A Conversation with Alex Somers
Mike Ragogna: Alex, in your opinion, how does your score for Captain Fantastic capture the adventures of the movie’s Pacific Northwest family?
Alex Somers: My score is fairly understated in that regard. Matt Ross, the director and I both wanted the music to be a strong underpinning to the story and it’s characters. We didn’t want to play the adventure feeling too much on the nose… So hopefully, the music embodies the spirit of the character’s wildness and the isolation that comes with living in the middle of a forrest.
MR: Was this your first solo film score?
AS: Well, I’ve been into pairing music with picture for a pretty long time. For a few years there, around 2003-2005, I would make a video for almost every song I would finish. I would go out with my crappy video camera and film things, then slow them down and fit them to music. That was a different thing entirely to film scoring though. Captain Fantastic is the first film that I’ve scored by myself. I’ve done some other scoring projects with Jónsi, like the first season of the TV series Manhattan, also the past two Cameron Crowe films Aloha and We Bought A Zoo.
MR: What were the challenges of coming up with the score and why did you decide on an ambient approach as opposed to something more energized or more densely produced?
AS: I didn’t really decide on an ambient score. It’s just the way I build music. I like the feeling of restraint and patience in music. Some of my challenges were in finding ways to have the music reflect the character’s growth through out the film. The family leaves their home in the forest and enters society and that major change needed to be reflected in the music somehow. At times, that was tricky to show that shift in them and in their awareness.
MR: How did you make the decisions on what instruments to play and how too apply them? Was it freeing or more intense having composed and played every instrument on the score?
AS: Oh I didn’t play every instrument on the score! I had an amazing group of friends playing and singing through out the score. Jónsi and Sindri sang, Amiina played strings, and my friend Óbó played various instruments. It was really a dream to collaborate with my friends on this! We would often just improvise together and come up with parts and overdubs and mold it into something… That was so inspiring to create like that for me! As far as the instrumentation, what you hear are basically all of my favorite instruments that I’ve collected throughout my life. Instruments that now live in my studio. I think choosing when and how to employ specific instruments is just intuition, just following your ears.
MR: What was a typical day of composing and recording like? How long did it take from the process’ inception to conclusion?
AS: A typical day would be me making a special chocolate drink and taking my dog for a walk. Then going to my studio and playing piano or whatever and working on different scenes from the film. Once I had the music mapped out over the entire film I spent a few days with Óbó recording various instruments around my studio and just improvising together. That helped a lot because he can play so well that I could hum harmony parts and he could instantly play them on any instrument I had! After that I spent one very long day with Amina recording strings. Again, we mostly just came up with melodies and harmonies together on the spot. They are so sensitive to the atmosphere that’s in the music and can improvise amazingly well. What they do is really special. And last, I recorded Jónsi and Sindri singing over a few specific pieces of music. Mainly, voice is used to lift up certain moments that needed a bit of a spark. Both Jónsi and Sindri have such nice voices! Then I worked on and off for months tweaking and noodling around with the recordings, at times, remixing them and mangling them to create something new altogether. I really enjoy that part of the process, sampling parts I’ve recorded and turing them into something new. So in the end, I worked on and off for around ten months.
MR: Emphasis tracks from the score seem to be “Remembering” and “Water (I’m Right Here)” but what are your favorite tracks from the project?
AS: I’m not sure. I was pretty happy with the soundscape in a few of the songs. I guess since most of the songs are pretty short it makes more sense to just listen to the album as a whole.
MR: Rumor has it this might be actor Viggo Mortensen’s best lead role. Having lived with and worked on the scenes you had to score for as long as you did, did you have a new appreciation for his acting skills?
AS: Yeah, I think Viggo Mortensen is a really good actor! He has a sincerity to him and an attitude that’s really cool. I think the film wouldn’t be the same without him. He brought a lot of personality to his character.
MR: The film was written and directed by Matt Ross. Was he always set on using you for the score or was that a decision he made later? How did he know of your talents?
