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Composer Interview: Trevor Morris

posted Aug 6, 2010, 4:04 PM by Kaya Savas   [ updated Aug 6, 2010, 10:14 PM ]


Trevor Morris is one of today’s most renowned film and television composers. His music has defined many TV series that millions of people have fallen in love with. Two of his most well known accomplishments include E-Ring and the Emmy winning The Tudors. The later for which Trevor won an Emmy for “Best Theme”. His most recent project is the miniseries The Pillars Of Earth, which was produced by Ridley and Tony Scott. I was honored when Trevor agreed to answer a few questions.


Kaya:

First off I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s a real honor.


Trevor:

It's my pleasure.


Kaya: 

I was wondering if you could go into your background a bit. What started your interest in music and how did it lead to score? At what point did you decide that composing for the visual medium was the area you wanted to focus in?


Trevor: 

I went to a school for the arts as a kid, we studied strings and choir every day. It lead to my first composition at age 13, a piece for piano and 4 part choir originally written for the Pope's visit to Canada. It was performed by my graduating glass which was very cool, I have very fond memories of it.


I pretty much abandoned classical music in high school, my high school was more athletic oriented and had a crappy music program. So I started a band and all that. I graduated high school a year early and decided to forgo tradition bachelor of music education for a course in recording engineering and production.  I graduated that school called Music-Industry-Arts and moved directly to Toronto to enter the production scene. I spent my 20's in Toronto moving through the recording studio scene and into commercial music production houses, where I re-connected with my love of composing. I became a full time jingle composer working with all the top music houses on high level advertising.


At that point I got the bug for long form music, film and television, and decided it was time to move to California in 2000.


I moved to LA and my mixed bag of skill sets (both musical and technical / recording engineering) lead me to have the great fortune to work with some of my

musical idols James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer before building my own career here.


Kaya: 

What kind of music did you grow up listening to, and maybe more importantly what films? Any favorite composers that inspired you to do the work you do?


Trevor: 

I really grew up on classical music, studying violin, contrabass, choir and piano lessons. I consider that my true musical roots. As far as inspirations for my work, I would have to say James Newton Howard embodied for me what I wanted to achieve in my career. Only solidified by meeting and working with him, he is the true gentleman of the film & television music world. We still keep in touch when we can.


Kaya:  

Myself when I write screenplays or need ideas for my short films I always turn to score, it’s always been my secret weapon for ideas (your scores included). When you’re looking at a blank page where is the first place you draw inspiration from? Do you look elsewhere or are the characters and story you’re scoring usually enough to draw from?


Trevor: 

I am a melody guy. I think it separates the men from the boys in terms of composers, hum me the tune. So my approach is 100% about telling the visual story through a musical narrative. So my starting place is usually a tune. Then equally important, especially now-a-days, is style... what is the style of the score I am trying to create, the sound in my head. Those two things usually get me going. I don't get scared of the blank page complex any more, that is a junior composer's issue. As you mature, you realize where creativity comes from for you, and how to "get out of the way" of it and just let it flow.


Kaya: 

In your experience what are the major differences between TV scoring and film scoring? Do you approach episodic television differently than say a feature film?


Trevor: 

The differences are in one way substantial, and in another way exactly the same. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it's really true. As far as my approach, it's identical.  I don't know how to write "TV music", I lean more toward the cinematic style of score and production. So my approach and reverence for both mediums is really the same, I treat them both equally.


Kaya: 

For something as complex as The Tudors or even a miniseries like The Pillars Of The Earth I feel like it’s incredibly easy to lose focus of the overall picture, and not just from a scoring standpoint. I’m always amazed by your ability to create so many emotional layers yet still have the grand arc of your scores so prominent. When you’re working on a series are you usually scoring in the moment or have you mapped out a rough sketch of your story with the end in sight if that makes sense?


Trevor: 

That is an excellent question. I think part of my model for success, at least as far is it relates to my own career, is understanding how and where music fits into the big picture of a production. It's a team sport and you have to play team if you want to survive in this profession. And equally important is your ability to deal with insane demands in terms of timeframe. If you write like Mahler but can't deliver on a deadline you won't do very well in this field. So to answer your question... it depends on the timeframe allotted to me. On "Pillars" I had an extremely tight timeframe, by extremely tight I mean really fucking hardcore. I had to do the equivalent of FOUR feature films worth of writing, producing, scoring with live orchestra and mixing, all in the time frame for one typical feature. I summoned all my career experience on that one, it was tough. So that was more of a "Score in the moment" type of process by sheer nature. Although I did, as I always do, write about 6 fully produced themes / melodies in advance of actually doing the work. They became the foundation for my score, and one of theme ended up as the Main Title music, which is gratifying since I wrote it 4 months before I ever saw a frame of picture.  


Kaya: 

I must say that your music for The Tudors is some of my favorite from your body of work. I’ve always seen the music for that series as emotional echoes. Of course each season brought new stories, characters, scenery, etc. How did you develop your music to grow and change with the stories from season to season while still grounding it in the world of The Tudors?


Trevor: 

Thanks for saying that, I am pretty proud of that project in every way.


