Josh Kramon (Music Composer)
MI.net: What other television show scores do you like?
Josh: Oh... [sighs]
MI.net: Do you pay much attention to other scores?
Josh: No, I know it sounds weird, I don't watch a lot of television, really. I guess a lot of it is working in it and stuff. When I'm away from it, I like to be away from it. My kids watch these shows... They have some really creative stuff going on, actually, from these kids shows. Like there's a show called Higglytown Heroes. I think They Might Be Giants do the theme song for it. But the score on these shows is like, every second of the show is scored, and every move that's made in the show is scored. It's an old technique called Mickey Mousing. They used to do in the cartoons, where you hit everything. Someone jumps off something, you hit it. Someone loses a hand, that's hit. So you can see that a lot of work goes into those shows. Yeah, Higglytown Heroes, a show called JoJo's Circus, there's some really cool stuff. I like what they do on Desperate Housewives, the pizzicato string stuff. I think that's pretty cool. Some of the stuff from there is nice. It's not something you would immediately think of. I can't think of much else.
MI.net: Do you listen to any movie soundtracks in particular? Are there any composers you like?
Josh: That's kind of how I got into this. I was really into a lot of film scores, like a lot of the older stuff. Bernard Herrmann and Alex North, Lalo Schifrin.
MI.net: Do you have a favorite movie score?
Josh: For film scores, I don't necessarily have favorite composers. I guess you could say Bernard Herrmann, but I have favorite scores. I love the Planet Of The Apes score by Jerry Goldsmith. It's amazing, he used pots and pans as percussion instruments and used this really wild harmonic stuff, a lot of twelve-tone stuff. So yeah, I love Jerry Goldsmith. I don't know who did it, but I love the score more recently of that movie Crash. It had a great score. I think it was Mark Isham who did that. I love Howard Shore. I love some of the stuff he does. There was a movie called The Game a few years back. That was a beautiful score, too.
MI.net: As someone who does this, do you cue in on the score when you watch a movie? Do you have a hard time letting it do what it's supposed to do?
Josh: Sometimes I do. For the most part, I let myself just get into the movie. They say that if the score is good, then you're not noticing it, or something like that. But I probably notice a little more than other people would. I don't just go and listen to the score. But if the score's really good and stands out, then I definitely take notice.
MI.net: How did you get involved in music in television? You said that you'd been a fan of a lot of movie scores. Is that something that you specifically aimed for?
Josh: While I was in the band the Imposters, I spent a little time studying traditional composition at USC for a year before we got signed. So while I was playing guitar and writing songs in the band, it gave me the tools to check that stuff out and study scores. Since I was kid, as much as I was into music, I was also really into film, so it was a natural thing for me to check out. You go through obsessive periods. It's like you go through periods of where you're really into a certain band. At least, for me, who this whole art and all this music and everything is my whole life, you go through these obsessive periods with either bands or types of music, and I kind of went through an obsessive period with film scores, where I was just listening to film scores. It was like a three-year period in the early, mid-'90s. So instead of listening to whatever band I was listening to, I was just checking out all these film composers. It was wonderful. I would rent movies and look at the score and study it and I would get the actual sheet music to the score, and I would study what was going on. I studied a lot on my own. When my band broke up in '96, I had had it with the actual record business side of it, and by total fluke, I started working for a composer who did Buffy The Vampire Slayer and some other shows. His name's Chris Beck, Christophe Beck. A really great composer, actually.
MI.net: Yeah, everybody at Mars Investigations is a Buffy fan, and so we're very familiar with his work.
Josh: Yeah, and he does some great film work now, too. But I started working for him really not knowing the technical side of this at all. And I started working for him by fluke. A friend of mine was an agent, actually, but he was also a musician, and he decided he didn't want to be an agent anymore. He wanted to go to the music side of it, so there was this opportunity to work for Chris. And we just shared the job. But it was a great learning experience. And a friend of mine was a music supervisor on a WB half-hour sitcom. It was a totally legit network primetime show, but they had no money for a composer. So he was like, "You wanna do this show? They don't have any money, they can't get any established composer." Of course I did. [laughs] I would have paid them to just get the credit. So I put a tape together, an actual cassette of just some random stuff and I got the gig. And it ran for two years.
