Through an incredible twist of fate, I was recently given the opportunity to interview Jack Procher, one of the composers for the Redwall Television Series (with Daniel Fernandez). Jack is a really nice guy and did his best to answer each of my questions. The interview was very informative, offering insight into the work that goes into the production of the series and the composing of the music. So, what did he have to say? Read on and find out.
Special thanks to Rimrose and Treerose, without whom this interview would not have taken place. And, thanks again to Mr. Procher for taking the time to answer my questions.
Martin (The Long Patrol): First, I want to thank you for taking the time to give this interview. It's a real honor!
Jack Procher (Redwall Composer): Well, let me say that it is a pleasure to be able to do this interview for you and that I look forward to having some fun with it.
Martin: Getting things moving along, let's start with your past work. What shows or movies have you worked on prior to "Redwall"?
Jack: I've done a few different TV series. "The Hitchhiker" is one you might have heard of that played a lot around the world. "The Hidden Room", a dramatic series, Stunt Dawgs, which was another cartoon series, Dancing at the Palais which is a dance series, Golf the World, a golf show for a sports network, [and] various large screen format films. The titles were Monsters of the Deep, S.O.S. Boston, and Vital Space, and, of course, Redwall!
Martin: What made you decide to become a composer?
Jack: Well, there wasn't a real conscious decision to become a composer as such. I really started as a musician learning various instruments by playing and performing and over the years the composing was simply an evolutionary process. I always wanted to be a musician, but the composing came later.
Martin: Who were some of your biggest influences or inspirations in the music world?
Jack: There [are] too many to list and from so many various styles of music, but let me see if I can give you a couple from the various areas that I love to listen to. Well, obviously, from the soundtrack world John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer etc. From the jazz world, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Lorber, and, most recently, Dave Weckl. There are others, but, that's a pretty good list for me.
Martin: What advice do you have for aspiring composers?
Jack: Get good at what you do, believe in yourself, meet as many people as you can who are connected to the area that you want to get into, such as engineers, producers, other musicians and composers. Connect with as many people as you can who are already involved in that area. Get your music out there so people can hear you, and never give up.
Martin: How did you first become involved with "Redwall"?
Jack: I was told by someone from Nelvana that the Redwall series was coming up and that they thought that I might have a chance of winning the job as composer if I were to submit some music. I found out as much as I could from them about the project, got some info about the characters, and began writing with them in mind. The music was submitted as a demo to the producers along with several other composers who were also trying to get the job. After we made what is called the "short list", which is essentially the three finalists, we were all asked to write a theme song. We all did and, fortunately for me, mine was picked and Dan and I became the composers for Redwall!
Martin: Did you have to meet with Brian Jacques before being approved for the job? Have you met with him at all to talk about the series?
Jack: Actually, Daniel and I never met or talked with Brian Jacques and I believe the only approval of music that he actually had was to do with the opening theme.
Martin: Were any guidelines set for you and Mr. Fernandez? Were you told what kind of music you could or couldn't use? Did Brian ever tell you if he wrote a certain scene with a classical music selection in mind that you had to recreate the feel of?
Jack: Well, as in any TV series or film, there is a style that the producers and directors want and Redwall wasn't any different. Certainly the Medieval flavor was an important one that had to be addressed, which constituted the use of some of those instruments from that period being used in the score. Some of those are recorders, lutes, boudhran, krummhorn, french horn, harps etc. Also, the music had to have a real sense of adventure which we do with the bigger orchestral cues. And, as before, there was no communication between Brian and ourselves.
Martin: Would you have liked to have met Brian and discuss his thoughts or suggestions for the music? Or is your job easier without him underfoot?
Jack: Well, it's not that I wouldn't have liked to meet Brian, or still wouldn't for that matter. However, it's not a common practice when it comes to the decision making process of the musical style. Too many people with too many different ideas as to what the music should sound like can just make it more difficult for the composers to hone in on what really is required. There are other people (producers, directors) who usually make these decisions, who usually have a definitive idea as to what it is they want as a musical direction. It is up to us to figure that out, then, eventually, it becomes our style and that is what has happened for Redwall.
