The composer for the hit Sci-Fi Channel show talks about the series, the Sarah Connor Chronicles and All Along the Watchtower
When I think of a composer, just in general, I think of some very old guy with white hair. I wouldn't think of a composer as a 28-year-old guy named Bear, but fans of the hit show Battlestar Galactica are probably glad they don't have the old guy and have Bear McCreary instead. McCreary has been scoring the show since its first season and also does the score on Sci-Fi's Eureka, Fox's upcoming The Sarah Connor Chronicles and also scored Battlestar Galactica: Razor, a two-hour special that comes to DVD on December 4. His CD for the third season score of Battlestar Galactica was released on October 22, and I had a chance to speak with the composer over the phone.
With Battlestar Galactica having such a huge fan base, how do you approach scoring such a beloved sci-fi show, which relies so heavily on the moods that your music creates?
Bear McCreary: Do you mean the new show, or stepping into something that's already existed like the old 70s show?
With creating this new show. How do you set it apart from the older stuff?
Bear McCreary It's something that I've never really spent a lot of time thinking about. I just look at this new show as its own series, I never really set out to actively make the music different than the old show, although that's, of course, what ended up happening. I got a lot of guidance from the producers and Michael Rymer, the guy who directed the pilot. They really wanted to get away from an orchestral sound, so I had to look for other options.
From a musical standpoint, what stands out for you about this third seasonn of Battlestar Galactica, compared to the rest of the seasons?
Bear McCreary: Boy, well there's a lot of things. The third season album that just came out I think is the most sophisticated and interesting of all the albums I've done so far. What stands out the most, probably the obvious answer is the fact that there's this weird Bob Dylan cover on the record. Honestly, I just think it's the fact that the music just continues to evolve so much, is really what sets it apart from the other two records. Not that it's vastly different from the other two, but just that it's an improvement upon everything we've done so far.
Yeah, about that Dylan song (All Along the Watchtower). How did you go about reinventing this classic song?
Bear McCready: Well, it was weird. I just got a call from (executive producer) Ron Moore when I was working on Season 3, and he said he needed a version of "All Along the Watchtower" for the season finale. That's basically all that happened. I asked him what he wanted it to sound like, and he didn't know. He just wanted it to sound like it belonged in Battlestar Galactica. So he really didn't give me any specific guidance, so I set out to write the most kick-ass version of 'Watchtower' I could do. I wrote this for Ron and played it on the piano for him and he loved it, and that's what ended up on the show. Of course, the funny thing is when I wrote that, I actually didn't know what was going to be happening in that episode. I hadn't read the scripts and I hadn't seen the episode, it was still too early. So I honestly had no idea in what way it would be used in the show, and it ended up working very well.
Since the Battlestar Galactica mini-series, the show's score has been hugely based on a lot of percussive instrumentation. How did you carry that theme into the third season?
Bear McCreary: Well, the percussion ensemble has gotten bigger and bigger with each passing season. We just add more and more instruments. Also, just through the nature of experience, I've been getting better at writing for percussion. This third season album really represents a shift in the percussive writing, because I tried to make it sound more Asian and Middle-Eastern in influence, and less directly Western and orchestral. I think if you listen carefully to most of the music in Season 1 and Season 2, not all of it but most of it, you'll hear that even though there's percussion from all around the world, the actual rhythms and the core of the music is still essentially Western orchestral in nature. It's not really that different than going to see an orchestra play, but it's played by taiko drums and frank drums. I really decided to veer away from that in the third season, and really write differently for the percussion. I think the fourth track on the new record, called 'Storming New Caprica' is a great example of how the percussion writing has changed. You wouldn't have heard that in Season 1.
What are your plans for the show's music for the fourth season that's coming up?
Bear McCreary: Well, it's hard to say. It's a little early. I'm only a couple episodes in, but I'll take the music wherever the writers need me to take it, wherever the story goes.
Can you define a little of the process, like how you go about scoring for each week?
Bear McCreary: No, it's funny because there is no standard experience for each episode. Every time I come do a new episode, it's a little bit different than anything else I've ever done. It makes it very challenging, but also really rewarding. But, generally speaking, I will spot an episode in an early cut, after it's been shot and edited. I don't read the scripts just because so many things can change after the script is written, and I don't like to get ideas based on a really premature version of the episode. Plus, I'm just a big fan of the show and I don't like having it spoiled for me (Laughs). We'll spot the show for the producers and that's the last time they'll really hear from me until the dub stage where we mix it all in. I don't have to demo anything, I just go back into my studio and me and my music team get to work. I'm writing and we have people orchestrating and recording. We've got a pretty good little team here that works 24/7 to turn these scores around.
A little bit off the topic, but I see that you scored the pilot episode for the The Sarah Connor Chronicles. How was that experience?
Bear McCreary: Oh it was fabulous. I'm not almost halfway through the first season of Sarah Connor. I've scored about five or six episodes of that now and it's a wonderful show. I'm just loving every second of it. I think people are really gonna dig that show. It's just fabulous, it's a great experience.
So you're on board full-time for them as well?
Bear McCreary: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Finally, do you have anything on the horizon you can tell us about? Maybe some film projects?
Bear McCreary: Well, right now, I'm working on Sarah Connor and Battlestar and between those two projects that eats up a good portion of my time. But I'm also working on a soundtrack album for Eureka, which I did last summer. I did the second season of Eureka, and we're going to have an album come out in March. That's going to be a really fun diversion from Battlestar and very different. The only other thing I have on my plate right now is a concert of the Battlestar Galactica music, which will be in April. I'll be having details about that on my website (BearMcCreary.com) very soon. We did one last year for the Season 2 release and it was just a blast. It's an incredible group of musicians that get together, and I think it's a neat opportunity for Battlestar Galactica fans. They get to see this music performed live by the very same people that play on it every week. It's a very unique experience.
Wow, is this a tour or a one-time thing?
Bear McCreary: It'll be a one-time event in Los Angeles. I haven't ruled out the possibility of a tour, it's just that we're too busy to take it on the road.
That sounds great. Thanks a lot for your time, Bear.
Bear McCreary: Well, you got it. Thanks a lot.
The soundtrack for the third season of Battlestar Galactica is in stores now, and Battlestar Galactica: Razor hits the DVD shelves on December 4.