Music develops everything that surrounds us. The music we listen to in many ways is the soundtrack of our lives. Certain songs can capture that essence of whatever emotion we are currently going through better than anything else. When people and words don’t comfort you, it is often those songs that hit home that are always there for some of us lucky ones.
In entertainment such as movies and television, this is very true. The music can provide the ambiance that helps tug the viewers within the passion of what the characters are playing out on the screen, touching that part of us that makes us forget this is just television.
For the show Dawson’s Creek, it in many ways defined a generation. It broke away from that often predictable, often too far-fetched 90210 type teen drama. It had a certain realistic romantic appeal to it in all aspects. The show was lead by an incredible up and coming cast that played out their characters to teenage perfection, we often felt like we were living in that coastal town of Capeside. Katie Holmes and her portrayal of Joey Potter, is by far one of the best performances I have ever seen in acting. She was magic on that show. Creator Kevin Williamson took a lot of his own life stories and poured that into the series, which is maybe why is felt so real, because for Williamson, it was. What also made Dawson’s Creek stand out, was its use of music. Each scene seemed to have the perfect song to go along with it. A large part of that was due to Adam Fields. He was the man behind the music score and successfully used music to paint the feelings and emotions behind the characters of this sleepy town. Here is a little bit about the man behind the music of Dawson’s Creek.
David: How did your career as writing music begin and how was the journey along the way?
Adam Fields: I have been writing music since I was thirteen. Back then, I didn’t have any formal training. I used to just sit down at the piano and make stuff up. My parents used to playfully argue about where the musical ability came from because, oddly, no one in my immediate or extended family was involved with music. I finally decided to get some formal musical education at Kent State University, graduating with a Bachelors of Music in Composition. From there, I traveled to Los Angeles, where I attended a one-year program at USC called Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television. It is here that I met an extremely important figure in my life—Richard Bellis, a composer and teacher at USC. When the program was over, he asked me to come work for him, and for about 5 years, I was his assistant. In those years, I learned a lot about the art of scoring for TV and film, but more importantly, I was in the presence of one of the kindest and most generous people I could have hoped to meet.
David: So how did all of that lead you to become involved with writing and performing the score music for Dawson’s Creek?
Adam Fields: Working with Richard eventually led to my own projects, and for a couple of years, I contributed music to several independent films [most of them played on cable only]. In 1997, I wrote the score for a film called Lovelife, which was written and directed by Jon Harmon Feldman. He approached me at the end of the project and told me he was going to write for a new show called Dawson’s Creek. He said the most he could promise me was that he’d submit my demo tape in with the others on Paul Stupin’s desk. About a week later, I got a call from Paul saying that my tape had the exact kind of music they had been looking for. This was one of the extremely rare instances when a demo tape actually got me a job—it usually does not happen that way. I felt very lucky.
David: Can you take us through the basic process of a day with you working on the score music for an episode or season of Dawson’s Creek?
Adam Fields: The pace of TV is very quick. We would be called into the offices on Thursday to view and spot a new episode. Spotting is where the producers, music supervisor, music editor, and composer sit down and decide where music needs to go in each scene. I would then take the video home and begin composing for the episode. By Monday morning, I would have a first draft of the score completely, and I would assemble a demo version of it for the producers to hear. Over the next couple of days, I would make changes to the music based on the producers’ notes. Then on Wednesday or Thursday night, I would record the score. The next day, it was back into the offices to spot the next episode.
David: Did you work closely with Kevin Williamson in the early stages of the show and Paul Stupin then throughout the series? What was your relationship like with them?
Adam Fields: Funnily enough, I have never to this day met Kevin Williamson. All of my interaction was with Paul. He was a producer who cared deeply about every aspect of the show, encouraging all of us to work hard.
David: So did you work directly on the set and did you draw inspiration from the actual acting of the scenes?
Adam Fields: They filmed Dawson’s Creek in North Carolina, but all of the post work was done here in LA. In fact, the only actor I ever met was Joshua Jackson. Inspiration used came from a multitude of sources. Sometimes it was, indeed, the acting—particularly the performance of Katie Holmes.
David: To me what made Dawson’s Creek unique was the attention the staff paid to music and pairing the right music for each scene, whether it was the score music or other music. It seemed the music was indeed trying to capture a level of innocence. Was there a lot of input from other people, or were you basically trusted to come up with everything solely on your own.
