Composer Joel J. Richard confesses he tends to “walk through life banging on things.” That started as an idle habit common to most kids, but later proved an asset to his composing style, which layers more conventional musicality with unorthodox textures created with anything from dishes to garbage cans.
While in school for audio engineering at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona (which was a stop on the way to California, where Richard says he always wanted to be), he had to have an internship to graduate.
“I had been trying to get my foot in the door, but nobody would let me in. People kept saying, ‘You need an internship,’” Richard says. “I realized since it was a school requirement, someone would have to let me intern for them, and I wound up at Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures.”
From there, Richard worked with composer John Powell, which was where he was introduced to a gamut of film composing projects, from animated and action movies to comedies and romances. Richard says it taught him the versatility needed to make it in the industry, though he retained the experimental sensibilities that made him stand out.
“I think sometimes music can even distract an audience if it sounds too familiar to them. I try not to repeat myself,” he says.
To accentuate the character of John Wick, there was a lot of banging on trashcans to create large, metallic sounds, because the character was a “broken man,” Richard says. Other times, he’d re-string old, out-of-tune instruments to convey mourning and add tension.
“It’s easy to settle into a comfort zone, find something that works and just do that,” Richard says. “I’m more into the creation part of it, the blank page and finding what the key is. And I don’t walk in with preconceived notions about a project. A preconceived idea can interfere with finding the original voice for the project.”
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