Can we start with one of your recent scores which is for The Sandman -season 1, how did you become involved on the project?
I am not 100% sure how I got on their radar, but I do know they were looking for someone who had an eclectic range and could meet the varying tonal needs of The Sandman. It’s a genre-bending story, so they wanted someone who was nimble and could move between orchestral writing to ambient textures and everything in between. I think my CV shows me as someone who has worked in a range of styles so I imagine that must have helped.
There are ten episodes in the first season of The Sandman, did you work on each episode in the order that it was to be released, or were you scoring different episodes as and when the schedule dictated?
It was all over the place, although I did start on episode 1 first which I was glad about. But then I was really at the mercy of the shooting schedule and visual fx.
The score is available on digital platforms, will there be a physical release as in a CD or maybe an LP?
I have not heard any plans for anything other than a digital release, but I love the thought of an LP – something classy and timeless about that!
What size orchestra did you have for the project, and how much music approx.; did you compose for the series?
In its fullest version, there were 40 strings, double woodwinds, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 bass trombone & tuba. Plus choir, piano, harp and percussion. And then of course all the sound design elements and specialist instruments I used along the way as I was scoring. There are occasions when all forces are full utilized, but also lots of quiet moments with just one or two instruments. It was really nice to explore a fully dynamic range in the show – never was there a need for me to be in your face all the time.
I think there are seven different directors who worked on the series, is it difficult working with more than one director as maybe each director has a different idea regarding the music?
Although the show has a very English feel with predominantly English actors (and I assume directors), the show was in post-production in LA and therefore followed the American convention of television production where the composer has virtually no interaction with the directors. The show runner and producers were my bosses, and it was to them that I was answerable.
I suppose the next question is will there be a season 2 and will you continue as composer?
After all the hard work everyone put into this it would be wonderful to hear there was a second season. I know there are a lot more stories to tell and the writer’s room is raring to go. I would love to continue as composer if asked.
You have scored feature films television series and video games, what would you say is the most striking difference between scoring a series and writing music for a video game?
I’ve only done a few game scores and although I enjoyed the experiences enormously, I don’t find the non-linear storytelling of games particularly satisfying. By that I mean the player gets to dictate how the story unfolds – to some extent – due to their skill and decision making.
So it’s harder to make longer-term musical structures. Even though television schedules can be brutal, at least you you can get a feel for the contour of the drama by reading scripts. Ultimately scripted drama suits me better.
When working on a long running series such as Evil and The Good Fight for Paramount+ do you ever recycle music cues from earlier episodes into more recent ones and how many episodes in advance of them being aired are you scoring them?
Yes and No. Sometimes a cue from an earlier episode works really well and if it does the job, why not? But for this season of The Good Fight (the final one), for example, I am pushing the music into a slightly new space, so no recycling there. And there’s only a week between spotting the episode and delivering the score, so it’s about is tight as it gets.
Batman Arkham Knight you scored alongside Nick Arundel, was this a collaboration or did you each contribute separately to the score. And can I ask the same question regarding Jason Bourne, you worked with John Powell on this, again was it a collaboration or what was your role on the score?
We contributed separately. I am not sure how possible it is for two composers to literally co-write a single piece of music. I’ve co-wrttien numerous scores and it’s mostly ended up being a division of labour. With both Batman Arkham Knight and Jason Bourne there was a musical language firmly established in previous instalments so it was my job to be faithful to the source while putting my own spin on it (when I was allowed).
What musical education did you receive, and was writing music for film, tv etc something that you set out to do as a career or did it just kind of happen as you began your musical career?
I was a cathedral choir boy in the UK and then I studied music at Cambridge University. As a child I performed on the score to The Last Temptation of Christ by Peter Gabriel, and I think that gave me my first taste for film scoring. So yes, I’ve probably always wanted to do it – started writing music for theme parks and toilet roll commercials and worked my way up from there.
Are you from a family background that is musical as in any performers or composers in your family, and what are your earliest memories of any type of music?
My mother wanted to be an opera singer, but her old-fashioned parents didn’t deem that a proper job so she became a teacher of music. Her father was Indian so I was introduced to non-Western music as a child, and my father was a lover of jazz, a love that we shared while he was alive. I still find myself playing a little jazz piano after a couple of beers once in a while.
What composers, artists etc would you say have either influenced you or inspired you to do what you do?
Richard Harvey is a prolific British composer and multi-instrumentalist. I sang on his eco-oratorio The Plague & Moonflower as a child, and it left a huge mark on me. I got in touch with Richard after I left university and he took me under his wing and helped me to break into Hollywood. I consider myself very fortunate to call him a friend and he frequently lends his talents by playing on my scores (including The Sandman). Harry Gregson-Williams took the baton from Richard when I moved to LA and really helped me get on the map. He oversaw my first couple of features (the little-known but excellent horror movie, Blood Creek directed by Joel Schumacher and the fun Asian fantasy flick, The Forbidden Kingdom).
