ASCAP composer John Powell has earned fistfuls of critical kudos for his music to animated favorites How to Train Your Dragon, Rio and Happy Feet. His latest film Ice Age: Continental Drift is in theaters today, and along with it comes another boisterous score from the British expatriate. Powell gave exactly the kind of answers to our interview questions that you’d expect from a man who gets to soundtrack wooly mammoths, domesticated dragons and tap-dancing penguins for a living.
This is the third Ice Age film that you've scored. Did you have the chance to introduce any new techniques or sounds in your score to keep it fresh?
We did use about 20 bass accordions on this one. I decided that the "pirate" cliché should be thoroughly messed with, so let's not do the chirpy squeezebox thing. Instead, I used the very bottom of a large group of accordions in place of bass trombones. I wanted people to realize what a frightening instrument the accordion really is.
We had great fun at the session [pictured above]. There were so many accordionists in one room that they had to close all the Italian restaurants in a fifty-mile radius. And they were all looking at each other like "Whoa, I thought I had this gig, who the hell are you!?" They hadn't played with any other accordionists since they were kids in Mrs. Henkel's 200-piece accordion orchestra.
Continental Drift is the first time that you haven't worked with Carlos Saldanha on an Ice Age film. How did that affect the working environment for you?
I must admit it was a bit strange. But I had worked with Steve Martino on Horton Hears a Who! and Mike Thurmeier was co-director on Ice Age 3. It is true, however, that they were not as keen on sambas in their film as I was perhaps used to.
Continental Drift features a whole bunch of stars from the pop & urban music worlds - Queen Latifah of course, but also Drake, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, Ester Dean. Did you end up incorporating anything special in your music for their characters?
Er, no. I'd like to tell you that as the composer, I was able to do some really cool s**t with all this musical talent in the film, but as it turned out, no. I wasn't.
You're doing more in this film than just scoring an adventure - you're giving a musical backdrop to the process that created the continents as we know them today! Was it important to you to capture the humongous scale of all the changes the earth undergoes in the film?
At the beginning of the film, the creation of the geographical world as we know it seemed just such an immense idea to musically convey, that I gave up entirely and used Beethoven's Ninth Symphony instead. With a bit of obscenely crass re-orchestration and blatantly cheap arranging tricks normally associated with strippers, we got it to fit the action perfectly. But the cost that I must now bear is having to live forever in hiding, since the "Beethoven Society" issued a "fatwa" on me.
Ice Age: Continental Drift is now in theaters. Find out more at www.iceagemovie.com.
Find out more about John Powell at the Internet Movie Database.