I sometimes get frustrated with film music collectors saying there is no new up and coming talent in movie music, many seem to see a new name and dismiss them before even listening to their music, Composer Jermaine Stegall, is in my opinion going to be a name that we will be seeing a lot of on credits for big movies in the not too distant future, he is talented, inventive and also most certainly able to create scores that range from intimate and electronic to full on driving lush and epic sounding symphonic. Which is displayed in one of his most recent projects PROXIMITY. The project has taken four years to come to fruition, and whilst watching the movie, one can hear and also see just how a film score should work, it supports enhances and punctuates, but also it is a soundtrack that one can listen to without watching the film. My thanks to the composer for agreeing to speak to Movie Music International. JM. ©2020.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
For me, I would say the purpose is to help tell the story. It’s to become the musical voice, and soul of the film. Melodic, harmonic, however done, turn into another actor that is on the same page is the entire vision of the story and spirit of the film.
In 2011 you worked on GREETINGS TO THE DEVIL, which was a film produced in Colombia, how did you become involved on this project?
I met the director, Juan Orozco online and we started talking. He has a great sense of visual storytelling and I felt like he would be someone that would create an amazing canvas for music with visuals and I was totally right! After the film happened, he even helped finance an opportunity to do a concert of live film music from the film in Colombia at the Museum of Modern Art in Medellín, Colombia in 2011. An amazing end to the journey which happened I believe the opening weekend of the film.
I noticed you are credited with providing additional music on some TV series such as, SUPERNATURAL, LIV AND MADDIE, SUPERGIRL and STRETCH ARMSTRONG, when it says additional music is this the music that the producers decide that they need after the main score is done, or is it cues that they think will complement the series further and the composer of the main score maybe is not available?
Yes, those are basically cases where I was asked to supplement the composer’s original score and further the vision as well as be an extra set of hands creatively.
Is your family background a musical one, by this I mean are any of your family musical?
My mother did her fair share of singing, but my father was a bass player in the 70s and played in various bands and to my knowledge while my mother was pregnant she was around his music so that may have influenced me, but he stopped playing bass not too long after I was born and for my dad, it became more of a passion project to play live music.
Can you recall what your first encounter was with any kind of music and can you remember the first record or piece of music that you took notice of?
I made a not so serious attempt at learning violin in 3rd grade when I was 8-9 years old but quit after about 3 weeks. In 5th grade I started playing saxophone (1988) and I was say a year later I remember hearing a song which I later learned was called “billie’s bounce” featuring Charlie Parker. When I heard this, I was so into the sound and the vibe that I put my radio Walkman headphones up to another speaker to record the sound so I wouldn’t lose the radio station. Then I listened to that cassette recording for years.
PROXIMITY is a good film, I was kind of engrossed, but I was even more impressed with the score, it’s like a vintage soundtrack as in nods to John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, but it’s a new movie. The music really caught my attention, it is so powerful and drives the action in the storyline relentlessly. Were you asked or given any specific instructions regarding the style and sound of the score by the director?
Thanks so much for the listen! This was an important one for me and really, fun. The director had a lot of ideas about music but, wanted a highly stylized score and initially thought he might want one with a John Carpenter-influenced sound. We talked about electronics and orchestral elements and a reference to the 80s, then I pitched the idea of a more John Williams-influenced sound as the orchestral backdrop, however the electronics stayed as an idea to incorporate, but not necessarily John Carpenter-based.
PROXIMITY is a grand sounding work, what size orchestra did you utilise for the score and what percentage of the musical line up was made up of synthetic support, also was it recorded at Skywalker studios?
Thanks yes it was a pretty grand type of a sound that I was striving for and surprisingly since we had the time, I took years to produce the final result. We had 17 brass players and we recorded at Skywalker Scoring stage and engineered by Grammy-award-winning Leslie Ann-Jones. I also processed a Tuba player where we recorded 3 hours of samples and Tuba-based loops beforehand. Most other elements were synthetic.
