Rarity Guide Interview with David Ari Leon
Doug: Nice to meet you David.
David Ari Leon: Nice to meet you Doug.
Doug: Oh, you good?
Doug: Well, thanks for agreeing to this interview.
David: You're welcome, my pleasure.
Doug: So, I guess, what are you working on right now?
David: I'm working on a few different projects. Since this is a video game panel I'll start with that. I'm doing 3 different projects for Electronic Arts and unfortunately I'm under a non-disclosure agreement so I can't say the names of them. But I've done a good run of projects for the beginning of this year. I've done the “Woody Woodpecker” game came out earlier this year. It was the iPhone game of the week.
Doug: Very Nice
David: The Contre Jour game that I did was the iPad Game of the Year last year from Apple's iTune Store Rewind in like 10 different countries around Europe and Asia. So, I'm pretty excited about the game work that I've been doing.
Doug: Good bragging rights.
David: Yes, I know, I do feel like I'm bragging.
Doug: But you earned it.
David: Thank you, I appreciate it. I am told I'm supposed to be proud of what I do. In addition to that I'm working on some TV shows as well. I just finished the first season of a show for Sea World, Sea World's first show. It's called Sea Rescue, it airs nationwide on ABC. We're going into the second season this fall. So those are some of the things and I'm doing other things as well.
Doug: Of course. No rest for the wicked.
David: Right, exactly.
Doug: So, I guess, what's the process for conjuring up the scores and all?
David: The process for conjuring up the scores … that's an interestingly phrased question. So for each project I'll sit with what the mood and the feel and the vibe is of whatever is needed, if it's a game or a TV show. And I'll let that inform me on a basic level. For me music is about invoking an emotion and if you've missed that then you've kind of defeated the purpose of it. So getting inside the feeling and the mood is step 1, in terms of conjuring. So I conjuring up the emotion first and then once I have that then I think through what kind of genre or instrumentation or palette. Is it a song, does it have lyrics. If its score, is it more orchestral like John Williams or is it more of a hybrid approach like Bresner does or what is it. I've become the kind of composer that has a wide range of styles and genres. Although I've been told it's better to have one sound that you do really well that you're really famous for, like Danny Elfman. And everyone goes “Ah, get me Danny Elfman because I want this sound.” And I don't have that yet where it's like “Get him this guy because he has a really good sound.” But maybe someday I will have that. Right now I have to just do the assignment as it's presented to me.
Doug: Well, hey, we all gotta start at square one, but it sounds like your beyond that.
David: I hope so. I've been doing it for over 20 years so I hope I'm beyond square one.
Doug: Actually, one of the other things I wanted to ask you was is there a preferred medium you like to work with? More digital, orchestral, acoustic …
David: In terms of instruments and sounds?
David: I grew up loving music by bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd. And whenever I have the chance to make songs like that that really sound like the records I grew up listening to I'm pretty excited. I've done a lot of composing and scoring where I'm doing things more orchestral or more filmic and that's very fun too. I did also grow up listening to John Williams and I love what he does and that's very fun too.
Doug: Yeah. Well, we kinda brushed on it on the last one. So, might as well bring it out full force: any influences on your work?
David: Well,we did just brush on that didn't we? So in addition to those guys I did grow up being classically trained on the piano and I have a degree in Music Composition from UCLA and I have a lot of Classical composers that I love. From Beethoven to more modern composers like Debussy and Ravel, I'm a big fan of. And if you listen to scores by composers like John Williams and other guys who are classically trained you hear a lot of the influences from the great composers. I always tell people if you really want to learn film score you study the great classical composers: Study Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky and you'll get the same training that the guys you love got.
Doug: What got you into video game music or just music in general, outside of the Beatles and Pink Floyd?
David: Well, I decided to study music composition in college. I was very fortunate to do internships with a couple of big composers for film: Danny Elfman and Mark Isham while I was in college. And I'm very fortunate to have done that. It really helped me segue into pursuing that on my own. What was the second half of the question?
Doug: Really it comes down to what got you into music.
David: Well, I just loved it.
Doug: Alright. Well, what was the first gig you got where it was you doing all the scoring?
