Name: Jeff Cardoni
Nationality: American
Occupation: Composer, multi-instrumentalist
Current release: Jeff Cardoni scored the music for the HBO documentary Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.
Recommendations: "Adagio For Strings" by Samuel Barber - still just one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.
Planet of the Apes by Jerry Goldsmith - just the most modern, insanely unique pieces of film music ever written. The inventiveness and energy is just mind-blowing.

If you enjoyed this interview with Jeff Cardoni and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for film music?

I think the movies were such a special communal place growing up, where you had to go to experience the same films as everyone else. Everything was so emotional and larger than life and I was drawn to the obvious choices - John Williams, James Horner, and Danny Elfman in the beginning, because I’m just drawn to the big sweeping romantic orchestral music that that period of films featured.

Which composers, or soundtracks captured your imagination in the beginning? What scenes or movies drew you in through their use of music?

Setting aside the obvious ET, Star Wars, Titanic, Planet of the Apes, I was on the East Coast, dreaming of getting to Los Angeles, which was kind of a mythical place to me.

I was reading a Brett Easton Ellis novel called Less Than Zero, and when I saw the film, I was really moved by the music, which turned out to be an early Thomas Newman score. It just struck me that there was a way to score films with a new perspective and it really just clicked for me. It took me another decade to get here and try to pursue it.

What made it appealing to you to score a movie yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what did you feel did you have to add artistically?

I mean, scoring a movie is a huge challenge in the beginning, just to make it to the end. To me the attractive thing is to have a batch of music that you create that’s all informed by the story and all connected through themes and instrumentation.

The most satisfying thing is listening to it all when you’re done and hearing the way it kind of tells a story from front to back through music.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to film music? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?

I am kind of old fashioned at heart - I love a good melody, and for better or worse, try to incorporate that into all of my scores. These days sometimes texture and sound are as important and a theme may be seen as old-fashioned but I still try and have it.

In my little sliver of this universe it seems to work ok for the type of projects I get to work on.

How would you rate the importance of soundtracks and film music for the movie as a whole? How do you see the relationship between image and sound in a movie?

I mean, I obviously think when a soundtrack and film work together, it’s kind of a case where 1+1=3. I think the whole can be better than the sum of its parts.

Music can help tell the story and add a dimension that you’re not necessarily seeing on screen. That’s where I think the magic lies, when you can add another layer or dimension.

How did you get started scoring for films and what were some of the specific challenges?

The biggest challenge in the beginning, all of the technical issues aside, is finding what your voice is as a composer and what you can bring to something that’s different.

I think in the early days, we’re all trying to emulate our influences and sometimes that’s what’s required to do the job, but when you kind of rise above that and bring your unique voice, that’s the challenge. Having the confidence to score a film as you, as opposed to how you think someone else would do it, or how you’re supposed to do it.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?

I’m a traditionalist in a lot of ways, in that I use many acoustic instruments - piano (what I learned music on), guitar, drums, bass, etc. So, in some ways that’s stayed pretty consistent. Even with all of the technology available to us, I try to use real instruments on every project because I think that is a way we can bring our sound to it and not just sound like everyone else because we’re using the same sounds and samples in the computer.

I think a real instrument played badly or in an unorthodox way brings some humanity and uniqueness to a piece of music, so I try and do it all the time.

Since Until the Wheels Fall Off is a documentary, I could imagine that the creative process might have been a bit different from, say, The Kominsky Method. How much did you immerse yourself in the topic - and what can knowing more about the facts behind the film bring to the table for the score?

It’s different in some ways, but the same in others.

I always try and start at the piano to come up with the raw material, be it a melody or chord progression, usually recorded into my iPhone. After that it’s different a bit.

The main themes in The Kominsky Method, were kind of used and varied throughout the series and to picture. Whereas on a documentary, then you’re kind of writing pieces of music that are more about a feeling than necessarily changing based on the picture. In a lot of ways, you’re scoring what someone is thinking or feeling in the documentary, as opposed to what you’re seeing in the live action show.

But they're uniquely fun and challenging in their own ways, and it’s creatively invigorating to go between the genres to keep it interesting.

