Before I start this article, I would personally like to say that of all the interviews I’ve conducted, I have to easily consider this my all-time favorite and the one that will be very dear to my heart and how could it not be. Man!
The name Newman has been synonmous with Hollywood since the Golden Age and up to now, still is a name to be reckoned with. The legendary Hollywood musical family that included it’s patriarch, Alfred, a legendary composer of Hollywood’s Golden Age and former Musical Department head of 20th Century-Fox. His brother Lionel, a reknowned musician and conductor who would take over the Musical Department at Fox. Randy, would be a world reknowned and Grammy Winning songwriter and would eventually become a brilliant film composer in his own right. David, a former studio session violinist who would evolve into a great composer as well; mastering the genre of comedy as well as drama. Thomas, is the hottest composer on the planet right now with his recent James Bond score earning a well deserved Oscar nomination and one of the most original composers around.
Now enter Joey Newman, who is well on his way to joining them and continuing the musical legacy that has spanned for more than seven decades in Hollywood, is an up and commer that really does have the musical chops to make it big. With much enthusiasm, here is my interview with the rising star which took place in January and read into his great musical mind. Enjoy!
Please tell the readers about yourself and why you wanted to be a composer?
JN: I have musical DNA on both sides of my family as I am a third generation composer of the musical Newman dynasty but also the son of Joe Frank Carollo from the 1970’s hit-making trio “Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds”. So, I truly think I was destined to be a musician! Aside from composing, I am also a conductor and drummer. I graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and it was there that I truly decided to forego my dreams of becoming a studio or touring drummer and enter the world of composition and conducting. I was interested in so many aspects of music that I knew it would satisfy me most to compose – especially to visuals. Aside from the obvious creative and artistic aspects about composing, I realized early on that the business of music ownership and royalties would be one of the only ways for me to make a good living and support a family.
You come from a family of Hollywood musical royalty with cousins Maria, a studio session violinist, of course, Thomas, David, and Randy, who are all successful composers like yourself and of course, there’s your grandfather, Lionel, who’s brother Alfred is one of the legendary composers and also the head of the Twentieth Century-Fox music department for a long time along with Lionel. Do you feel a bit intimidated by having such as great legacy and following in the shadows/footsteps of your forebearers?
JN: My cousin Tom asked me that early in my career, as well. I have never felt intimidated – nor pressured – to live up to the legacy of the Newman family. Perhaps it’s because I was never pressured into music overall. It’s a calling, I believe. I am truly honored to be a part of this talented family and I really am a fan of the Newmans’ music – regardless of my family connection! I love how each composer in my family has this incredible sensitivity to picture and uses their unique musical voice to support it. As a “Newman Composer”, my hope is to continue to uphold the quality and rich musical contribution my family has given to the medium. I won’t do it in the same way as my cousins, but I will do it in my own way based on my training, experience and individual music voice.
Let’s talk about your latest project, Any Day Now starring Alan Cumming which is a very personal story about gays and a biased legal system in the 1970’s. What interested in you scoring this film?
JN: Travis Fine (the director/writer of the film) and I have been friends for over a decade and I scored his feature THE SPACE BETWEEN (starring Oscar winner Melissa Leo) in 2010, which garnered numerous accolades. ANY DAY NOW is his follow up film and a truly exceptional film. I am interested in whatever creative venture Travis embarks on; his incredible sense of story and way with actors always has me hooked. However, the plot of this film truly moved me. The story of two gay men in a committed relationship who want to adopt (especially a special needs child) resonates so much in today’s mainstream that I was shocked at how little progress had been made with gay adoption in our country. I know same-sex couples that are wonderful parents and it saddens me to think how a loving home can be denied to a child in need. I knew this film and its message was something I had to be a part of.
How did you come up with the themes for the score?
JN: The first element I worked on was a simple piano motif that was “Marco’s Theme” – the Down syndrome star of the film. That pretty much set the tone – one of simplicity and yearning. After that, I created a more of a “relationship” theme, which expanded on Marco’s theme. I decided that the instrumentation of the score would be an offshoot of the jazz trio that Alan Cumming’s character sings with in the film. I featured piano, acoustic bass and ambient sound design.
What was the process in scoring the film?
JN: Since I was involved so early in the process, I arranged the three cover songs (“Come To Me”, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and “I Shall Be Released”) that Alan Cumming sings in the film. Early in the film’s production, we went to Conway Studios in Hollywood and recorded Alan and a small group of incredible LA session musicians. Those tracks are on the soundtrack that was released on Lakeshore Records in December. In regards to the score – after my themes and tone were in place, Travis and I would meet up every week and discuss the cues that I was working on. Once it was approved and ready to go, I had a small session at my studio and then tracked a few live musicians back at Conway to keep the continuity of feel and sound in place.
Did director Travis Fine have a hands-on approach when it came to the music? Did he give you specific instructions on how to score the film in particular?