David: Where it was me doing all the scoring? I had done a few different gigs where I had done some music and done credits “additional music by”. I actually have a lot of credits as a music supervisor. The first project where I was doing all of the scoring for it was when Fox first launched the Fox Family channel in 1998 they were looking for a show that they thought would really be a family friendly quirky show. So they, I don't know if you remember this character named “Mr. Bill” from Saturday Night Live … Emily's shaking her head yes. He's made out of clay and he goes “Oh No!” So they did a Mr. Bill show and so I did all the music for this show. That was the first show that I composed all the music for.
Doug: That's a heck of a start, I'll say that.
David: It was fun, very quirky
Doug: I can imagine. So what's been your favorite project thus far?
David: Wow, um, I really loved doing the series of theme songs I did for Marvel. The theme for the avengers TV show that is on Disney XD, a couple of theme songs for a series of motion comics that Marvel did. Astonising X-men, that was a Joss Whedon project, Iron Man: Extremis. I did a song where I was lucky to have the singer from Toad the Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips, sing it. It came out great. So, on the song side, that was very fun. On the score side I'd have to say this little Contre Jour game is really a wonderful project. I'm really proud of it. I get a lot of fans reaching out to me saying they love the music. I released the soundtrack on iTunes and its been actually selling well. It's pretty simple piano music, pretty classical. It just really has gotten a lot of appreciation so I'm grateful for that.
Doug: I can imagine so. How do you feel music in games has evolved over the years. I mean we've gone from like the Magnavox to the Nintendo to the Super Nintendo to where we are now.
David: It's funny. There's sort of an irony, to me, about game music. Because game music can be anything. It's just an audio file, just like you can download from the internet, that's now in games. So you could record a live orchestra, which I've done. I did music for a game called “Star Trek: Starfleet Command”, and this was over 10 years ago, and it was recorded with a live orchestra. That was wonderful. What's ironic to me is that I will be asked to make music that sounds like a game even though there's no restriction any more. Just because its sort of in our mind, “this is how a game should sound.” I've been doing a string of these mobile games and the benchmark is definitely the “Angry Birds” games. Which has sold over a billion downloads in all its forms, some ridiculous number like that. The company that was the publisher of that game was the Chillngo division of Electronic Arts and I do a lot of work for them. And its interesting how often that “Angry Birds” game comes up in conversation. I did one project, called “Choco-loco”, and the game was selling pretty well, and I did a piece of music for it and they said its sounds too much like “Angry Bird” and the game kind of felt like “Angry Birds” to me. So I went away from “Angry Birds” and now I'm doing a new game for them. I'm not allowed say the name, but they wanted something that sounded kind of nautical, like pirate music. So I did something that was pretty legit kind of like something that sailors would sing, you know a sea shanty.
Doug: Those are good.
David: Those are good. So I did one and I was really proud of it like I thought this is a great piece of music and I sent it to them. They said they wanted it to sound more cutesy-like like “Angry Birds”; so I had to “cute-isfy”. They actually, literally said, “can you make it cheesier.” That's like the worst thing, it's like someone saying, “Can you make your music more bad?”
Doug: I have to agree there, it's like, from the sound of it its a really good score, and they said, “No, we want something more like Monkey Island”.
David: You're right, exactly. “We want it a little more cartoony and younger” and I'm like “Okay”. This is like what we were talking about earlier where I don't get to choose the assignment. I get handed the assignment, it's almost like doing homework: like “here's your assignment”.
Doug: Oh man
David: It's all fun I'm certainly not complaining … or I shouldn't.
Doug: Well, true, it's hard to complain about that part. Well, might as well lead onto this one, one of the more obvious ones: any favorite games?
David: Favorite games … gosh … I've been playing a lot of the mobile games. I've been working a lot with the mobile games. I really do think that the “Angry Birds” game is pretty amazing: what they did in terms of mobile games.
Doug: It is pretty epic.
David: and I think it really has set the benchmark for that whole genre. That everyone is trying to be the next “Angry Birds”. There's a lot of really good games out there. It's tough to narrow them down so I think I'll just pass on trying, if that's alright
Doug: No worries. It's one of those really hard questions but its a good one. That's everything, is there anything you'd like to add on?
David: I can't think of anything to add on. I've got a facebook page if you want to learn more about my projects. It's facebook.com/davidarileon
Doug: Well, thank you very much for your time. Great to meet you.
David: Thanks, you too.