Interview with Composer Jay Galvin


TG: Jay, thanks for taking the time to talk with

JG: Thanks for having me.

TG: I know you're here to talk about music, but have you ever been storm chasing?

JG: I used to do some amateur storm chasing with a friend of mine back in high school. It was nothing as extreme as Reed and Joel, and definitely not as successful, but storm chasing none-the-less.

Back then, I would have gone chasing with Reed and Joel in an instant, but now, I've settled down quite a bit. I don't think I could put my wife through the worry. Today, I would only chase if I was driving and it would probably be the more conservative approach to chasing. I think chasing is truly glorious and when done right, it stands up there with superheroes and cowboys. It takes courage to chase a storm. It's like seeing how close you can get to King Kong. Epic!

TG: Have you ever met Reed and Joel?

JG: I have. I actually knew Reed because we were both in a male pageant together back in 2000. I'm sure he loves it when I bring that up. I don't think either one of us won anything. I also knew him a little from his days playing oboe in the OU Orchestra. As for Joel, it took a while longer for me to meet him, but we've been to a couple of Tornado Glory showings together.

TG: Tell us about your musical background and how you started playing/composing.

JG: I've been making music as long as I can remember. Somewhere, there's an audio-cassette recording of me singing and playing the guitar when I was 3 years old. It's funny because I listened to Elvis so much back then that even though I couldn't actually play the guitar, I was strumming to the beat and singing with the inflection that Elvis was known for, but it's all coming from a little kid.

I officially started lessons when I was 8 years old and I wrote my first song when I was 13. I actually wrote it as a joke, but my dad said "If you can write something like that as a joke, then I can't wait to hear your serious stuff." So, I sought out to learn everything I could about music and anything that had to do with music. I tried not to let any facet of art go untouched. I listened to everything from oldies doo-wop to modern jazz, from the original Motown recordings to the hip-hop remakes. I eventually got my Fine Arts degree from the University of Oklahoma, which is how I met Ken Cole who asked me to write music for Tornado Glory.

TG: So how did that all happen? What was your first impression of that project when you came on?

JG: Sure, I had a lot going on back then. I was in my junior year in the music program at OU, which is how I met Jason Manzano. He and I were in a band together called After The Fall which had just started in a different artistic direction, so I was writing and collaborating a lot for that, too. I had my own recording project going for a class called Non-Linear Digital Audio.

I was also in the Marine Corps Reserves, which meant that for one weekend a month, I was gone to Wichita, Kansas, which was a 3 hour drive one-way, so my life was pretty much put on hold while I was gone.

Jason had asked if I would help write music for a tornado documentary that his friend was working on and I decided to see what it was all about. We all met in the studio one night to talk over ideas and I happened to have my guitar with me from another project. This is when I first met Ken. We watched a short clip of the movie and he started bouncing ideas off me, so I decided we should plug the guitar in and record what I was coming up with.

I wasn't sure if what I was playing was what we were truly going for, but Ken seemed to like it, so we kept going. I remember Ken asking me to play a "Reed theme" and explaining that he was kinda crazy and more of the city life type, so we punched record and I played it. Then he asked me to play a "Joel theme" and described him as being the more relaxed country type, so we punched record and I played that. Then, he asked if there was a way to combine those themes, so we punched record and I played that. Before we knew it, we had a majority of the themes down on CD. Little did I know, the stuff we recorded that night ended up being the music in the final production. We topped it off with some great keyboard work from Mark, who'd been patiently waiting with us in the studio, and we had the music done before most of the video was finished. We ended up recording some other tracks later, but for the most part, everything was recorded that night.

That approach ended up being very stream-of-consciousness. Ultimately, I didn't experience the music with the video until I went to the premiere. Amazingly unorthodox, but I think it worked really well!

TG: You mentioned meeting around the clock. What kinds of constraints were you under during the composing and recording process?

