Feels Like Home: An interview with Adam Fields

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.