Towards the tail end of the summer, I was contacted to score a documentary short by a grad student at American University. The short tells the story of a young-adult who spent time in and out of prison, and serves as a continuing dialogue on what happens to teens sentenced as adults in Washington, D.C.
The filmmaker wanted to take a very specific direction with the musical score. The opening shot shows Michael, the subject of the doc, in front of a large picture of Marvin Gaye. I was also told by the director that “Inner City Blues” is Michael’s favorite Gaye song. With this knowledge, and the striking visuals of the streets in the District, I knew that the feel of the music had to balance the sweetness of the Gaye/Motown sound, mixed with a certain rawness to help deliver the message. Of course, the entire “What’s Going On” album achieves this incredible balance, communicating an outraged social commentary alongside some of the best grooves ever recorded. Thinking back, this score was kind of a tall order!
“Inner City,” to me, is driven by the bass. Maybe I’m biased since I’m a bass player. But it seemed like a good place to start. I sketched out my piece around the bass line that I came up with on my Lakland Hollowbody. From there, adding the essential “band” elements of guitar, electric piano, organ, bells, a solid drum beat, and percussion to emulate the rich and full sound of a Motown band followed. To help keep the mood dark, I added a distant, verbed out single note piano on the minor third of each chord in the progression. I wanted it to be more of a texture than something overly noticeable.
On top, I decided to add some harmonized vocal lines, which I ran through a Leslie simulator to give them some motion and additional texture. After a few very constructive back and forths with the director, we decided to lose the vocals. She asserted that it made things just a bit too smooth for the project, which I ultimately agreed with. Below I’ve included a mix with the voices added back in, so you can compare alongside the finished doc.
It was a real pleasure to collaborate with this director on a project that was fairly different from my usual work, challenged me musically, and was a thrill to put together. I hope that you enjoy “Remember the Pain.”