I would assume that a major part of composing for film is the ability of interpreting the images and the narrative at play. Tell me about how this worked for you with regards to Until the Wheels Fall Off - and how these interpretations in turn lead to sounds and compositions.

I had some simple piano melodies that I was able to blend based on how the characters were feeling. In the film, I had the benefit of many of the skating scenes having source music of the period scoring them, so I could really focus on the emotional story of Tony and his family and really focus on scoring what he was feeling.

Sam Jones knew a lot about music. I'm curious as to how that changed the dynamic of your work.

You are correct, Sam Jones knows A LOT about music! I already had seen the Wilco film that he directed and then when I met with him, it came up that he used to be roommates with Jon Brian, a personal hero of mine, so I knew that it was going to be a challenge, of the best possible kind.  

Every note, I mean every note, was dissected, and discussed, but in a totally creative way and I never felt micro-managed - it was more a discovery, and I think it shows in the final product.

The piano cue mentioned in the press release – "Never Give Up" – is breathtakingly beautiful. But it does seem remarkable you thought it could work in the movie. What connection did you see?

Thank you, first of all. That cue is funny because it originally started in that there was a scene that Sam had no idea what he wanted to do with the music, so I kind of was tinkering at the piano and that came up for another scene and I thought it was kind of a throwaway.

But Sam and the editor, Greg Finton, really liked it and started trying it in other places and it really just seems to work with Rodney Mullen’s kind of sensei-like talks about life.

So, I kind of expanded it and it became the hopeful main melody of the whole film, and then we added the full orchestra to it in the final cue where Rodney actually says the words, “Until The Wheels Fall Off.”

The balance between visuals, fx and film music is always delicate. In the case of Until the Wheels Fall Off, there was also a soundtrack with many punk rock songs to consider. What, from your point of view, determines whether or not it is a successful one?

Well, it surely made my life easier, in that I could focus on the emotions with the score, which is what I really love to do, as opposed to scoring the skating montages which would have diminished the effect of the score. Skating is so much about music, so for them to be able to get so many iconic songs was just amazing, kudos to music supervisor Alison Woods.

I agree the balance of songs and score can make or break a film, but for this one I think they pulled it off and they complimented each other in the best way. The best compliment was that a few of the reviews said the score felt at home amongst the pop songs, or something to that effect, because it was by design and I think they worked together.

Once the movie is finished, what is the value of the score you composed outside of its original context?

I guess that depends on who you’re asking. I think as a composer you always strive to create something that would make you think of the film away from it, sometimes it’s easier than others. But that’s the goal - if someone were to hear a score, they would think of the film.

BUT the main goal has to be to support the film in the best way, if that means the score has to be more minimal and not draw too much attention, then that’s ok. It’s better than the score trying so hard to be noticed that it detracts from the film itself.

Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musical decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered ‘definitive'?

Like I said earlier, I think the goal is to find your voice as a composer and how you would approach a scene. That’s why someone takes a chance hiring you on their film - they want your perspective.

I think in the early days, a composer would hear a temp score and kind of play it safe by trying to give them something that wouldn’t be too jarringly different. We’ve all walked that tightrope.

I think I’m at a point in my career now, that I just react to the film and kind of do what I think is the best approach and always lead with that. Even if it doesn’t resonate at first, at least it will propel you towards a creative solution that will be unique eventually.

Until the Wheels Fall Off is a biography, but it is also about the magic and importance of skateboarding in general. After spending some time with the topic, how does that importance and magic compare to music? Do you think there is some kind of creativity expressed through skateboarding as well?

I think the interesting thing about the film is that the message can apply to anyone in a creative pursuit - be it art, music, sports, acting, etc. There is a point where you have to put the hard work in and kind of block out all of the noise from people who will tell you why to not do something.

Behind every overnight success story, there are countless hours spent working on the craft. Even someone as iconic as Tony Hawk, he wasn’t born as good as he was, he put in the hours.

And at the end of it, a life spent doing what you love isn’t work at all, and we can all strive to keep doing it until, ahem the wheels fall off.