Sam Hughes speaks to renowned composer, Richard Jacques, about his career so far, Heroville and more!
Classically trained from a young age at the Royal Academy of Music in London with an extensive repertoire including orchestral, jazz and popular music genres, Richard is a multiple award-winning composer for film, television and video games. Best known for his critically acclaimed orchestral scores for blockbuster franchises such as James Bond 007: Blood Stone, Mass Effect, Little Big Planet 2 , Alice in Wonderland, Starship Troopers, Headhunter, Jacques’ dramatic music can also be heard in numerous premier TV and movie theatre campaigns for some of the world’s largest media agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi and McCann Ericsson, and top name brands such as Audi, Bacardi, Mercedes-Benz and Stella Artois. His music for television includes top brand shows for the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.
Jacques recently opened his new state-of-the-art studio facility in central London and is currently writing original music for new advertising, television, video games and other visual media projects, including an animated feature film. In 2016 Richard Jacques returns to Abbey Road for his latest project, and album of spectacular orchestral and jazz compositions for West One Music Group, featuring the cream of the crop of London’s top session players.
Before reading check out this awesome 360 video of the orchestral recording session!
Read the full interview below:
Before we talk about your latest project, ‘Heroville’, would you mind just telling us a bit about how you began your journey to becoming a composer?
I grew up in a musical family and started learning piano and trombone when I was very young. I was very fortunate to get a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music’s Junior department where I used to go every Saturday from the age of about 12 to 16. I then went on to study at Wells Cathedral School as part of their Specialist Musician scheme, and then onto university to do Batchelor of Arts degree in Music. I had always been interested in composing, and the first piece of music I can remember writing was a piano duet when I was 7, using 2 cassette recorders to record the different parts (early multi-tracking if you will!) I was also interested in technology from the age of 11 when I got my first computer (a Sinclair ZX Spectrum) and learned to program music with it, as well as playing games at 5am before going to school! I gradually built up various computers and synthesizers and was composing more and more throughout my teens. Whilst at University I had the opportunity to use the studio facilities and write for larger format ensembles. Throughout my education I was absorbing myself in all kinds of music. One minute I could be playing Stravinsky in a symphony orchestra, or watching a Public Enemy gig in London, the next I could be playing a big band gig with NYJO or writing electronica in the studio. I’ve always been very open-minded about musical genres.
Was there any particular moment that was a key turning point or ‘big break’ that kickstarted your career?
The first big break I had in my career was being hired as an in-house composer at SEGA. I was in the final year of my music degree when I was hired for the position, and so began my career just 2 days after completing my studies. Another key turning point was when I scored the “Headhunter” soundtrack. This was the first orchestral score for a game to be recorded at Abbey Road Studios and got a great deal of attention and praise; it was a highly enjoyable experience.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and overcome as a composer?
It’s quite probably the hours and the life of being a busy working composer. I very rarely experience writer’s block (luckily) but I think the sleep deprivation and dedication to the craft can take its toll. I have always been very driven and dedicated to my work since I was very young so it’s nothing particularly new to me but working past 3am is something that I try to avoid these days. That is pretty much my limit, but what with picture changes / awaiting final edits of cut scenes / working with clients in different time zones, it’s essential for a composer to be flexible as music and sound are usually the last components of a production to fit together.
What would you say has been the proudest moment of your career so far? Do you have any particular favourite projects that you’ve worked on?
Working on the scores to Mass Effect and James Bond 007: Blood Stone are certainly projects that I am very proud of. And of course they are completely different in tone and musical genre, not to mention style and instrumentation. On Mass Effect I was one of 4 composers on the team and was originally hired to help out with the huge number of cut-scenes in the game. My proudest moment of this score was the point in the game where you visit “The Citadel” for the very first time. There is a beautiful cut-scene which builds up to a big reveal of The Citadel, a gigantic space station, and it was a joy to score this moment. Also, working on a James Bond soundtrack is an honour for any composer. It was a huge amount of work with all interactive music using lots of custom scripting, as well as many cut-scenes. I am immensely proud of this score and many Bond fans have been kind enough to write to me and are very complimentary about it.
You recently composed the music for the album ‘Heroville’ for West One Music Group, have you ever been asked to compose music that isn’t synced to image or put to a game before? Do you feel this was a, creatively speaking, liberating or constraining experience?
This is a great question and the simple answer is no! Everything I have done to date has been scored to picture (whether in a linear or interactive / adaptive fashion), so there has always been picture to look at, or game builds to play. I thought the process of composing Heroville may be somewhat constraining but it was actually the complete opposite and was very liberating indeed.
Is there anything you’ve done differently with ‘Heroville’ that you wish you’d done or weren’t able to do on previous projects?
I was originally asked to compose Heroville because the producers at the label had heard my scores to James Bond 007 – Blood Stone and Little Big Planet 2 – The Muppets, and so they asked me to compose similar material as I was known for that classic ‘big brassy’ sound, quite possibly because I’m a trombone player. Despite not scoring to picture I approached the music in a way that was very flexible for sync licensing purposes. So it was written in a different way than for linear or interactive picture, especially in terms of form and structure. I also ensured the material was flexible enough to create a multitude of cut downs and alternate mixes. I think from a 13-track full length album we managed to produce nearly 200 individual tracks! I haven’t done anything particularly different on this album than I would have done on previous projects, mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t scoring to picture or to a game. The recording process was basically the same as I would normally do, working with first-class musicians at great studios.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self a single piece of advice, what would it be and why?
That’s a tough question! I think it would be about achieving a good balance. Any creative person or role takes inspiration from so many different aspects of life, art, nature, people, etc. If I could, I would say to my younger self, “Time spent outside the studio makes time inside the studio more productive and more creative.”
Just to finish with, if you could have a drink with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
Going to the pub with James Brown, Keith Flint (Prodigy) and Igor Stravinsky would be pretty cool, not to mention insane.
Listen to the album ‘Heroville’ on Richard’s Website! http://www.richardjacques.com/heroville
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The Sound Architect