*Video:all in: the poker movie - opening
Click above for clip of All In: The Poker Movie featuring the music of Peitor Angell

Composer Peitor Angell is a multi-talented songwriter, musician, producer, arranger, conductor, and engineer. Last year Angell appeared in the documentary This Time, bringing a greater audience to his passion projects with Pat Hodges, The Sweet Inspirations, and Angell’s alter-ego, Monte Carlo and his Orchestra. Angell’s work is once again in front of documentary audiences with his dynamic score for All In: The Poker Movie, which is now available on iTunes and Video On-Demand. I sat down with Angell in his studio in Los Angeles for an in-depth chat about producing records and scoring films. Here’s what Angell shared with me about writing and recording music in the digital age, his past, present, and upcoming projects, and crafting the score for All In: The Poker Movie.

Jackson Truax: How did you get into writing music for films? What has that journey been?

Peitor Angell: First, I began as a songwriter… I wrote a ‘20s musical, “Rendezvous of 1922” that was done off-Broadway… One of the leads in the show, Kristi Rose [and I], we formed a New Wave band called The Charades and played the clubs in New York from ’80 to’82… Kristi Rose has been working with me now singing on a lot of my International Jazz music project, Monte Carlo and His Orchestra…

Shortly after that, I wrote and produced the song, “Sweet Sweet Kiss” which was released by Team Records, an in-house label at The Power Station Recording Studios in New York. Through that, I wound up signed as a producer to their label and as a songwriter to their rival studio, Media Sound. I spent the next year getting out of those contracts and then went on to form another band called the Idolls, and we managed to get several releases out, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” and “Give a Dog a Bone,” on Atlantic Records.  During this time, I wrote the music and lyrics for the song, “Let’s Go” for [singer and DJ] Nocera on Sleeping Bag Records, which went to number seven on the Billboard club charts. From there, several of the directors of music videos approached me about composing music for different films and television projects… I worked on shows like [a special for] Montel Williams, “Mountain Get Out of My Way” … I did ClubMed commercials…all different types of things, across the board…

In 1993 I met the director, Randal Kleiser, (Grease, Blue Lagoon, Honey I Blew Up The Kid) who advised me that if I wanted to work on film, I needed to be in LA. So I moved to LA…  Through him I met a number of people, including the director, Dirk Shafer, who had made his movie Man of the Year. That was the first movie I worked on in Los Angeles doing the score… For my second movie, I was in traffic school, and I met an editor on a film [called] Lap Dancer. After that movie, another director introduced me to Carl Colepart at Cineville and he hired me to compose the score for their latest feature starring Eric Roberts, Façade… Very pleased with my work on that project, they then hired me to compose the score for Dan Ireland’s film, The Velocity of Gary, starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Salma Hayek.… I composed a good deal of vintage sounding 70’s source cues for that production, and I thought to myself, “I want to go back to doing records.” I wanted to put my focus on making music that would be out-front, not just to be used behind actors talking and the sound of cars and traffic… On The Velocity of Gary, I had the opportunity to meet and work with the singer Pat Hodges… Shortly after finishing that project, I brought her back into the studio to record a number of songs I had written with Marion Ramsey (from the Police Academy movies).

Forming my own boutique record label, I managed to get Pat Hodges to the top of the Billboard Club Chart three times, two with Marion’s and my collaborations, (“You Make Me Feel Good” and “Saving My Love”). And once with my own song, “Love Revolution,” for which I wrote both the music and lyrics. Shortly after that time I found myself working on a show with Barbara Streisand and I met The Sweet Inspirations. They are the legendary group who performed a good deal of the background vocals for some of Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and Dionne Warwick’s greatest recordings. I brought them into the studio to do the background vocals on Pat Hodges Club Hit song, “Love Revolution”. Based on our rapport and the success of that record, I embarked on recording an entire CD with [them], titled, I “In the Right Place.” Through that, I also had the opportunity to record with Cissy Houston on a [record]… After completing The Sweet Inspirations CD, I was hired to work with Thelma Houston, producing her latest CD titled, “A Woman’s Touch.” The work I did on that release brought me to the attention of Charo, who hired me to produce and remix her last two club records that went on the Billboard Club Charts…

In the midst of all of that, I was still licensing music to different films and television shows stateside and overseas. Out of some of those jobs came jobs to score them… For instance, the way I connected with the people at 4th Row Films, I saw a screening of a documentary film, Making the Boys that Crayton Robey had directed. As I was sitting in the theater watching the festival screening, I noticed there were a lot of expensive [music] cues in there, Frank Sinatra…all this stuff. At the end of the film, I went up to the director, introduced myself and said, “When it comes time to get distribution on this film and you need to replace this music, call me. I can help you.” Which is what he did. Because I compose a wide range of music, I was able to replace the classic jazz source cues, and make it sound authentic… He ended up getting distribution through 4th Row Films. Then they came to me when they had the poker movie and needed music.

