Over the past six weeks, Marvel fans have been gripped by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+. While streaming television is a relatively new venture for the MCU, one of things that makes the new series feel familiar to fans is the score, which is once again provided by franchise alum Henry Jackman. Recently, we had the chance to chat with Jackman about the show, his past work with The Walt Disney Company, and more:
Laughing Place: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. To start, your work is very diverse, ranging from Winnie the Pooh to Captain America and the Winter Soldier. You seem to find a way to balance the electronic sound and the orchestral sound that fits so perfectly in the storytelling you've written for. What led you to become sort of a master of both worlds?
Henry Jackman: That's a very good question. I'm not sure I'd describe myself as a master, but that is a good question, because I think it depends on the project. Funny enough, some things are a bit pure, something like Jumanji is purely orchestral, but you're right. If you look at Wreck-It Ralph that has a lot of orchestra, but it also has a lot of electronic. Winter Soldier has electronic and orchestral. There's been quite a few like that.
I think probably the most honest answer to that is it just reflects the truth of my musical background. Meaning my musical background started off incredibly formal and strict. Not that that's a bad thing. I mean, I was a chorister at St. Paul's Cathedral Choir School when I was like eight years old, which is sort of like the cathedral choir version of Harry Potter. I was shipped off to some boarding school and sung religious music from 1400 to the 20th century in a very strict environment, and then studied orchestral, classical, and symphony music, and everything was, at that point, very by the book, and then later on, by the time I got to 16, I bought a sampler and started messing around with my home computer, and having had, I don't know by then, let's see almost a decade of classical education, I went completely in a different direction, running off to raves and making dance music. And then I spent a lot of time in the record industry and make a lot of drum and bass records, and all sorts of different things that were a hell of a long way from the classical upbringing.
So, I guess at that point, I didn't know that it was all going to be useful in film music, but I'd spent as much time chopping up breakbeats in a sampler by the time I was in my early thirties, as I had studying the harmony of Scriabin and Debussy and Wagner. So I just sort of covered all bases. Although at that point, I was a bit confused about how on earth I was going to use any of it or such sort of wide range of things. And then it turns out film music is like the sort of perfect vehicle where far from being a weakness it's actually, if you want a diverse career with different sorts of projects that require different sort of musical skills, suddenly all these different elements to my musical background education suddenly came in really handy, because I had a whole bunch of different paint pots in the cupboard, and some of them were symphonic, and classical, and orchestral, and some of them were synth based and production based. So, I think it's just sort of the skills that I picked up in a lucky and very diverse musical upbringing.
LP: So obviously you worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which then led into Captain America: Civil War, and then now you are being heard with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is sort of a continuation of some of those threads. Are you approaching this any differently in that it's technically television? I know the lines between television and movies have become increasingly blurred, but as someone who's predominantly worked on the film side, how has that changed it despite the fact it's still Marvel?
HJ: Well, it's a very good question, because there's TV and there's TV. Well, the first thing is structurally it's different, because however epic a movie is, it's never going to be more than three hours, and it's mostly two hours, 20 minutes, whereas of course with this format, you get six lots of kind of 55 minutes. So, you actually get a bit more time and real estate to develop both in the show itself in the drama the sort of quieter character development and background, which affects the music, which means that not everything is high stakes and epic in that filmic sense. You get to do these sort of slightly quieter explorative character cues, particularly with Bucky and Sam. But having said that, in the case of Marvel, it's more just that you've now got more real estate.
In terms of the ambition, and the production values, and also how high the stakes do get, it's actually very similar to working on a Marvel movie. I think most viewers when you saw the first episode, that first action sequence, when Falcon goes screaming through all those canyons, that's the production value and the sort of high stakes action music that go along with that with bursts of orchestral heroism is very much what you'd expect to find in the movie. I don't think viewers are watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier thinking, "Oh well, this is a very scaled down Marvel experience." It isn't. It's just that it can now encompass with the extra amount of time, since ultimately you have sort of under six hours, you can go all the way from the highest of stakes down to spending a little more time on the backstory. Hadn't seen Bucky hanging out with a shrink and Sam hanging out with his sister, trying to figure out, given his pretty poor financial situation, what to do about the boat and all that kind of thing, and this allows the music also to be a little more, as well as the classic filmic Marvel music that you would probably associate with the movies, you also get these other slightly more patient cues that pertain to these more character based scenes.