I owe a huge amount to Harry, and again, I am so fortunate that he remains interested and supportive in what I do. There are others too: John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and John Ottman, all of whom I have worked with and have learned so much from. Having said which, I’m not someone who listens to film music for pleasure. Sometimes for work it’s necessary to check out this score or that, but if and when I get the chance to listen to music it would likely be either 16th century vocal music or an obscure classical composer or band.
I’m a firm believer that we are influenced by every single thing that we have experienced in the past – it all leads us to make the the creative decisions we now choose – me singing in a choir, the Dixieland jazz my father played, the tabla player who performed at my grandfather’s garden party – they are all influences whether conscious or subconscious.
A few of your scores are available on digital platforms, do you like to be involved with these releases ie; selecting what tracks will represent your scores etc on the release?
Yes. For me this is a hugely important part of the process. If there is time, I try and put a gap between finishing a score and putting an album together as I like to re-experience the music away from the product for which it was created. By doing so, it’s easier to let things go and make edits, etc, as one forgets (some) of the tortuous process that bought the music to life in the first place. Ie, it’s important for me to look at and appraise the music as its own entity as that is exactly what listeners will be doing.
Walking With Walken was a short film you scored back in 2001, how did you get involved on this and is it more difficult to establish a musical persona on a short as opposed to a series or a motion picture, because of the running time of the film?
Blimey – that’s a LONG time ago. I was just starting out and I’d do anything back then to get a credit. I think I put my name up on a website and said I would score your film for 4 cans of beer, and I got the gig. I remember the short being quite good and funny, but I don’t recall anything else about it. I’ve done a few shorts since then, and broadly speaking I approach it just as I would anything else. Yes, there’s a quicker and more concise journey with a short, but I don’t really do anything differently.
Your scores I think are very varied but there is still something within that say this is David Buckley, Do, you think it is important to try and infuse a certain style into your works, and what is your opinion of the increased use of the so-called soundscape approach to scoring movies, with thematic music becoming less frequent on scores?
It’s nice to know you hear something that says David Buckley in my various scores – I can’t think of a higher compliment. However, I think the quest to find your voice is an eternal one and I will always keep looking. Sometimes you get to express yourself more eloquently and sometimes you have to play the politics game. I was fortunate in The Sandman to be able to write as I felt and I wasn’t pushed around too much.
I have no problem with soundscape scores. One of the great things about this art-form is that it is an evolving one. 60 years ago all film scores would have been orchestral – some truly outstanding music was written back then, and of course John Williams is still working in that same tradition today. But in the last few decades we have hugely expanded the sonic pallet and have cut the umbilical cord to 19th century operatic traditions which was feeding scores since their inception. And I think movie and tv shows and games are all the better for having these increased resources available to them. I can’t remember a note of the Chernobyl score, but I thought the series was outstanding and score played a huge part in that. I also think people need to get over the notion that ’soundscape’ scores are easy to do and their composers are lazy. When done well, with thought and detail, they can take just as long to create as an orchestral score. And let’s not forget, just because a composer hires an orchestra, it doesn’t automatically make the music good.
Do you conduct at all, and do you like to orchestrate your own scores if that is possible?
I have no interest in conducting. I prefer to be in the booth to hear what is being recorded; I can then give my notes to the conductor. Also, I’m a shit conductor! I orchestrate my own music. Sometimes I have an orchestrator credited on my score – his job is to translate all my midi data into a legible format, but he is not making any orchestration decisions – the detail is written by me. That’s not to say that my ‘orchestrator’ is not a skilled and valued collaborator, but the job-description is a bit misleading.
Is there a set routine that you like to follow when working on a score, for example is it a case of working from opening titles through to end credits or do you like to tackle larger cues first or even establish a core theme on which you can build the remainder of the score?
It varies on every project. I don’t typically like to work sequentially as I normally find I get better results when I enter the project from a key scene, or somewhere were I can properly establish a theme or a vibe. It’s nice to spend as much time as possible being non-committal. Television schedules aren’t helpful with that notion as they require you to pump things out pretty rapidly. But when I work on something with a slightly luxurious schedule I enjoy having the opportunity to make wrong turns and then get back on track.
One of your up-and-coming projects is for Kandahar, can you tell us anything about what type of score you will be writing for this?
So far it’s a pretty ambient affair – organic textures, analogue synths, ambient guitars, upright piano and a few VERY subtle middle-eastern influences. Absolutely no orchestra or pounding taiko drums. The director, Ric, wants to avoid the score sounding too Hollywood and is in favour of a more Indi, dusty sound while still supporting the thriller qualities of the film. Got to finish it up in a month, so we’ll see where it ends up!
Many Thanks to David Buckley for his time and brilliant answers.