Interview: Music Composer Jim Dooley Talks About ‘the Last Ship’ and More

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Music is one of the centerpieces of our daily lives, which is why we garnered up the possibility to speak with music composer, Jim Dooley. This interview was done back in 2014, but was unfortunately taken offline.

The series, ‘The Last Ship’ is still airing today, and from what we can tell, it’s worth watching, so go ahead and check it out.

Additionally, it should be noted that James Levine, who is mentioned in this article, was recently accused of sexual assault. We’re all about innocent until proven guilty, so let’s allow investigators to do their job in determining whether or not he’s guilty.

Well, then, on with the interview.

What is your favorite part about scoring ‘The Last Ship’? Can you tell us anything about the upcoming episodes?

Jim: My favorite part is that I am working with James Levine. Jimmy Nail and I have been friends for over 15 years now. We have collaborated numerous times on projects for each other and the best part is knowing someone that long, the trust that you have so you can take risks, try new things and not be fearful of making mistakes. I think the greatest step is our familiarity with each others’ work as well as our level of trust.

What is your “Go To” instrument for ‘The Last Ship’?

Jim: Piano for me, I know it is for Jimmy too. I used to be a very good guitar player and now I am a guitar owner (laughs), I don’t play them very often so my “go to” instrument is the piano.

What were your processes like when creating the key themes needed for ‘The Last Ship’?

Jim: A good example of this is the beginning of season 2 where we started writing things on script level before it was shot. Jimmy and I wrote a bunch of material and then played it to each other. There is an advantage when someone else can see something in your music that you can’t. We start pointing out what we can use each other’s material for.

That was the beginning of the process and then during the season when we get new characters it’s really like whoever wants it will say ‘I have an idea for this person let me take it’ or ‘You do a really good version of stuff that’s like this, you should take that’. We are pretty open about it playing to our strengths. So it becomes a very fluid process.

‘The Last Ship’ is a very action-packed show, but also has a romance aspect; for instance with Tex and Rachel this season. Is it hard to switch gears during each episode?

Jim: There’s usually a good balance between the episodes, meaning how much action there is to emotion. Then it does oscillate where some episodes there is more action or more emotional beats but the way we break it out is more based on character and themes.

For me, the way that I work fast is that I do the hardest cues in the morning and the heaviest workload, the big action stuff in the morning and the less intense cues as the day goes on. Writing these things is a very physical experience. As the day goes on, you get tired, after a 10 hour writing day you don’t want to start an action cue before you go to sleep.

Which ‘The Last Ship’ character is your favorite to score and why?

Jim: I don’t have a specific character but we have a theme that’s the mission theme, that Jimmy wrote. I really like working with that. When things are coming together and everyone is working as a team that’s my favorite stuff to score.

Your melodies to Pushing Daisies and Wilfred, in particular, are very catchy. What is the trick to writing a memorable melody?

Jim: If anyone knows the answer to that I’d love to hear it. The way that I write these things is I always give my mind time to chew on the answer. An example, the last thing I do at night is watch the first cue I am doing the next day. The worst thing you can do I think as a composer is go in cold, so what I do is warm my mind up before I ever get to the keyboard.

I want to go in with a plan. So if I’m starting themes, I will pull up the episode at night and get my mind chewing on it. Then I will listen to music that will get me in the mood for it as I drive to work. So, by the time I sit down, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. Your subconscious is very valuable and powerful, and you should use it to your advantage. Sometimes there is no time and you have to make it great and you freak out. Fear can be a great writing aid (laughs). My best scores are done when I’m scared.

You recently scored the film ’10 Cent Pistol’ coming out July 24. How would you describe your score for the film?

Jim: It was really a gangster score for me. It’s about a heist gone wrong. I don’t want to give too much away about the narrative but really I just tried to come up with a plotting tune that keeps the viewer going as you watch the heist progress.

What was the most challenging part of scoring ’10 Cent Pistol’?

Jim: There is a scene in a garage which is eight minutes long and there is not a lot of dialogue, that was the most challenging. It’s really about keeping the tension of this part of the heist where it is so close to going wrong but keeping you going without beating you in the head at the same time. I needed it to be very interesting but not too interesting that it becomes distracting at the same time. That was the challenge.

You have scored numerous video games titles over the years such as ‘inFamous’, ‘Epic Mickey’ & SOCOM. As time progresses and new technology is introduced has it gotten easier to score such projects?

Jim: The technology doesn’t change how easy the writing process is. There is more flexibility with an access to new sounds but it never gets easy, especially when it becomes robust and you’re writing dynamic music. Meaning, music that is interactive with the game. As technology increases, we utilize that power more, so the challenge always increases.

So it becomes more difficult not easier. As technology increases, there are always more tools but it really is the right tool in the right person’s hands that makes it work. The example I give, if you give a violin to me, I can’t make that work, but if you give it to Josh Bell, it’s wonderful. It’s the performer, not the tool.

Are you working on any new video game related projects right now?

Jim: Well we just finished the Inside Out video game for Disney. So that comes out in the fall. It’s part of Disney Infinity 3.0 and it’s the Inside Out video game.

What can you say to amateur composers who are aiming to make it big in Hollywood and the video game industry?

Jim: I’d say that’s a misguided goal. I’m hoping the goal is to express yourself in a musical way because that’s what makes you happy. If that’s your aim then pursue it with all your heart, be

kind to people, continue to study, take lessons of things you don’t understand and explore places where music can be. The more my career progressed the more open-minded I’ve been about where music can be found.

For example, 15 years ago I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be doing a live circus show and then most recently I’m starting a ballet. It really keeps your mind and your ears open and work hard. Trying to make a lot of money out of it or making a big splash doesn’t lead to great results. There is too much music out there in the world. It has to come from the inside out because people can tell the difference.

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