JN: Travis is a wonderful communicator and someone who really can feel what works and doesn’t work in a scene. I could tell just by body language how the cue was working for him. I love actor-directors as they are so in touch with emotion and have a very pure connection to the characters. Travis always allows me room to be creative and to experiment, but for this film, we really saw eye-to-eye very early in the process. Once we found our tone and musical motifs, I pretty much went full throttle ahead with the rest of the score.
Will there be a soundtrack release for your music?
JN: Lakeshore Records released a soundtrack and separate score album in December 2012. The soundtrack contains a few of my cues and a fantastic selection of songs from the film including the covers performed by Alan Cumming and a song written specifically for the film by Rufus Wainwright called “Metaphorical Blanket”. I was fortunate enough to arrange the strings on that song.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite films that you scored called “Stealing Time” starring Peter Facinelli and Jennifer Garner. How did you come up with the wonderful music that you wrote for that film?
JN: That was my first independent feature and where I started honing my version of that percussive/mallet-driven sound my cousin Tom Newman did so well in American Beauty. Though I certainly had some derivative Newman-esque moments in that score, I really loved all the different colors that made that music shine. It’s still one of my favorite scores and one of the last times I got to work with the incomparable Jon Clarke on English horn and oboe d’amore.
Guitarist George Doering, who works with your cousin Thomas all the time it seems like, contributed to your score. Was he a vital part of the success to creating the sound you wanted for the film?
JN: Always. I’ve been working with George Doering my whole career and he is one of the finest musicians I have ever met. His creativity, musicianship, picture sensibility and personality are what add all the incredible finishing touches and character to my music. It helps shape it into something I couldn’t have imagined while I was writing it.
The soundtrack that you produced for that film was really good. What’s your approach when it comes to producing your own soundtrack albums?
JN: After I merge and lengthen different tracks, the biggest thing I think about is the order and making sure it’s a worthwhile listening experience. I know most of us download mp3s today and probably don’t listen to a CD from track 1 to track 10, but I still think it’s important to think about those things – especially when there is a physical copy of the album involved. I still love listening to CDs in the car as I can get a closer impact of what the mix was supposed to be.
La-La Land Records just released your soundtrack for the film, My Uncle Rafael, which I had just reviewed fairly recently and found to be quite entertaining, how did your collaboration with Chris Westlake come about?
JN: Chris is a good friend and has been co-composing “Little People, Big World” with me since the end of season 4. I was very busy when “My Uncle Rafael” was offered to me, but Marc Fusco (who directed “Stealing Time”) is a dear friend and talented filmmaker so I wanted to make sure that I could deliver the score at the highest quality possible. Chris is a fantastic composer and guitarist and I knew that his comedic skills and love of ethnic instruments would be perfect for this film. Chris and I have written in so many different styles on LPBW that it was a natural choice. We had a great time with the musicians on the film as they brought out so much of the character and emotion that made it all work.
What was the process that you and Chris have to create the sounds that you both wanted for the film?
JN: Chris and I decided to take on specific themes and styles, yet we used similar sounds and instruments so it would all blend well. When I produced the recording session, I made sure that everything felt cohesive and that similar colors and textures were present on both his cues and mine. We then mixed it with Oren Hadar who has been working with me for a long time and has great ears and sensitivity.
How did you come about in producing the soundtrack album?
JN: It just so happened that the film had helped come about through friends of one of La-La Land Records’ co-founders, Matt Verboys. They produced my first soundtrack for “Stealing Time” as well, so it was great to be back in business with them. Marc Fusco, the director, was very excited to release the soundtrack and luckily we were able to include the Smith & Pyle (actress Missi Pyle’s band) song “Rafael” which was written exclusively for the film.
You’ve worked extensively in television writing for shows such as Little People, Big World, Providence, The Middle and Privileged to name a few. Is your approach to working in television the same or equal to what you do for feature films?
JN: TV’s format is broken up into Acts, so my TV writing has to certainly reflect that structure. Much of the independent film work I do is a bit freer and might involve looking at the arc of the story’s dramatic element very closely and sometimes very differently. Also, in film I have the opportunity to expand my approach and sometimes take more risks. Many films, especially indies, love to show a major contrast in the music when it’s against picture, where TV tends to lean a bit safer or obvious – even when producers might want you to think more “out of the box”. I think the studios and networks rely so heavily on the ratings performance from a show that until it’s a hit or stabilizing, it’s difficult to try something too different from what’s already working. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? Therefore, it’s crucial to nail the “sound” of a series right away and leave room to vary and use the musical components in modular ways throughout the series’ life.
Is the process easier in television or harder for you to write music?
JN: The one aspect that is harder in television tends to be the tighter and shorter schedules to figure out so many important elements to the musical voice of the show – especially in a TV series’ genesis phase. As time goes on, I have to spot, compose, mix and deliver usually within a week or less. Depending on the show’s needs, it can sometimes be a daunting task. During television pilot season, sometimes I’m asked to come up with a whole series’ signature musical sound and themes in an incredibly short amount of time. I find that it can make it really exciting and challenging but full of anxiety too!
