After an unforgivably long absence due to a rather blissful vacation, I’ve finally made may way back to AICN-town with a monster interview that I hope will make up for lost times.
Joseph LoDuca is one of those rare eclectic composers who seem to have a hand in so many different projects from feature films, television series, mini-series, etc.
Based in Michigan, his sound is as colorful and diverse as anybody in the field. Geeks of the world will most invariably know him best as the composer for THE EVIL DEAD (1981), other Sam Raimi directed ventures like EVIL DEAD II (1987) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992), as well as Raimi produced television series such as “M.A.N.T.I.S.” (1994), “Hercules-The Legendary Journeys” (1994-1999), “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001), and “American Gothic” (1994-95).
I had the opportunity to talk with Joseph at length about his career. Enjoy!
ScoreKeeper: Many AICN readers are fans of your work on THE EVIL DEAD (1981), so I’d like to go back to the beginning of your career and work our way up to your more recent projects. How did you hook up with Sam Raimi – which led to you scoring his debut film?
Joseph LoDuca: Well, that fateful day occurred because I was working with a gentleman who was a filmmaker, but his day job was to produce traffic films for the Michigan Department of State.
Somehow he got involved with raising money for THE EVIL DEAD for that crazy triumvirate, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell. He was one of these guys who was involved in the entertainment business in our area.
So I got to talking with him and he said ‘When you grow up, what would you like to do with music?’ I said, ‘You know, I think I’d be good at scoring for films,’ but it was a comment that was completely off-hand. It never consciously entered my mind before I uttered it.
Within a matter of weeks, I was sitting down with Sam, Rob, and Bruce and they said ‘Would you like to do this movie? Can you make some scary sounds?’ I said ‘Sure.’ So I went off into the studio and did a little demo and they liked it and the rest was history.
It was the first film I had ever scored. It was the first film score that Sam had ever done. We just kind of figured out how to do it. I guess I was stupid enough or stubborn enough or smart enough, in retrospect, to actually take on the assignment.
It was very interesting. We spotted the film in his mother’s den, eating popcorn, talking about the movie and laughing a lot.
SK: Was that your first introduction to the film or did you read a script before then?
JL: No, no, no. There was nothing…I never saw a script at any stage…Was there a script? (laughs)
SK: So the first time you saw the film was when you spotted it?
JL: Yes. It was really torturous, the technical side of it. This was before MIDI, before really using time code, so I was doing everything with a stop watch. They loaned me a three-quarter inch video tape deck that had no shuttle. So I’d rewind the tape and not know how far I had gone. I had no idea. It was torture.
SK: What did you think when you saw this film, sans music, for the first time?
JL: (long pause)….I don't remember. (laughs) I don’t remember what my reaction was. You know what it was, I liked Sam, Bruce and Rob enormously. I thought they had this ‘can-do’ kind of attitude. That’s what drew me into the process of collaboration. It was Sam who introduced me to (the music of) Bernard Herrmann. I had been hearing his music my whole life obviously, but never really knew it was him. I never really knew there was an aesthetic behind that. My references at that point, coming out of music school, would’ve been Bartok, Stravinsky, and Debussy.
SK: Looking back on THE EVIL DEAD…now that you have so much material behind you after twenty-five years of scoring films…do you think you had the advantage of an outsiders perspective? You had the attitude of just ‘go-for-it’, without the knowledge of knowing exactly what you had to do.
JL: It was all very crude. I hired a string quintet that was ‘going-for-it’ as well. I think there’s some sort of advantage in it. We were all in the same boat together. I think that’s one of the reasons why the film holds together in its strange way even now. Seeing it twenty-five years later, we pretty much concurred that we all felt very proud and very embarrassed. (laughs)
SK: (laughs) I can understand that. I’m sure you get this question a lot but you couldn’t have had any idea that this film would be the film it ended up being.
JL: No, no. For me, it gave me a way to pursue a life in music. A means to an end I had been working toward all along but hadn’t ever realized it.
By listening to and playing all different kinds of music, and having a literary background, and being a musician who enjoys interdisciplinary collaboration, it all came together. It was a great opportunity. I pretty much didn’t look back after that.
SK: Can you elaborate more regarding what goes through your mind when you watch THE EVIL DEAD today?
