INTERVIEW: Scoring Syfy’s Z Nation With Composer Jason Gallagher
With the third season of Syfy’s hit zombie series now in full swing, we decided to speak with the show’s composer, Jason Gallagher about how he creates the perfect score for such a roller coaster ride of a show. He discusses everything from creating the right tone for the show to how he prepared for the job. Read the full interview here..
Beginning with the first scene and cue you scored for the show. How did you decide what the tone of the show was going to be?
Jason Gallagher: I had a talk with Karl Schaefer, the show runner and co-creator, about creating a soundscape like that of the movie Dead Man with Johnny Depp or Full Metal Jacket. Sparse, grinding percussion with some lonely electric guitar. You can hear that in a lot of the soundtrack, but it is a zombie show after all, so the pounding drums and deep, dark synth bass wasn’t too far behind. It all adds up to a dark but melodic score that matches the tone of the show, I think.
You wrote & sang on the Z Nation Season 1 & 2 main title. How different is the process of composing a song versus composing a score?
Jason Gallagher: I’ve had a lot more experience writing actual songs than writing score for picture, so I think it was a welcome challenge when they asked me to write the title music! It’s very daunting to write 30-40 minutes of music per week, following the action on screen and being subtle yet impactful. There’s much more freedom to writing a song.
Were there any zombie films that you went back and watched to get inspiration for the Z Nation score?
Jason Gallagher: I spent some time watching the classics like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and they are masterpieces of horror so there’s a lot to learn from the way they use music. Then spent a lot of time watching shows like Lost and the Bourne movies to see how the real masters score action and suspense.
From plant zombies to zombie babies and the head of a scientist kept alive in a box. There is nothing off-limits with Z Nation. Can the same be said with your score?
Jason Gallagher: Absolutely! I think I’ve created more genres of music than I thought I could handle! Bluegrass, opera, mariachi, western, and even a muzak version of the theme song. They like to get weird on this show and I have to go on that journey too!
When new characters are introduced, such as Dr. Sun Mei, where do you first get ideas for what their theme might be? If there is one.
Jason Gallagher: Usually it’s in the context of the scene. Sun Mei showed up and she was determined to get her mission accomplished, so that drive really set the tone for the score of her scenes. I’ll go back to my voice recordings to find a melody or a chord progression that matches that tone, then I’ll try to produce a track that works.
What has been your favorite Z Nation moment to score so far?
Jason Gallagher: There was an episode in season one that Abram Cox directed that was really fun to score. He wanted this whole Sergio Leone vibe to the episode, and I couldn’t wait to score it. I hired a trumpet player for one piece I called “Warren’s Rampage.” Lots of fun!
What are some of your favorite horror films/tv shows this year and why?
Jason Gallagher: It has to be Stranger Things! The mixture of nostalgia and sci-fi was perfect. I grew up around the same time and I connected with the show immediately. And the music is killer, that Tangerine Dream-esque synth sound is so cool and I think it’s the best modern yet timeless music that’s out there!
Learn more about Jason Gallagher here: http://www.jasongallagher.net/.