MI.net: What show was this?
Josh: It was called Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher. He was a wacky high school teacher. It was cute. But it got me in the door, is what it did. So right away, between working for Chris and then getting into that, I just kind of built it from there. And this business is, just so you know, the more people you know, the better. Once you get the job, you've gotta come through. You gotta do a great job and all that, but getting the job is a lot about knowing people. If you fuck things up, then you won't work again, but...
MI.net: Have you become somebody's mentor in the way that Chris Beck was for you?
Josh: Somebody's mentor? I mean, I've spoken on panels, and I try to help people out. I have an assistant who, obviously, I try to teach him as much as possible. People call me, whether it's for internships or wanting to talk about the business, and I always set up coffee with them and go talk to them and go give them advice. I'm always very, very open and accessible with that. I do stuff like that all the time. People just call, like, "Do you mind if my cousin calls you? He's investigating the business," or this and that. I always end up getting some coffee or lunch or whatever, giving advice because I think that's important.
MI.net: What does your assistant do?
Josh: After we spot a show, he digitizes all the shows. He sets up templates for me and palettes for instruments. He does some mixing, sometimes he mixes some of the cues and he gets them all ready to send to the music editors. Technical stuff.
MI.net: You've talked about Rob, but how much contact do you have with the rest of the writers or the crew or the cast?
Josh: Well, the cast I don't have contact with, because they're in San Diego and I'm in Los Angeles. Except for the premiere parties or whatever. But it's really just whoever's at the spotting sessions, which will be Rob, sometimes Jennifer Gwartz, another producer, will be there, Hans VanDoornewaard. I can't even say I know how to spell his name, but he's the associate producer.
MI.net: It's a very Dutch name.
Josh: Yeah. [laughs] He's the post producer. I mean, it's pretty much just the weekly spotting. And this is a show where Rob is... You had asked about how it's different from other shows. With this show, Rob has a pretty clear vision of what he wants, and I think from start to finish right down to the music, even with a spot, it's pretty much me and Rob talking about what's going to go down with the music. He has a pretty clear idea. There's been other shows where even the creator of the show has no idea about music, so there will be other producers that they actually put on the show who are little more music-savvy, and there'll be maybe two of them, and those'll be the people that we talk about music and that have the ideas. Sometimes the writers will sit in on a spot. Like one week they'll be there, and one week they won't. But it's pretty much Rob on this show. On other shows, that's something different, but it's Rob's baby.
MI.net: Were you disappointed at all in not getting on the soundtrack, either your score or "Supernatural Supergirl" or "Sister"?
Josh: No, not really. Probably more the score than "Supernatural Supergirl," 'cause I think the sound of the soundtrack was a little more kind of garage bandy than my stuff. I think my stuff would've been a fish out of water on it. But the score, yeah, it would've cool to have. I guess they decided not to put any score on it, but I would've preferred to have some score on it than any of my songs.
MI.net: What's your favorite episode?
Josh: What is my favorite... That's a really, really hard question. That's a question that I'll think of the right answer later, after you've already printed the interview. I think from last season, it'd be the last two episodes, probably the second-to-last episode. I don't remember the name of it.
MI.net: Is that "A Trip To The Dentist"?
Josh: Yeah, I mean, the final episode was great, but I thought the one before it was fabulous. I mean, music-wise, the most fun last season was the last episode, because of all that fiery, all that stuff. But there was one this season that I loved. I have to think if it's aired yet, because if it hasn't aired yet, I can't really talk about it. The one where Wallace at the end was leaving with his dad. That was a great one. That was show 6 or show 7. I don't think of titles, I think of show numbers.
MI.net: Have you pushed at all or has Rob pushed at all for getting a cameo or just putting you in as an extra in a scene?
Josh: No, no. [laughs]
MI.net: You have no aspirations to be in front of the camera?
Josh: No, not at all. I like working behind the scenes now. Actually, I did that "Love Hurts" track that what's-his-name from Dandy Warhols sang. That was my performance of it.
MI.net: I noticed that you did the Nazareth version instead of the Everly Brothers.
