Dominic Lewis is a composer of both TV and movies both live action and animated. He just finished his run on the Disney Channel’s reboot of Ducktales, and here, he talks about how he got involved in that project and why it was a no brainer to take it on. We also discuss his history with music and how it has been with him forever. Finally, he reveals how so many different things came together to get him into the career for which he seems destined.
Awards Daily: Were you a fan of the original DuckTales?
Dominic Lewis: Oh, huge fan!
AD: How did you get involved in the reboot?
DL: I had sort of a meet-and-greet with Jay Stutle and Mark Karafilis who are head of music and vice head of music at Disney TV. So, we had this meet-and-greet, and I said I was really interested in working with them and we really got on. But then I was so busy over the last couple of years, and they would come to my agent to see if I was interested in different projects, and I would be, like, arghh, I can’t fit it in. Eventually they came with DuckTales and there was no way I was turning that down because I was such a huge fan as a kid. Then fortunately all the stars aligned, I was able to do it, and the rest is history.
AD: What was it like taking on the classic DuckTales theme song, changing it just a little bit for the reboot?
DL: It was kind of cool because a lot of the pressure wasn’t on me, because the producer did a lot of the legwork with Michael “Smidi” Smith. What happened was when I came on board the song had already been done, and what they had done was simplified the chords in the bridge. So when I first heard it and, being a huge fan of the original and knowing the song note for note, word for word, it really kind of took me back. I was, like, ‘Whoa, whoa, what happened? What happened there? Why did that chord change?’ So my first experience in all of this was me basically crapping on poor Smidi saying: ‘You can’t change the chords, they’re sacred, you have to keep the chords the same.’ So then, from obviously seeing my passion and how much I was in love with this thing already, I was brought on as a sort of secondary producer, to not see it home but, like, make sure the score changes were there, and to cinematicify (if that’s even a word) the final product. So I came in. I did the string arrangement. I fought for pop horns but that was a no go, they didn’t want too much of a call back to the original. Eventually I decided to put those original horn lines on strings and then the big orchestra came in, I think, in the second verse. So my first experience was with the theme song, and fortunately I didn’t have to come to it from scratch, because that would have been very daunting. Smidi took that job and I just came on and helped a little bit at the end.
AD: Well, as a fan of the original, I thought the new one worked really well.
DL: Yeah, it’s different enough to be fresh and cool without it becoming a what is this, it’s way too different. It brought in new audiences and didn’t piss off the old audience too much.
AD: Looking over your biography it seems like music was always a part of your life. Your parents are musicians, you have been playing the cello since you were three. How did you know when you were so young that music is what you wanted to pursue?
DL: I don’t know. I see it in my youngest now, this anytime music is on, there is a switch that goes off in his head and I guess I was the same. With both parents being musicians and me wanting to be like dad and play the cello (I think all little boys worship their father), I was just in awe of my dad and wanted to do what he did. That’s sort of how I fell into it. I was desperate to play the cello and luckily my parents got me one and the rest was just a snowball effect. I was very lucky because I had an older sister, who was 5 years older than me, and she was into the newest coolest music and so helped me be cool. But then I had the classical music background as well. So I was very lucky to have that broad spectrum of everything from classical to hip-hop. I fell into it, I was quite lucky.
AD: Speaking of your cello, do you use it in some of your composing or even perform with it during recordings?
DL: Yeah, totally! I try to put it in a lot of stuff. It featured very heavily in the TV show I worked on, The Man in High Castle, for Amazon. Anytime I need a little rough around the edges cello, because I’m a bit out of practice these days, I use it as a tool to make cool noises but not necessarily traditional cello lines. But then when I’m doing stuff, completely samples or in the box, I don’t record musicians, but I do get it out of the case and layer it in just to get a little bit more realness in my demos if it’s just samples and not recording an orchestra. So as a long-winded answer to your question, yes, I do, I layer it in whenever I can.
AD: When did you go from wanting to play music to composing music, or was that always there as well?
DL: No, I was a player up until girls started to take my attention and I started writing songs to be cool. I picked up a guitar because all my friends were playing guitar and I asked them to teach me a few chords. From then it was songwriting, to in-depth songwriting and worshiping The Beatles and The Beach Boys and trying to come up with really interesting songs. Then that wasn’t enough for me and I wanted to do bigger arrangements, so the strings came in and the horns and that wasn’t enough for me. So the natural step was into film and TV music because it is the pop music of classical music because it is the most popular. It was a progression of just wanting more and more and more and being able to manipulate and write to different instruments. That’s basically how it happened.
AD: You have either been mentored or worked with a lot of famous composers: Rupert Gregson-Williams, Henry Jackson, John Powell. This is a broad question, but do you have something you take from these collaborations or what you’ve learned along the way with them?
DL: Yeah, totally! When working with people like that you become as adsorbent of a sponge as possible, learning everything but without stealing, you gain tricks of the trade, experience working with filmmakers and maybe some harmonic tricks along the way, awesome orchestra tips. It’s just generally absorbing everything they have to offer. And because I’ve been so lucky to work with so many different people I have a broad spectrum of different tricks that I’ve learned from all of them. Which I think helps to be more adaptable, and to do more styles. It has been a huge shaping of me as a film composer from Rupert (Gregson-Williams) at the beginning to Hans (Zimmer), Henry (Jackson), and John Powell. It’s just the quest to learn and never thinking that you know everything, just wanting to know more that has been really important to me to progress as a film composer.