JT: What was the initial conversation that you had with director Douglas Triola that started your working on All In: The Poker Movie?

PA: We had about an hour conversation on the phone. I asked him very specifically…what he liked about what was musically already there. And what he would like to see changed. One of the things he stressed was the heroism of the poker gamblers; that it was not a tale of woe… These people are real gamblers… They’re willing to put everything in… The different periods of music…part of [the movie] is giving you the background on the history of poker. But then, aside from that, there’s the story of Chris Moneymaker. Then behind that, also is the evolution of how it was changing from a card game to an online game. There were sort of three stories in there. The editor Robert Greene had [done rough cuts] with a lot of source music. After the initial conversation with Douglas, Robert and I pretty much worked together. It was always a matter of what was ready to be scored [and] what needed to be done… A number of the cues that needed to be replaced were hit records of their day with live musicians from different decades. So to capture the sound and the feel on those things, the musicianship, those were things I needed to master to give it an authentic sound.

JT: When I interviewed Douglas, he told me how happy he was with the ideas that you brought to the table. What were some of the ideas you had that you think he responded to?

PA: I think what I did most was to take his ideas and interpret them into various musical pieces. Thematically, if it’s heroism, whether it’s an adventure/action cue or a jazz cue, there’s still a soul to it that’s reflecting the intentions. [A filmmaker] may know how to express something in words; it is my job to be able to create a number of different musical compositions to support those ideas and those words. He might think that I contributed a lot of ideas, though I think of it as pretty much just expressing them in various musical ways to make it all come together.

JT: A number of the cues feel as if they could be right out of your Monte Carlo project. There’s a very Peitor Angell sound to the music in All In: The Poker Movie. Was that a function of you having a lot of creative freedom, or did Douglas want something at which he knew you would excel?

PA: The Monte Carlo project is all that international ‘50s-‘60s Pacific Coast jazz sounding music. It’s high-rollers, jet set, James Bond, money pit, that sort of thing. When you think Vegas, you think all those things… The concept of “All In” and going to make all that money. Why are you going to make all that money? Not just to live like a bum in a trailer. It’s to be able to afford the finer things in life. So to me, the element of that chic jazz music under it, that’s what everyone is going for and wanting, the big win. So, yes I know how to do that… You could say that’s my influence on the film. However as a film composer, I’m looking at what makes sense; what’s an interesting way to tell the story with the music… In the whole heroism thing…thinking of high rollers and high stakes and all things associated with the risk-taker adventurers like secret agents and spies…I thought that music would work well to give dimension to the score.

JT: One of the things that’s interesting about the music in All In: The Poker Movie is that there’s no one specific musical theme that’s established and relied on or referenced throughout the film, but variations of certain musical ideas do recur. How did you settle on that approach? 

PA: It came up basically because [of] what they needed to tell the story rhythmically [and] thematically. So…there are certain cues that appear 5, 6, 7, 8 times. There’s one cue that’s very much like the Watusi… One time it’s in F. One time I think it’s in G sharp. Another I think in G flat. One of the things that you can’t do when you’re using source material, when you’re using records that are preexisting… You can’t change it… But when you’re doing something [original], you can modulate it… Just these little, subtle changes help evolve the music along with the action that you wouldn’t be able to do if you didn’t have the original [track]. That’s one of things I keep bringing through.

JT: You said you worked closely with editor Robert Greene. What was your process of working with him?

PA: [Douglas and Robert] worked on this movie for a long time before I came into the picture of July last year.  Since Robert had worked closely on the film as editor, it was fortunate that he had pulled some great music as a jumping off point for the film.  It was up to me to match what was working and re tool it to create a seamless score. After delivering music to Robert, Robert would place them into the picture and present them to Douglas for his comments. Robert would then come back to me with his comments.  So we worked in this way going around until everyone had contributed and was satisfied. It was a lot of as it is these days, emailing and calling back-and-forth between studios, Robert in New York and myself in Los Angeles. “Is the feel right? Is the vibe right? Do you want me to bring the drums back?” I was able to send him a lot of stems of the music without the drums, [or] a lead part without the music, so that if he could mix it in under certain dialogue, he’s have that kind of freedom. I wanted him to have the widest range of possibilities [of things] to do with all the music.