Josh: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, the Everly Brothers wrote... No, they didn't write it, but they did a version of it. It was a woman, a woman wrote that. It was a songwriter from the '50s wrote that.
MI.net: Yeah, that was Felice and Boudleaux Bryant for the Everly Brothers.
Josh: Yeah, very good. Are you one of those like encyclopedia music guys?
MI.net: Kind of. In another life, I was a grad student in sociology, and in our media class that I was the teaching assistant for, the professor actually introduced me in front of the class as, "He knows more about rock music than anybody I've ever met before in my life."
MI.net: Which is probably neither here nor there.
Josh: Right. No, that's great. I mean, I think I'm probably not as close as you are, but I think I'm pretty good. There's a new Beatles book [The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz], did you get that?
MI.net: Oh, is there?
Josh: Yeah, yeah. Are you a Beatles nut at all?
MI.net: I am, actually. They're the reason why getting hit in the head with a baseball changed my life.
MI.net: Because my father rented Help! for me. He rented about four films for me the next day so that I had something to watch when I was at home from school. And Help! was one. My family had Sgt. Pepper, and I had listened to that a lot, but it was like all the pieces were there and that just sort of snapped them into place. And from that point on, I became a Beatles fanatic.
Josh: Yeah, good for you.
Josh: Yeah, yeah. Like I said, like with the film music stuff, I think I went through two or three Beatle phases where I couldn't listen to anything but the Beatles. There was a great book about every session of every day of every Beatles record.
MI.net: Right. Is that the Mark Lewisohn book?
Josh: I think. It was sublime. I think I read it in like '94, '95, and it just literally went through every day and who performed on what, what day everyone was recording. I probably forgot most of it by now, but I had it pretty much down.
MI.net: So you could tell people "Happy anniversary of the day that 'Taxman' was tracked?"
Josh: Yeah. [laughs] Pretty much. Yeah, I have a four-year-old daughter, I got her listening to all their stuff. "Yellow Submarine" is her favorite, obviously.
MI.net: Has she seen the movie?
Josh: Not yet. I don't know if she's ready for the Blue Meanies yet.
MI.net: Oh, that's a good point.
Josh: Maybe when she's six. Or when they drop the apples on the people. I don't want to have to explain that.
MI.net: As someone without kids, I don't know what the appropriate ages for those things are.
Josh: Yeah, I don't know, there's no guidelines. I'm thinking, like, maybe six.
MI.net: Well, you know your kids better than me, so if you say that they're not ready, I'll believe that they're not ready.
Josh: [laughs] No, no, not yet. Unless she wants to see it. I keep telling her about it, and she's like, "Oh, the Beatles!" Like, "Not yet. When you're bigger."
MI.net: What do you listen to? What did you listen to growing up when you started playing music?
Josh: I know everyone says this, but I really mean it when I say "everything." I guess it's more about what I listened to when. The early influences are probably Beatles and Led Zeppelin. The Beatles for the songs and the textures, and Led Zeppelin for the energy and the groove. Those are the first two bands that really had an influence. But then I went, like, Kinks, the Who, early Peter Gabriel, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young. Neil Young's probably my favorite guitar player. Because I like sloppy guitar playing. And then I got really into orchestral music. Stravinsky and Debussy and Ravel, that kind of stuff. And I got heavily heavily heavily, and still am actually heavily, into jazz. Coltrane, Charles Mingus – huge Charles Mingus fan. Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins. I can make you a list of like a thousand.
MI.net: What's your favorite Kinks album or period?
Josh: Favorite Kinks period... ah... Believe it or not, it's kind of a strange... There's a record called Preservation Act Two that came out, I guess it's like early '70s.
MI.net: During their rock opera phase?
Josh: Yeah, there was Village Green, that was their first rock opera, I think.
MI.net: Kind of, yeah.
Josh: Which I love that. In general, there's something about music between '69 and '74. I just find myself gravitating towards it for whatever reason. And like Curtis Mayfield stuff and Sly and the Family Stone. But yeah, Preservation Act Two has always been just a really special record for me. Even like some of the... "Schooldays," Something Else, all the stuff. Even the late '70s. I love Sleepwalker, I love that stuff. Misfits. I'm a Kinks fanatic. And to talk about more recent stuff, Wilco's probably my favorite of recent bands. I listen to a lot, as you can tell, of older stuff. I just gravitate towards that, but I love Wilco.