We didn't know it at the time, but we (the entire production) were reinventing the costume drama for the world. It sounds arrogant to say, but its kind of true. SO many modernized period pieces have shown up since the success of The Tudors.  The world's palette was refreshed for historical dramas because of Tudors, it wasn't just history or men in tights, it was modern and relevant and compelling.


That translated into the musical challenge as well.  And I won't lie... the first episode of year one was sheer hell, really really hard.  I have never quit a job in my life and I came really close to leaving that gig, obviously I think I made the right choice in staying with it!!!


Once I cracked the code, so to speak, of how to tell that story in my musical language, it sort of all flowed from there. It's hard to put into words, but once I knew what language to speak, it became much easier to sustain. And my clients were great about letting me make a melodic based score.  Season-1 had over 12 individual melodies with very very specific purposes (be it for a character or theme or story arch).  I carried those melodies all the way through to the last episode of Season-4 when Henry sees the ghosts of his past wives.  Katherine of Aaragon has a theme and it played with her, Anne Boleyn had a theme and it got reprised for her, Jane Seymour had a theme (one I am really fond of) and it came back.


This is VERY atypical of how most television is scored, so I am proud of that effort and am grateful to my clients for allowing me to approach the series that way.


Kaya: 

The Pillars Of The Earth must have been an incredible and intimidating task. Did working on The Tudors help you at all when approaching the massive scale of the project and the amount of score it demanded?


Trevor: 

It did, and it didn't. But yes, having tackled a historical drama like Tudors did help me manage the mental game of taking on Ken Follet's adored book and not crawl into fetal position!


Kaya: 

How was it different than working on a regular series?


Trevor: 

Time frame was the toughest. That and creating, yet again, a new language for something from the middle ages. There was no recorded music from that era, so you are creating a vernacular from scratch. It's a challenge but I totally dig that kind of challenge, it suits me.


That and I got to work with the Scott brothers, my all time hands down no contest favorite film makers of all time. I would lay down in traffic to work on their movies.


Kaya: 

At what point in the production process did you get involved with The Pillars Of The Earth? Were you able to read the novel beforehand to start sparking ideas or did you solely work from the filmmakers’ vision?


Trevor: Here is something I hope my clients don't read here... I am an awful reader.  Just never got into novels as a kid.  So no I didn't read the book.  I do read the scripts for everything I work on, so I had those under my belt. But I couldn't "see" the production based on the script. This is why I compose music for picture, I like to react to what I see. I would not make a great songwriter for a living, I much prefer the stimulation and bounds of working to a story. So Sergio's (my director) vision was really what guided a lot of my choices, he was very articulate about what he liked and didn't, which is how I prefer to work.


Kaya: 

You’ve dabbled in video game scoring. I think your last one was Army Of Two if I’m not mistaken. Do you find that kind of blank canvas more liberating? I mean, there’s nothing greater than a full out synth action score and I think you did it extremely well there.


Trevor: 

I love video game scoring, it's really a new way of thinking. It blew my mind to understand the "how" of what makes video game music work, it's incredibly intense.

I've had great luck working on a few select super cool games with fantastic companies. I don't want to do games just to do them, I like games where they like what I do and I like what they do and we are balls out excited to work together.  


And yeah its a very over the top kind of composing style, what composer doesn't love that opportunity?


Kaya: 

Looking on your experiences and body of work. What is the one thing you’ve done that you’re most proud of?


Trevor: 

Im proud of all my work, even my failures. I won an EMMY for the theme for Tudors, that was a pretty decent tune I think.


Kaya: 

I know there is something to learn from everything we do, but even I’ve looked at past short films I’ve done and wished I could get another chance to do it. Has there been anything you’ve scored that you wish you could do over?


Trevor: 

Mmm, not really. I don't think of it that way. I think writing a symphonic piece, which is on my to do list in the upcoming future, might beholden to that kind of thought process. But my life as a jingle composer has really taught me super valuable lessons on the applied arts, which I define as doing the best job possible in the time allotted.

Given the circumstances, I am actually amazed sometimes when I look back and was like "how the fuck did I pull that off in that amount of time?"!


Kaya: 

If you got the chance to re-score a film with no disrespect to the original composer which film would you choose?


Trevor: 

STAR WARS! No just kidding. I just want to score Star Wars because, well, like all film composers we want to score Star Wars. If there is a director reading this interview and you have a Space project, hire me.  Nobody on planet earth will be more excited and work harder on your score than me!


Kaya: 

I was just wondering if there are any plans for The Pillars Of The Earth to get a score release?


Trevor: 

Yes, as matter of fact we got a release date just now, which from memory is Sept. 21st I think.  I am sequencing the album now for my

amazing friends and family at Varese Sarabande. They are they true custodians of keeping the film score CD alive. God bless them.


Kaya: 

Well, I guess that about wraps things up. Again I thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was truly an honor. I wish you all the best.


Trevor: 

The pleasure was all mine, thanks for having me.




Trevor Morris' score to The Tudors: Season 3 will be released by Varese on August 24th. The Pillars Of The Earth is currently on Starz and the soundtrack album will indeed by released on September 21st also by Varese.

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