JT: I know you used live musicians on a number of tracks. How did you assemble the musicians?

PA: I have my own family of musicians that I’ve used here in LA for the last eighteen years… [I] know who’s good at this, who’s good at that… I used one bass player [Kirk Smith] for all the stand-up acoustic bass. I used a different one [Adrian Rosen] for the electric. Not because either couldn’t do both. But [Rosen], on the electric has a great sound on his bass. Plus, he has the ability to play a little loose. So it doesn’t sound so exact… If it’s too exact, then it just sounds too clean. He could play it that way, but if I give him the leeway to play it more like a Rock n’ Roll person, he’ll do that. Whereas the tracks that needed a cool stand-up bass sound…I used [Smith] who can just really knock it out on the stand-up bass… You never have to worry about tone or pitch or any of those things. And they’re guys I’m familiar with. So I can call them and I can say, “Look, we’re doing a documentary. We don’t have a huge budget here…” I assemble all the music, so they only have to come once. I say, “Look, you’re not going to get a lot per hour. But I can use you for three or four hours. So at three or four hours it adds up. It’s worth the drive to the studio and back.” And they leave with some change in their pocket… The guitarist I used for all the tracks in All In: The Poker Movie was Tom Bethke.  He is just a great, with a capital G, all around musician. I use him on electric and acoustic guitars on all of the recordings for Monte Carlo and His Orchestra. He can do the rock and the jazz… He’s phenomenal. We recorded all of the music here in my studio except for the drums, which were done in Mexico. The drummer Rick Shlosser, is a multi-platinum drummer. He’s played on so many great records. He lives down there now. Because of technology…you can send files. He records down there and sends them back… It makes it much more affordable. That’s the key to all of this you know these days, is making really good music affordable. Because the budgets often just aren’t what they used to be. So instead of just [saying] “Okay, I can’t use any live musicians.” I always say to my clients… “Look, for this amount of money, we could put live drums, we could put bass [and] guitar. This is what it’s going to [add] for this. Maybe there’s a horn player for something. I’m always trying to get live musicians on my projects, because it does make a big difference.  It just so happened in the midst of doing the score for All In: The Poker Movie, 4th Row’s production arm hired me to write an alternative rock track for a commercial. Fortunately, there was a budget for me to use a couple of live musicians. When they heard the difference the musicians made, that helped grease the route to find the funds to using live musicians for the film. Obviously, I could do it without [live musicians], but I knew that this was a real [passion] project of Douglas’ and he really wanted it to sound as great as possible. When a lot of the music I wrote was guitar work, you really need guitar, drums, and bass for it to come across right.  We all can and have done it with samplers and synthesizers…but it’s just not going to sound as good.

JT: Rick Shlosser is such a legendary session drummer, having played with Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, and Dionne Warwick, among many others. How did you come to work with him?

PA: I first worked with him on the movie The Velocity of Gary. So that’s fourteen years ago… He was just a great drummer. He was so simple, clear, clean. There are drummers and there are musicians… A number of times I’ve used him on different projects… I was cutting some things for Thelma Houston…we were cutting the song, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” The song that everyone knows as Diana Ross’ theme to Mahogany, was actually first written for Thelma Houston and recorded by her at Motown. When I was getting ready to do Thelma’s live shows, I was putting together Thelma’s live shows and conducting for her, I said to her, “We should do this song. Because nobody knows that this was your song. It would be a great thing to do in the show.” There were actually different lyrics originally in the bridge, so we did it with the original lyrics. Shortly thereafter she was going to do a Motown show in London.  Because they didn’t have a live band for the date I needed to do pre-records for it. On a ballad like that, you’re not going to want to program synth drums. I knew Rick had done…all the classic R&B ballads of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I said, “We’ve just got to get him on this.” Thankfully, we were able to make the dollars and cents work and I hired him.  That was the first time I’d worked with him where he was in Mexico and I was here. Then when he comes through town, I’ll see him. We’ll get together. He’s into cooking and all that stuff too. He’s a music guy. Those are the people that you want to work with.

JT: When you’re recording all the live musicians one at a time, how do you facilitate that so you’re getting the full benefit of using live musicians, and trying to create the energy you would get if they were all playing off each other?

PA: I think it’s just kind of the nature of the beast today. If you want to go back to old school ‘60s, you had writers, arrangers, producers. You had session musicians… When you have a room full of musicians and the clock is going, if the arrangement just isn’t working you can completely go in a different direction, and it’ll all come together. When you don’t have that ability, you have to make sure everything sounds great and was written as a great arrangement before people come in… Because I’m a conductor as well as the engineer and the record producer, I’m basically conducting each person to give me the performance that I am looking for.

