Getting to Know Roddy Bottum
Coming from two successful rock groups (Faith No More and Imperial Teen), how did you make the jump into film music?
quote-leftI grew up in Los Angeles, and was always into film music as a kid. I moved to San Francisco to attend the film program at San Francisco State to learn film production. San Francisco in the 1980s was a thriving art community - so it made sense to work in a lot of different fields - so I joined a band. The band took me on the road - away from the camera, and the area where I could make films. It ended up being a fulltime job for many years. So I just stopped doing film for a long time while I was touring, since Faith No More turned into a round-the-clock, throughout-the-year, fulltime job. Now, after about 15-years, it makes sense. Since I want to stay home and not do as much touring, I can get back into film.
It happened accidentally for me. If you're in any peripheral end of the entertainment industry, you end up meeting a lot of people throughout your travels. So through my tours and my past, I just knew a lot of people working in film - and it seemed like a more viable way to do what I wanted to do. But I had to move to Los Angeles - I had been living in San Francisco for the past 15 years, and at one point I realized that to take this seriously, I would have to move down to Los Angeles. I was writing a lot of music at the time, and I got into the ASCAP Film Music Workshop - so I came down here to do the program, and it ended up seeming like something I wanted to pursue. So now I'm taking some courses at UCLA, which gives musicians the opportunity to work with live orchestras - and that's really nice.
I think it will be a bit of time before I work on a project that has enough money to afford an orchestra. But in the meantime, it's fun to take these classes. Before I took them, I'd never written for an orchestra, except for the ASCAP thing. I just kind of jumped into it - I can read and write music, but I'd never written for a full orchestra. The ASCAP thing was a real shocker! It was a really intensive program for three weeks, 4 or 5 nights a week. They cover every aspect of the industry, from budgeting, writing, orchestrating, everything. The final project is to write for a big 42-piece orchestra - and I'd never done that before. So you have one week to come up with the music, and you have to orchestrate it too! It was crazy for me - a lot of the people who made it into that program had been to music school, and were pretty adept at writing for an orchestra."
Did you get any guest composers speaking to the ASCAP class?
quote-leftYes, we would have a guest composer speak every night. Shirley Walker was really cool, just to listen to. She had an interesting perspective - she had a hard time, being a woman and coming to this field, so it wasn't easy for her. It was really enlightening to hear her talk about what she went through - it gave me hope! James Newton Howard also came in and spoke; hew as pretty interesting too. We seem to have a somewhat common background: he pretty much came from the rock world, and jumped into film scoring."
So essentially you started out doing films, but you took a break from it and ended up with this whole other music career?
quote-leftYeah, accidentally I just happened into a touring rock band! <laughs> But it went on for a long time, it was like 15 years of my life, touring, touring and touring. So for someone who is interested in film, it makes sense musically - where do you go after you've been doing that for a long time? Aging rock stars seem to move towards film. It gives you the luxury of staying at home and working on music, which is nice."
Up until this point, you've been doing mainly documentaries. How did you get these projects?
quote-leftJust through friends - people I know. Having done rock music, I know a lot of people. Every opportunity I've had so far has been because of someone I've met along the way. A friend of mine was producing this discover channel documentary, The Worlds Busiest Airport, and he asked me if I wanted to work on it. He was really into the idea of using people who had never done what they were doing for the first time, and he had a cameraman who had never done a television show before - he was really into giving people their first big break. This other documentary I'm doing, The Cucumber Incident, I got because the filmmakers asked a friend of mine to be the music supervisor - but they realized they needed a score, so she suggested me to them."
Do you still find yourself doing the band thing?
quote-leftYeah, I still do that. Imperial Teen just did a small tour this past weekend - we were in San Francisco on Friday, and then in Los Angeles on Saturday. And that's the extent of the tour. It's really a gig, not a tour!"
Is that how you would prefer to do it these days?
quote-leftYeah - it comes down to who is available. A job might come up and so that won't give you enough time to go out there and perform. Imperial Teen is putting out a record in January, and at that point I'm sure we'll be expected to tour - it will get a little tight, and I'll have to make some decisions at that point. I could be working on a job - but it's perfect right now to be able to do two things. "
What is your musical background?
quote-leftI did classical piano from the age of five, until I moved to San Francisco. At that point, I was into punk-rock and started playing obnoxious rock bands like Faith No More. That was really my composing background - that's how I learned to write songs for Faith No More."
What are your thoughts on the two different composer types - those that are classically trained in orchestration etc., and those that shift into it from the rock world? Can they live side by side?
quote-leftI think there will always be a demand for the old school process of composing from a classically trained background. I don't think one will ever outweigh the other. But it's exciting to me that Joe Anybody can go in and do a film score - I think that's great! Because the proof is in the pudding: it's either good or it's not. If it's good, you continue to do it and you make a career out of that. If it's not, well, it's obvious. It's also a matter of who you know - but only for your "big break". You can go in on your big break and do a film score, and if it doesn't work, it's over! It's not like you're going to continue to get these favors - you only will if you're good at what you're doing."
Do you have feature films on the horizon?
quote-leftThere are always possibilities out there. Courtney Love is a friend of mine, and we've been working on these songs for this movie that she's going to be doing next year, about this 1920s performer - a singer. The movie is pretty much a musical; there are a lot of songs and music in it. We just went to New York and played a show at the Russian Tea Room, playing these old 1920's songs. The objective for me, in this project, is to do the score. I'm coming in on the ground floor, and I just went and did this benefit for these people that are putting on the movie, and so it seems like a viable thing."
So you played these old 1920s standards - but will the songs you're writing for the movie be in the "style" of the 1920s?
quote-leftYes - they're going to be new songs with that old-time feeling - and there are also a lot of old standards in there. But they would have to be re-orchestrated and reworked a bit. I'm sure it would be fun!"
What else are you working on?
quote-leftThat's the funny thing about Los Angeles. There are so many possibilities - every day there's something new. I don't know - sorting through it is such a pain in the ass. All you can do is just keep attacking all of these possibilities, because 9 out of 10 fall through. So many things come up, but you never know what will actually stick."
What would your dream project be?
quote-leftA smart clever, independent film. It's a fun thing to start a career, because at this point I can really pick and choose what I want to pursue. It seems like one you get into something and start pursuing it, it's hard to say no. So at this point, starting with independent features would be great."
You'd rather do and independent film rather than a studio film?
quote-leftSure! Right now, I think they're smarter films. And I think it's more appealing to work on something with one specific vision. On an independent feature, you would hope that the director has a vision, and that's the vision that is followed through. As a composer, I would answer to that person and his vision. That seems like the dream job - something that I can relate to who can relate to me and we'd work well together. But the notion of going in and making a studio film score with a team of people, a handful of producers who are most likely fighting with the director…. There are so many more people involved, that the potential for confusion and dispersement of that vision is just too big. At some point I might be good at dealing with that - but not now.
I encountered those aspects in the music business already. With Faith No More, we were dealing with big record companies, and at the end of the day we were answering to a big team of people. With Imperial Teen, we call the shots. We're putting our foot down! We're putting our record out on a small independent label, and we get to call all the shots every step of the way. And that's a great place to be!"
About: Thanks to Versa Manos at GorgeousPR for setting up this interview.
The Art of film and Television Music
Release date: July 22, 2001
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* Jonathan Grassi