LP: How did you think of the musicality of Falcon and Winter Soldier separately in this product?
HJ: Well, it's funny. In terms of taking the, because Winter Soldier has become civilian Bucky as it was, so whilst there are, we've seen a couple of outbursts of the Winter Soldier already in the first three episodes, but they're sort of brief moments. So actually when there are the kind of Winter Soldier, violent moments, of course you get the crazy scream and all the dissonant thematics that came with the Winter Soldier from Captain America: Winter Soldier. But apart from that, Bucky's now a civilian. Bucky's struggling to make sense of his life and to sort of adjust himself after years of either being an assassin or fighting one more another and all the rest of it, so the civilian Bucky is now much more humane sound, gone is most of that gnarly, messed up electronics, and screaming, and metal clanging, and now his tone is more based on piano, and guitar, and light strings.
Funnily enough, the vocabulary in the new Falcon Winter Soldier show that most pertains to a sort of dissonant, dystopian, electronically modified. I mean, there were mostly organic sounds, but heavily electronically modified is the Flag-Smashers. Of course, they're new, and because we've got pretty strong melodic content for Zemo, and Falcon, and Bucky, it was interesting to make, and also we don't know too much about the Flag-Smashers yet, so it was interesting to make their sound a sort of distorted, dystopian pallet that's very different to the rest of it. Now, they're thematics will develop melodically, but at this stage of proceedings, we don't know exactly what's going on with them. So if anything, the most electronic, non-orchestral palette so far has been handed over to the Flag-Smashers.
LP: And obviously Steve Rogers is sort of the unseen baggage of a lot of these characters. And you made a choice to cue Alan Menken's Star Spangled Man with a Plan song in the absolute perfect moment that it was when we needed that hug. Can you talk a little bit about choosing to go bring us all the way back to The First Avenger?
HJ: So I should point out that's also a group decision. I didn't wake up at midnight and go, "Hey, here's what we should do." Between Kari, the director, and Dave Jordan, the music supervisor, it's one of those things where just by the time I think I'd come to actually get the cues in the score done, this was a really strong idea that had already been mooted, which I thought it was great. And not only that, we took the original, but also sort of fleshed it out a little bit with some additional embellishments. For anyone who wants to compare the two, that track will be showing up on the first soundtrack, including the added mojo that we chucked at it.
But yeah, it's one of those recalls that not only works narratively in the context of the actual show, Winter Soldier, but it's a sort of additional layer of enjoyment for people who know MCU and for people who follow these things. There's a wink there that's also to be enjoyed. But having said that, it wasn't crowbarred in inappropriately. I mean, it really helped the scene and it worked for the scene. So it's nice when you're able to do things.
LP: That was the thing, was execution. It wasn't just like someone had their iPod and started playing the song. It flowed and it was executed perfectly. And it's not just the idea, but it was the execution that made it, I think, have an impact.
HJ: Exactly. I think that worked pretty well.
LP: So I know we're almost out of time, but I have to ask you if I may, one Wreck-It Ralph question. You cannot go to a Disney function anymore without hearing that score, because it just quickly became, separate from the film itself, just one of the most beloved scores in the Disney pantheon. I mean, I know it's a super broad question, but just have to ask what did that project mean to you, and has the legacy of it, being there with the Shermans and the other sort of Disney, the Menken, and does that mean anything to you emotionally?