JT: Once you’ve recorded all the musicians, what’s the process of working with Robert Greene in making the final mixes for the film?

PA: Everything was done as if it was a final mix beforehand… The things that [we could] do…make the guitars louder, softer… feature the acoustic as opposed to the electric. All those things you have the ability to do in the mixing. In terms of the actual tracks, there’s nothing you can change, except omitting things… You can EQ things. Like if the guitar [has] too much distortion, you can mellow it out. Those things might be great on a record but are not great under dialogue. But you still want that electric, gritty sound. You just roll off some of the top end so it’s not biting all the semblances of someone speaking.

JT: Looking at your history of writing and producing pop and dance records, most recently with Pat Hodges and The Sweet Inspirations, in the past decade, artists and music labels have been on various sides of a debate about people listening to music with more of a “soundbite mentality.”  Someone listens to a song off of a youtube video someone posted on facebook, or someone plugs their ipod into someone else’s car tape deck, and in ten seconds everyone has an opinion. Has that impacted at all how you’ve written or produced music?

PA: Because most people are listening on tiny little tin boxes, if anything I focus on making my music sound as warm as possible. And as human as possible. That seems to get people’s attention. Because, if you’re making all this electronic music and using all these synthesizers and stuff, and everything’s being compressed and mastered for maximum sound – they master way differently for the internet then they did for old vinyl – it’s all about maximizing the volume and making everything as loud as possible. So that as you go between song and song and song, yours doesn’t dip down. So by the time you do all that, you compress it, and you crank it, and you’re listening on these tiny, little tin speakers, everything sounds really thin and bright and hard… Knowing that’s the medium that most people are going to listen on, low-grade quality on youtube or whatever, the warmer I can make it, the more soothing, fulfilling, and joyous it is, as opposed to constant nails on a chalkboard.

JT: How would that approach manifest itself in a dance remix, like your recent tracks with Pat Hodges?

PA: You just make sure you have all the depth in there. You don’t have an army of synthesizers going. Pat’s [voice], that’s your brightness, that’s your edge. That’s your resonance. So you’ve got to create sounds that are going to complement that, as oppose to attack it.

JT: Now that All In: The Poker Movie has been making its way into the world, what are you currently working on, and what do you have that audiences will be able to hear soon?

PA: I’ve got two Monte Carlo and his Orchestra CDs coming up: the Kiss Yesterday Goodbye soundtrack and “The International Set” featuring Kristi Rose on vocals… Those will probably be coming out in the next two months. They’ll be distributed on iTunes, and amazon, all of that… We may press up a select, limited quantity of vinyl. Just because it is that period and that sound. And there is something about the depth to the sound of vinyl… We’ll be doing some kind of a launch. We’re thinking about maybe doing something in an art gallery. Also, coming up is the show “I Love Lucy Live.” It’s going to be in Chicago at the Nederlander Theater in September-October. It’s going to be opening for at least a four year run here in LA and a national tour… I wrote all the transition music in it and the new opening theme. It’s all that early 1950s sitcom, big band, intricate, harmonic progressions, and making that funny is not as easy as you would think… I was pulling my hair for a couple weeks. But I managed to get it all there. I was able to get them to bring in some live musicians on that as well.

JT: In This Time, Myrna Smith of The Sweet Inspirations talked about the importance of  “real music by real musicians” and how she thought that sound was really making a comeback. That really seems like the thesis of all of your work, both with film scores, pop records, and now theater scores as well.

PA: I certainly have a great respect for great musicians. I also really understand what they’re bringing to the music. What music has when they’re there. What music doesn’t have when they’re not. I don’t care how great a composer you are, how much you can make it sound like something. There’s just not the spirit. There’s just not the humanity. When you bring many different people together, all creating one piece, there’s a certain harmony that happens. It’s like many minds, many creativities, all for one purpose. It’s a different experience. And you hear it. Because when people listen to my music, they’re always [saying] “What mic did you use?” And asking, “What did you do technically?” I just used a good mic a good amp, a good pre-amp, and a great musician. Tone is everything. People think, “Oh, we can just throw some church girl in.” But, it’s just not that way. The same thing with the saxophone. I use an amazing musician, John Yoakum, who plays all the flute and tenor sax solos and leads on the recordings of Monte Carlo and His Orchestra. You listen to the tone. It’s just got so much spirit, dimension and color.  I’m always looking for outstanding musicians like that who bring great depth.