AS: Matt loves Sigur Rós. He also really likes the album Jónsi and I made together called Riceboy Sleeps. Matt and the film editor Joseph Krings used much of Riceboy Sleeps as temp music for the rough cutting of the film. Matt really liked the dreamy atmosphere of some of that stuff, although I must say it was Matt’s original goal to have the composer make the music hand in hand with the filming so that there would never be any temp music. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up happening, but we always stayed committed to doing our best to create someone new and original.
MR: Captain Fantastic received a lot of critical acclaim at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, especially from Variety and The Guardian. Without giving anything away, what is it about the film that’s charming reviewers?
AS: The kids are so cute! I think the film just has personality. It’s unafraid to be politically incorrect and makes us question our values. Plus it’s quite sarcastic at times!
MR: Did anything about the film resonate with you? Did the creative process affect how you will approach projects in the future?
AS: When I first read the script I was taken by the idea of leaving society altogether. To make that move out into the nature. I feel like it’s something most of us dream of but never find it in us to go for it. I think the music making process just reaffirmed my love of collaborating. On this project I just kept it close and only worked with my friends, but I would love to branch out and try working with more musicians in the future.
MR: Has Alex Somers stock gone up because of the film’s positive reception?
AS: Yes, way up! Just kidding, I have no stock...ha ha!
MR: In addition to this score, you’ve worked on many projects including those with Jónsi, Sin Fang, Sigur Rós, and Julianna Barwick. When you’re working with artists, how does your creative track change?
AS: Well, when you are making an album it tends to be a different experience than making a film score. Making albums is less lonely, more of a team effort. I really get into the collaborative feeling of being in it with someone. Starting with nothing and coming out of the other side with an album. That’s the best feeling ever…
MR: And what about your creativity in the visual arts? What have you been working on?
AS: Since I left art school, I don’t get involved in a ton of visual arts projects anymore. I’ll usually do something once or twice a year, maybe an album cover for a band or an art print or something. I did just finish a lithograph that goes with the Captain Fantastic vinyl. But I’m happiest working with music. It’s been the one constant thread though out my life.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
AS: Get weird. Go deeper into the things that make you, you.
MR: What projects are on the horizon? Any more film scores?
AS: Yes, I am currently working with Bill Morrison on his new film. It’s going to be really special I think. It’s a silent film documentary about this huge collection of old films being rediscovered after being buried in the ground in Dawson City, Canada. I love working with the f**ked-up look and feel of the old films Bill has collaged together to create this film
THE NEW APOLLOS’ “POWER OVER ME” EXCLUSIVE
According to The New Apollos’ Neill MacCallum...
“’Power Over Me’ is the first single to be released from the Green Light EP by The New Apollos. This EP, which drops on Friday July 29th, will be the last of our Summer EP trilogy―we released an EP at the end of May and another in June, as well. This track premiere is special because it’s the last single of this series!
“We recorded ‘Power Over Me’ at Restoration Sound in Brooklyn and the rhythm guitar, bass and drums had almost no edits in post-production. We wanted a live, honest sound on this one. The rhythm guitar is going through a Moogerfooger pedal which gives it its dirty, drone-y tone. We then layered organs, female harmonies, acoustic guitar and lead guitar through a pog stomp box to create a good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll tune about being a slave to ones’ disposition and feeling powerless over the years to change it.”
A Conversation with Feliciano (Butch) Tavares, Arthur (Pooch) Tavares
Mike Ragogna: Hey Butch and Pooch of the superstar R&B group Tavares, you left a big fat footprint on pop/R&B, especially in the seventies. I noticed you’ve changed your monicker to “Tavares Now” and have a new single, “Heaven 24/7.” First of all, what’s the story behind the new single and why the name upgrade?
