May 25th, 2016
Big changes have happened, and I couldn’t be more happy about them – most notably, I have relocated to Los Angeles, my new home. To leave San Francisco, and all that city has to offer was a little tough, but ultimately it is just so enriching to be in a place that is, to put it lightly, more aligned with my industry. It really is inspiring to meet people all the time that are doing similar things, and that are here as well to see their vision out and be creative.
To somewhat complicate the completion of a couple big projects, I got news late last year that the building I lived and worked in was sold. As a result of a legal eviction process to the benefit of the new owner (very common these days in SF), I would be moving Quistgard Studio once again. After a temporary stay with a friend which gave me the opportunity to finish up these projects, I decided that April would mark my move to L.A.
To catch you up on a rollercoaster that was the last six months, among many other challenges, I finished scoring and sound design for Jason Affolder’s New Orleans feature film A Quiet Storm. We are very proud. If you aren’t aware, it is a crime drama that features gritty elements of urban life and dilemma therein, coupled with a soft beauty held onto by the piano-playing protagonist Aurora. The score certainly reflects this, and while there are moments of grittiness within it, it is mostly a magical and pretty counterpart to its context onscreen. Here is a playlist of some of my favorite parts of the score.
Once all sound and music elements were finalized and in place, I flew to my old home of New Orleans to supervise the 5.1 mix of the film with mixer Devin Lawrence. It was my first time seeing a 5.1 mix firsthand, and it was a cool experience to see that process; observing all the sound and music elements I worked so hard on finding their space in the sonic landscape, becoming more beautiful than I even envisioned.
After a successful premiere screening at the Broad Theatre in New Orleans met with with overwhelming positivity, we are shopping it on the festival circuit, and also seeking distribution. Excited about the possibilities, more to come.
I have not mentioned it directly on the blog over the years, but perhaps it’s time to talk about a past project rather dear to me. Obituaries 1913 is a multimedia art exhibition I created in New Orleans in 2009 to commemorate the lives of 22 people who died that year. I enlisted painter Joel Kelly, and poet/writer Mark Yakich to make portraits and write the obituaries, respectively. Each piece, completed by a unique musical score made by yours truly, gives a special glimpse into the life of the subject. Our premiere in New Orleans in 2010 was very successful, and subsequently 7 of the pieces have sold to happy hosts around the country. If you are interested in buying one, you can contact me directly. It has showed at the prestigious Tulane University Carroll Gallery, Coup d’Oleil Art gallery In New Orleans, as well as Co-Lab gallery in Austin. A west coast premiere is imminent in LA once I dig my roots in a little deeper, as well as a whole other installment of fresh pieces that will focus specifically on deaths in New Orleans in 1902. Stay tuned!
Before I left SF, I took the time to put all this into an easily digestible tumblr page. The mobile app version might even be a little slicker. Both give the viewer an easy format for a full experience of all 22 characters, featuring hi-res uploads of the pieces and the music. If you weren’t at an event and haven’t seen this yet, or you would just like to take a trip down memory lane, feel free to enjoy this approximate version online.
In addition to writing for film and the like, I am also gradually pushing forward on my songwriting for the project known as “Pretty Mine” (working title, that’s the name of the first single from it). Here’s a sample for it:
A dark motown/R&B project, I plan on making about 5 or 6 more of these tunes, and recording them with long time comrade and creative partner Dave Schwerkolt. I am excited to play these live, and all that should come to fruition within the next year or two. Wait for it, I promise it’ll be worth it.
My last little project before I left SF was doing sound design for Latyrx’s music video, “Lady Don’t Tek No”. SF based production company, Maximum Flavor Media, asked me if I could pitch in my services, and I am thankful to have been a part of it. It is very rad. I am looking forward to more musical and sound collaboration with them in the near future.
I updated my film score video reel, and am very happy with this presentation of my work. If you haven’t seen some of the films I’ve worked on, check out this little glimpse into that:
September 21st, 2015
I hope everyone has had a lovely summer. Lots of new projects to share, and lots of projects to finish this year.