JL: The film is still very Raimi-esque. One of the reasons the music sounds like it does – there’s this really sappy, romantic love theme on the strings – is because that is something that Sam really loves. He loves to dig deep into the emotion so that it is operatic. It’s there for a reason. He was leading the way and I was just trying to keep up.
If I were to score that film today I would’ve done it totally different.
If they remake THE EVIL DEAD as they’ve been threatening to do, it could very well end up being something that is supposed to be contemporary. They’ll have a video game composer write sound design. It certainly wouldn’t be like this.
SK: What have you heard about the new version of THE EVIL DEAD? Is it a remake, a sequel?
JL: I have actually no idea. They’re batting the idea around. I don’t know who’s going to do it. The only thing that I perhaps understand, and I could be wrong, is that Sam has final say on everything. They’ll be his choices.
SK: You, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell all hail from Michigan. What’s in the water up there that creates highly creative, quirky artists? You all seem to be cut from the same cloth.
JL: Well, we’re all from Michigan and we’ve ended up on the same projects together and have continued working together. Bruce has done a lot of work and continues to do a lot of work with Sam and Rob. Obviously I have. So that sensibility and that language keeps growing and growing. We know what we’re talking about. We know that we can switch from melodramatic, operatic, to “The Three Stooges” at the drop of a hat. So that’s something that we don’t even have to talk about.
In terms of Michigan in general? Why does it spawn the creativity because it seems to be a relative outpost? I don’t know. Sometimes the roughness of the terrain…creativity is going to grow in spite of it. It’s going to be perhaps more unique in how it’s growing. There’s certainly a lot of examples in the music world, especially in Detroit. You know them all. There’s an amazing number of jazz artists in the 50’s, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, Eminem. It’s something that just continues. As difficult as this place can be it also seems to spawn creativity.
SK: You have maintained your entire career there in Michigan?
JL: Yeah. I travel as needed. But I’m raising a family in Michigan. It’s home. I travel for business as necessary. That’s generally been my line in the sand.
We opted not to move to Los Angeles.
SK: How easy, or how hard, was that? Was there ever a time, especially earlier in your career, that you were conflicted by whether or not to move to Los Angeles.
JL: It was more difficult earlier. But there was always enough here to keep things interesting and I think once we had a family we thought this was the ideal place. It was home and the environment that we knew.
So at every point, what I’ve done is utilize the most advanced technology that I could to make the distance irrelevant.
SK: I’d like to talk a little bit about ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992). Many film music fans cite ARMY OF DARKNESS among their favorite scores of yours. I wanted to ask you about Elfman’s role in the entire project. He composed the single piece “March of the Dead”. My first question is: I’ve always wondered whyhe was called in to write that one piece? Was he ever originally approached to compose the whole score?
JL: I don’t think so. I don’t know. It all happened before I came on board.
SK: When you were hired, how did his contribution affect what you did?
JL: Well, they had this one piece they were going to use in this one scene. It had been pre-scored – I think because Sam wanted something to shoot to. When I came on board it was going to be in that scene. There were no restrictions in terms of me having to use it any place else or adapt it in any way. At that point it was four or five minutes of music I didn’t have to write. (laughs)
SK: As Raimi’s career has evolved – and he’s obviously doing very well – you’ve maintained your association with him on a variety of levels. Since you were so attached to Raimi as his composer early in his career, why is it that he hasn’t turned to you later in his career with films like SPIDER-MAN (2002)?
JL: I can speculate as to why but I don’t really know. You’d have to ask Sam.
It still tends to be a very fruitful collaboration. The fact that after six or seven years doing – I forget how many hours, close to five-hundred hours of television in all those series. It’s a lot of work for the same guy. (laughs)
SK: Do you still have a good relationship with Sam today?
JL: Yeah, I was on the set about a month ago. Things are going great. It’s always fun to see what he has wrought because we go back. I remember how it all started. When I see him on a big film set with everybody scurrying around, I get a big kick out of that. I feel like a big kid. I’m really happy for him.
SK: Can you talk at all about your contributions to SPIDER-MAN 2?
