting to get the shot!
I didn’t really approach scoring this differently at all. I knew I didn’t want to do a Harry Potter rip-off. That wasn’t what it was about. It was much more to do with showing Jo’s personality and background – her life story. So I wanted to come up with themes that identified with her, rather than her characters. Though, interestingly enough, there are many parallels between her life and her characters in the books.
PLM: Limitless was an awesome film. Sometimes when you watch a film for the first time, you just know it’s going to be a hit. It was like that with Limitless. And when I spoke with Neil Burger (the director), it was great, because he wanted a really different vibe of a score. The main character took a drug which made him incredibly bright and able to use all of his brain, so I created sounds and little motifs to indicate what as going on in his brain. Recording orchestras, reversing them and making them sound odd. And being encouraged to be as off-the-wall as possible, but at the same time really modern and tuneful. That’s a challenge, but wicked fun! What is it with me and scoring films with drugs?!
(JK): Your impressive resume even covers animation score. Is there a different mindset when scoring animation or is it all relative?
PLM: Animation is incredibly good fun. There’s not so much a different mindset, but you definitely need to use your imagination more. In traditional films, there are everyday sounds which I am composing along with – cars, atmospheres, every day sounds. In animation, all you’re looking at is the visuals, with a rough voice-over. Everything is added at the end. But it’s still the same vibe. After a while you forget they’re animations and just think of them as characters, so you treat them like you would any other film.
(JK): Okay, so since this is a “comic book” web site there is this one particular movie that you have worked on that we should talk a little bit about. Judge Dredd; Dredd 3D. You composed the entire score. How did it come to fruition that you were going to get the monumental task of composing such a cult hero in a remake and did you have any prior knowledge of the character?
PLM: Yeah, kind of a relevant question! I had finished scoring Limitless a few months earlier, which had been No.1 at the Box Office world-wide. I had gone in and had a chat with the producers, Andrew MacDonald and Allon Reich, and the writer, Alex Garland. We got chatting about musical styles, and how I might treat Dredd. I’m not a huge fanboy, but I grew up with Dredd. He’s such an iconic character. He also scared the shit out of me! I always wanted to ride a Lawmaster…
(JK): Have you seen the original Stallone Dredd movie from 1995? Did you revisit the movie to get any ideas of the character or did you research the comic books? What vibe if any did you come away with regarding the character Judge Dredd?
PLM: I’ve never actually seen the original Stallone movie, and when I told the producers this, they told me not to. What we’ve strived to make in this film is a completely unique, bold and modern experience. And I reckon we’ve done that – it’s completely different to any film and score I’ve seen or heard before.
(JK): Why do you think in your honest opinion that the 1995 film did not fare so well? How much is attributed to a score when a film does not meet expectations?
PLM: From the point of view of fans, I would say that it didn’t go down well because they tried to make Dredd something he never was. Forget about the fact that Sly took his helmet off, and bearing in mind I haven’t actually seen it, it seems to me that the essence of Dredd was lost in it. He’s one bad-ass mofo, and sees things in black and white. He’s not a traditional super-hero in the Hollywood sense, but more a mix of Robocop and Dirty Harry. Dangerous and edgy, not a nice, safe super-hero.
(JK): Can we assume that you have seen the film to most of its capacity to score it? What can you tell fans what they are to expect from it?
PLM: Yes, I have to see the film to score it. Many, many times! I think fans should be so excited. I love dark characters, and that’s what I always took Dredd to be from the comic books. Visually, the film is unique. It’s raw, gritty, brutal and dark as hell. The cinematography’s stunning. They used this camera which filmed at about 10000 frames per second, creating some mind-boggling visuals. Can’t wait to see it in 3D!