Most recently, I made a trip back to Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles to record a song I wrote for vocals and motown arrangement, called Pretty Mine. It was a dream come true to make this song, and despite many roadblocks, we made it happen. The song started as a simple guitar line, which turned out to be the hook, all inspired by the love for my amps clean guitar tone. You can’t ever forget about the power of playing something that has beautiful tone, simply. Eventually I wrote lyrics for it as the vocal line started to come to me – not something I do every day, so this one is very special to me.
It was a pretty big undertaking, incorporating countless (I mean, they’re actually countable) layers of percussion, and other instruments. Both the bass drums and the snares were doubled, using two different drums of each to give it a thicker sound for each hit (miked with 4 mics – 2 rooms, and 2 close, which were in the “mid” miking configuration, a stereo technique which is awfully confusing for simpleton guitar players like myself to understand). Dave has come to such great heights in his understanding and application of engineering and production techniques. He made it just sound incredible. Stay tuned for a completed mix of that tune!
Here is a teaser:
Going all the way back to springtime this year, I began working with sound design and music composition for SF’s legendary drag queen Peaches Christ, and her company. It is such a cool thing to be involved with, and the shows and rehearsals are just so much fun. It’s always inspiring to be around talented and energetic performers, which even includes a lot of the non-performing crew. Really fun people, and the shows are just a blast. The next performance will be at the Castro Theatre in SF on October 3rd, as we are doing Whatever Happened To Bianca Del Rio (from the Bette Davis/Joan Hudson movie What Ever Happened To Baby Jane).
As I mentioned last time, my long time creative partner Mike Midden and I created a series of comedic instructional tutorials, called Doing It Right. We just completed our first series of videos, uploading our tenth one last week. Click our logo to the right to check out our website and all the videos! Hopefully we can teach you something valuable.
Filming for Jason Affolder’s New Orleans feature film A Quiet Storm has completed, and now I am in full swing with scoring the thing. The film just looks incredible, and the performances are outstanding. Recently I have been handing in 5 or more musical cues a week for it, and the score really starting to add up and take shape. I am scoring this predominantly on piano, classical guitar, with some electric guitar soundscapes as well. Always a really magical process seeing the elegant blending of music and image, heightening both elements. It really is why I love film/score so much. We are mixing all sound and music in early December, and the film should be done be early next year. We are all very proud of it, stay tuned for that.
Here’s a short cue from it:
I have also taken on the task of producing songs for a couple different very talented local singers/songwriters. It is always so cool to see someone’s vision out, and adding to it and shaping it when you can. More to come with that.
Should be a busy and exciting end to my year. I hope you all have the same.
March 12, 2015
I hope you all are having a healthy and prosperous new year so far.
What a winter it was. Notably, Quistgard Studios here in SF received about 4 inches of standing flood water during one of the heaviest rains SF has had in recorded history. Miraculously, because I was there to tend to it, almost nothing was lost. It was a pretty rough spot, but because so much work and goodness has happened since then, I actually almost forgot to mention that it happened.
I promise that this first segment will not be all boring technical talk. Stay with me for a moment. Recently, I invested in some new gear for Quistgard Studios, mainly upgrading parts of my vocal chain (mic, preamp, compressor). This has enabled me, aside from just sounding better, to record drums with a depth and clarity that I haven’t been able to in the past. I am not an engineer. I am a musician. I must repeat this mantra often. That being said, I was gonna go into detail about a cool new miking scheme I tried recently. Given a normal amount of home studio limitations, we improvise with what we have. Because I just picked up a new cardioid mic (AKG C414) and thought to try it on the top of the snare, it allowed me to pull the standard 57 off the snare and put it on the rack tom, which I have never done. The 57 sounded great with almost no tweaking (the rack tom was of course well dampened).