Feliciano Tavares: It’s very difficult to answer your first question in a sentence, but I’ll do my best! I Invited all my brothers into the studio a couple of years ago to undertake a new project with my newly formed Ear candy Record Label Two of my brothers Pooch and Victor decided to join me, And the other three brothers Tiny, Chubby and Ralph decided to decline the offer; not wishing to confuse our fans! Thus, the name Taavares Now was born; really just emphasizing the new music and who is involved, featuring Pooch, Victor and myself Butch, by the way Victor was the lead singer to our first hit single, “Check It Out” with Capital Records, and the rest is history. You are now listening to a song called “Heaven 24/7,” it’s just the first of many songs that I have written over these difficult years, almost losing our brother Pooch to an illness a few years ago. I’m so glad he and I had this chance to sing together again; to maybe touch the lives of people that we will never meet, reaching far beyond what I could ever imagine in these times we’re living in.
Arthur Tavares: Butch’s dream was get all six brothers together again to record songs he had written over the years under his Ear Candy Record Label, LLC.. His songs, like “Heaven 24/7”, were to keep current with today’s audience without losing the loyal fans in the process. A recording session was booked and all brothers where invited to join in the dream. No shows and legalities and with current solo careers, left a trio of Butch, Victor and myself. After seeking legal advice the new recording adventure would not assume the name Tavares but evolved into Tavares Now.
MR: You’ve accumulated many hits including “It Only Takes A Minute,” “Free Ride,” “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel,” “Whodunit,” “A Penny For Your Thoughts,” and off course, “More Than A Woman” that was featured on the Saturday night Fever soundtrack. Can you give us a story behind a couple of those hits? (wait on the More Than A Woman story, I’m asking that next)
FT: The last time we graced the charts with number one songs was in the early eighties. We had recently signed with RCA Records. In actuality, it was the most successful Tavares project ever with three hit singles, one of which was nominated for a Grammy, “Penny For Your Thoughts,” and “Words And Music” also climbed the charts at number ten and rising, topping off the most successful time period in our careers. But at that time, I was faced with a difficult decision. I decided to leave the record label in spite of the success we were enjoying, for let’s just say that my dreams of becoming what I considered to be a true artist was slowly dying!
AT: We liked Edgar Winter’s high energy song “Free Ride” and wanted to do a cover on that. The remaining songs were written for the group and recorded by the record label at that time. Did you know that Butch wrote five of the songs on our various albums? “Break Down For Love,” “Ridin’ High,” “In The City,” “Fool Of The Year” and “Feel So Good.” Now there’s a story.
MR: What’s the story behind “More Than A Woman”? How did the song end up on the soundtrack, how were brought into The Bee Gees’ fold with that and how did that affect the group afterwards?
FT: The story behind “More Than A Woman,” if my memory serves me correctly, is that we were about to perform in New York with The Bee Gees and we were at soundcheck and noticed some guys were sitting in the audience but didn’t know at the time who they were. They turned out to be The Gibb Brothers, and during our sound check, started writing “More Than A Woman” for us.
AT: Butch’s recollection of the story hit the nail on the head.
MR: You’re also credited with helping Daryl Hall & John Oates’ career by having a #1 hit with their composition “She’s Gone.” Were you conscious of that at the time, why did you record it, and when you compare your version with theirs, what are your thoughts?
FT: About “She’s Gone”... As you know, our version was number one on the R&B charts and didn’t cross over. So when Hall and Oats saw that, they seized the opportunity, and the rest is history but they did thank us for not crossing over to the pop chart. Hmm? Sounds like a conspiracy to me. Just kidding Mike!
AT: “She’s Gone” was written and released by Daryl Hall and John Oates. It went straight to number one on the charts when we recorded it. All we did was bring attention to this great song. Each version has its appeal to different listeners.
MR: The flip also happened with the British boy band Take That, having a big hit with your “It Only Takes A Minute,” which is also in Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix. Plus a sample of “Out Of The Picture” was used in 50 Cents’ “Many Men (Wish Death).” Did you guys like how these were recorded?
