Rick Garcia (left) and William V. Malpede
ASCAP songwriter/composers Rick Garcia and William V. Malpede have given musical life to fatalistic, Mariachi-playing owls (Rango), and soundtracked the dramatic exploits of elderly residents at a nursing home (Another Harvest Moon). Now they're tackling their toughest subjects yet: 2 to 7-year-old children. Garcia and Malpede write the beautiful, diverse songs for Quiet Is..., a new series of animated shorts that premieres on the brand new Disney Junior channel this Friday, March 23rd at 8:25pm, PT/ET. While the series seeks to expand kids' definitions of what "quiet" can be, Garcia and Malpede's songwriting skills come through loud and clear. But don't take our word for it. Nancy Kanter, the Senior Vice President of Original Programming and General Manager for Disney Junior Worldwide, told us that "William and Rick were a dream to work with. They were tireless in experimenting with new approaches to the music and each short is a little jewel made even more special by their extraordinary songs." We spoke (quietly) with this pair of talented creators about their original music for Quiet Is...
What appealed to you about working on the Quiet Is... series?
Rick: What appealed to me was the opportunity to write, sing and explore so many different and diverse musical styles ranging from African to Americana and jazz. And at the end of the day, giving the music its own voice and personality. From day one we knew that this was such a special and unique project. We really wanted to create songs that had a timeless feel to them.
William: Working with Rick and Lori [Mozilo, a Disney Junior executive] was definitely an attraction; but certainly, doing a project which requires such diversity of skills and creativity is really appealing. From songwriting, to orchestration and programming, to scoring of animation - all really appealing. And myself, being a fan of Looney Tunes, the classic Disney animations and the Rankin/Bass animated holiday pieces from the 1960's made these shorts really appealing to create music for.
How did the producer of the series find you?
Rick: Our dear friend Ken Karman recommended William and me for the job. I'd co-written, performed and co-produced the Mariachi Owl songs for Rango with Ken. Also, Ken and I had sought William out to assist us in the recording of the demos for the Mariachi Owl songs.
What was the collaborative process like between the two of you on Quiet Is...?
William: We like to first process any creative direction and suggestion we may have been given. Next, we like to "get a vibe" about the piece we're writing, regarding mood, tempo and musical style. Then, together we begin bouncing melodic, harmonic and lyrical ideas. We work out the basic song at the piano or guitar. Rick's strengths lean more towards melody, lyrics, vocals and production. Myself, I tend to respond more harmonically, and from a scoring perspective; that's generally the basis of our collaborative process.
Did you get specific direction from Disney about what they wanted, or did you have pretty wide latitude to write the kind of music you wanted?
William: I would say that with Quiet Is…, we had a comfortable latitude within which to create. From the very beginning, we had a meeting with Lori and Nancy Kanter about the musical (and story) direction of each piece. In some cases, Rick and I had some alternate ideas, and Lori and Nancy were eager to hear and respond to any and all of our creative input. So yes, there was some specific direction, but not 100% of the time, and always with creative latitude.
The shorts that I saw - "Napping Kitten" and "Galloping Paper Pony" - have only very subtle ties between the music and the stories. How did you ensure that the music would fit with the visuals?
William: These pieces are interesting. On "Napping Kitten," some of our creative direction included not saying in lyrics explicitly what was being depicted in the animation. Therefore, we had to create a lyric which spoke of, in this case, the magic of life, because magical things and happy "accidents" through nature were occurring in the visuals. So there's a symbolic or metaphoric tie. In "Galloping Paper Pony," we both got the feeling of a beautiful journey into a place you love, and/or with someone you love. This is the metaphor in this song. Musically, we also discussed some styles that might be desirable for these pieces, and we composed the songs and created the orchestrations and moods around a generally agreed upon musical style (a different style, though, between these two pieces).
Rick: What I was really after was something very basic, and that was heart. Both William and I felt that we wanted these songs to have an emotional content that had a deep and far reach that would help connect the listener/viewer to the song AND the video. These videos all have such beautiful stories. Musically, it was vital that each song have its own vibe. For "Galloping Paper Pony" the story takes place in the desert, therefore we incorporated an Americana feel to the song. We applied lap steel guitar, acoustic guitar and incorporated a whistle into the intro and outro of the song. I sang both songs, yet as a vocalist interpreted each one of them very differently. With "Napping Kitten" I applied a very soft and breathy vocal approach to mirror the napping kitten and the ease of the day. For "Galloping Paper Pony" my vocal approach was country flavored and more sentimental.
You've both written songs and score for such a wide range of TV and film projects, both animated and not. Did writing music for Quiet Is... provide any unique challenges that you hadn't faced before?
Rick: Yes, it did. For me personally, writing the lyrics was most challenging. It was important for the lyrics to retain somewhat of a poetic flair while at the same time being simple enough for children to both understand and relate to. It became quite obvious that if we got a bit too metaphorical it just wasn't going to work. Melodically speaking, I felt these songs had to have a heightened sense of immediacy, and be the kind of songs you just can't get out of your head. Keeping it all simple yet with a sense of craft woven throughout. Another area of much consideration was choosing the right vocalist for the right song. Being that we were covering such a broad range of musical styles we were quite mindful of that.
William: For me, one of the unique challenges was how to write a short but complete song that also contains space for hitting points in the film, such as an instrumental underscore would. A song form (of which there are many) is one thing, and the form for a score is another. I found this a really interesting challenge, and I feel that we did pretty well by carefully choosing areas in each video that needed to be recognized or underscored, but also letting other points be "played through" with the song and its lyrics. And I so agree with Rick that the balance of poetic flair with simplicity was a challenge, in the lyrics as well as the music.
Do you have children? If so, did you include them in your test audience for the music you did for Quiet Is...?
William: No children here! Well, I did two things: I played a bit of two of the pieces for my family - they liked them, and liked our vocalists as well. Also, I spoke to little Billy who reminded me that "when we were young, remember how much we liked Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day?" Well, that became inspiration for an idea for one of the pieces!
Rick: No children either! However, I did play a few of the songs to friends that do have kids and their response was great! They felt the songs were simple and infectious enough for kids to enjoy while at the same time appealing and enjoyable to them as well.
Quiet Is... premieres at 8:25 p.m., ET/PT and 8:55 p.m., ET/PT on Friday, March 23rd, the same day that Disney Junior debuts on cable and satellite TV. The primary timeslot thereafter will be weeknights at 8:25 p.m. and weekends at 8:55 p.m. Beginning on Saturday, March 24th, you can also watch the Quiet Is... premiere online at DisneyJunior.com and the Disney Junior YouTube page.
Find out more about William V. Malpede at www.williamvmalpede.com.