Here is an e-mail interview I just did with composer and producer Jonathan Elias. As far as I know, it's the first interview with him about his complete career in music from 1984 to 2010, and an interview I have tried for years to conduct. I finally succeeded!
Thanks to Jonathan Elias and Kelly Gettle.
Feel free to comment.
Q: Your first film score was for the hit movie Children Of The Corn in 1984. How did you get that assignment as a rather unknown composer?
A: A friend of a friend of a friend needed a composer who would work cheap. Very cheap. So that narrowed the field a bit. A call of endorsement from John Barry who I was working with a lot at the time, kind of insured the gig for me.
Q: Tuff Turf included a hard-hitting electronic score from you. Tell us about the process of scoring that film, and writing songs for it. I was always disappointed that no score was featured on the soundtrack. Are there any plans of releasing the score?
A: There are no plans to release the score that I am aware of, unless Varese Saraband decides to. Though honestly, I haven't heard the music or seen the film in twenty years. However, I made a long lasting friendship with Robert Downey Jr during that movie and subsequently worked with him on Chaplin, The Singing Detective and his own record The Futurist about 5 years ago.
Q: What kind of score did you write for Almost You (1985)?
A: For Almost You I wrote a very charming European type score, with double string quartet and woodwinds. It was one of the more out of the box scores for me. Sadly, no one saw the film.
Q: Vamp is one of my favorite scores. Tell us about the music. It finally got a CD release earlier this year. Certain fans have also wanted a release of the song you wrote with Grace Jones. Was there ever any talk of adding the song to the CD?
A: Grace and I did a record subsequently and a cousin of that track is on a record of hers called Bulletproof Heart. The song was called Seduction Surrender. That was one of the last scores I did before I started becoming a record producer. Looking back, had I stayed as a film scorer, who knows where I would be now... I did like that score too. Though it was definitely a very foggy era for me.
Q: I Do What I Do from Nine And A Half Weeks was a big hit in 1986. Did they consider you for the score as well, or was Jack Nitzsche always the first choice?
A: We were brought in last minute to do the title song. So, no I was never considered to do the score, however because of that song I was brought in to score Two Moon Junction, directed by Zalman King who directed Nine and a Half Weeks. So something good came out of that.
Q: How did you approach Two Moon Junction musically?
A: I really wanted to work with Michael Brecker the saxophone player. And I wanted to do something primal. It seemed like a good combination. And except for the electronics, it still holds up today I think.
Q: Shakedown (1988) is another enjoyable score, sadly unreleased on CD. How was this composing experience?
A: Shakedown was a pretty easy project all in all. A good producer/director team that gave me a lot of leeway. I wrote a lot of it by the beach in the Hamptons one summer. So I have nice memories of it. And I wrote a song with singer/song writer John Waite which is memorable.
Q: You also produced the Duran Duran album Big Thing in 1988. Did you enjoy working on this?
A: It was a very interesting project, really an interesting time in my life. I was living in Paris with them, having a lot of interesting dinners. Musically, it was somewhat of a disappointment for me as I thought it was too dance oriented. But I suppose that is what Duran Duran was at the time. I did really enjoy the band members and they were really nice people and I still love Paris.
Q: Your score to Parents is really in the experimental vein. How did you work on that one, and what's the story of the shared credit with Angelo Badalamenti?
A: The director/producer weren't excited by the score that Angelo had done and came to me. I tried to keep some of Angelo's work and feel that I successfully added a very experimental quality to the movie while keeping sections of his score in tact. I am a fan of Angelo's work and I am happy I was able to bridge that gap. It again wasn't a very popular movie, but it's definitely an interesting score.
Q: Far From Home is a rich score combining synthesizers, orchestra and acoustic solo instruments. Are you pleased with this score? Am I right when I say there are no tracks from this score on your Music For Film promo CD, and if so, why?
A: That score was done pretty quickly. I am not quite sure, but I think they had a short finishing schedule. I really liked a lot of what I wrote. I remember enjoying working with Meiert Avis but I also remember that the music had a lot of basic work to do and kind of jumped all over the place. It was more patchwork than I would have liked.
Q: Rude Awakening is a very disappointing soundtrack release without any of your material. Was this a disappointment for you too? What kind of score did you write?
A: Rude Awakening was an interesting experience. The director was fired and replaced by the producer Aaron Russo. I did a nice little romantic score, but I think the movie had so many problems. I was the least of the concerns. Come to think of it, they never even paid me my overages. I did get to meet Paul Rothchild, the music supervisor there who I became friendly with. Paul being one of my childhood idols since producing The Doors, Janis Joplin and so many others... So often as you are working on projects you have to look at the silver lining and not just the egos involved.
Q: Did you see yourself as a composer in the same vein as guys like Jan Hammer, Harold Faltermeyer, Sylvester Levay, Tangerine Dream, Jay Ferguson and so on during those late 80s years? Why did the electronic style in many ways fall out of fashion in the 90s?
A: I would say that I didn't feel anything like them. Don't forget my first film score was Children of the Corn which was more like Carmina Burana and Jerry Goldsmith than electronica. Vamp was really the only soundtrack that was primarily electronic. I was much more influenced by John Barry than I was by the electronic composers. I was happy when all that stuff died.