JL: At the very end of the process there was some additional music that was needed. It was very, very quick. It was a couple of scenes. I think there were – you probably know better than I – four or five composers that were asked to contribute to try to fill some gaps and redo some scenes. I came in from out of town and got a phone call asking to contribute some music. That was it. It was all very quick and very close to the release date.
SK: Can you say which scenes in particular you scored?
JL: I don’t think any of my music ended up getting used.
SK: I’d like to talk now about your television scoring. There are so many things that fascinate me personally about your career. One of them is that you seem to be acrobatic enough to float between feature films, episodic television, mini-series, and you name it, fairly easily. That’s not something that a lot of composers do whether its by their choice or not.
Can you talk briefly about your work on “Xena: Warrior Princess” (1995-2001) and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” (1994-1999)? How did you get those gigs and what were your experiences like working on these two shows?
JL: Well “Hercules” came about right after ARMY OF DARKNESS. They had a pilot and, I think, a thirteen episode order already. I can’t remember…No, no. It was five TV movies! Five TV movies based on “Hercules” that spun off into a series that about a year later spun off into “Xena.” I was brought in to do the “Hercules” movies which then became the series. It was pretty much a continuous flow after ARMY OF DARKNESS, once again working for Renaissance Pictures.
When I was working on “Hercules” and “Xena,” I really didn’t think of it too much as working on episodic television. It was all orchestral in nature, a lot of it very grand. Sometimes we did comedies. We did all kinds of things. One of the reasons why I stayed in television and really didn’t venture outside of that commitment is because it was so interesting. The range of material that was covered and musically it was so much fun. I got so much support and so long of a leash. It was the pure joy of getting up the morning and writing and writing and writing…
When you’re on a television series that is doing well you can just work. It was very liberating.
SK: How long were you working on both shows simultaneously?
JL: The whole time! There were seven years of “Hercules” and six years of “Xena”…and “American Gothic” (1995) and “Young Hercules” (1998)…and a couple other pilots.
SK: That’s a lot of work! When both series finally ended was it welcomed?
JL: Life has to go on. That was when I had the opportunity to do BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF [LE PACTE DES LOUPES] (2001) which was great. That was a whole different approach even though I used a lot of the ethnic music lessons that I learned doing “Hercules” and “Xena.” I was working with a director who had a different aesthetic in a lot of ways. Christophe Gans is very distinctive in terms of the stylistic approach and his attitude toward music.
SK: That brings me to my personal favorite score of yours which is BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2001). I remember when that film came out and started generating a little buzz; Ain’t It Cool News was a strong champion of the film early on. How did you get involved with this project? I remember being pleasantly surprised seeing your name attached to this film. It’s so different than anything I’ve experienced from you.
JL: Well I had done another film for Christophe (NECRONOMICON) in ’93 or ’94. So he had called me to do (BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) and at the time it was a very iffy because we were finishing up “Hercules” and “Xena.” They had a number of delays in post which enabled the scheduling to work out. But I had already known Christophe and worked with him.
SK: I’d now like to come up to date and talk about one of your more recent projects, THE TRIANGLE (2005), which aired on the Sci-Fi Network. What would you tell people who have not yet seen the mini-series -- that this is something they should see?
JL: If you’ve always wondered about the Bermuda Triangle and perhaps what may have caused it and…(laughs) and your interested in having a lot of fun watching a lot of cockamamie ideas float around in a JFK kind of fashion, you’ve GOT to see this! It’s a wild ride.
SK: So many film composers seem to merely dabble in what sounds good, but your score for THE TRIANGLE seems to go much deeper than that. There’s numerological symbolism, mathematical compositional relationships, sound design, etc.
Did the producers of the project steer you in this particular direction or was this the result of you being allowed to explore the material yourself?
JL: Well, (pause) although Dean Devlin was the producer and I did work with him in a couple of different areas there, our director, Craig Baxley, really wanted to make sure that it was a contemporary sound while juggling the ideas that they wanted in the orchestra for the size and scope. They wanted to make it “an important TV event.” They felt that the nature of the project required something that was that broad in scope. So we knew we wanted orchestra, but yet we wanted a contemporary sound, and in some ways we wanted it to be minimal. There’s only one cue in the entire score that really sounds thoroughly traditional. So it was a real balance of trying to keep it sparse, keep it interesting, and keeping it full. That was the difference.
