Interview: Composer Jake Monaco

Posted on September 30, 2016 at 3:56 pm

Jake Monaco is a multi-talented composer who has worked on a variety of projects for film and television. His music will be featured in Fox’s highly-anticipated action comedy “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” starring Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Isla Fisher, and Zach Galifianakis. He is also currently scoring three family-favorite animated series, “The Stinky and Dirty Show,” Netflix’s “Dinotrux,” and Warner Bros. Animation’s “Be Cool Scooby Doo.” As a producer and composer of additional music for Christophe Beck, Monaco has contributed to the animated magic of “Frozen,” the record-breaking laughs of the “Hangover” trilogy, the furry hijinks of “The Muppets,” and the award-winning documentary “Waiting for Superman.” What he loves about composing for movies and television is creating music that tells the story. He took time from his busy schedule to answer my questions.

What was the first instrument you learned to play?

Copyright 2016 Jake Monaco
Copyright 2016 Jake Monaco

I started taking guitar lessons when I was 6, but after a year of not wanting to practice, my parents let up. Then my freshman year of high school, my family moved, which left me with a lot of free time. I started getting more into music in general at this point and so I found that same guitar from when I was 6 and started teaching myself. I think it’s still in my attic actually… I should go and get it at some point 🙂

When did you first realize, watching a movie, that someone composed a score that helped tell the story?

My favorite movie as a child was Ghostbusters and although I didn’t know anything about Elmer Bernstein at the time, I remember the music being an integral part of the story.

What was the first composing job you got paid for?

I was accepted into the USC film scoring program 2006-2007. My first paid gig was with a director named Zeus Quijano on the short “Point of Entry”. A few years later he turned this 5 min short documentary into a 20 min version, which I was also lucky enough to work with him on. He is hoping to turn it into a feature eventually. Fingers crossed!

At what stage do you usually come into a project? Before or after filming has been completed?

It completely depends on the project. Some smaller projects, I have started working on themes or sound palettes prior to shooting, or in the case of animation, during the storyboard phase. Although on the last two features, I’ve been brought on only a few weeks before completion. I had two and a half weeks for “Absolutely Fabulous” and five weeks for “Keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s kind of exhilarating to be under that sort of deadline; adrenaline gets you through!

If you could go back in time and score any movie, what one would you pick?

Probably any James Bond film. I love them all (even the bad ones). 🙂

When you work on a film that mixes genres, like the action comedy “Keeping Up with the Joneses,” how is that reflected in the music?

I try to make the action sequences as fun as possible. While there are still stakes in the film, the music doesn’t have to play them so seriously, it’s ok to have fun! There’s a long, exciting chase sequence in the middle of “Joneses” that, while it has a driving beat and action elements, has a funk horn section and some crazy EDM synth interjections. The comedy is really all about timing; when is the perfect moment to drop out. A lot of the time, a joke plays funnier when the music pauses for it as opposed to commenting on it.

Did you incorporate any unusual instruments?

Without giving away too much, there is a running theme through the movie about the Joneses going to this little café in Marrakech in Morocco. So I did a little research and found some instruments native to that region that are sprinkled throughout the score. The two most interesting being the Sintir (or Gimbri), which is a 3 stringed mid/low register plucked instrument that has camel skin stretched over the body and the kemenche which is a bowed instrument that rests on the players knee and has a very distinct, almost nasal, tone to it.

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