An Interview with Fernando Velázquez by John Mansell © 2011
Fernando Velázquez is one of the handfuls of composers that have recently stirred more than a ripple of interest outside of the borders of his native homeland Spain. He was more or less catapulted into the spotlight when he produced the magnificent score for the movie DEVIL, Velezquez it seems is now one of the most sought after composers of film music world wide and is beginning to amass a veritable army of fans that are eager to hear more of this composers work. He not only has the ability to write dramatic and dark musical phrases, but also posses a real and rare talent to create lush, lavish and highly emotive tone poems when a project calls for them. At 35 he is an original and powerful force within the film music arena and enjoys every moment of a profession his says he is lucky to be in.
Can I begin by asking you, what was your first encounter with scoring film?
The first memory I have of “scoring” it was scoring the plays we used to do in school. Ever since I have been playing and composing music for theatre, short films… In fact, I used to play the organ in the church (sometimes I still do)… So I have always had this approach to music related to things “happening”. More seriously, the first “real” job was a short film by my very good friend Koldo Serra, called HÁCHAME (Axe-me), which we recorded with a four-track recorder, a midi keyboard and a guitar multi-effects. Which was a lot of fun.
DEVIL, is one of your more recent projects, this I understand was scored in Canada, what orchestra did you utilize, and will there be a compact disc of this excellent score?
The production was in some part Canadian, but we recorded in London, at Air Lyndhurst with the LMO. It was SUCH a great experience. You know, one can imagine music, and even make some “sampler” demos, but everything comes so alive if you can use such wonderful musicians as in London.
I think something might happen with a CD, but I prefer to wait until it is confirmed to give the good news.
You have scored a number of Horror movies and you have produced some great music for this genre. Are you not concerned about maybe getting typecast as a horror movie composer?
Well, I don’t consider myself more able to do genre music than any other kind of music. In fact, if I gained the consideration of some directors like J.A. Bayona it was precisely for the melodies more than for the loud chunky bits. I am aware of this danger and I hope I will have next opportunities to do comedies, dramas or other different kind of scores. Moreover, if this genre scores work well it is precisely because they have a beautiful-sad-nostalgic side, as in THE ORPHANAGE or JULIAS EYES. Well, in the DEVIL score there was not this opposite side, but there was so much amusement. This being said, I consider myself extremely lucky to do this for a living and I prefer to be grateful than much concerned.
Where and when were you born and are you from a family background that is musical?
I was born in Getxo, in the Basque Country in Spain, by the sea, November the 22nd (Santa Cecilia’s day, Saint Patron of the Musicians) in 1976. Although there is not any musician in my family, but they are all great music lovers and I was so lucky to have and older brother listening music all day long, so when he was out I could secretly play his Dire Straits, Moody Blues and all this great music on LPs.
What or who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
Any kind of good music. I have always played electric guitar with friends in bands when I was younger. So I had the chance to enjoy all this great music we used to hear… all Pop bands… Police, Dire Straits, Queen, Aerostmith… Well, the list would take several pages, as you can imagine, I adore this ‘Passion and Warfare’ Steve Vai album, and so many more… I was also amazed by Alan Parsons productions, and of course the Spanish traditional music. And above all this, I have always loved so called “classical” music. There was a time in my life when I was professional cello player (I studied for this in the music school), so I had this enormous luck of playing all these Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart (oh, Mozart), Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel… For a time I was a trainee in the orchestra at the Spanish opera theatre Teatro Real, and then I could play all these Puccini. The list might be endless. But, for instance, I can always remember shivers down my spine when I was playing in a youth orchestra ‘Zadok the priest’, one of the Anthems for the Coronation by Handel with a big choir. I am so lucky music has been always a part of my life. The Brahms clarinet trio, when I played with my friends …or… what about Dvorak’s 8th symphony? I am a lucky guy, doing what he likes for a living!
When starting work on a project, how do you proceed to work out your ideas, do you use piano, keyboard or a computer or maybe write straight to manuscript?
It really depends on the project, as sometimes, in these days you start directly trying to make a demo in the sequencer more than writing notes in a paper for yourself… but, for instance, today I was using paper and pencil. You never know, and this is partly one of the things I love of this job, every project is different and you need a new approach for each one. Sometimes they want to hear the whole movie as a demo, sometimes they don’t care. So it really depends.
When scoring a project, do you have a set way in which you tackle this, do you maybe do larger cues first, main theme through to end titles or concentrate on creating a central theme and then proceed to form the score around this?
Again, this really depends on each project. For instance, the DEVIL score is based on the opening credits music, in fact, the whole score is based on a cell of C-e flat-d-B which is really the axis of the whole score, and I composed first the credits, without caring too much about the rest of the movie. Once I saw the opening was working, I squeezed the whole score out from these four notes. I consider this a part of the fun of composing, to create my own rules and then follow them (and sometimes break them if I need to). On the other hand, a score like THE ORPHANAGE is based on the music of the ending of the movie. We fought hard to find a music that would work for the end and then worked backwards.
