The Iris have been lucky enough to speak with a great many composers in the past and Leo Birenberg is a notch above most. His rising star status comes from being a man of many flavours. Along with his great friend and mentor Composer Christophe Beck, he tries not to be glued down to one specific genre for his projects.
Working on a spectacular array of films such as Disney’s Frozen, Edge of Tomorrow, Ant-Man and Movie 43 (hey, great music – can’t blame Leo for the film) and TV Projects such as Sing It for YouTube Red Originals and the all too short lived Comedy Central series Big Time in Hollywood FL.
And now, he’s bringing his musical flair to the hilarious series Son of Zorn. We get down to asking Leo about his love of sneaking in his favourite musical instruments for the new show, his favourite video games and what Leo would ask Zorn if he ever met him in person.
Son of Zorn is a real trip into this fantasy world of humans and cartoons living in equilibrium, but it can also be pretty grounded in a lot of the family scenes as well. Your music really sets the tone for what we’re seeing in front of us and especially for Zorn himself. Whenever he is on screen we get this upbeat melody most of the time. Did you purposefully design a theme that comes naturally when Zorn is on screen?
Yeah, there is this kind of a few different scores for the show. The score for Zorn himself is very much grounded in his own world, the world of Zephyria. The main somatic gem for this is definitely the title card for the show, where there is that very brief explosive heroic theme and so I try to bring that in whenever Zorn is doing something a little bit larger than life.
I like to think that back in Zephyria everything has that sort of epic music in the background all of time. So when Zorn is doing something ridiculous in his office, the music plays because that’s just him.
Ultimately being a family show, the reason it works so well is because it is grounded in human emotion and human interaction and the fact that Zorn is animated is a joke of course but it has no effect on his emotional character. He has the same emotions as you and me and we can still identify with him. Even when I’m making the music for these certain scenes, they all need to have the same pallet and so I try to sneak in some Barbarian percussion when I can. I use some crazy things such as my electric sitar. I love doing percussion, it’s the most primal thing that exists and you can immediately identify with it because we can all bang on stuff. So for Zorn, being the lowest common denominator of a male persona, I like giving him drums.
So, working on Zorn, some of the sounds we hear don’t seem to be the usual instrumentals. What type of crazy Instruments have you used for the music of the show?
I own a couple of crazy Drums. I bought a Taiko drum in Japan, I also bought a Buffalo Hide drum. I love collecting weird instruments like that. I am a woodwind player. I studied playing the saxophone, clarinet and flute when growing up, so I try to play a bunch of weird flutes during the show and sneak those in. I sneak a lot of voice in as well, for example there is a lot of scenes where you will hear me chanting in the background or screaming tribal chants it’s so much fun man. There was one ridiculous scene in the Thanksgiving episode where there is a Requiem Mask playing and it’s just me singing actually. I throw some guitar in as well of course. We have a good collection for the show now.
Before Son of Zorn you had worked on huge films such as Edge of Tomorrow (one of my personal favourites) and Disney’s Frozen, which you must be so proud of. What was the biggest difference coming onto a show like Zorn after such big productions such as those?
Before SOZ, I worked on a short lived TV Show called Big Time in Hollywood FL, which is very funny but sadly didn’t go anywhere and I highly recommend it though if you have about three hours and want to watch something hilarious.
Before that I was working with the Composer Christophe Beck. I was introduced to him right as I was getting out of Grad School and it was actually through an Aussie big band composer named Tim Davies, awesome dude, sounds just like you!
After that Chris and I worked a very heavy and hands on five years together and his mentorship on how you score all sorts of movies and shows helped so much. He has worked on a ton of different genres and was never boxed into anything. We worked together on Ant-Man, Frozen, Edge of Tomorrow and a bunch of comedies, so I got exposed to all this music, the writing and the producing. When I finally approached something like Son of Zorn, I had all that experience to draw from. I am so grateful.
Is there a huge difference for you from working on smaller TV projects to working on big budget blockbusters?
There is a huge difference in scheduling. Just that when you work on a movie you have a couple of months undisturbed to do your own thing (In-between check-up meetings of course). You’re working on one thing and you chip away at it for four to six months sometimes. The music is longer form as well, for example you have action scenes in Ant-Man that go for six or so minutes. That six minutes is more than a quarter of a Son of Zorn episode in itself.
With TV you have very little time to write anything. You have a manner of weeks instead of months and you’re working in such smaller chunks at a time. You have to re-wire your brain to get your point across so much sooner (in the scenes). I typically get the episodes a long time before they are due. So I usually have time to try and figure out what I want to do.
Talking about time scoring movies, I believe another of my favourite composers Michael Giacchino scored Rogue One: A Star Wars Story within 4 weeks, does that seem a bit insane to another composer such as yourself?
That is insane, it happens when you replace someone last minute. I don’t know what happened there but with something like Rogue One and Star Wars, it takes an incredible amount of detail and thought. It is such an insane schedule. It is amazing that everyone got out alive after that.
If there was one thing you could actually stand in front of Zorn and ask him, what would it be?
My favourite part of the show is of course working on his music from Zephyria. So I would probably ask him about the music in his world or I would ask him why he decided to shave his beard off, as he does in the first episode.
Would you ever want to score a Video Game?
I would love to score a game, it falls into the same world building aspect as Zorn. You are literally scoring an entire world and not just a story with most of these new (open world) Video Games. As a composer it is a very enticing thing and a ‘drool over’ opportunity.
My favourite video game series of all time would have to be the Metal Gear Solid series. Harry Gregson Williams just crushed the score on those games. The entire series was like playing a movie.
I also played a lot of Warcraft back in the day (the originals). I would love to score a game in the future it would be so fun.
Do you think we will get the chance to see a series two of Son of Zorn?
I sure hope so, we don’t know yet. Everyone seems to be happy about it and the audience love it. So fingers crossed.
Son of Zorn currently airs in Australia on Foxtel and Channel TEN. You can keep track of Leo via his twitter @leobirenberg.