Martin: Did you visit any actual Abbeys to get a feel of the atmosphere, or did you have a pretty good grasp of it early on?
Jack: No, we didn't visit any Abbeys. However, between the storyboards, conversations with the production staff, [and], of course, the actual footage of the series itself, we were able to develop the style which you now listen to in the Redwall TV series. There were also some examples of music the producers gave to us as reference material for us to listen to. You just take a bit of information from all the sources that are available to you and let them all sink in and eventually you end up with what is now Redwall.
Martin: The examples you mentioned. Were they well-known pieces or prototype themes created for the show? The Radio Plays (a full-cast audio book performance) had music at the start and end of each tape. Had you heard those tracks?
Jack: You know, that was a long time ago (November of 1998) and I don't remember them being anything special. Simply some pieces of music to give us a very generic idea as to what direction we might go in. None of the pieces were well known pieces or prototype themes. The main instructions that were given to us regarding the theme were written instructions, which we tried to adhere to as closely as possible. With regards to The Radio Plays, I haven't heard any of the musical tracks you refer to.
Martin: Did you read any of the books in preparation?
Jack: No, I didn't read any of the books and I don't think Daniel did either.
Martin: What would a typical day of work on "Redwall" be like, for you?
Jack: Well, the first thing we would do is to screen the episode that we were writing for that week. You sit in a room with the producers and editors and go over the entire episode, the producer giving us his ideas [and] discussing where he wants the music and what he expects from it in each scene. If we have any questions, we ask him. After that, it's off to do the work. Dan and I would then sit down, watch it again, and split up the cues to be written and [then] proceed to our studios to write. After we've finished, we each will listen to each other's cues, make adjustments as we both see fit, and then its off to the mixing stage where we give all the cues their final mix. This is recorded, usually, on to Digital Audio Tape (DAT) or CD, or both, and is delivered to Nelvana where it is placed in show position. And, once approved, we move on to the next show. That's pretty much the routine.
Martin: I must say, as news of the series' imminent arrival continued to be announced, the music was one area that I and many fans were very concerned about. It almost reached the point where we weren't ready to accept anyone this side of John Williams. The finished product, however, is absolutely outstanding! You and Mr. Fernandez did a wonderful job and truly did the series justice! Were you aware of how enthusiastic Redwall's fans were when you wrote the music, or is it a fact you're just now finding out?
Jack: No, I must say I had no idea, and I'm sure Dan didn't, either, as to how enthusiastic and devoted the fans are to Redwall. I must admit we are both just finding this out now. With reference to the high expectations of yourself and the other Redwall fans with regards to the music for Redwall eg:(John Williams) (and might I add that those are the highest of expectations), we had no idea that the fans would be that concerned about the music of a series before it had even started. However, it just shows how devoted the Redwall fans are! And, by the way, we are both thrilled that you are enjoying what we have done with the music in Redwall. It certainly has been one of my most enjoyable shows [that] I have ever worked on. And we hope to continue on with it for many years to come!!
Martin: How do you and Daniel Fernandez collaborate? Do you combine your compositions together or do you each write separate tracks?
Jack: As it turns out, I think I've already answered that [earlier]. But, just to reiterate, we will each write our individual cues, then get together, listen, and make any changes we think are necessary, then mix etc.
Martin: Let's talk about the specifics of composing for a series. How is it done? Are you working on the music the whole way through, off of storyboards, perhaps? Or do you wait until they have the finished product?
Jack: Well, in the initial stages, before we had a chance to see the final footage for, let's say episode #1, we would work primarily off of storyboards. Initially, of course, when we were going for the job it was entirely storyboards and anything else we could get our hands on in order to start developing thematic ideas for the characters, etc. Once the series has started you might get an early storyboard to look at, but, most of the time it will be the finished product or online version of the VHS which we will use in our writing of the music.
Martin: How do you think up your themes and melodies?
