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.
Dreams and Devotion: An interview with Strung Out’s Jason Cruz
For Strung Out’s Jason Cruz, art is more than just the music he’s known for. It’s the dreams and emotions he writes and paints as well.
For almost 30 years, Jason Cruz has been synonymous with the art he’s been crafting. That art of course, is his work as songwriter and vocalist for Simi Valley melodic punk rock outfit Strung Out, who since 1990, have been writing hard-hitting, emotionally-charged music that became part of the wave that brought punk’s into the mainstream consciousness in the mid-1990s. Strung Out’s three albums of that decade, 1994’s Another Day in Paradise, 1996’s Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues, and 1998’s Twisted By Design, proved to be the perfect answer to those who sought out the deeper underground of punk that bellowed below the surface of Green Day’s Dookie and Offspring’s Smash.
For many listeners like myself, Strung Out and many of their Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph brethren meant a world of new music wrapped in the subcultures of skateboarding, surfing, punk attitudes, and a vibrant urgency that echoed sounds of rebellion and independence. While pop culture acceptance for just about any form of art and music seems fleeting, Strung Out have never wavered from what they do; now three decades into their history and nine albums deep into an ever-impressive catalog. Songs of Armor and Devotion is perhaps the band’s finest work since they first burst onto the scene. Composed, yet still breathing fire, its tracks still exhibits that “debut album energy” but comes with the benefit of the wisdom of touring, writing, and experiencing the world three decades over.
However, for Jason Cruz, art is more than just Strung Out. He has quietly and not so quietly been honing his craft as an artist and a painter, coming to light on a musical front by painting the cover art to his band’s 2011 “Best Of” album Top Contenders: The Best of Strung Out, and NOFX’s 2013 EP Stoke Extinguisher. But one look at the wide spectrum of art he’s painted and you can see that it’s more than just album covers. His painted work, like his music, seems to come from the same passion and emotion that drives his lyrics and songwriting. Now he embarks on a new chapter as a children’s book writer, taking inspiration from his daughter to write There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams, a bedtime story born in dreams.
We spoke to Cruz not long after the release of the band’s new album to talk about the long-lasting influence of Strung Out and to discuss his art and how they share the same creative head space. We also spoke about his upcoming art exhibit and his new book and the toll and triumphs of the tour cycle.
Congrats on Songs of Armor and Devotion. It’s stellar work; how do you all feel about the release and response to the record?
Cruz: I’m glad people are digging the tunes. I’m anxious to get em out on the road and see what they turn into. See if I can keep up with RJ. It feels like another new level to explore.
But you’ve been busy with a lot of projects- tell us a little bit about the children’s book you have written? It was inspired by your daughter?
Cruz: The book is called There Are Such Things As In Your Dreams and it’s basically a bedtime story. My daughter just spoke the title one day as we hangin’ out having one of our talks and it stuck. I thought it was the most beautiful thing she ever said.
What’s the story of the book?
Cruz: It is basically a bedtime story trying to explain to a kid what the hell dreams are and how cool they can be. How the adventures you dream at night can only pale to the ones that await you when you wake kinda thing.
How long did it take to write and create the book?
Cruz: I worked on the story, which is more like a poem, and all the illustrations for just over two years. Anywhere I could set up and draw. In between shows, on planes, at the desk at home, wherever. Once I told the kid I was gonna do this book she made sure to ride me pretty hard about getting it done so she could take it to school and read it to the class.
What’s the approach like writing the book in comparison to writing songs for a new Strung Out record?
Cruz: Pretty similar process I guess since they both involve rhythm, flow and the use of imagery and imagination. With a song, it’s a collaborative process. Each member adds an element to construct this thing. With the book, it was all me. Inventing as I went along until I had enough elements to unify the idea as a whole. It’s a lot harder flying blind like that. I guess I kept this first attempt as simple as possible for that reason.
Where can we buy the new book?
Cruz: All the usual modern day outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Baby. It will also be available on my site as well.
I’m looking at some of your art and I like how different the pieces are. For instance, the difference in emotion, style with pieces like “Choke”, “Rise & Fall”, and “Church Fix”. What are some of the things that inspire your art and what were some of the inspirations behind these pieces?