Adam Fields: Input would usually come after I turned in my first draft. Paul, in particular, was a huge fan of themes and melody, often encouraging me to come up with new and different themes for the characters.
David: When I listen to your score music alone without the scenes, I can paint the images of the characters and their traits or the setting of the show right in my head. To me, that is incredibly special and unique. Is that something that you wanted to achieve with your pieces of score music or does it just turn out that way?
Adam Fields: It was always my intention to create a tone and mood for the show. And throughout the four seasons that I worked on the show, I attempted to give the characters their own themes, in the hopes it would help integrate and unify the themes and characters.
David: That reminds me of a question. I’m curious as to why your score music didn’t appear in season two or three. Why weren’t you involved in those seasons?
Adam Fields: When the first season ended, the producers decided they wanted to experiment with the sound of the show, and try hiring different composers. When season four came along, they then decided that they missed the original sound of the show, and hired me back.
David: Was it difficult to come back and write the score music after missing season’s two and three and rejoining for season four? Were you quickly able to grasp how the characters have changed and evolved?
Adam Fields: It took me a few episodes to get back into the swing of things, but despite the characters having changed and evolved—I felt there was a still an innocence about them and the show.
David: Back to the music. You seem to use a lot of piano and guitar work in writing your score music. Are those two instruments what worked best for this show?
Adam Fields: The show, especially in the beginning, needed a very light touch, a melodic touch. When I viewed the pilot for the first time, it had such an innocence about it. I like to be very sparse sometimes in my composition, and acoustic guitar often helped me achieve that.
David: What is the process you used to lay down the tracking? Is it ever tedious when you have to record each piece of instrumentation and then edit it all together?
Adam Fields: I would track the music at home using a small midi set-up that I’ve got. Then on Wednesday or Thursday nights, I’d go to a way better studio owned and operated by Ed Kalnins and he would record and engineer the music there. That is where we would record the live musicians. [Two guitar players, and a woodwind player]
David: Were you a fan of the show yourself and not just a worker of the show? How did you feel about the show and how do you feel about it now?
Adam Fields: I own the Season One DVD, and occasionally, I do check out a re-run or two. The show was an important part of my life. My favorite season was the first—all of it was filmed before the public got a chance to see it, and it has a real innocence and uniqueness about it.
David: This question might be crazy, but did you feel like a part of Capeside and a part of these kids’ life on the creek, because your score music seems to really pull together the show and I get the impression you poured a lot of yourself into the music.
Adam Fields: I used to joke with Paul that I wanted a walk-on part, just so I could be in Capeside for a day. But yeah, you sort of feel like you are part of their lives after a while.
David: Most TV shows or drama’s, no one knows about the score composer and no one really cares. You are an exception though. Why do you think your score music was so successful and are you surprised how it all turned out?
Adam Fields: I am very flattered and humbled by your question. But it’s difficult to answer. I am mostly just grateful that people responded. I think the best thing that came out of the show for me were the letters I received from people all over the world. The music meant something to them, and that they took the time to write and tell me really touched me.
David: Now that the series has ended, what are your greatest memories from the show that you can take with you forever?
Adam Fields: My fondest memories are working with the live musicians at the recording sessions. They were incredible players, and we used to just have a blast—talking and joking around in between takes. And my engineer Ed, is a great guy. Really fun to work with. He’s a composer as well, so he really understands how to produce a great-sounding score.
David: Have you been approached by other shows to compose score music for them?
Adam Fields: Not as of yet. The business is extremely competitive. I am currently looking for a new show to compose music for.
David: So what are you up to now? I read you want to be heavily involved in film and work with your brothers. Is this your next goal as a professional and how are things coming along with it?
Adam Fields: I work with my two brothers as part of a screen writing team. We’ve produced a few pilots over the last few years [none have made it to air]. It’s a real roller coaster ride, many ups and downs, but we’re determined to get something on the air, or in theaters, one day. I also continue to look for music work.
Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist
Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.
Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.
We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.
Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?
We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.
How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?
The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process. We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.
Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?
I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing.
Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?
It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP. To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.
You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?
Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area, so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.
Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?
I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.
What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?
Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.
And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?
We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.
You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?
We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.
I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?
Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!!
I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.
What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?
We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!
Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.
Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool
We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single
On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.
It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.
I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.
Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.
They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.
“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves– Jenna maranga, okay cool
Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”
“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?
Listen to “Back To You”