FT: As far as “It Only Takes A Minute” and 50 Cent is concerned, I consider it to be an honor that something you’ve done caught the attention of another generation.
AT: I guess you can say that sampling is a form of flattery in today’s music. I haven’t heard the sampling you have listed, personally.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
FT: Concerning new artists today, which I consider myself one, stay true to yourself in the sense of what you came here to do, hopefully positive!
AT: The road to fame is not all glitz and glamour. It requires 100% of your dedication often separating you for long periods of time from family and home. Keep your ego in check and feet on the ground.
MR: Will there be an album soon and what does the future hold for Tavares Now?
FT: To answer your question about the future of Tavares Now, no one can predict the future or what it holds but the great news is. “Heaven 24/7” debuted on the Billboard Hot Single Sales chart at number five. This song is part of a four song EP and if things go the way I expect, it will turn into an album. Who knows. Maybe Tavares Now and the group Tavares could be headed for a storybook ending. Only time will tell.
AT: There’s more music to come from Tavares Now...stay tuned everyone!
FT: In ending this interview, Mike, I want to personally thank you for taking the time to do this story on us and our label partners, the power house team of KES Distribution and National Marketing out of Chicago. Without their support and help, the success of our independent label would not be happening.
LOGAN VATH’S “LINEN” EXCLUSIVE
According to Logan Vath...
“’Linen’ is the first song that I didn’t really wanted to write, and when it finally came out, it was the first song that was ever genuinely difficult to sing. It’s arguably the most revealing song I’ve ever written, and it showcases a section of my life that was filled with a lot more questions than answers. Those questions are ones that I believe everyone has asked: is this where I belong? Does one risk losing something good for the shallow idea that something better exists? Is the grass actually greener, or does the storm quietly spend it’s time watering the plains to simply leave and eventually return to remind you just how good you have it? I didn’t know those answers, so I wrote ‘Linen.’ I’ve learned a lot in the time since this song was written and I’m thankful to have it as a keepsake for myself; I truly hope it connects with a few people out there in a similar space.”
A Conversation with September Mourning’s Emily Lazar
Mike Ragogna: Emily, your latest release, “Skin & Bones,” has an animated lyric video, its music from September Mourning’s second EP. You also worked closely with Marc Silverstri and his comic book project. How did this all sync up?
Emily Lazar: Marc and I created the concept of September Mourning together. I brought the idea to him several years of doing a character driven multi-platform media project. He was in from the first conversation. Marc likes to push the boundaries of the art world and the creative. He’s the perfect partner for something so large and looming as this project.
MR: How big a fan of Marc was the group?
EL: Everyone of the reapers is a huge fan of his. He’s a genius.
MR: How does the first EP or Volume I tie in?
EL: The first EP coincides with the first issue of the comic book. It is basically a soundtrack to it.
MR: What is the group’s background as far as loving comics, etc.? Do you have any personal stories about growing up with them or your favorites?
EL: Batman was my favorite growing up. My Dad had his old comic books in my grandparent’s attic. I remember getting into them when I was little. Growing up I got more and more into other characters like Deadpool, Lady Death, Sandman, as well as anime like Ghost in the Shell, Deathnote and Vampire Hunter D.
MR: How is the band progressing with new projects? How are you evolving creatively?
EL: The story continues to evolve and play out on stage, coming up with more creative ways to bring it to life live is always the most fun and challenging.
MR: What do you think is the best comic currently out there and how would you score it?
EL: I think the classic, Batman: The Killing Joke, would be my 10 out of 10.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
EL: Be prepared to put in the work and don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Experiment. Find your own voice. Don’t try to mimic anyone else out there.
MR: What new projects will be coming and when can we expect Volume III? Let me guess, 2017?
EL: Volume III will definitely hit in 2017, and if you are at SDCC, come say hello to me at the Top Cow booth and panel for some more exciting news!