Jack: Well, that's a tough question, but, I'll do my best to put it into words. I think when you are trying to write a theme or melody for a specific character I might look for an emotion that [the] character evokes. Like, let's say Cluny, for instance. Nasty fellow, nothing pleasant about him and the music will reflect that. Make it dark, evil, lots of low strings, something guttural, try to make someone, who is listening only, know you are talking about a Cluny without even having to see him. Because the music is dark and evil you can envision in your mind, without even seeing him, that he is one nasty fellow. On the other hand, Martin is heroic, which is reflected often in the series, as is the opening theme for the series. A Cornflower could be soft and gentle (flutes maybe). Basil Stag Hare, one of my favs, is playful, mischievous, full of energy, and funny (The music is bright and bouncy), He is, after all, a hare! Hope that helps.
Martin: Do you have one selection from the series that you're especially proud of or just really like?
Jack: Well, certainly the opening theme is one of the favorite pieces that I wrote. I think some of the pieces for Basil Stag Hare were a lot of fun to write. But, to be honest, I loved doing it all. As I said before, I can't think of any other project I've had more fun doing than this one.
Martin: How difficult was it to write the music for season two (Mattimeo)? Was the workload easier because you had a full series' worth of music to draw from, or was it harder because you had to make sure that the new themes were fresh and didn't mimic the old ones outright?
Jack: I think it's easier. You have a good sense of what is required and I think maintaining the continuity of the music throughout the series is critical.
Martin: You've mentioned before that the third season (Martin the Warrior) will begin production soon. How long is it, usually, from the time production starts to the time a series airs?
Jack: I believe Nelvana have been in production for awhile on season 3 (Martin the Warrior) and Dan and I will probably start working on the music in a couple of weeks. As to when it will start airing? Well, lets do the math. If we start by the end of April, and you do roughly one episode per week, not always, but pretty close, then with a few delays, let's say 16 weeks. That's 16 weeks for 13 episodes. That will probably mean air dates in the fall of 2001 on Teletoon Network in Canada. That's my best guess, but don't hold me to it!
Martin: Are you planning on trying anything new for season three? A new opening theme, for instance?
Jack: No, the opening theme will remain the same throughout the duration of the series. It becomes the signature for the beginning of the show. It's something that everyone can take away with them, hopefully humming the theme. You will actually notice that, during each episode (not always, but very often) there will be a reference to the opening theme. We will do a small snippet from the theme. It might be only 1 french horn doing that little melody you hear, but, it is used often, in many different variations, throughout the series. You should listen for it!
Martin: Any word at all on a fourth season? ;)
Jack: Yes, rumor has it that there will, in fact, be a season four. Keep in mind that this is a rumor, but, I believe it is a strong one.
Martin: Will there ever be a possibility for a "Redwall" soundtrack? I wouldn't mind owning the music, personally.
Jack: Well, that would be entirely up to Nelvana. We've had many requests about a soundtrack CD being released for Redwall. If I hear of anything in the works I will try to let you know.
Martin: That's great to hear! You can tell Nelvana that, not only do the fans want a soundtrack, The Long Patrol is ready and willing to start a petition to get one! Maybe that will get the ball rolling. ;)
Jack: Well, thank you for that! Dan and I appreciate your support for our music! I will endeavor to make Nelvana aware of your web site. I believe it deserves the recognition.
Martin: That just about wraps things up. I want to thank you again for taking the time to do this. Before we go, is there anything at all you'd like to say to all the "Redwall" fans out there?
Jack: Let me say it has been a pleasure to do this interview for The Long Patrol. One quick story I will relate to you and the fans of Redwall. As a composer, when you're in the middle of the series you are totally immersed in what you are doing. It's like a tunnel vision and only after you are away from it for awhile are you able to sit back and look at it objectively. I must admit, after watching a few of the episodes on television, I finally stopped listening to the music only and just started getting wrapped up in the stories and characters, just like everyone else. I realized then just how great the story lines, the characters, voices, and everything else, were done for this series. I just started getting into the episodes just like everyone else. I guess what I'm trying to say is that makes me a Redwall fan too!! Oops 7 o'clock, gotta go upstairs, guess what's on!!
Thanks again to Mr. Procher for taking the time to give The Long Patrol this exclusive interview!