From a music point of view, I wanted to create a sound which fitted a future set in 100 years time, so traditional orchestra went out the window. I started off doing some electric guitar-based stuff, but it felt too safe and overly-produced. In the end I went down a really electronic vibe, taking all my 80’s synths, and present day sound modules, creating some really fucked up sounds and putting them through every distortion and fx pedals known to man! For the slow-mo stuff, we tried this software called Paul, which internet geeks will know as the software they used to slow down Justin Bieber’s track and make it into something actually listenable to… I then composed and recorded a whole load of tracks, slowed them down by thousands of percent, and added some realtime score over the top of it. Between that and the visuals, it takes you into a completely original world. And, it must be said, Alex Garland is a genius. Both as a collaborator and as a creative mind.
(JK): Do you ever “hear” your work even with a visual of something, even if you know nothing of the subject matter? Did this happen with Judge Dredd?
PLM: I truly believe that does happen. When I see visuals, whether it’s of a film or of a graphic somewhere, it sets off a creative side of my brain. Melodies and sounds just start coming into it. I know it sounds pretentious, but it’s actually really exciting. It’s starting point. With Dredd, just seeing the visuals got me thinking about sounds, more than themes. Thinking about what would work in 100 years time, and what kind of traditional sounds wouldn’t work.
Dredd 3D Trailer
(JK): With Super Hero films being a global mainstay right now, would you like to compose more Super Hero films in the future?
PLM: Definitely, but I would love to score something a bit lighter in the next month or two! I need to escape Dredd’s authority!
(JK): What comic book movies have you seen and what soundtracks within this genre do you feel absolutely rock?
PLM: I’m still gagging to see the Avengers. I loved the Iron Man films, and it goes without saying The Dark Knight stuff was awesome. I was never blown away by the Spiderman films, though I haven’t seen the reboot yet. As for soundtracks, the really ominous Dark Knight stuff was fab, and Kick-ass was fun! I know it’s not traditional, but the Akira films were awesome.
(JK): So what does a man of your stature listen to when they are driving or at their home?
PLM: My 15-moth old daughter singing in the back of the car! Actually, I don’t get a chance to listen to that much music, as soundtracks are massively full-on, but I love bands like Feeder, dance stuff like Pendulum, and stuff like Louis Armstrong and The Rat Pack. Kind of eclectic!
(JK): Okay Mr. Leonard-Morgan we’re going to wrap this up, but before we go tell us what you’re working on these days, the future and where we can find you so that we can all marvel at your work!
PLM: Since finishing Dredd, I’ve been scoring Pete Travis’ new project, The Blindman of Seville, and I’ve just started work on the new John Cusack film, The Numbers Station. To listen to my music, you can check out my facebook page or my website. I might even put up a sneak peek of the Dredd score…
Facebook: LINK HERE
Thank you so much for your time and we all look forward to checking out everything you are working on as well as Judge Dredd!
(JK) The Olympic Games 2012 in London start July 27 – August 12. You have the very distinct honor of composing the US Olympic Anthem ‘Glory of Pursuit’. Where did you look to get the inspiration to write such a privileged piece?
PLM: I was asked to compose it by the US Olympic Committee in 2007. It was a fantastic experience, and one which took me to Colorado Springs to premiere it in front of Olympic Gold medallists. The USOC had heard some of my previous music, and asked me to write a piece of music which reflected the spirit of the athletes, and optimism and belief which they have. Just thinking of an athlete getting up at 5am every day, for years on end, just for a 10 second sprint or a throw of a javelin as the end target, that was inspiration in itself. They are incredible.
(JK) How would you describe the music?
PLM: Uplifting, anthemic, hopeful.
(JK) Composing an Olympic theme that will reach across the entire world, would you consider this the pinnacle of your career so far?
PLM: I’m hoping I haven’t reached the pinnacle of my career yet! But it was certainly an experience which I will never forget, from recording the orchestra in Glasgow in front of the USOC, to be flown over to premiere it in Colorado Springs, to the lifelong friends I’ve made through it. Awesome.
(JK) What did you think of NBC’s final imagery with your music for their promo? It’s quite inspirational.
PLM: Love it. The whole feel-good factor of the whole campaign is something which wouldn’t necessarily work in the UK, but I love it!
Visit Paul Leonard-Morgan’s website by clicking on the Image below.