Tree Adams (Composer)
'Cirque Composing At It's Most Magical!'
For the third consecutive year, award-winning film composer Tree Adams composed and conducted for the 5th Taurus World Stunt Awards™ that aired on E! this October. The annual awards show honoring the best in the stunt business was hosted by Action Movie hero and wrestling superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. In addition to dramatic action-packed musical cues to accompany the winners to the stage, Tree Adams also incorporated a 30-piece orchestra into the live telecast in his duties as musical director, including original music for a Cirque du Soleil performance created exclusively for the awards under the direction of choreographer Jacques Heim.
Movies such as "Kill Bill II," "Troy," "The Aviator," "Spiderman II," "Bourne Supremacy" and "Collateral" headline the list of films. The Rock's cousin and stunt double in "Walking Tall," Tanoai Reed, a double award-winner last year, is nominated in the category "Best High Work." Other categories include "Best Work with a Vehicle," "Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Woman," "Best Overall Stunt by a Stunt Man," "Best Specialty Stunt" and "Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director."
Tree Adams is from a family with deep musical roots. His grandfather Seymour Solomon founded Vanguard Records and discovered such musical legends as Buddy Guy, Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez. His father is an original member of Woodstock favorite Country Joe and The Fish. With music in his blood, Adams founded the rock band The Hatters which released three albums on Atlantic Records and shared the stage with The Dave Matthews Band, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, Joan Osborne, Jimmy Cliff and A Tribe Called Quest. Tree Adams currently runs Treehouse Music Inc., composing and producing his own releases and releases for other artists.
Chatting recently with Tree Adams, and taking it from the top, I first wanted to know more about his father (a member of Country Joe and The Fish) and what his days had been like growing up in such a musical environment? "I grew up in a very musical family. My grandparents were all classical musicians…mostly piano and violin. So, I was forced to play and learn theory at a young age (maybe 3 or 4 years old.) My father played drums for the band Country Joe and the Fish as well as Lightnin’ Hopkins and although he was not around for most of my life I thought that world was pretty cool and soon began playing the guitar and writing songs. I was immediately drawn to jazz and blues and by the time I was a teenager my singular focus became clear…I wanted to join a rock band and get out on the road."
Tell us more about your own band days as a member of The Hatters! "So, I founded a rock band called The Hatters in 1989 and we spent 8 years chasin’ it up the highway. I was the singer songwriter in the band but we also stretched out a lot in that group and really passed the ball around. The other guitarist and I would trade solos and the keyboards player had great stride and funk chops, so we’d get into some pretty groove oriented territory with a lot of room for improvisation. Eventually, we got signed to Atlantic records and did a bunch of national touring opening up for bands like The Allman Brothers, Tribe Called Quest, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, Buddy Guy, King Sunny Ade and Jimmy Cliff to name a few. I t was a very exciting time and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything in the world, but I must say, it’s awfully nice to be a civilian again."
When you score work, what is that feeling like afterwards when you hear the finished product back whilst sitting in the theatre? "After scoring a project, I am always amazed that It’s actually been pulled off. When I see it in a theater or on television whatever the case may be, I think back to that feeling of standing at the foot of the mountain before the project, plotting my little course uphill, my favorite cues, the grunt work, all of the politics along the way and then I try to taste the moment…to remember that I’m lucky to be doing this!!! Sometimes, by the end of a project, I am so exhausted by it that I want to take up another line of work and so it has become essential to try and enjoy these moments when they come and to be grateful for the opportunity to be creative. Then, it’s time to recharge the battery and do it all over again."
Having scored for the third year running the music for the '5th Annual Taurus World Stunt Awards,' I'm wondering just what the diference is between scoring for a movie and scoring for a TV show? "A show like the Stunt Awards is a fairly unique project in that it’s not just your basic awards show playon and playoff cues. In this particular show, there are these live action stunts where they’re blowing things up, dropping people out of the sky, torching the place and essentially destroying the stage. All of this requires music. So, I end up conducting for live stunts. This year, we also had the added element of these beautiful (and dangerous) performance pieces."
And, with relation to this abovementioned piece, how easy was it to score an original Cirque du Soleil piece of music for the show ... and what happens to it once the show is over?! "So, I worked closely with the choreographer, Jacques Heim (Cirque De Soleil) to develop the score. The music needed to be powerful enough to support the element of danger in the context of the action movies that are the core of the ceremony. At the same time, some of the performance movements in the pieces called for a more graceful and melodic score. In order to handle this, we built the sound around a battery of percussionists with drums from all over the world (including those notorious gigantic taikos.) Then, we dropped a small orchestral ensemble in with a rock trio and a dj to trigger samples. In the end we were able to cover a pretty versatile palette. We had to score a motorcyclist dropping out of the sky, a helicopter stunt, a battle between two 20’ puppets, performers scaling a 200 foot wall, a shark attack and playons for the celebrities (Tarrantino, Stallone, etc.) We had a blast."
When you do live work such as this, what are your main fears for things that can go horridly wrong ... and, based on the fact that this Stunt Award Show has already aired, DID anything go wrong?! "With this kind of show, there is always the flexibility issue with the music. You write pieces that have endings but, if the performance or the stunt isn’t finished or the presenter takes their time getting to there marker on the stage ... well, you’ve got to adjust live. So, you set coda points back within the music and as the conductor, I try to make the call ... if I signal the ending, I’m taking a chance ... am I setting them up just right or am I gonna leave the talent out to dry by ending before they’re ready to talk. Nobody likes to be left still walking out there with dead air. Worst comes to worst they just start talking over the music and the front of house mixer’ll duck us underneath the speech. This year I pulled us up a little early on Arnold Schwarzenegger and he was left to walk his last 15 feet in silence. We were on the scoring stage at paramount and I was conducting the show while watching the 50’ movie screen on the far wall. The camera came in tight on the governor as he approached center stage and without the proper perspective, I mistook his waving to the audience as a hand with a microphone coming up. Needless to say, I saw Arnold flinch in the few seconds where I had hung him out to dry and although I know they edited it out for the live broadcast, there were several thousand people in the audience there that night. In the end, it’s a live show and you want it to go smoothly."
Tell us more about your company, Treehouse Music, Inc. - what services do you provide and do you have a website? "I have a website, Treeadams.com where there’s photos and a bunch of bio information and audio clips for people’s perusal. The music is primarily instrumental, however, I also have a few of my songs up there from various records I’ve made for which there is a link to cdbaby where people can buy cds. As far as my company, Treehouse Music, it’s a small operation to support my work as a composer, producer, songwriter and I plan to keep it that way. I am in the business of making music and I don’t ever want to get to the point where I’m spending more time on the phone and in meetings than actually playing."
What cheesy '80s song would you love to re-compose if asked ... and why?! "Eddie Murphy touched on something rather poignant in his little diddy “My girl wants to party all the time, party all the time, party all the time.” It might be interesting to imbue this notion with the appropriate epic qualities that one might find on say…the “Gladiator” soundtrack….make it big and ancient. Maybe get a hundred and twenty-person choir to sing the chorus and have a little breakdown in the second verse …get yo yo ma and Bobby McFerrin to swap licks over rumbling tablas."
If you were asked to compose a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other KNOWN musicians to aid you in the project (one being a singer!), who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the NEW song be?! "I’d get Led Zeppelin back together again with Abe Laboriel Jr on drums and the song would be called “When the Levee broke.” The proceeds would go to the gulf coast disaster relief."
Finally, I LOVE Penguins, ... do you?! "Yes, penguins … nifty little creatures!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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