 

Composer Peitor Angell is a multi-talented songwriter, musician, producer, arranger, conductor, and engineer. Last year Angell appeared in the documentary This Time, bringing a greater audience to his passion projects with Pat Hodges, The Sweet Inspirations, and Angell’s alter-ego, Monte Carlo and his Orchestra. Angell’s work is once again in front of documentary audiences with his dynamic score for All In: The Poker Movie, which is now available on iTunes and Video On-Demand. I sat down with Angell in his studio in Los Angeles for an in-depth chat about producing records and scoring films. Here’s what Angell shared with me about writing and recording music in the digital age, his past, present, and upcoming projects, and crafting the score for All In: The Poker Movie.

Jackson Truax: How did you get into writing music for films? What has that journey been?

Peitor Angell: First, I began as a songwriter… I wrote a ‘20s musical, “Rendezvous of 1922” that was done off-Broadway… One of the leads in the show, Kristi Rose [and I], we formed a New Wave band called The Charades and played the clubs in New York from ’80 to’82… Kristi Rose has been working with me now singing on a lot of my International Jazz music project, Monte Carlo and His Orchestra…

Shortly after that, I wrote and produced the song, “Sweet Sweet Kiss” which was released by Team Records, an in-house label at The Power Station Recording Studios in New York. Through that, I wound up signed as a producer to their label and as a songwriter to their rival studio, Media Sound. I spent the next year getting out of those contracts and then went on to form another band called the Idolls, and we managed to get several releases out, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” and “Give a Dog a Bone,” on Atlantic Records.  During this time, I wrote the music and lyrics for the song, “Let’s Go” for [singer and DJ] Nocera on Sleeping Bag Records, which went to number seven on the Billboard club charts. From there, several of the directors of music videos approached me about composing music for different films and television projects… I worked on shows like [a special for] Montel Williams, “Mountain Get Out of My Way” … I did ClubMed commercials…all different types of things, across the board… In 1993 I met the director, Randal Kleiser, (Grease, Blue Lagoon, Honey I Blew Up The Kid) who advised me that if I wanted to work on film, I needed to be in LA. So I moved to LA…  Through him I met a number of people, including the director, Dirk Shafer, who had made his movie Man of the Year. That was the first movie I worked on in Los Angeles doing the score… For my second movie, I was in traffic school, and I met an editor on a film [called] Lap Dancer. After that movie, another director introduced me to Carl Colepart at Cineville and he hired me to compose the score for their latest feature starring Eric Roberts, Façade… Very pleased with my work on that project, they then hired me to compose the score for Dan Ireland’s film, The Velocity of Gary, starring Vincent D’Onofrio and Salma Hayek.… I composed a good deal of vintage sounding 70’s source cues for that production, and I thought to myself, “I want to go back to doing records.” I wanted to put my focus on making music that would be out-front, not just to be used behind actors talking and the sound of cars and traffic… On The Velocity of Gary, I had the opportunity to meet and work with the singer Pat Hodges… Shortly after finishing that project, I brought her back into the studio to record a number of songs I had written with Marion Ramsey (from the Police Academy movies).  Forming my own boutique record label, I managed to get Pat Hodges to the top of the Billboard Club Chart three times, two with Marion’s and my collaborations, (“You Make Me Feel Good” and “Saving My Love”). And once with my own song, “Love Revolution,” for which I wrote both the music and lyrics. Shortly after that time I found myself working on a show with Barbara Streisand and I met The Sweet Inspirations. They are the legendary group who performed a good deal of the background vocals for some of Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley, and Dionne Warwick’s greatest recordings. I brought them into the studio to do the background vocals on Pat Hodges Club Hit song, “Love Revolution”. Based on our rapport and the success of that record, I embarked on recording an entire CD with [them], titled, I “In the Right Place.” Through that, I also had the opportunity to record with Cissy Houston on a [record]… After completing The Sweet Inspirations CD, I was hired to work with Thelma Houston, producing her latest CD titled, “A Woman’s Touch.” The work I did on that release brought me to the attention of Charo, who hired me to produce and remix her last two club records that went on the Billboard Club Charts… In the midst of all of that, I was still licensing music to different films and television shows stateside and overseas. Out of some of those jobs came jobs to score them… For instance, the way I connected with the people at 4th Row Films, I saw a screening of a documentary film, Making the Boys that Crayton Robey had directed. As I was sitting in the theater watching the festival screening, I noticed there were a lot of expensive [music] cues in there, Frank Sinatra…all this stuff. At the end of the film, I went up to the director, introduced myself and said, “When it comes time to get distribution on this film and you need to replace this music, call me. I can help you.” Which is what he did. Because I compose a wide range of music, I was able to replace the classic jazz source cues, and make it sound authentic… He ended up getting distribution through 4th Row Films. Then they came to me when they had the poker movie and needed music.