Cruz: Oh I guess just the love of doing is what really inspires me. To be an artist. To challenge myself. To learn my craft and grow. I could never stick to a certain style or look very long because I’m just too moody I guess. I need the freedom to move around and explore. Always trying ‘get it right’ whatever that means.
Is creating art a completely private and solo process for you?
Cruz: Completely. I guess that’s why it can be so maddening at times and so fulfilling at the same time. Like what nerve do I have to even attempt this?!?! What is this whole art thing?!?! Is this good?!?! And somewhere in between all that doubt, there is joy and fun. Problem solving and improvisation.
What are some of the things when looking back at this 20+ year career with Strung Out do you hold as the most important to you? Is it the records? The consistency with the work or the influence you’ve had for listeners around the globe?
Cruz: To be able to keep living my life in a such a way is all I can ever hope for. Making true connections. As long as I am a good person, as long as I am good to my muse and never take anything for granted and always be awake and alive I am grateful.
Is there one album you look back as particularly important to the band and yourself? Say one that you felt like thing were heading in the right direction?
Cruz: For me, I’d have to say it was the pseudo acoustic record we did called Black Out the Sky. That record was super important in our development as a band and as human beings. It kinda loosened any restraints we thought we had and really showed our fans and ourselves the possibilities of our union as a whole.
I’ve always loved Suburban Teenage and Twisted By Design because I think both records hit at the right time for me (I grew up in Indonesia and discovering your music was a big part in who I was and am); plus I learned that bands could hit hard just as much as they sang with emotion- but I think Songs of Armor and Devotion is very much in the same vein. What was the songwriting process like for Songs of Armor… and when did you guys start writing the record?
Cruz: It all happened really quick. Once we set aside the time to write and record we wasted no time and the ideas all came very fast and effortlessly – for the most part. We had a lot of ‘pent up‘ energy and angst I guess you say.
I love the song “Crows”- did you feel like it was a great stand-alone song- were there reasons why you didn’t want to put it on a record?
Cruz: Who knows? Looking back I don’t even remember. It seemed like it didn’t really fit anywhere but it was too good to just let go, so yeah, that song is kinda like a sad pretty little island.
You’ve got an exhibit coming up in October that will showcase your art and your new children’s book. Is the process of creating a new exhibit the same for you as say, planning an upcoming tour? What can we look forward to at the exhibit?
Cruz: Luckily I have help from some really great people. I’ll be painting up until the last minute so any and all help is greatly needed and appreciated. Along with the illustrations from the book I will also have on display a series of new oil paintings.
Steve Caballero is also part of the exhibit, was it a natural process working together with Steve on this? How did this come together?
Cruz: Steve is a blossoming artist and a great human being. I guess I just got extremely lucky on this one.
Strung Out have a North American tour coming up with The Casualties. How’s life on the road these days, are you guys all still enjoying being on the road?
Cruz: Ask me that on the last week of the tour and you’ll get a different answer than now.
I got to see you guys twice the last couple of times you were down in Australia; will we see you here sometime next year?
Cruz: Yes, I believe something big is in the works for Spring.
Do you have a road map for the next few years or are you happy with playing things as they come?
Cruz: It’s more a map of the ocean and I am chained to the wheel.
Jason Cruz’s Fine Art Exhibition and children’s book launch takes place Friday, October 25th, 2019 at the Copro Nason Gallery in Los Angeles. Tickets can be booked here. More information can be found on Jason Cruz’s official website. Strung Out’s new album, Songs of Armor and Devotion, is out now on Fat Wreck Chords.
All Work and All Play: An interview with The Drowns
The Drowns prove that having the right work ethic goes a long way
It’s been a busy year for Seattle punks The Drowns. The band, whose individual histories stretch back some 20 years, are a rough and tumble blend of street punk bravado and positive attitude that found its footing with their 2018 debut album View From the Bottom. With tours, festivals, and new music already checked off in 2019, The Drowns put the “work” in working class rock n’ roll with no rest in sight. Fresh off the release of a new 7″ titled The Sound, the band are prepping for their first ever Japanese tour in October and are working on their new full-length album due in the near future.