How much time do you normally have to score a feature film, or does this vary from project to project?
This can vary extremely from one project to another. For SHIVER, for instance, I had around 4 weeks (and I had to compose-demo-approval-orchestrate-record-mix in this time). I think many of us working on this paradoxically enjoy this suffering of tight deadlines. In other projects the deadline is more reasonable, like some two or three months, and in other chances there is not a critical deadline.
Do you have a preference at all when it comes to what orchestra you use or where you record a score?
I enjoy myself wherever we go to score. For instance, in Spain there are quite good orchestras but it is a little difficult to get them playing and recording scores due to schedule problems. For instance I am very happy with the music of FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS recorded with the Basque national orchestra or LOPE scored with the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid . THE ORPHANAGE was recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria. JULIA’S EYES was recorded in Budapest with amazing musicians. And of course, there is always London, with the “Rolls Royce’s” of Orchestras and studios. Generally, this is a matter of time and budget, but I am always doing the best we can to get the best sound and the best energy in the recording.
Do you conduct all of your own scores, or do you at times use a conductor on certain scores?
Precisely because I come from this “orchestral” playing world I cannot allow myself not to be conducting. It is one of the greatest experiences, and, as usually there is not much time, although another conductor might do a better conducting job, he wouldn’t have the time to study the music. Conducting for me is one of the greatest enjoyments!
How does scoring a motion picture differ from scoring a television project?
The budget is even more ridiculous in TV …ja ja ja…
What musical training did you receive, and what instruments did you focus upon whilst studying?
I was always playing both Spanish guitar and electric guitar at home (no lessons with this). Then I went to the music school and chose cello because it was the only instrument available (and there was not really any space for a piano at home), then I followed the professional studies to be a cello player (playing always in many orchestras, which was of great help in understanding how things work inside the orchestra). Later I made some studies on composition, but I think it was experience that taught me the most.
When working on a TV series, do you think it’s important to attempt to come up with a theme that will be easily recognised and that can be identified with that series?
Well of course, and as in a movie, it makes it easier to work because if you have a plan, you know what addresses every moment (a little like in a Wagner’s opera). If you do a good “big main theme” then you can extrapolate most of the score out of it. Unfortunately, you cannot always do this; due to lack of time to check if your plan is right. That is why I admire great composers that are really skilled in thematic development, like all the classics, the music film “fathers”, Williams, Goldsmith, Morrionne… Again, the list would be very long.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music for film, and do you think orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
I am one of those who think that orchestration is part of composing itself, so I always do it myself unless time doesn’t allow it. Then I always try to be sure that the orchestrator does what I’d do. I have always a clear idea of how I want the things to happen when we work with the orchestra. This being said, I keep studying scores to learn from the great professional orchestrators that have been working on film music. Anyway, I don’t think using arrangers or orchestrators is bad itself. I was shocked when I saw, i.e., that AN AMERICAN IN PARIS was not orchestrated by Gershwin himself, but it doesn’t mean it is not a great work!
At what stage of proceedings do you like to become involved with a project, i.e.; do you like to receive a script, or do you prefer to see the film in its rough cut state?
This is another of the things that really depends on the project. However, I think I do best when I have a cut where I can see what the “film” tells me, and then, sometimes I can hear the rhythm of the music if I see it. And I won’t tell you where, but the only time I convinced a production to make a sequence a little longer because the music, it was finally not a good idea …ja ja ja…
Have any of the directors or producers you have collaborated with had a more hands on approach than others when it came to spotting their movie?
Well, as before, it depends on projects. Some directors know exactly what they want and the composer can only be the “executor” of his plan, and some other times, I have felt that I was directing the movie as the director didn’t have any clear idea of what the music can do with the film. So I am always trying to find out their idea of the film and then I work on it. If they don’t have an idea or if they are open, I just do what I feel I have to and then try to sell it. It is a thrilling job, when you feel you have a cool idea that will make the film better.
What are your thoughts on the state and quality of film music today?
I certainly miss a little bit the work of the great masters. I don’t want to say I don’t like different approaches and in fact, I admire composers that can work in different scenarios, like John Williams, who can score both RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. But of course, you must have and awesome talent and find movies where you are welcome to display it. In general terms, we must not forget that most of the time, movies are a business and, as such a conservative investment.
What is next on your schedule?
Good things to come, I keep my fingers crossed and prefer not to say anything until it is done and mixed down with the movie, you never know what can happen …ja ja ja… Anyway, last thing I did which is ready to go is a great Norwegian film called BABYCALL, directed by Pal Sleutane with the truly amazing actress Noomi Rapace.