You’ve also been an orchestrator and conductor for composers such as Deborah Lurie, W.G. Snuffy Walden and your cousin, Randy? Please tell the readers about your experiences with these composers.
JN: All of them are so extremely talented and each very different. I worked with Snuffy right out of college and he was a huge mentor – I learned so much about writing to picture from him. It was a real treat to orchestrate on West Wing since I loved the show and it’s score, as well as Providence where we worked with a string quartet, woodwind and guitar player every week. I worked with Deborah Lurie on a few of her features orchestrating, conducting and programming. She’s immensely gifted and I learned a lot about orchestrating and composing for “hybrid” ensembles (where we use a mix of live players and samples to help round out the sound) and how to get the most out of any string size ensemble. Debbie and her engineer, Casey Stone, really got a great sound out of those orchestras no matter what the size. As for Randy, I only wanted to just form a friendship and bond with him and so many other members of the family. But to get the chance to work with Randy and watch his process was a real honor and filled me with a sense of Newman pride. Orchestrating on “Cars” and “Seabiscuit” was very rewarding. I also was able to conduct his music for the “Monsters, Inc. ride at California Adventure” and also his “Toy Story Suite” with the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Did you find it harder to work as an orchestrator helping shape music that isn’t your own?
JN: Not really as I always put on my “team player” hat when I am not working on my own material. I am there to serve the composer and the project and I will add my expertise in any way I am asked to serve the material at hand. If the composer asks me for compositional suggestions, I am happy to oblige, but my main goal is to bring out the heart of the music and try and get the best sound and performance (when I am conducting) that I can.
Of all the musical projects you’ve worked on over the years, which is your favorite and why?
JN: Well, I don’t have one because there have been so many great ones. In TV, I have loved working on “Little People, Big World” for the message and the wonderful Roloff family; “Privileged” because of it’s incredible creator, Rina Mimoun, and the fun latin music vibe (I had alto flute, violin, guitar and my beautiful wife, Jerelyn, singing oos and ahhs!) and of course “The Middle” for my love of it’s witty co-creator, Eileen Heisler, and the hilarious take the show has on family and married life – so much of it I can relate to. I just continually laugh in the spotting sessions! In film, I really had a fantastic time working on “Any Day Now” – being a part of this film and its message was incredible. Plus, I got to arrange/record with Alan Cumming, write a string arrangement for Rufus Wainwright, moonlight as the on-camera drummer in the film AND work with some of the finest musicians LA has to offer. It doesn’t get better!
Have your family members had any influence on you as a composer during your career so far?
Definitely! My grandfather, Lionel, has always been an inspiration to me – especially as a conductor. Then of course my cousin Randy – he reminds me of what it might have been like to have an adult relationship with Lionel (he passed away in 1989 when I was 12). Randy has been a great mentor and friend, as well as someone who’s music I greatly admire. Not only that, I love his family (his son Amos is my agent at WME). Lastly, my cousin Tom – his music has greatly influenced me and like Randy’s, I am a fan of his work and I just happen to also be related. Tom has also been very down to earth and wonderful to seek advice from. Plus, I completely admire his improvisational approach and wonderful use of rhythm and texture.
Of your family members, who do you feel you most resemble stylistically?
JN: Imagine it would be Tom since I gravitate towards a similar musical process as him. Plus, we both use George Doering! Then again… who doesn’t?
What do you enjoy most about writing music? Do you enjoy the challenge?
JN: Next to my wife and kids, music is my passion. But, I choose to not go through the process of creating music alone. I absolutely love the collaboration and sharing of ideas with filmmakers and live musicians – it’s what keeps me loving it. It’s why I got into this field in the first place; to work with creative minds that keep challenging me to be my best self and to have fun (as much as possible!) while doing it. Learning from these amazing talents is what fuels me. I am a team member to help realize someone’s vision; have it come to life and exceed all expectations. When I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor and that of so many others who put their talent and hard work into making a film or TV show, I am greatly satisfied and it keeps me filled until the next project comes about…
What are your future upcoming projects?
JN: I am continuing the 4th season of “The Middle” and I still score Little People, Big World” with Chris off and on as more specials air. I finished the music for an animated short film called “Adam & Dog” by the talented animator Minkyu Lee. It’s been nominated for a 2013 Oscar in the animated short film category, which is very exciting for the whole crew. Later this year, I will be working on “Any Day Now” director Travis Fine’s next feature that should be very exciting and musically driven. I have another possible feature in the works and of course, TV pilot season is just around the corner…
Very special thanks for now “legendary” Joey Newman for his time in granting me this very special interview. I’m totally honored to have you. Definitely couldn’t do this without the very awesome, Beth Krakower without you I couldn’t have done this.
Please follow Joey’s work by checking out his website @ http://joeynewman.com/
The soundtrack to Any Day Now is available from Lakeshore Records @ http://amazon.com
The soundtrack to My Uncle Rafael is available from La-La Land Records @ http://lalanlandrecords.com