Do you carry out all your own orchestrations on your film scores, or are there times when this is not possible, and you have an orchestrator?
When possible, I use an orchestrator, so I can continue to concentrate on all the last-minute expectations of preparing for recording as well as things that need to happen quickly after the recording session to deliver. To be orchestrating would, require much more time than is generally allowed.
Similar kind of question but this time regarding conducting your scores, do you conduct all of the time or are there certain projects where you prefer to supervise from the booth and have a conductor?
I love to conduct my own scores. I will ask for help in the booth from someone I trust always, but to that point, I will go into the booth if I think someone can get the job done faster and we would split the responsibility of conducting.
PROXIMITY also contains a few vocal tracks, do you have any involvement with the placing of the songs at all, and when you first saw the movie, had the director installed a temp track of any sort, and do you find the temp process helpful as in it gives you an idea of what the director maybe looking for, or is it something you find counterproductive?
I enjoy the idea of temp music and it’s a conversation-starter for most directors. It really does not have to be the final thing (to me). As far as songs, it was always a plan to have original songs written by a songwriter for the film and I loved that idea as well!
JAMESY BOY is a film you scored in 2014, it’s dramatic but also I thought it was intimate and quite personal, how long were you given to write and record the score, and do you perform on any of your soundtracks?
Very intimate much more personal vibe. Much more of a purposely indie feel and true to life Biopic about an actual person James Burns who I’ve come to know. He overcame lots of tragedy and obstacles in his life and a beautiful artist emerged at the end of it all. Yes, I tend to perform most piano passages on my scores, as was the case with that film.
Your scores are filled with themes, even the action cues have a great thematic presence, what do you think of the use of the drone sound or soundscape approach that is being used in more recent movies, is it music or is it sounds that fill a place in a score to underline certain scenes?
I think drones and soundscapes can be fun to create, and when used as a story-telling tool, are quite effective. It can also be very effective to use a musical or evolving drone or soundscape whenever picture lends itself to that possibility.
What artists or composers would you say have influenced you in your approach to scoring films?
Lots of influence from John Williams as well as Marco Beltrami who I was able to intern with back in 2004. I also grew up listening to and also buying scores by Danny Elfman. These have been my biggest score influences over the years for sure and probably in that order.
You are working on COMING TO AMERICA ll, Does Eddie Murphy have specific ideas about what route the music should be taking?
Actually, as we speak, this weekend I’m told that Eddie Murphy is watching the film for the first time and will weigh in with his ideas. Possibly music ideas, we will see. It would be awesome if he likes the direction it is headed in.
Are there many differences between working on a TV project and scoring a feature film?
I think mostly time frame. Once T.V. shows get going, the expectation is that turn-around time is cranking away whereas sometimes a film can be going on in the background for a year or more.
How do you work out your musical ideas, do you sit at the piano and develop you ides that way or do you prefer to utilise a more technical and contemporary method as in computer etc?
Mainly piano sketch for me as well as saving midi ideas in different ways that I can save and review later or adapt. Also singing out ideas can be a quick and visceral way of getting an idea out.
What musical education did you have and were there any areas of music that you focused upon more than others?
A Bachelor of music in saxophone performance from NIU (Northern Illinois University) Master of music from UNT (the University of North Texas) and from USC the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program certificate.
Going back to PROXIMITY, how many times did you look at the movie before you began to formulate any ideas about the music and where it should be placed to best serve the picture?
To be honest many times over the course of 4 years. I even got to visit set while they were shooting, but I never read a script. Only saw storyboards beforehand which for me was plenty.
Is it important for a score to have core theme, and do you work this out first and then develop the remainder of the score around it or does this vary from project to project?
I think a main theme is a great starting point and any additional themes that can be woven in for the most important characters and or anything that can only be explained through music or a feeling that is unspoken.
COMING TO AMERICA ll, is next on your agenda, but after that what will you be moving onto?
I’m jumping back into the digital series “Our Star Wars Stories” for Lucasfilm which stopped production at the beginning of the Covid shutdowns.