Behind the Music: Composer Bryce Jacobs Talks Random Tropical Paradise Score & More
Aussie composer Bryce Jacobs has written and arranged scores for films such as Bad Karma, Drive Hard and the 2015 Sundance hit DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: The Story of the National Lampoon. His next project, Random Tropical Paradise, is being released in theaters and VOD June 9 by Gunpowder & Sky Distribution. Taking his craft to the next level, he not only scored the film but also sings on a featured track titled “Best Man”. We decided to speak with Bryce about his work on Random Tropical Paradise, starting off with Hans Zimmer at Remote Control Productions & more. Read the full interview here:
Tell us about how you got involved with Random Tropical Paradise.
My agent, Kevin Korn at Gorfaine/Schwartz initially brought it to me and the music supervisor on the film, Andrea von Foerster had also recommended my name to Sanjeev Sirpal the director and producer. Sanjeev and I met and really hit it off – especially over our common love of all-in genre 80’s films. I watched the cut he had of the film at the time and realized he had actually created a wonderfully well-crafted all-in genre film himself. Not only did it have me laughing out loud along the way, but it still would when I was working on the scenes on loop (I’d find myself noticing new things to laugh at). I sent an email pitching my ideas and shortly after he rang me and said “You want to do my movie?”
What sort of preparation did you do before starting work on the film?
Well, coincidentally I’d just purchased a Pedal Steel guitar after wanting one for years; I’d spent about a month lost in the thing. It was interesting, as a performer, I had my moments of frustration, just wanting to know it as well as I knew guitar; but as a composer, I relished the fact that I had no muscle memory on the instrument as yet, so I would discover all these happy accidents along the way. When Random Tropical Paradise came in it was a perfect excuse to have it be a part of the score. There were the more literal moments when it provided the tropical flavors along with a Ukulele I’d just bought, and other times I found more textural ways to have it take the role of a warm pad in the background that was more synth like. There was also need for some Mafia music in the film and I wondered how I could do that in a non-derivative way. I realized that the main Mafia boss (Joe Pantoliano) is barefoot, dressed casual on vacation throughout the whole thing. It then occurred to me to write and perform his Mafia like Italian theme on tropical friendly instruments such as the Pedal Steel and Ukulele. Made for an interesting combination that made Sanjeev and I laugh, especially when watching alongside Joe Pantoliano’s hilarious performances on screen.
How would you describe your score for Random Tropical Paradise?
There are a few main musical personalities that embody the film. There’s the tropical Mafia theme that I mentioned above, a tropical “setting the mood” type vibe, a complete stoner infused soundscape, a romance AND a bromance theme. Plus, the indulgent “Yacht Rock” inflections that Sanjeev and I had so much fun with bringing to picture.
Not only did you score the film but you also performed on a song that is featured titled ‘Best Man’. Not all composers do vocals on soundtracks too, is this something that comes naturally to you?
Even though I started as an orchestrator in this business, I also have a long history in bands from a very young age. Songwriting has always been incredibly important to me and I have sang lead and backing vocals in the majority of bands I’ve been in. I’m not really someone who writes a song (or a piece of music for that matter) for the hell of it. I’m too critical of myself in those situations. I really prefer a narrative purpose; a compass that constantly tells me if I’m on or off course. Whether it’s a story, a concept, a feeling, a project, or something I am going through personally, I feel there needs to be a good reason to have a chance at doing inspired work that translates. “Best Man” was the first thing I wrote for the film. It was a gamble as I spent some time producing it up. If Sanjeev didn’t like it I’d just wasted a chunk of time in the wrong direction. Thankfully, he loved it, and it helped bring out the emotional center of the film. It gave the two main characters an extra level of friendship and history that helps you invest in their best-friend relationship onscreen
You worked with Hans Zimmer at Remote Control Productions for 5 years. What was that experience like? What do you think the most important thing you learned from that time was?
The experience was incredible, intense, confronting, rewarding, all the extremes with not much in between. After initially getting a foot in the door as an intern, I landed an assistant job with Ramin Djawadi. At first it was a “don’t look down experience”. Ramin was not only my new boss, but my only connection to America since I was “fresh off the boat”. Over the five years moving on to additional writer, performer and composer on many of the various projects that came out of there, I learned a lifetime worth of valuable lessons. The two things I always say are the most important to me are: the knowledge gained of the technology that truly lets you express yourself in the most freeing ways; and, the business side where you get to witness many others (including Hans) navigate the hot seat before having to sit there yourself. It was also affirming in regards to putting story first – Hans is all about that.
While at Remote Control Productions you worked on many video games. What was your favorite and why?
Medal of Honor – I worked extensively on that game. It started with me crafting loops for Ramin and progressed to me writing and performing on most of the tracks. I truly suck at video games, so it’s nice to be able to see the whole thing play out as a story while working on it (since it’s the only way I’m going to get past the first forty-five seconds of gameplay). I also loved the heart, narrative and respect they gave to the franchise. EA, in preparation, interviewed the soldiers that have lived it, all to give the game an emotional depth and honesty that really provides a film like quality you are an interactive part of.
You also have worked closely with composer Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones). What was that experience like? How is his work technique different from Hans Zimmer’s? Has this influenced your personal work technique at all?
In my time with Ramin he was many things: my boss who had to have me fire on all cylinders in whatever he needed (especially as I was his only assistant at the time); a mentor who shepherded me and helped me understand the technology and the business and how to navigate it; a former assistant himself with a great technical mind who could teach me things I needed to know about my own job; and, a window into how Hans did things before I actually worked with Hans. Most importantly, he was the guy that said “yes” to an Aussie that was about to uproot everything to follow the Hollywood dream. Both Ramin and Hans are also very German in their work flow – very definite, clean and precise, so they have no barriers between them and their creativity. It makes for excellent training to help you seamlessly utilize technology to realize anything your imagining. Remote has decades of people who have come through its ranks, all adding their own value with Hans at the helm. The wealth of technological understanding accumulated over that time is of incredible benefit to all who work there, as you in turn shape your own work flow and creative approach.