From his early years taking classical piano lessons, to playing in a rock band during the 1990s, composer Jeff Cardoni has built up a diverse musical background to draw on in his compositions. His breakthrough came as a part of the “CSI: Miami” team and his latest project is the score for recently-released show “Training Day.” We spoke to him about his career and the challenges of composing scores for television programs.
An interview with composer Jeff Cardoni
Jordan Smith: What attracted you to your latest project, “Training Day?” Do you have things you look for when you are deciding what to work on?
Jeff Cardoni: Well, it’s based on the movie, but is set 15 years later. It addresses the film in the first episode before moving on. I was a big fan of the movie and was very excited when I saw a person I knew was directing the pilot.
In terms of what I go for, the whole process is very random. In my world I can’t pick and choose and that’s one thing I find interesting. When I chose “Training Day,” I was on the hunt for something a little darker than some of my other recent projects.
JS: Could you talk a little bit about what you wanted to achieve with the score?
JC: I was familiar with the original score, but since this was in a future world, we had to make it a little different. The biggest difference is the main character. He’s a bad guy in the same way Denzel Washington’s character is in the film. But he’s not living in a hip hop, inner city world. He’s more of a hot rod driving, rock and roll, gun-toting guy. So I went for some guitar and sounds like that.
JS: I read that you began your musical career with classical training on the piano. How has this affected your composing?
JC: My family kind of forced me to do it over a couple of years, and at the time I was not very enthusiastic. At one point I made a deal with them to keep studying piano if I could buy a drum set. I played both during high school and then in college I became obsessed with the guitar. But today I can see the piano training has helped with my compositions, especially when I am working with orchestras.
JS: How did the different types of music you were playing impact you?
JC: The variety of musical styles helped. For example, there are certain composers who have one thing they’re known for. I think that’s cool, but if you don’t hit that right out of the gate you need to change things up on each project. My style is constantly changing and I have been exposed to a lot of different styles. I like to use a lot of acoustics and since I can play all instruments, that is incredibly helpful. I like to incorporate flaws and all into my music, because it gives it a unique personality and humanity. I use first takes a lot because I think imperfections are what makes stuff more listenable.
So much music is perfectly edited, but some of the stuff I’ve been listening to more, like a Led Zeppelin record, has mistakes and the squeak of a guitar string. That’s what brings things to life for me.
JS: So in addition to Led Zeppelin, do you have any other major influences you could mention?
JC: In terms of bands, I love Radiohead and Sigur Ross. They have influenced some of my scores. I love Phoenix and consider them a very good rock band. I still like guitars in music, which isn’t always prevalent today with the development of EDM.
Turning to composers, I could mention John Williams, Thomas Newman and John Berry, but there are so many. James Horner was also a huge influence on me. He took a lot of flak sometimes because his scores tended to sound similar. Initially I never realized, but that’s just James Horner, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.
JS: What about the quick turnaround for producing scores for shows. Do you find this limits or helps you?
JC: Deadlines just motivate me in my work, I don’t feel like I have to compromise much. Often I just go with the first take on a piece of music. I think that too often you can get hung up on a specific part and it can cause problems.
But it’s such a hard thing. I would say I have inadvertently come up with my own style. There are certain things I do on a variety of projects and this is Just my style.
JS: One of your biggest projects to date was “CSI: Miami.” What was it like working on a show with such a global appeal?
JC: “CSI: Miami” was my first big break. I got it after they listened to my demos. I was pretty much an unknown at the time, but rather than checking out your credits, they decided to just listen to the music and make a selection on that basis.
The enormity of it didn’t immediately dawn on me because I didn’t have anything to compare it to. I was in Germany a couple of years ago speaking about the show. You spend so much time in the studio that you don’t always realize how it does translate and influence people’s lives in a big way. I don’t know if I’ll ever be part of something so big, and it was really cool.
I don’t like reusing credits and don’t take being part of a show for granted. If you’re lucky enough to be on a show for a while, I wouldn’t want to just start phoning in the score. I see it as a chance to write, be creative and grow as a musician. With “CSI: Miami,” we would push things further every season so that by the end of Season nine the score had changed significantly from the beginning.
JS: Thanks for your time Jeff. Are there any other shows where we can hear your work in the coming months?
JC: Training day premiered Feb. 2. After that, “Silicon Valley” comes back in April. It’s quite a different show, being a comedy. I’m also working on a new show for Netflix called “Girlboss,” which was written by Kay Cannon, who wrote “Pitch Perfect.”
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