It’s about as deeply minimal as I’ve had the chance to get.
SK: This score seems to offer a wonderful blend of acoustical music, electronic music, and sound design. With so many different elements, what was your compositional process like? Which of these elements came first while you were scoring?
JL: I don’t know. That’s a good question. I think that until I hit upon some themes…(pause) For me I have to have some sort of conceptual construct of my own. That might be themes, it might be sounds, it might be a palette. Then I try to work from that. Then everything evolves. Once you can unlock a few major pieces of the puzzle, the other ones kind of fit into place.
SK: Can you elaborate more on how you incorporated the number three into the score?
JL: That happened kind of unconsciously. I knew that I wanted to have threes…because it was THE TRIANGLE. It turned out that when it came to writing this tender theme for the emotional, sort of feminine aspects of the story, fifty percent of the viewers that watched THE TRIANGLE on the Sci-Fi Channel were women which was unprecedented. I think there was a conscious effort in the script to go after that so that it wasn’t just the sci-fi geeks that watched.
Threes just kept coming up. I like them. I like threes and sixes and nines.
SK: When you approach a mini-series, do you treat it like episodic television or like scoring one big huge movie?
JL: With all projects, especially television projects, you have the additional constraints of time and money. THE TRIANGLE was a huge project with not a lot of time,…I forgot what I got on it…six weeks maybe? Six weeks.
I don’t even know how many hours of music was spotted. You have to conceive of it as ‘how am I going to be able to reuse some things?’, ‘how am I going to be able to recycle cues?’. It’s over three nights. There’s actually an advantage to that.
A lot of it is just based on time. You mentioned ARMY OF DARKNESS. That was done in three and a half weeks. Not because it had to be but because there was the delivery requirement that they were holding Sam’s feet to the fire on. Time and money dictate a lot of elements of the compositional process.
SK: I think one of the things that set you apart from other composers is the sheer eclecticism in your music. You have a jazz background, you're a guitar player, symphonic composer, orchestral conductor, etc.
You incorporate many different styles along with electronic elements, sound design, cultural elements, etc. and aren’t afraid to expand upon any one of these in any of your scores. How do you balance all of this yet still maintain a musical language that is still very characteristic of you?
JL: None of it is conscious I suppose. It’s just me. I think that any kind of music or any kind of sound I’ve ever heard is fair game. It’s really just a function of the people you’re working with where you’re going to take it.
SK: When you look back on your career, what are you most proud of?
JL: I think…really rather than pride…I try to think about the richest experiences. And that boils down to the people and projects. It’s not surprising to me that the projects that I’ve found most fulfilling, are with the people that I’ve enjoyed working with the most, that I’ve respected and learned a lot from, shared creativity from, and got along with. Those are the things that I can look back on and smile.
SK: What do you think you’ve learned along the way?
JL: (long pause)…Good question. If you pose that another way…What have I learned since THE EVIL DEAD?
I would think that very much there are some basics in my approach in my aesthetic that have not changed since then. But I would think that in the overall, in terms of being able to write a film score like a single composition, even though its comprised of all these different cues, thinking longer, bigger ideas, to think in terms of bigger constructs, and all the choices that get made along the way because of those, having those bigger views….I think that that would be the area that I would’ve developed most in.
SK: What projects do you have coming up?
JL: I just finished THE LIBRARIAN 2 for TNT for Dean Devlin. Jonathan Frakes directed. It’s about the world’s biggest nerd who guards the world’s treasures and always off on some adventure. Noah Wyle is the world’s biggest nerd. I just finished it and it will air in December. That along with THE LIBRARIAN will probably get into a volume CD release.
That and a couple other projects coming up. There’s some other things that’s probably a little too early to talk about just yet. It’s going to be a very interesting year.
On behalf of Ain’t It Cool News, I would like to extend a very warm and hearty thank you to Joseph LoDuca for taking the time out to talk with us.
We congratulate him on twenty-five incredible years of scoring for film and television and we’re looking forward to many more.
I’d also like to extend a special thanks to Beth Krakower for her assistance.
I’ll have a lot more interviews, reviews, and film-scoring news to post in the upcoming weeks.