creating music for several new films to making records
with the likes of Kelly Rowland, Mya, Jessica Simpson,
Beyoncé Knowles and his mom Dionne Warwick, songwriter/producer
Damon Elliott is one busy man –– By Erik
When Playback talked to songwriter/producer
Damon Elliott a few weeks back, he was in the studio
working on music for the upcoming hip hop comedy, Malibu's
Most Wanted, starring Jaime Kennedy and Taye Diggs.
Although Elliott's score for the film will be his first
(a collaboration with composer John Debney), his film
music track record is about to get much longer. Last
summer, he contributed music to the Scooby-Doo
soundtrack and he is currently creating new material
for three more 1970's TV shows-turned-feature films:
Charlie's Angels II, S.W.A.T. and a live action
feature of Fat Albert.
You would think that his new film work would be enough
to keep him occupied, but Elliott's sizzling career
as a writer/producer shows no sign of slowing down.
He has made a name for himself as an aggressive and
progressive producer who is not afraid to experiment
with sounds and styles, forging funky beats with infectious
melodies. He has worked with a who's who of today's
reigning hip hop, pop and R&B stars, such as Pink,
Mya, Destiny's Child, Eminem, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony,
Keith Sweat, Barry White, Ziggy Marley and many others.
Add to this a record project that Elliott is most excited
to produce: an album of duets featuring many of today's
young pop divas which will mark his mother Dionne Warwick's
40th anniversary in music. On a rare break in Elliott's
schedule, Playback's Erik Philbrook had the
chance to talk to him about how he does it all.
What's on your plate today?
Today I'm working on Jessica Simpson's new album.
With all the different people you are
working with right now, how challenging is it to keep
everyone's project apart?
It is surprisingly pretty easy because each artist
has his or her unique personality. They are all so cool.
It's not like I'm dealing with people who aren't experienced.
All of these people are so professional. You would be
surprised. A lot of these people are excited to work
with me. So everyone is very cool and humble and we
just get it done.
In general, how do you choose the material?
Do you have stuff that you present to them? Or vice
There are never two sessions that are the same. And
I don't plan on it happening any given way. I'll give
you two examples. On the Pink album, she came with what
she wanted and knew exactly what she wanted. And Linda
Perry and I took her ideas and crafted from there. Whereas,
on Mya's album, there were some things she knew she
wanted, but she was also open to other material I had
come up with just for her specifically. There were some
instances in which she would be sitting right there
in the room, and I would come up with an idea, and we
would have a track right then and there. And she'd write
to it. That's kind of how it's working with the Jessica
Simpson stuff right now.
Which do you enjoy more, having more
freedom to explore your own ideas, or to take someone
else's ideas and help make them come to fruition?
I like both ways of working. I love to come up with
my own ideas and sharing them with somebody. But you
never know what that other person is going to give you.
It's a growth thing every time I get an idea from somebody
else and I think "damn, why didn't I think of that?"
You are creating a lot of music for
film these days. What do you enjoy about film projects?
It's a different creative process. For a film, you
need to create something musically to go with a picture
or a scene. And you only have a certain amount of time.
You have to get certain points across. For instance,
I'm working on a Jaime Kennedy comedy right now called
Malibu's Most Wanted. You gotta hit certain
notes certain ways. It's pretty wild. Whereas, when
you make a record, you start from nothing. You're creating
the script. It's not like there's a script telling you
what to do. With Malibu's Most Wanted, I'm
doing all the music. I'm scoring the film. I'm also
doing songs for the soundtrack and song pieces, like
when Jaimie raps in the film. There are many different
Are there days when you are working
on two or three things at once?
It's an everyday occurance, man! (laughs). I wake
up. I hit the studio about now, which is 12:30pm. I'll
give you my day today. I got Jessica Simpson coming
in at 2:00. We'll work from 2:00 to about 6:00. After
that, I've got to finish another song with Mya. And
after that I have to finish a theme for the movie, which
will take me to about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. Then
I'll put rough mixes on everything and get to bed around
4:35. I'll sleep for a few hours and then go right back
That's a typical day?
Yeah (laughs). It's been like this for about a year
It must be exhausting.
It is, but I'm not complaining one bit. I love every
minute of it. Of course, you have your days when you
walk outside and it's a beautiful day. I have a wife
and I have children, and they will say "we should all
go to the beach." But I have to say "you all go on without
me. Just call me and tell me what it smells like down
In looking at your discography, it
looks like 1997 was a pivotal year for you.
Yeah, 97 was when things really started to pop for
What was happening prior to 97? Were
you just not getting the high-profile gigs?
It's kind of funny how music is. I'm not doing anything
different now than I what I was doing in 95 or 96. Actually,
in 96 I did work on the Bones-Thugs-N-Harmony record.
But it just seems that music changes and it grows and
people become a lot more liberal each year in terms
of what they will allow to be cool. What I was doing
in 94 might not have seemed cool, such as using certain
samples. I use different sounds than most people. I'll
sample a vacuum cleaner. I'll sample a siren -–
all kinds of crazy stuff -– and use them in a
song. I don't know if that was so cool to do back then.
Do you think that listeners are, in
general, more open-minded now?
Absolutely, and I love it. For instance, some of the
stuff I did on Kelly's record, like taking an alternative
guitar and laying it over some banging hip hop track.
Back in 94, people would probably say "what the hell
is this?" Music was more segregated back then. Now you
can combine things. I'm doing folk hip hop. I was doing
this back then but people weren't responding to it.
Now they are calling me and saying, "we need that sound."
It's great to hear a Busta Rhymes rapping over folk
hip hop music or Egyptian beats.
Do you try to listen to what other
producers are doing, or are you so absorbed in your
own studio that you don't really get a chance?
I'm pretty much lost in my own world. I always have
been. There's so much music going on in my head, that
when I do listen to the radio, I listen to talk radio,
just for a break. I'm best friends with Rock Wilder,
one of my brothers. We play off each other a lot. He'll
come play me a beat, or I'll go play him and beat, and
I think we inspire each other a lot. We have similar
tastes and styles.
A lot of kids seek out music that is
different from their parent's music. When you were growing
up, did you embrace you mother's music?
Absolutely. I love every song that my mom has done.
Growing up in a house and listening to Burt Bacharach
and Hal David songs was very inspiring to me. I think
that's why I love to combine really pretty orchestra
strings with other things. I was in the studio when
they cut a lot of their hit records and I just absorbed
it all like a sponge. I also grew up loving hip hop
music. So I was listening to hip hop music on a daily
basis and then I would go into the studio with my mom
and listen to beautiful R&B/pop music. I think it
gave me that edge in thinking "wow, you can combine
these two things."
Did you pick an instrument at an early
I picked up a lot of instruments at an early age.
But I never got great. I got good. I'm a pretty good
drummer. I'm pretty good on the keyboards. Me, I'm more
of an electronics guy. I'll pick up a vacuum cleaner
and plug it in and hear a frequency that I can use as
a snare. I'm weird like that. In the Destiny's Child
song, "Sexy Daddy," which I did for their Survivor
album, the bass part is actually a vacuum cleaner. I
called Mathew and asked, "Do I have to call Hoover and
clear the rights to use this?" (laughs).
With everything that you have done
and are doing, is there a dream project that you would
like to pursue someday?
At this point in time, not to sound conceited, but
I'm kind of achieving what I really set out to do. I'm
fortunate to be working with some of the top female
artists in the business. I want to stay busy and take
it day by day, project by project. I just want to keep