Here’s that sound:
It’s interesting, the line we get to straddle these days with being able to get fairly in depth with engineering yourself, and doing it on a smaller budget. The home studio is a part of any musician’s arsenal, on any level. As a composer, it is absolutely advantageous to be able to crank out good or great sounding material from the confines of your home studio, not just for the sake of having a polished finished product, but also to be able to send out listenable demos and mockups for clients and others. But what does this make us do? We inevitably, in order to get the best results, delve into and put energy into the engineering side of making music. Plug-ins, gear, compression techniques, mic placement, mastering on a budget. The list goes on, trust me. This is certainly different from the past, in which you just could never afford anything remotely as good sounding as what’s out there today at a consumer price point. So there you are. In your early twenties with a decent $600 cardioid condenser mic, wondering where on the drum kit it could be best used. Oh, and you can go online and seek training and read everyone’s idea on any of these topics at moment’s notice? At a certain point, you officially start knowing things. Not necessarily to the point that you could walk into a major studio and run a vocal session with tons of outboard gear, but enough that it actually may have taken up valuable time you should have actually spent composing or playing. So there we have it, a perfect situation to become jack of all trades and master of none. The great engineers are usually mostly just engineers, and that’s how it should be. It’s easy to get lost in style, but it’s nothing without the substance. Most musicians these days who are making music on their own can probably relate. Like I said, I am not an engineer. I am a musician. While it’s not always good to make certain distinctions in life, to identify with one more than the other, in this case it is important to maintain that identity as we continue further into the world of technology in music production.
My long time comrade and creative working partner Mike Midden and I have started making, among other things, a series of instructional videos under our label French Kris Productions. Stay tuned; we’ll teach you how to do it right.
Late last year, I joined the Scary Cow indie film co-op here in the Bay Area. I immediately met great people, and signed on to a few shorts being made locally. One of those films, Mini Supreme, won best short at the Scary Cow Film Fest, which means it won budget towards the next film. In addition to that, I won best score for it. It was a great day of energy towards local independent cinema, and it’s always great to see other peoples’ visions become real. Congrats to Michael Phillis, and the whole team for making such a fun and quality film!
I mentioned in the last post about gaining funding for Jason Affolder’s New Orleans feature film A Quiet Storm, which I am scoring, and I am happy to say that we raised enough money to get this film off the ground. We are finalizing casting on the main character this week, and will be shooting this year. Being involved with this project since early versions of the script, it is especially interesting to be involved now in the casting of it, and getting to have input according to how I see the character. That being said, I am sticking to what I’m good at. Getting a good head start on the score, I am currently composing piano pieces in the style of classic american hymnals, as well as French classical piano, a la Debussy, Satie, etc. I haven’t scored film in this specific style yet, and it is very exciting.
Previously mentioned feature film which I am scoring based in LA, The Teenager, will also start production and filming this year! When it rains it pours. This film was also successful in putting together a budget to get it off the ground. I am excited to be making that migration back and forth to LA to work on the music more. Maybe one day I wont have to go as far in that regard…
As always, Mike Midden and I are plugging away at, and almost done with, our Beck Song Reader project. Didn’t I say that last time? It’s a lot of songs. New selections include a quirky barbershop quartet romp, and a sweet 80s tune with all the trimmings. Really, there’s only one more left.
Don’t forget to take a moment and smell the flowers this springtime, they’re always so wonderful.
August 8, 2014
Well, it looks like I’m blogging about twice a year, so I hope to keep it a little more regular from here on out. I mean, there’s plenty to talk about.
Most recently, I was down in LA again at the world-famous Sunset Sound Studios. This time I was working on music for the feature film The Teenager, directed by Ye’ela Rosenfeld. The Teenager is a gritty film shot in Downtown LA, involving a teenage girl and her various relationships in search for a real connection. I am really looking forward to the score which will utilize, in addition to more traditional or background music, heavy metal used as diegetic music (coming from a source inside the film). Anna, the teenager, identifies with angsty, aggressive and cerebral metal and listens to it in the comfort of her headphones throughout the picture. In many ways, I have a background in this style, in particular my high school band, Oriphys. Wasn’t too proud to admit that one. Anyhow, with the help of Dave Schwerkolt on vocals and engineering, we will be crafting several full length, stand alone metal songs for this picture, so expect a separate but related release of that material in the coming years!
