Interview: Training Day and Silicon Valley composer Jeff Cardoni talks recreating iconic sounds and the power of comedy on music

With the new TV series Training Day – an adaptation of the acclaimed 2001 film – hitting airwaves in the USA last week, we caught up with the show’s composer Jeff Cardoni to talk about his work taking the original score and reinterpreting it for the small screen. We also talk about some of his other projects – including the hilarious series Silicon Valley and the upcoming Netflix series GirlBoss.

You compose for a variety of films and television series, often at the same time. How do you switch your mindset when composing such different moods, sounds and genres?

That’s an interesting question that I never really thought about.   I find that once you spend a bit of time on a project and kind of get it “in your head”, it’s not a problem switching between.  There are specific sounds and melodies, for every project, whether it be for a film or television, drama or comedy that are inherent to each. I can kind of hear what the cues will sound like for each project before I write them.

The hardest thing is when you have to start a project really fast and you don’t get this time to kind of ingest the film in your brain, to read the script and just watch the show a few times, and let it float around in your head for a few days.   If you have to start fast and don’t get that time to get a concept, that’s when it becomes more difficult.

 You recently scored the soundtrack for the upcoming Training Day television adaptation. How influenced were you by the original score by Mark Mancina, and what was the process like to update the music for a new and modern audience?

I was very familiar with Mark Mancina’s original score.   I had seen the film countless times and have the soundtrack. It became apparent when scoring the pilot, that the original film was a jumping off point for the series, but the series became kind of its own thing and had its own world and cast of characters. So, I think I referenced the original score a little bit in the first cue, but then the new show took a left turn and the music had to go with it.   So, when all is said and done, the new score is totally different, with new sounds and themes for this new world, fifteen years later.

Another one of your upcoming works includes the Netflix series GirlBoss. Does the binge-watching construct of Netflix, as opposed to a weekly show, affect your approach when composing?

It absolutely does.   A big difference is that the shows are all shot and in various stages of editing before I even begin composing.   We sometimes work on things out of order and you can see where it’s all heading.  Where on a traditional network show, they’re shooting a week ahead of what I’m working on, so I really have no idea where the story is going.   So it’s nice in the new streaming world, to kind of be able to see the whole series arc and take that into account when you’re thinking about the music and where it will end up.

 You’ve mentioned that you’re very old fashioned when it comes to composing, how do you create a balance between the old and new?

I guess I do have “old fashioned” tendencies, hopefully not too much.  By that, I think I really am drawn to music with melody.   Much modern music is more textural than melodic, which is extremely effective in many situations.  I think I’m drawn to acoustic instruments a lot as well, as opposed to entirely synth-based sounds. But that’s just a personal preference and there’s some incredible cutting edge music being made with both out there today.  As far as creating a balance, I think we all have mannerisms and tendencies when we write, whatever the genre may be.   And I’d like to think they come out in the way we each individually approach a project.

But that’s just a personal preference and there’s some incredible cutting edge music being made with both out there today.  As far as creating a balance, I think we all have mannerisms and tendencies when we write, whatever the genre may be.   And I’d like to think they come out in the way we each individually approach a project.

 Silicon Valley is a show that places its music sparingly but is still impactful when heard. Is it challenging to work in a subtle manner? 

Thanks for that. I love the fact that Silicon Valley is very sparsely spotted.  I think music is used sometimes, especially in comedy, as a crutch to help jokes play better.  And with Silicon Valley, the writing and storytelling and just confidence of Mike Judge and Alec Berg, is so spot on, that they never feel they need music to help accentuate a punch line.

So, when something comes in, and it’s usually incredibly subtle and simple, it really heightens it without being overbearing.  I just want to do my best to stay out of the way and not ruin anything, because it’s so great.  Also, the music of Silicon Valley isn’t “comedy” music, if you listen to it away from the show, I don’t think you’d say it was comedy.  Some of it I don’t know that you’d say that it’s really music either because it’s really subtle and only works when paired with the dialogue and visuals.

Ironically, I get a lot of calls because of Silicon Valley, and it’s typical of the way Hollywood works – people want something associated with a hit, even if they don’t even know why.   Strange, but true.

 You’ve worked steadily on shows such as CSI: Miami for several seasons. As a series progresses, does it become easier or harder to compose?

I don’t find it hard to compose once a series has been going because I generally write new material for each episode.   So, if you just look at as that and you need to solve dramatic problems for that piece of film, then the task is the same, whether it’s episode one or episode one hundred. Plus, in the case of CSI: Miami, the show evolved over the seasons as well in reaction to how the world evolved. There were new visual things, new characters, and new musical ideas as time progressed. Some seasons were more orchestral, some more textural if you look back over the whole time.   That was an amazing experience to be a part of, something that was such a worldwide phenomenon.

 You said in a 2013 interview that since you hadn’t been pigeonholed yet, you could work on a variety of different projects. Do you believe this still rings true for you?

I said what? Kidding. Well, I don’t know, going back to the Silicon Valley comments above, I sometimes think you get calls for a certain thing because of a certain other thing.   A successful comedy will get you calls on other comedies.   I’ve always been a bit scared of being labelled the comedy guy so have fought really hard in film and television to try and not let that happen.

As a result, I sometimes there are various versions of me out there that certain people perceive:  the comedy guy who did Just Friends, Silicon Valley, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The TV cop guy, who did CSI: Miami, The Lottery, Training Day.  The kid’s movie guy who did Open Season 3, Firehouse Dog, and Middle School: The Worst Years Of Your Life, the indie drama guy who did The Vicious Kind, The Confirmation, and Girlboss.  So I’m lucky to work on a variety of different things – I’ve done 41 films at this point – but to some am a TV guy.  But until that one project that totally puts me on the map, for one thing, I will keep pushing to redefine myself and grow as a composer.

To further muddy the waters, I’ve got two films on deck – one a high school comedy and one a horror thriller. Good luck figuring where they fit in!

 How do you know when your work on a track is completed?

Interesting question.   My first response would be when I run out of time!  But so much of composing is juggling – any project can have from 20 to 50 cues.  So you’ve got all of those in various states of approval in play at all times.  For TV, it’s really just a time thing.  I do the first pass of a show and preview it for the producers, get notes.   Fix said notes and send it to my mixer.  At that point, it’s done.

For a film, where you have a little more time to get into the details, I keep all the current rough mixes on a film in iTunes as I’m working on it and will listen to it all every night out of the studio.   It’s usually at that listening, where I will hear things that I want to fix the next day, things that I thought were good that are actually terrible, and just hearing things from a different perspective.   At the end of it, the simple answer to your question is, the work on a track is complete when the director and producer approve it.

Finally, if you could compose the soundtrack for anyone’s life, living or dead, whose would it be?

Hmmm, Donald Trump.  I’ve never written the music for an apocalyptic end of the world horror thriller with psychotic elements, so that would be a fun one to do 🙂

Training Day airs in the USA on CBS. You can check out more of Jeff’s work in season 3 of Silicon Valley, which airs Tuesdays at 9pm on The Comedy Channel. Girlboss is set to premiere on Netflix in April.