AD: This is a two-part question. What was the inspiration for the Sky Pirates song in season 2 of DuckTales? And how is it decided that an episode needs a song in it?
DL: I don’t know what the inspiration for the Sky Pirate song was because I didn’t write it. I did the arrangement after it was written and sort of beefed it up a bit. The original song was written by Andy Bean. But in terms of those songs, a lot of the time, Francisco (Angones), the writer of the show will write lyrics to something going on in his head tune-wise. Then it’s down to whoever writes the song to incorporate those into a melody. There is a bit of back-and-forth, will this work? What do you want to use? So in the songs that I did write that was the process. For the second part of your question, there are a few different ways. The lyrics would be in the script then, very vaguely, they would say, we wanted to be a bit like this genre or whatever it would be. Or the other way a song ended up in an episode is that there would be some type of montage and I would take it upon myself to make it into a song and try to make it as good as possible so they were forced to put it in. [Laughing] More often than not if it was an 80s montage I did some wailing 80s vocals and they couldn’t resist and it always went in.
AD: I apologize. I thought I read on a Wiki that you had written the Sky Pirate song.
DL: No need to apologize! I wish I had. Andy Bean is a very talented chap and a very lovely chap. I think that was the first song that was written for the show so it was written even before I came on board. Once I was on board all the rest of the songs I took care of.
AD: You have gone into a lot of different mediums, television and movies, both animation and live-action. Is there something particular you look for before getting involved in a project?
DL: Towards the beginning of my career it was basically you want to give me a gig, great, I’ll do it. It’s very easy to say yes to something like DuckTales with people as brilliant as Matt Youngberg, the showrunner, and Francisco Angones, the writer, and the wonderful team at Disney with Jay and Mark. That’s an easy yes for me. Because I know I’m going to be looked after, I know they’re going to want the best for the project, they respect what I do and they trust me and they sort of give me a blank canvas, so that’s an easy yes. With other things it is more about what haven’t I done for a while and I want to flex that muscle. Sometimes it’s because I need work, so I say yes. Other times it’s because I want a challenge. I just did a documentary for a friend, which was extremely low budget and it would be very easy to say I was just too busy but I wanted a challenge. I wanted to push myself and come up with something different and also not let down a mate. At the same time it was more to do with could I create a different type of score is what made me say yes. There is always that aspect to it, what is the opportunity? Do I have the opportunity to write something different that I haven’t already done? That is a big pull for me to say yes to a gig.
AD: What was that name of the documentary?
DL: It’s called The Accidental President.
AD: I look at your IMDb credits and you have three new films this year: Peter Rabbit 2, The King’s Man, and Jolt. What can you tell us about all those projects?
DL: I have been crazy busy. Two of those have been done for a long time. Jolt I just finished. It is kind of a crazy action movie starring Kate Beckinsale and, to make a long story short, she has an anger problem and has had it since she was a kid, and they find some revolutionary therapy that stops her from beating the crap out of everyone. Which is basically electrotherapy, where she shocks herself when she feels like she’s going to beat someone up. It sounds a bit nuts and a bit weird but Kate Beckinsale is extremely charming, very funny, and a complete badass. So it was really cool to just get sucked into a fun but slightly dark action score, and using a hybrid of some orchestral stuff but mainly some cool electronics and some rock stuff thrown in there as well. And I kind of needed that after the two other movies. Peter Rabbit 2, obviously animation for children, needs to be light and fun and a bit of a roller coaster and a different kind of adrenaline, done with mainly orchestra and some traditional band stuff.
Then The King’s Man, which was very throwback, if you will, to swashbuckling meets sweeping orchestral score and, obviously with it being Matthew Vaughn, it needed a bit of a modern sprinkling to it. I think I’m safe in saying there are no synics in there at all; it’s literally all real instruments, real orchestra stuff. That was really nice and it was really great to collaborate with Matthew Margeson. We have worked together on so many things for other composers. We have always said to one another that we wanted to do a co-write and it was pretty awesome to do it to a movie of that scope. Also, it being a prequel of the Kingsman franchise, you think it’s going to be a certain thing, but actually it’s a new thing entirely. It’s during the first World War, and a really cool new thing to do with Matt.
AD: You have been nominated for an Annie award in the past and, as a follower of awards, I am always curious what it feels like to be nominated by your peers?
DL: It’s pretty amazing, I have only been nominated for an award once, well twice. I was nominated for the World Soundtrack Awards for Best Newcomer. It’s always very humbling and awesome to be thought of. Oh, wait, I was nominated for an AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) award, which is the Australian Academy Awards, so that was cool. But with the Annie award I was still very young in my career, and it was my first animation score by myself, so that was, like, whoa, hang on a minute, pinch myself, and then you look at the rest of the names of the people nominated with me, and was, like, okay, there’s no way I’m winning that. So I just go along for the ride and just be thankful that I’m lucky enough to be nominated. It’s weird. I am a little bit pessimistic when it comes to things like that, so if I am nominated for things, which is lovely, I’m always of the ilk that I’m never going to win it so just enjoy the evening, get dressed up, have a lot of booze and don’t even bother preparing a speech, because it’s never going to happen. That’s my mindset for that kind of thing.