Here is a teaser:
While tracking vocals I had a bit of a run in with one of Sunset Sound’s Universal Audio 1176 compressors, something I don’t get the opportunity to work on much. After dialing in what we thought was a great vocal tone, we later found out that given the punchy nature of the vocals, and the sensitivity of the microphone we chose, that there was a tiny layer of high end distortion coming from overloading the compressor in spots. Always remember to watch your gain levels coming from the pre, as well as input of the compressor.
In addition to finalizing the main theme/song for the film this month, I also completed another episode’s worth of music for the Ready, Spank Freddy Theatre Company. It is absurd and hilarious. More of that to come, stay tuned for it’s release.
As always, Mike Midden and I are plugging away at, and almost done with, our Beck Song Reader project. New selections include a polka re-imagined as a Balkan style tune using many klezmer motifs, a crooner surf-rock song, a Four Freshmen styled vocal harmony tune, and a samba with some made up words harmonized as a solo.
Finally, my long-time colleague, Jason Affolder, has an indiegogo campaign up in order to raise money for his upcoming New Orleans-based drama, A Quiet Storm. It is about a young girl in Hollygrove who plays classical piano, and the crime scandal she becomes unfortunately involved in. While I have signed on to do the musical score for it, this story is dear to my heart, having lived in New Orleans for many years, and having seen some of these issues in the community first hand. If you’d like to contribute please go HERE and check out the project.
I hope everyone is having a happy and creative summer.
December 12, 2013
I recently finished scoring the first episode in a web series for the The Ready, Spank Freddy Theatre Company, directed and starring James Sharpe. Check out the main theme here:
As well, the aforementioned recording project in LA, recently named Black Lung Guild, released the music video for their new single, Golden Earrings. This is a song that was covered for years by New Orleans’ group Good Guys, formerly headed by Jeremy Johnson and I. Finally getting to record our version of this, and doing it the right way, was a real treat. As the title theme for the 1949 film Golden Earrings, it was never a very popular song in Jazz, but was made (somewhat) popular by Peggy Lee, and later, the Keith Jarrett Trio. Our video for this was a somewhat spontaneous creation, sparked by discussion of ideas in the studio with filmmaker Ye’ela Rosenfeld. Here is what we made the next day:
Directed and shot by Ye’ela Rosenfeld
Vocals: Jeremy Johnson
Saxophone: Joe Berry
Background Vocals: Jessie Clemens
Drums, Bass, Guitar: Tom McLaughlin
Production/Engineering: David Schwerkolt
Recorded at Sunset Sound Studios, L.A., CA.
As always, The Beck Song Reader is rolling along every week, as we finally near the end. A couple new selections there including both hip hop and reggae tunes.
Next year holds in store all sorts of exciting music and film projects, so stay tuned and have a Happy New Year!
June 24, 2013
I recently began a recording project with a few old musical partners, as well as new, at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood, CA. The general idea for this project was developed by Good Guys’ lead singer Jeremy Johnson and myself. The idea was to take lesser known old jazz/R&B vocal tunes, and re-imagine them in different/updated styles. After 2 songs already in the books, the project has taken shape quickly, thanks to old time collaborator and engineer/producer Dave Schwerkolt, and his wife, filmmaker Ye’ela Rosenfeld. Our idea is to do a music video for each song on this EP, so stay tuned this year!
Head over to Soundcloud to check out the first song we did back in April, Toni Fisher’s The Big Hurt (1959), one of the first songs to use phasing/modulation effects.
Vocals: Jeremy Johnson
Saxophone: Adrian Crutchfield
Background Vocals: Jessie Clemens
Drums, Bass, Guitar, Synth: Tom McLaughlin
Production/Engineering: David Schwerkolt
Recorded at Sunset Sound Studios, L.A., CA.