MI.net: What phase of Wilco?
Josh: Actually, the more recent phase, not as much the earlier country-rock stuff. Everything like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and then the one, what was the one right after it?
MI.net: A Ghost Is Born?
Josh: A Ghost Is Born. I love that, it's one of my favorites.
MI.net: You know, it's interesting. They actually lost me with A Ghost Is Born.
Josh: Yeah, I love that record.
MI.net: I almost felt like Jeff Tweedy started believing his own hype. I don't know. I realize that I'm sort of in a minority because they became more popular once they did that.
Josh: Right. Well, they never really became... For me, just being as a composer, I just love the texture stuff on it. Which wasn't necessarily all Jeff Tweedy's doing, but that's one of the reasons I love that record. And his lyrics I think are sublime. And Dylan, too. I was a huge Dylan fanatic. I forgot to mention him. I mean, Bringing It All Back Home, Blood On The Tracks, those are really some of my favorite records. There was that Flaming Lips record I loved, too. Oh, what was the name of that record? The something something... Do you know the Flaming Lips at all?
MI.net: Yeah, is it Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots?
Josh: No. I want to say like the Doors record The Soft Parade. It has a similar flow to it.
MI.net: The Soft Bulletin, is that it?
Josh: Soft Bulletin, yeah, I love that record.
MI.net: That's the one with "Buggin'" and "Waiting For Superman," is that right?
Josh: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, "A Spoonful Weighs A Ton" and like, all that... I love that one. "The Spark That Bled," I love that, too.
MI.net: I actually danced onstage wearing a frog costume in one of their concerts.
Josh: Oh, really? [laughs]
MI.net: It's what happens when you win a contest.
Josh: How long ago was that?
MI.net: This was in 2003.
Josh: Oh, okay.
MI.net: So it wasn't too long ago. I got a couple of interesting pictures of me with them.
MI.net: But anyway, I suppose I should probably wrap it up with a few actual Veronica Mars-centered questions.
MI.net: Kristen Bell is 5' 1". How much taller are you than her?
Josh: Is that a mathematical question? I was told there would be no math. Well, I'm 5' 11", so I guess she's 5' 1"? So I guess that would make me, what, ten?
MI.net: Ten inches. Okay. We just always like to figure out how much everybody we interview towers over her.
Josh: Yeah. [laughs]
MI.net: Which Backup do you prefer: the original pilot Backup, the stuffed interim Backup, or the current Backup that we know?
Josh: I think the original.
MI.net: Any reasons why, or is it just because it's classic Backup?
Josh: Yeah, classic Backup. I told you, I always go back to the old stuff.
MI.net: You had nothing to do with the menu music on the DVD, is that right?
Josh: No. It's funny, someone emailed me about that, too. Just the instrumental stuff, you mean?
Josh: No, it's funny, I was just gonna call tomorrow, because someone was emailing me. They bought my record stuff but they were asking about that, so I'm gonna email them back. Because that's done through Warner Home Video, and we're not really a part of that. I don't even think Rob was really a part of that. But there's one person I'm actually going to call to find out. So if I do find out, I'll email you that, too. That's funny. I guess people are digging it, I guess.
MI.net: It's like every scrap of music that's on the show, people want to know what it is.
Josh: Yeah. Yeah, I know it's the business side of it, but again, it's hard because the whole DVD package was put together by different people than were working on the show itself. So that's why we don't instantly know the answers for that.
MI.net: Yeah, sure. It just seems strange that of all the music that could've been chosen, it could've been something of yours, it could've been the Dandy Warhols...
Josh: I know. Well, at least from what I know, what happens is, every department has their people and what I would assume is the Warner DVD packaging people probably have composers at work, where they do incidental music for all their DVDs. So that's probably what happened. Like, there's people who for UPN or Warner Bros., they do the music just for the promos for the show. So they don't get the composers for the shows to do the promos, they have their promo music people. So what I assume is, it's probably one of the people that do music for their DVDs. That's an uneducated guess. I mean, for all I know, they liked the song, but I'll try to find out.