HJ: First, writing Wreck-It Ralph in the first place was a great opportunity, and I think Chris Montan and Tom MacDougall, who were the Disney animation team at the time, I think, funnily enough, it refers back to what you were saying before about someone who seems to have had, uncomfortable, but when things are electronic and uncomfortable, when things get super symphonic and orchestral, and I think those guys were smart and they knew that it couldn't be one or the other. By the time you get to the end of Wreck-It Ralph it's going to have to be big, Disney orchestrations, but then if it's only that, it'll be too conservative. It's going to need this whole other electronic element. But then on the other hand, it can't just get stuck in the electronic element. You're going to need someone who can sort of navigate through all of this, and I think that's probably why they called me in, hoping that I could actually do that. So, yeah, I launched into that first Wreck-It Ralph film trying to enjoy and celebrate all the kinds of things we've been talking about.
So some cues have like synth notes and it's all fun. And it's drums and synths, and it's a hell of a long way from symphonic music. And then other cues have absolutely no electronics in them at all, and are really heartfelt pieces for strings, and woodwinds, and all the rest of it. I really tried to embrace all of those different elements and really work on my themes till they meant something. So yeah, the actual writing and look at the second one, ditto. I can't even tell you how long I spent on that internet track.
Now, when you mentioned about legacy and so on, well, the funny thing is firstly, I'd probably haven't really stopped from Monsters vs. Aliens to sort of about a week ago. I mean, slight exaggeration. I mean, I've had a few breaks, but truth be told, in terms of reflecting in any way on what, if any, sort of legacy I might have, it's just something I've not had the chance to do, because every time I'm engaged, and so if you look at what I've done this year, for example, like working with the Russos on Cherry, working on Falcon and Winter Soldier, then earlier I did The Comey Rule. I become so absorbed individually in each project that it pretty much takes a hundred percent of all my musical and sort of psychological ability such as it is. So I'm so engrossed in the work, and then before I know what's happening, the next one's up, and then the next one's up, and then the next one's up. So any prospect sort of surveying the field from a distance such as you mentioned in your question, it's something I basically had very little chance to do, and you've probably got a better sense of it and a better opinion than I have.
But if for whatever mad reason people want to put Wreck-It Ralph or my name in the same sentence as some of the great people you mentioned, I can only take it as a massive compliment. And it's just a type of reflection that I, in all honesty I haven't had much chance to do is probably a good thing, to be honest, because the next gig comes along and the main mission is to figure out what to do about that rather than sitting around on any so-called laurels thinking about what you may or may not have achieved. So, I mean, I'll take anything to be mentioned in the same sentences as Disney greats. It's fantastic. I remember doing an interview and someone, oh, which movie was it? Was it Kong: Skull Island? I mean, you take these things with a pinch of salt. The best you can do is just keep writing music, make it as good as you can. I think someone put the word Henry Jackman in the same sentence as Max Steiner, which I thought was a bit much, but you know, you take any compliment you can and just keep making sure you don't lose any energy in flattering yourself, and spend most of it and trying to make the music sound good.
LP: Well, thanks so much. Is there any other projects you're working on that's been announced that we can look forward to hearing your work in?
HJ: Oh yeah. I had great fun — there's a movie called Ron's Gone Wrong. Which I can't say enough. In the same way the Wreck-It Ralph had absolutely its own identity, and let's say Big Hero 6 absolutely had its own identity, or Ron's Gone Wrong, it's different to either of those films, but in the strength of its identity, it's just as powerful. And it took a real effort to find an identity for the music that I'm really happy with, and hopefully everyone else was, in much the same way with Pikachu and Wreck-It Ralph. It doesn't sound like those movies, but in the same way that I really had to define a potentially as yet not heard sort of musical landscape for a movie. It was the same with Ron's Gone Wrong. It's very specific musical color to it, and the same goes for the movie itself and the filmmakers. It's really, really good fun, and definitely with an individual voice.
LP: Well, great. Thanks so much for the time, and congratulations on all your work and the continued rollout of Falcon and Winter Soldier. I really appreciate it.