Q: Requiem For The Americas is a massive 1989 concept album. Did the album end up the way you thought it would, and did it sell well? For how long did you work on this project?
A: I had worked on it on and off for several years whenever I had a spare moment, a spare week. I enjoyed making it and had a great experience with Jon Anderson, the singer of Yes at the time. The two of us became friendly and led to the subsequently disastrous experience of working with Yes. It sold pretty well and had a couple of music videos. Sadly, Enigma Records which released it, went bankrupt 3 weeks after the release, making it very difficult to have any lasting power, obviously.
Q: You scored one episode of Tales From The Crypt called The Sacrifice. The music sounded very much like Two Moon Junction, the sax included. Why did you approach the music like this?
A: Honestly, I don't even remember it. I probably felt it fit. But like so many things I was doing, I was working so much in those days, I forgot I even did one until you just asked that.
Q: What exactly went wrong on the Yes-album Union that you produced in 1991? I'm actually a fan of that album...
A: I didn't realize how dark the baggage was within that band and how much they hated each other... I knew they had broken up many times and shuffled members in and out, I didn't realize the reason that that happened was because of their egos and personal feelings for each other. I honestly believe I was the central focus of hatred for Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe, who couldn't stand each other. Even though Jon Anderson was the co-producer of the record, and was constantly urging me to work with other players, which we subsequently did, he took none of the heat because they were so scared of him. I also urged Rick to play a Hammond and not his cheezy midi synthesizers. He didn't realize the best work they had done was done 20 years earlier. I suppose time has showed I was right by urging them to forget their incarnations as Asia, and other corporate rock entities. I also learned why not to get involved with bands that internal hatreds were more important than the music. I felt the only redeeming value of the whole band was Trevor Rabin who remains the best element in Yes other than Jon. I also find it interesting that 20 years later that Jon is on my new Prayer Cycle follow up record and has nothing to do with the band anymore. I think that speaks volumes.
Q: One of my absolute favorite scores of yours is Streetwise from the early 90s. Very melodic and groovy, with lots of catchy themes. How did you work with Lasarenko and Doddy here? Any chance of a soundtrack release?
A: No chance of a soundtrack release, Doddy and Lasarenko were working with me in my office and I wanted to give them a chance to step up.
Q: In the mid 90s you took a 10 year-break from film scoring. Why did you decide to do this? Did you get any film music offers during these years?
A: I was working as a record producer during this time and I did get some film score offers, however I mistakenly thought the grass was greener on the record production side. I did develop my commercial music company during those years as well, which was probably the smartest decision anyway... In retrospect, I wish I would have done more film scores in those years since the record business is non existent now.
Q: The Prayer Cycle is a very successful choral/orchestral work from 1999. How was this experience? When will the follow-up Prayers In Silence come out?
A: I expect that by next summer the follow up will be released though it remains untitled. I love that record and I love the follow up to it as well.
Q: You also released the mini-album Resume: Urban Experimental Works 1985/86 with John Taylor in '99. Was Shine On originally written for Vamp, as it's practically a vocal version of Katrina's Club?
A: I don't remember. More likely what happened is I developed it for John as a follow up to Nine and a Half Weeks.
Q: Some more silent years, music-wise, followed, before you released American River in 2004. Tell us about this project.
A: American River was my first Grammy nominated album, with Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash etc. I think it's a beautiful and interesting record. I actually wrote it at the same time as the new Prayer Cycle many years ago... During this time, I had a very successful music for advertising company, so I was never quiet. I won several Emmys and Cleos for my ad music as well in those years.
Q: Then, in 2006, you were finally back on the film scoring scene with A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints. Did you always think about returning to film scoring, or did Dito Montiel have to talk you into it? How has your film music changed during those years away from it?
A: Dito is a very close friend of mine. I actually helped him develop the movie. I suppose I don't use electronics for any large part of a score any more.
Q: Pathfinder followed in 2007. I understand that you had a hard time working on this film that constantly changed in the editing room? Did you see the norwegian film Veiviseren which Pathfinder is based on, and listen to the score?
A: No I didn't listen to it at all. The big problem on Pathfinder was that is started out as a choral score and then mid stream switched to a much more percussion driven score. The movie was cut from 3 hours to 1 hour 40 minutes. I love my experience however working with Marcus Nispel, and I think it's one of my best scores.
Q: What kind of music did you write for Fighting?
A: My contribution was mostly tender moments and my co-composer David Wittman did more of the hip-hop influenced score.
Q: Earlier this year you scored the TV version of Children Of The Corn. There has been a discussion on the Film Score Monthly message board whether this is the first time in history that the same composer has scored both an original and the remake! How was it revisiting this score after 25 years?
A: It was sweet. The producer Donald Borchers directed it, Don is a close friend of mine and a large part of my history in film music has been with him.
Q: What are your future plans? Do you have any scores coming up? Can we hope for a return to the tasteful electronic style you were so good at during those 1984 - 1993 years?
A: I do have more projects coming up. Though, I am more focused right now on doing my classical cross over records and producing movies.