On top of the globe trotting, the band will take part in this year’s Rock The Ship Festival, their label’s annual punk rock escapade on the high seas, anchoring a lineup that includes noted bands like Cock Sparrer, CJ Ramone, and Subhumans. We spoke to vocalist Aaron Rev about the new 7″, the terrific street punk anthem “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”, and what they’re looking forward to next to cap off an already packed 2019.
I really enjoyed the new 7”- how has the reception been, and how are you guys feeling about these new songs?
Rev: Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. So far, so good. The reception has been incredible. And we love the new songs. We just got back from a month and a half tour, and the new jams went over great.
It sounds like the band is very in tune right now and that things have continued to go strong since the debut album?
Rev: Totally. We also have a pretty intense work ethic, so right when we are finished with something we are already working on what’s next. Just keeping the ball rolling.
The songs on the new 7” SOUND amazing- where did you guys record and produce the record?
Rev: We working with our brother Jesse O’Donnell from the band Noi!se at his studio the Autopsy Room in beautiful Tacoma WA. Working with Jesse was great. He’s a great guy, and a great engineer. He’s really got an ear for this type of music, and he pours his heart in to it.
What’s the story behind “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier”?
Rev: I live in the south end of Seattle. Years ago I moved to a neighborhood called Georgetown. It was incredible. Tons of artists living in a kind of shitty area, just for cheap rent so they could keep creating. When I’d first moved there, it really was one of the greatest points in my life. I was surrounded by incredible people who inspired me to create. But, we all started to see the gentrification coming, because nothing that great could last forever. The Georgetown neighborhood has a huge building in the middle of it called Rainier Cold Storage, where they used to make and store Rainier Beer. They ended up tearing part of the building down, and for me that symbolized the beginning of the end of what we had. When they were tearing it down, I broke in at night and stole some bricks for the old building, and when I have them around, they serve as reminders to carry the spirit of what we once had along with me wherever I go.
You’ve been playing a bunch of shows over the last few months- how have they been? How are these new songs translating to the live setting?
Rev: The shows have been CRAZY! We’ve gotten tons of support and a great reception to all of the new material. It was a killer tour.
For those who may not be familiar yet, share with us a little history of the Drowns.
Rev: We were all friends in different bands, and we’ve all been in the game for 15-20 years a piece. Our respective bands started to slow down, so we all decided to start a project together. Also, not many bands we knew of were playing the style we wanted to play. So we got together, started writing, and just haven’t stopped.
Are you guys splitting time between Seattle and LA?
Rev: Our drummer Jake lives in LA so we just fly him back and fourth to accommodate, and we head down there. With the internet, it’s surprisingly easy to keep a long distance band going these days.
Speaking of Seattle, I saw on your Twitter that some of you were at a Sounders game- is soccer the sport of choice for The Drowns?
Rev: Totally. Huge soccer fans. MLS and Premier League. Some of us are big hockey fans too.
It’s funny because I felt that “The Bricks of Ol’ Rainier” has that stadium anthem feel to it (at least in my head), that its a great song for thousands of people to sing together.
Rev: Hell ya. I’ve worked with the Sounders in the past with my old band. I’d live to have The Downs work with them. It’d be a perfect fit.
Pirates Press has been releasing some great music this year; you guys are in great company. What were some of the reasons for choosing Pirates Press as the new home for your music?
Rev: First and foremost, they are incredible people over there. You be hard pressed to find any other label active right now that gives a shit as much as they do. They are hands on, they are passionate, and they care about the bands, and the music, and the fans. They are truly a great example of how a label should be run.
You were at Punk Rock Bowling this year- how was it? It’s such a massive looking festival from the outside- Did you guys have fun?
Rev: It was KILLER! The lineup this year was insane. The setup of the festival this year was perfect. And, we were crazy surprised when we started playing at 3:30pm and right after we hit that opening chord and turned around, there was a sea of people! We felt so humbled by how many people cane to see us. It was insane.
Are there already plans for a new full-length to follow View From the Bottom? What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Rev: We are definitely always working. So you can bet that you’ll hear about new material soon. But for now, we are going to hit Europe and Japan later this year. And keep on moving.