Composer Jesse Voccia talks to Awards Daily TV about the collaborative process behind scoring Amazon’s streaming hit Bosch.
Having recently delved into the third season of the Los Angeles crime drama Bosch, available to stream on Amazon, I was aware how well-oiled this machine is. Based on the books by Michael Connelly, the television adaptation continues to bring compelling story-telling and technical prowess to the screen.
Composer Jesse Voccia provides a subtly effective music score for the series, and we spoke about his favorite music, the process on creating for streaming TV, and collaborating with the crew.
I’ve watched Bosch, all three seasons now. It’s pretty good, a lot of people I know haven’t seen it, and should have. It has kept consistent throughout the three seasons so far. Congratulations.
It is derived from the books, so there’s a real strong blueprint and architecture of the stories unfolding. That helps.
So you are the composer. What were some of your favorite film scores when younger? Or even now?
I first realized this was a job when I was watching a program on Jan Hammer who did the music for Miami Vice. I found the music so powerful on that show. So, I saw this was a job, and put my life in that direction. The music in the movie theater was so loud, it only existed in that place – kind of like a church, you know, church music.
Looking back, it always had a really intense affect on me. Luckily my parents really liked music. It seemed like a legitimate thing to aspire to. My favorite composers, a lot of them I have done some work with. Jerry Goldsmith of course, I was much too young to cross paths with him. I spent several years working with Thomas Newman. A few years working with a whole bunch of others – Lisa Gerrard, Trevor Rabin. I got an incredible education.
Two of my all-time favorites there: Thomas Newman and Lisa Gerrard.
Very generous people to spend time with. I worked with Lisa Gerrard on a film called Ali with Michael Mann which takes us back to Miami Vice. It was around September 11th. Nobody really knew what was going to happen. We went to work, and watched the world change. Lisa had the most artistic soul I have ever encountered. The way she could transform everything around her into fuel for the art – an incredible lesson I will never forget.
Where were you in your career when Bosch came along? How did you land that gig?
I spent many years incubating and working for other established people. As a result, I was very comfortable being a sort of part of a team and not facing the responsibility of what’s coming. I got to observe how they did it and got too big to stay in the nest, so I did a couple of films on my own. I have the good fortune that I was very good friends with one of the major music supervisors in town, Thomas Golubic, famous for working on Breaking Bad and a whole bunch of other shows. He was on Bosch before I was. He said it was a streaming show and asked me to come over to take a look.
So I wrote a couple of things for it, and they liked what I did. We got along perfectly. We did the whole pilot, and they put it out. People voted on the pilots. A whole year went by before they actually started working on the show, which is a strange experience. It was actually an amazing experience. I went off and did other things, grew as a musician and artist. When I came back to it I got a chance to do it again, and they changed the show a little bit, swapped out actors, made it a little better.
I got a chance to come in and fix the things that were bugging me . There was no established pattern, just an explosion of creativity. I always feel I could have done it better. Usually, everything is done, and there’s nothing to change. But on Bosch, I actually get to do that.
The streaming platform, does that effect how you work as a composer? Or does that not change things time-wise?
Oh it does. Traditionally on a television show, you are maybe one or two episodes ahead. You have this deadline that’s gone by, and you’re getting feedback from the audience. You maybe make some navigational adjustments. With this, it is almost like making a 10-hour movie. We’re almost doing it in a vacuum with so few people working on it. For the most part it is a really relaxed situation. It is pretty much ideal, because we have a deadline at the end of the season, so we start roughly October and go to around Valentine’s Day.
If we don’t like something, or can’t find the right song for a certain scene, or this is great for this character, we can go back and do that. It has its advantages compared to episodic television. I don’t want to leave anything on the table. So, I work very hard on the show every day for those months, and the people working with me on it are really committed as well. I love this process of streaming schedule. The producers and the editors are very friendly with each other, and we have this joke: “My parents are gone for the weekend. Let’s make a movie.”
That collaboration process, are you told which scenes require music? Do you make suggests? Is it both?
We have meetings every couple of weeks where we watch the new cuts of the show. The editors and the producers have a pretty good idea where they want the music to come in. Eric Overmeyer, the show-runner, likes to use music very carefully. He does not want to waste the impact coming in, so in the meetings we established a kind of pattern. He likes all the tension in films. Music can let some of the steam out. Just having music occasionally, it helps you focus on the actors, the scenery, the background sound. It is immersive to me, which is ironic as I am a music person.
I like movies from people like Antonioni. He uses hardly any music. That’s a much more cinematic experience for me. And when the music does come in, I know exactly what to do because we have been building up to that moment. It is much more meaningful. You only get 20 seconds before people start to tune you out anyway. With your music, you get a few seconds to make your point. Makes me feel more appreciated that I can be so precise. Some procedural cop shows use a lot of music.
Yeah, music can sometimes tell you how to feel. With Bosch, a lot of it is very understated, and does its job there. The sounds of Los Angeles – the wind, the traffic, and the silence – are important too.
There’s a great quote from Miles Davis: “Silence is better than bullshit.” I always think about that. Is the music going to be better than just the sound that is happening? That’s a great gift they give me, to have that option instead of just slandering music all over the place. You have to pay attention to what’s happening.
Yeah, that’s a good marker to have. I know you have talked before about L.A. That it influences the music on Bosch. I’ve heard composers talk about landscape versus character. As well as L.A., does the character of Bosch inspire what music you write and play?
Absolutely. We did the pilot, and I read the whole bunch of books. In the books, Michael Connelly is very very precise about certain songs Bosch is listening to at certain moments. He loves jazz. He is a jazz expert, like he knows the jazz medium likes kids used to like baseball cards and all the stats. It is almost like he is a musician. Connelly is around a lot and has opinions about it, and we can interact with him. He kind of draws things out of you that you didn’t know was there. So when I am working on it I think “What is Michael Connelly going to think about this?”
They did not want a jazz score but wanted it to be related to jazz – more of an abstract, impressionistic type of music. When most think about jazz they think about Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, that whole New York scene. Sometimes the Kansas City scene that came before it. The West Coast jazz scene is not as well regarded as New York. Michael Connelly is a big fan of West Coast jazz. Chet Baker is probably the biggest person on the West Coast. There is a real sound to it I tried to draw to.
The whole noir film thing that happened in L.A. and the jazz era in the fifties. I really throw myself into it and love that stuff anyway. I am originally from the East Coast, and when I moved to L.A., my image was based on cops shows like Hunter, The Rockford Files. The sounds of those shows I tried in my own way to make something of that with Bosch.
Is there such a thing as “writer’s block” for musicians? If so, how do you overcome it?
Of course there is. You overcome it by the carrot and the stick. If I don’t have this done by tomorrow, there will be some very heavy consequences. Some people are not going to be happy. Something has to go in that space. I think writer’s block comes from an overemphasis from your inner critic. If you can suspend that inner critic and get something out there without your inner critic undermining you, you can keep going on an idea.
In the beginning of a project you have plenty of time. You can afford the luxury of something like writer’s block. But in the middle of the project, you have these moments of accountability as filmmakers. By the end of the project, you are just flowing like a freight train and you can’t stop, but unfortunately you have to as the project is over. One of my favorite books by Salvador Dali has all these tricks for getting in the right frame of mind and maybe I have borrowed a few tricks from that book. There’s a lot of magic to be had.
All three seasons of Bosch currently stream on Amazon.