JT: What was the initial conversation that you had with director Douglas Triola that started your working on All In: The Poker Movie?

PA: We had about an hour conversation on the phone. I asked him very specifically…what he liked about what was musically already there. And what he would like to see changed. One of the things he stressed was the heroism of the poker gamblers; that it was not a tale of woe… These people are real gamblers… They’re willing to put everything in… The different periods of music…part of [the movie] is giving you the background on the history of poker. But then, aside from that, there’s the story of Chris Moneymaker. Then behind that, also is the evolution of how it was changing from a card game to an online game. There were sort of three stories in there. The editor Robert Greene had [done rough cuts] with a lot of source music. After the initial conversation with Douglas, Robert and I pretty much worked together. It was always a matter of what was ready to be scored [and] what needed to be done… A number of the cues that needed to be replaced were hit records of their day with live musicians from different decades. So to capture the sound and the feel on those things, the musicianship, those were things I needed to master to give it an authentic sound.

JT: When I interviewed Douglas, he told me how happy he was with the ideas that you brought to the table. What were some of the ideas you had that you think he responded to?

PA: I think what I did most was to take his ideas and interpret them into various musical pieces. Thematically, if it’s heroism, whether it’s an adventure/action cue or a jazz cue, there’s still a soul to it that’s reflecting the intentions. [A filmmaker] may know how to express something in words; it is my job to be able to create a number of different musical compositions to support those ideas and those words. He might think that I contributed a lot of ideas, though I think of it as pretty much just expressing them in various musical ways to make it all come together.

JT: A number of the cues feel as if they could be right out of your Monte Carlo project. There’s a very Peitor Angell sound to the music in All In: The Poker Movie. Was that a function of you having a lot of creative freedom, or did Douglas want something at which he knew you would excel?

PA: The Monte Carlo project is all that international ‘50s-‘60s Pacific Coast jazz sounding music. It’s high-rollers, jet set, James Bond, money pit, that sort of thing. When you think Vegas, you think all those things… The concept of “All In” and going to make all that money. Why are you going to make all that money? Not just to live like a bum in a trailer. It’s to be able to afford the finer things in life. So to me, the element of that chic jazz music under it, that’s what everyone is going for and wanting, the big win. So, yes I know how to do that… You could say that’s my influence on the film. However as a film composer, I’m looking at what makes sense; what’s an interesting way to tell the story with the music… In the whole heroism thing…thinking of high rollers and high stakes and all things associated with the risk-taker adventurers like secret agents and spies…I thought that music would work well to give dimension to the score.

JT: One of the things that’s interesting about the music in All In: The Poker Movie is that there’s no one specific musical theme that’s established and relied on or referenced throughout the film, but variations of certain musical ideas do recur. How did you settle on that approach? 

PA: It came up basically because [of] what they needed to tell the story rhythmically [and] thematically. So…there are certain cues that appear 5, 6, 7, 8 times. There’s one cue that’s very much like the Watusi… One time it’s in F. One time I think it’s in G sharp. Another I think in G flat. One of the things that you can’t do when you’re using source material, when you’re using records that are preexisting… You can’t change it… But when you’re doing something [original], you can modulate it… Just these little, subtle changes help evolve the music along with the action that you wouldn’t be able to do if you didn’t have the original [track]. That’s one of things I keep bringing through.

JT: You said you worked closely with editor Robert Greene. What was your process of working with him?

PA: [Douglas and Robert] worked on this movie for a long time before I came into the picture of July last year.  Since Robert had worked closely on the film as editor, it was fortunate that he had pulled some great music as a jumping off point for the film.  It was up to me to match what was working and re tool it to create a seamless score. After delivering music to Robert, Robert would place them into the picture and present them to Douglas for his comments. Robert would then come back to me with his comments.  So we worked in this way going around until everyone had contributed and was satisfied. It was a lot of as it is these days, emailing and calling back-and-forth between studios, Robert in New York and myself in Los Angeles. “Is the feel right? Is the vibe right? Do you want me to bring the drums back?” I was able to send him a lot of stems of the music without the drums, [or] a lead part without the music, so that if he could mix it in under certain dialogue, he’s have that kind of freedom. I wanted him to have the widest range of possibilities [of things] to do with all the music.

JT: I know you used live musicians on a number of tracks. How did you assemble the musicians?