JG: Well, as students, we were all under constraints. It was nearing the end of the semester and we all had different projects to finish and classes to attend, not to mention that booking the studio meant signing up for a timeslot that was not already taken. It wasn't unusual for recording sessions to go 'til 4am.

TG: What was it like working with Jason Manzano and Mark Worhatch? How did you decide to divide up the music?

JG: It was great! Jason was such a workhorse, getting everything set up and running the board and Mark was such an amazing talent. I remember Mark sitting at the keyboard for what seemed like eternity, just playing one great motive after another.

I'm not sure we ever really "decided" how to divide up the music. It was a great atmosphere because there was a good understanding of what each of us could do and we just did it. Since we were writing on the spot and there was such a good flow, everyone just let the process run its course which was such a creatively conducive environment.

TG: You mentioned that you composed a "Reed Theme" and a "Joel Theme." How were these themes used in the movie and how did they reflect what story the movie was trying to tell?

JG: Each theme introduced the individual person and then, by combining the themes, we were able to introduce them as a storm chasing team. Reed's theme was more classically composed with an upbeat "city life" feel about it, and it worked well with the images of Reed in the academic setting. Joel's theme, on the other hand, was more grounded, with folk and country influences, which worked really well with the images of him on the farm. At the same time, the themes were closely related musically, which enable me to illustrate Reed and Joel's similar tastes in storm chasing when it came time to combine those elements. In the end, the music helped reinforce what the audience would see on screen.

TG: What was Ken Cole's involvement during the musical process?

Ken is great to work with because he contributes so much to every aspect of the production. At first with TG, Ken was a director in the truest sense of the role, but I think he started to realize there was a process taking place that was quite effective. But honestly, without his vision, I'm not sure it would have turned out as well as it did. I'm looking forward to the upcoming projects that Ken and I are working on.

TG: Which composers influence you the most when you're writing for film?

JG: I try to listen to everything I can so that when I write, I can draw from the influences that come to me at that moment. I try to keep a dynamic approach to composing that is influenced primarily by my subconscious. Even though I’m constantly developing musical ideas, most of those ideas never make it into a film because as soon as I have new images to work with, new music presents itself. Simply put, I have found that the best way to write is not to worry about it. I just write it down and figure it out later. I let my subconscious mind absorb the influences and then my conscious mind does all the interpretive stuff.

The best part about this approach is that when the project is complete, I get to experience it as if it's my first time. I also get to hear my friends explain why something worked so well and though it probably makes sense, it's usually news to me because I hadn't yet thought of it in that way. It's a great feeling. When we did Tornado Glory, I was listening to a lot of acoustic rock artists, such as John Mayer, Ari Hest, Josh Kelley, Jason Mraz, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, etc. I go through phases where I focus on a style of music. Right now, I'm listening to a lot of classical guitar like Andres Segovia and the Pepe Romero, which will inevitably work its way into my music somehow.

TG: How would you place your work on this movie in the context of other documentaries?

JG: You know, the simplest way to put it would be that no one had ever done a documentary like that before. We were students, with no budget, but we were specialized in our areas. Sure, there are other student films out there, but are they nationally distributed? We had great talent and that's what made Tornado Glory a success. I don't know of any other documentaries done like that. It was a good experience for me because it set the standard for how I wanted to write for film in the future. It makes me excited about our upcoming projects.

TG: What types of projects do you have in the works?

JG: Well, it's no secret that there's another chasing documentary under our sleeve. By now, you've all seen the trailer for Tornado Fury and if you haven't, you need to. As the title and the trailer suggest, this is where we take chasing to a whole new level. Now we get to see how close Reed and Joel will really get. It's basically TG on high-definition steroids. Unfortunately, we've put Fury on hold for the season due to a Discovery Channel project that Reed and Joel were asked to do. As for other projects, I don't want to give away too much, so I'll just say we have some comedies, some musicals, and some action. I get to choreograph some fight scenes and do a little acting. It's lining up to be an amazing year.