VisitEureka.net recently had the opportunity to talk with Bear McCreary, Composer of the Eureka music. In this exclusive interview, McCreary discusses his influences and and introduction to the music industry, as well as, of course, his work on Eureka!
VisitEureka.net - You are a protégé of late film music legend Elmer Bernstein. Can you share some of your experiences with Bernstein?
Bear McCreary - My experiences with Elmer were extremely influential on me, both professionally and personally. I was thrilled with the opportunity to work closely with him at such a young age (we were first introduced when I was 16, an aspiring musician looking for university prospects). As I began to work for him, I was given many tasks, the first of which was to organize his entire collection of scores, parts, manuscripts, sketches and press clippings. Today, this body of works resides in a special collection at the University of Southern California Music Library, but when I first saw it, it was an imposing closet full of boxes and folders.
I spent an entire summer going throw them page by page, organizing by project or by year. This afforded me an unprecedented opportunity to study each score, compare the subtle differences between his hand-written sketches and the completed orchestrations, as well as sift through personal correspondence between Elmer and some of the greats of his generation. I learned more during these quiet hours of study then I did in 5 years of college study. Even more educational, were the many hours spent with Elmer himself as we worked. I would ask for as many stories of his life and experiences as the evening would allow.
My last summer working for him, he hired me to re-orchestrate his score for the 1968 Yul Brynner film "Kings of the Sun" (the original scores were studio property and had long since been lost). Despite having no release on video, the film had built up quite a fan base, and Elmer frequently received letters about it. He also asked me to orchestrate a concert suite, which he would play in concerts around the world. At the beginning of one such concert, broadcast on PBS, he introduced the work as an orchestration "by my friend Bear McCreary." Half my distant family members called that day, since they had no idea I'd been involved with him at all!
My orchestration of the complete "Kings of the Sun" was finally recorded in the fall of 2003, very near the time that I was first getting involved in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. To my knowledge, it was the last recording session Bernstein ever did. When he fell ill, we lost touch temporarily, as did many who were close with him.
I spoke with him a few weeks prior to his passing. Among other topics, I told him that I had a chance of becoming the sole composer on the upcoming Battlestar series. A few weeks later that opportunity solidified, of course becoming the integral component in my transition from aspiring amateur to professional. However, I was never able to tell Elmer about getting the show. He passed away the day I began work on the series.
VisitEureka.net - Do you have any other influences?
Bear - Growing up, I listened to a lot of contemporary film music. Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri were and still are very dear to me. However, in high school I began to discover the deeper roots of film music, the composers whose work influenced the composers I was listening to. I fell in love with the music of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann, whose unusual instrumentations were decades ahead of their time. I also discovered Nino Rota's scores around this time. Classical influences were mostly French, the lush orchestrations of Debussy and Ravel. Towards the end of high school I began to really appreciate pop music as well, especially Queen, Oingo Boingo and Pink Floyd, whose music is very narrative, almost cinematic. I also got into Guns N' Roses and Rage Against the Machine, the influence of which can be heard in the second and third seasons of Galactica.
VisitEureka.net - Was your ability to compose a natural gift or the result of years of training?
Bear - I have always known that I wanted to compose, even before I was any good at it. Movies have been my passion for as long as I can remember, so it seems only natural that I'd combine the two. As for "years of training," that helps, but my formal training at the university level only provided the tools. I've spent virtually my entire life writing music, either for fun, for performance or for picture. If you do something your entire life, you're bound to get good at it. I've never had any hobbies that aren't musical. Music isn't a day job for me; it's a lifestyle, almost a religion. You have to do it everyday to be any good. Luckily for me, I've always enjoyed being involved with music, so it never felt like work.
VisitEureka.net - Tell us about your experience scoring the second season of Eureka.
Bear - The second season of Eureka was an incredible challenge. First and foremost, it made me realize how out-of-shape my comedy chops had become. In college, I scored over 30 student films and indie projects, many of which were zany comedies or full-fledged musicals. However, in the intervening couple years, I had focused my energies on Battlestar Galactica. As a result, I hadn't approached comedic scoring at all. So, the transition was awkward at first, but ultimately felt like a release. Besides, it finally gave me an excuse to play lots of accordion, which is my main instrument!
The producers and writers of Eureka were extremely supportive. At my first meeting with Jaime Paglia, before I was hired, I was clear that I wanted to re-invent the soundscape of the show. I felt that the characters needed recognizable themes, and that the series itself needed a trademark sound. Jaime and I were definitely on the same page, and reaction to my score for the first episode was unanimously positive.
My approach for the score was to leave the crazy Sci Fi elements alone. I wanted the music to underscore the character relationships, and the small-town setting. As a result, the score has an intimate, warm tone blended with folky-blue-grass riffs. However, because this is no ordinary small town, there are, of course, some oddities in the ensemble. In addition to the woodwinds, strings and guitars, I layered in 80s and 90s synthesizer textures, inspired by the 8-bit and 16-bit video game consoles of my youth. So, the score could best be described as chamber-orchestra meets blue-grass / zydeco meets 80s-new-wave meets Super Mario Brothers... if that makes any sense at all.
VisitEureka.net - Please share with us the process an episode goes through for the score.
Bear - I generally look at an episode with producers (a process called "spotting" an episode) once it's locked, or very closed to locked. We watch it through and make notes about what the music should be, what role it should play, and above all, what emotion it should evoke. From that point, I got to my studio where I write all the music. The score from there moves to my music team, where it's orchestrated, printed, prepped and brought to the recording sessions. After we record live musicians it gets mixed and delivered to the dub stage in stems, meaning that it's been split out into layers. The producers then hear it and make comments, and we're able to make quick changes on the fly and perfect it before it's finally mixed with sound effects and dialog.
VisitEureka.net - One of your passions is Science Fiction. How does it feel to be playing a big part in producing successful sci-fi movies and series'?
Bear - It's incredibly rewarding. I have always loved science fiction, and it's truly an honor to be able to give back to the genre that has meant so much to me.
VisitEureka.net - I'm a big fan of Battlestar Galactica, and the music is absolutely fantastic. I was extremely happy to hear you were going to be scoring Eureka. Was it difficult to avoid making the Eureka score similar to Galactica?
Bear - Not at all. So much of Galactica's sound is defined by it's instrumentation. So, when you get rid of the duduks, bagpipes, taiko drums and sitars... it doesn't really sound like the show anymore. But, even more importantly, the character of the Eureka music is very different. Even the action and suspense cues remain lighthearted. Galactica is very dark, very heavy. Eureka has it's own style and from the beginning I set out to honor that.
VisitEureka.net - On your website, your biography states that your greatest honor was having your Battlestar Galactica score parodied in two pivotal episodes of South Park. Why is this your greatest honor?
Bear - Come on. I love South Park. I flipped when I heard my music on it.
VisitEureka.net - Where do you see your talents taking you in the next few years?
Bear - I'd love to do more live concerts, like I did at the Roxy this spring. So many Galactica fans turned out to hear us play the score in concert. It was an incredible thrill.
VisitEureka.net - Are there any TV shows you would love to score for?
Bear - That's a tough one, because I'm on three of the best tv shows out there already!
VisitEureka.net - Second season had a very dark tone to it, but Eureka will be returning to the lighter tone of the first season. How will you approach this change in terms of music?
Bear - It's a bit too early to tell, since I haven't seen the first episode of Season 3 yet. But, the comedic tone of the series has been set. Despite all the dark undertones of Season 2, we had many opportunities for upbeat, zany, bizarre music. I'm looking forward to doing more!