PA: I have my own family of musicians that I’ve used here in LA for the last eighteen years… [I] know who’s good at this, who’s good at that… I used one bass player [Kirk Smith] for all the stand-up acoustic bass. I used a different one [Adrian Rosen] for the electric. Not because either couldn’t do both. But [Rosen], on the electric has a great sound on his bass. Plus, he has the ability to play a little loose. So it doesn’t sound so exact… If it’s too exact, then it just sounds too clean. He could play it that way, but if I give him the leeway to play it more like a Rock n’ Roll person, he’ll do that. Whereas the tracks that needed a cool stand-up bass sound…I used [Smith] who can just really knock it out on the stand-up bass… You never have to worry about tone or pitch or any of those things. And they’re guys I’m familiar with. So I can call them and I can say, “Look, we’re doing a documentary. We don’t have a huge budget here…” I assemble all the music, so they only have to come once. I say, “Look, you’re not going to get a lot per hour. But I can use you for three or four hours. So at three or four hours it adds up. It’s worth the drive to the studio and back.” And they leave with some change in their pocket… The guitarist I used for all the tracks in All In: The Poker Movie was Tom Bethke.  He is just a great, with a capital G, all around musician. I use him on electric and acoustic guitars on all of the recordings for Monte Carlo and His Orchestra. He can do the rock and the jazz… He’s phenomenal. We recorded all of the music here in my studio except for the drums, which were done in Mexico. The drummer Rick Shlosser, is a multi-platinum drummer. He’s played on so many great records. He lives down there now. Because of technology…you can send files. He records down there and sends them back… It makes it much more affordable. That’s the key to all of this you know these days, is making really good music affordable. Because the budgets often just aren’t what they used to be. So instead of just [saying] “Okay, I can’t use any live musicians.” I always say to my clients… “Look, for this amount of money, we could put live drums, we could put bass [and] guitar. This is what it’s going to [add] for this. Maybe there’s a horn player for something. I’m always trying to get live musicians on my projects, because it does make a big difference.  It just so happened in the midst of doing the score for All In: The Poker Movie, 4th Row’s production arm hired me to write an alternative rock track for a commercial. Fortunately, there was a budget for me to use a couple of live musicians. When they heard the difference the musicians made, that helped grease the route to find the funds to using live musicians for the film. Obviously, I could do it without [live musicians], but I knew that this was a real [passion] project of Douglas’ and he really wanted it to sound as great as possible. When a lot of the music I wrote was guitar work, you really need guitar, drums, and bass for it to come across right.  We all can and have done it with samplers and synthesizers…but it’s just not going to sound as good.

JT: Rick Shlosser is such a legendary session drummer, having played with Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, and Dionne Warwick, among many others. How did you come to work with him?

PA: I first worked with him on the movie The Velocity of Gary. So that’s fourteen years ago… He was just a great drummer. He was so simple, clear, clean. There are drummers and there are musicians… A number of times I’ve used him on different projects… I was cutting some things for Thelma Houston…we were cutting the song, “Do You Know Where You’re Going To” The song that everyone knows as Diana Ross’ theme to Mahogany, was actually first written for Thelma Houston and recorded by her at Motown. When I was getting ready to do Thelma’s live shows, I was putting together Thelma’s live shows and conducting for her, I said to her, “We should do this song. Because nobody knows that this was your song. It would be a great thing to do in the show.” There were actually different lyrics originally in the bridge, so we did it with the original lyrics. Shortly thereafter she was going to do a Motown show in London.  Because they didn’t have a live band for the date I needed to do pre-records for it. On a ballad like that, you’re not going to want to program synth drums. I knew Rick had done…all the classic R&B ballads of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I said, “We’ve just got to get him on this.” Thankfully, we were able to make the dollars and cents work and I hired him.  That was the first time I’d worked with him where he was in Mexico and I was here. Then when he comes through town, I’ll see him. We’ll get together. He’s into cooking and all that stuff too. He’s a music guy. Those are the people that you want to work with.

JT: When you’re recording all the live musicians one at a time, how do you facilitate that so you’re getting the full benefit of using live musicians, and trying to create the energy you would get if they were all playing off each other?

PA: I think it’s just kind of the nature of the beast today. If you want to go back to old school ‘60s, you had writers, arrangers, producers. You had session musicians… When you have a room full of musicians and the clock is going, if the arrangement just isn’t working you can completely go in a different direction, and it’ll all come together. When you don’t have that ability, you have to make sure everything sounds great and was written as a great arrangement before people come in… Because I’m a conductor as well as the engineer and the record producer, I’m basically conducting each person to give me the performance that I am looking for.

JT: Once you’ve recorded all the musicians, what’s the process of working with Robert Greene in making the final mixes for the film?

PA: Everything was done as if it was a final mix beforehand… The things that [we could] do…make the guitars louder, softer… feature the acoustic as opposed to the electric. All those things you have the ability to do in the mixing. In terms of the actual tracks, there’s nothing you can change, except omitting things… You can EQ things. Like if the guitar [has] too much distortion, you can mellow it out. Those things might be great on a record but are not great under dialogue. But you still want that electric, gritty sound. You just roll off some of the top end so it’s not biting all the semblances of someone speaking.

JT: Looking at your history of writing and producing pop and dance records, most recently with Pat Hodges and The Sweet Inspirations, in the past decade, artists and music labels have been on various sides of a debate about people listening to music with more of a “soundbite mentality.”  Someone listens to a song off of a youtube video someone posted on facebook, or someone plugs their ipod into someone else’s car tape deck, and in ten seconds everyone has an opinion. Has that impacted at all how you’ve written or produced music?

PA: Because most people are listening on tiny little tin boxes, if anything I focus on making my music sound as warm as possible. And as human as possible. That seems to get people’s attention. Because, if you’re making all this electronic music and using all these synthesizers and stuff, and everything’s being compressed and mastered for maximum sound – they master way differently for the internet then they did for old vinyl – it’s all about maximizing the volume and making everything as loud as possible. So that as you go between song and song and song, yours doesn’t dip down. So by the time you do all that, you compress it, and you crank it, and you’re listening on these tiny, little tin speakers, everything sounds really thin and bright and hard… Knowing that’s the medium that most people are going to listen on, low-grade quality on YouTube or whatever, the warmer I can make it, the more soothing, fulfilling, and joyous it is, as opposed to constant nails on a chalkboard.

JT: How would that approach manifest itself in a dance remix, like your recent tracks with Pat Hodges?

PA: You just make sure you have all the depth in there. You don’t have an army of synthesizers going. Pat’s [voice], that’s your brightness, that’s your edge. That’s your resonance. So you’ve got to create sounds that are going to complement that, as oppose to attack it.

JT: Now that All In: The Poker Movie has been making its way into the world, what are you currently working on, and what do you have that audiences will be able to hear soon?

PA: I’ve got two Monte Carlo and his Orchestra CDs coming up: the Kiss Yesterday Goodbye soundtrack and “The International Set” featuring Kristi Rose on vocals… Those will probably be coming out in the next two months. They’ll be distributed on iTunes, and amazon, all of that… We may press up a select, limited quantity of vinyl. Just because it is that period and that sound. And there is something about the depth to the sound of vinyl… We’ll be doing some kind of a launch. We’re thinking about maybe doing something in an art gallery. Also, coming up is the show “I Love Lucy Live.” It’s going to be in Chicago at the Nederlander Theater in September-October. It’s going to be opening for at least a four year run here in LA and a national tour… I wrote all the transition music in it and the new opening theme. It’s all that early 1950s sitcom, big band, intricate, harmonic progressions, and making that funny is not as easy as you would think… I was pulling my hair for a couple weeks. But I managed to get it all there. I was able to get them to bring in some live musicians on that as well.

JT: In This Time, Myrna Smith of The Sweet Inspirations talked about the importance of  “real music by real musicians” and how she thought that sound was really making a comeback. That really seems like the thesis of all of your work, both with film scores, pop records, and now theater scores as well.

PA: I certainly have a great respect for great musicians. I also really understand what they’re bringing to the music. What music has when they’re there. What music doesn’t have when they’re not. I don’t care how great a composer you are, how much you can make it sound like something. There’s just not the spirit. There’s just not the humanity. When you bring many different people together, all creating one piece, there’s a certain harmony that happens. It’s like many minds, many creativities, all for one purpose. It’s a different experience. And you hear it. Because when people listen to my music, they’re always [saying] “What mic did you use?” And asking, “What did you do technically?” I just used a good mic a good amp, a good pre-amp, and a great musician. Tone is everything. People think, “Oh, we can just throw some church girl in.” But, it’s just not that way. The same thing with the saxophone. I use an amazing musician, John Yoakum, who plays all the flute and tenor sax solos and leads on the recordings of Monte Carlo and His Orchestra. You listen to the tone. It’s just got so much spirit, dimension and color.  I’m always looking for outstanding musicians like that who bring great depth.

Leave a Reply


Tiny Subscribe to Comments





  • LiC on Twitter

  • Archives

All material copyright 2007-2012 by Craig Kennedy unless otherwise stated