Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Sight and Sound

Composer Danny Cocke gets to work on scoring his first feature film and prepares to release a new album of trailer music

For some, getting to the cinema early for the trailers is just as important as seeing the feature presentation. Who can blame them? The trailers are often more exciting than the actual movies they’re meant to market. Trailers fuse all the best parts of the movie into an endorphin-drenched nugget of excitement, loaded with quick cuts, epic voice-overs and even more epic music. Los Angeles (by way of Sacramento) composer Danny Cocke handles the latter. Though just eight years ago, his music career and his life were in serious jeopardy.

In 2011, Cocke released From the Blue, an album of short but dramatic tracks, through L.A.-based licensing and publishing company RipTide Music. At the time, Cocke admits he was “dirt broke.” Much of From the Blue was even recorded in his old bedroom at his parents’ house.

“I was recording bands at the same time just to pay the bills, and all of a sudden it was the first Thor TV spot, and then Conan…Captain America, Green Lantern, and then I got called into custom score the first The Amazing Spider-Man trailer where they actually gave me picture–where he was in first-person running across the roof,” Cocke says. “I was a huge Marvel fan as a kid… It was totally surreal. I did not expect that level of explosion.”

Portions of Cocke’s music have also been used to promote what will likely be the biggest movie of the year, The Avengers. A full track from From the Blue, “World Collapsing,” was used in the trailer of the recently opened fairy tale adventure flick, Snow White and the Huntsman. Having a full song used throughout the entirety of a trailer is a rarity, according to Cocke.

“It was like, ‘What the hell?!’” he says of his reaction to the news.

Cocke says it’s a rush each time he hears something he wrote in a trailer, even though at this point it’s happening a lot more often. “They Came from the Blue,” another track off From the Blue, was placed in about a dozen trailers, he reports.

“Some of my composer buddies are like, ‘Knock it off!’” Cocke says.

Currently, he is poised to release another album’s worth of trailer music, this time through Position Music, titled The Verge of Total Chaos. The album is scheduled for a July 3 release, but Cocke has already started releasing tracks to his SoundCloud page. He also just started working on scoring his first feature film, The Devil’s in the Details, starring Goodfellas’ Ray Liotta.

His career is on the upswing, but just eight years ago, it almost ended before it really began. Cocke was diagnosed with stage IV testicular cancer, which he managed to fight off after a tough struggle. When Submerge spoke to him, it was the day after his eighth anniversary of his diagnosis, and today he stands cancer-free.

When we caught up with Cocke, he was enjoying some time away from Los Angeles back home in Sacramento. He admits that the concrete jungle of L.A. does wear on him. “There’s a hum of constant sound and lack of nature,” he says. “After about two months, I start going crazy.”

However, luckily for him, his work affords him the chance to leave town often, not that it’s a complete vacation. Cocke enjoys home cooking, creatively speaking, and still composes in his old bedroom at his parents’ house while he’s in Sacramento. We open the following interview talking about his process for scoring The Devil’s in the Details before discussing his latest album and his battle with cancer.

When you did From the Blue, it was an album’s worth of music, do you also approach a film score as if it was an album since it’s about the same length of music?
It’s a very different approach. It’s cool because I’ve slowly built up experience. Last summer, I helped out this bigger composer Paul Haslinger on Death Race 2. He gave me about 10 minutes of scenes to write music for. It was basically ghost writing. [It’s credited as if] everything was composed by him, but 10 minutes of it was me. And then I had two short films that I did, and then I had a bigger scale short film last summer, and then I just finished a 30-minute film that’s being used as a pitch, and that’s crazy looking. It’s like The Dark Knight meets The Bourne Ultimatum. It’s incredible. I had to do 30 minutes worth of music in two and a half weeks. It’s a lot different approach. My album was 30 minutes of music that took six months. Also, though, I’m doing whatever I want with the album. With scoring, everything has to be really tailored to picture, and each scene really dictates what you’re doing.

Have you started work on the Ray Liotta movie?
June 1, 2012, I move into a house just for the summer, down in L.A., in the valley, and that week I get reel one and sit down with the director and start spotting out the cues. It’s all got to be done on Aug. 10, 2012, too, so it’s about 100 minutes of music in two and a half months. It’s going to be crazy.

Do they breakdown the plot for you or anything like that, or will you be going into that June 1 session totally blind so to speak?
Well, I read the script beforehand–quite a while ago, actually, like last year. And I know the director pretty well, so he’s always telling me what his vision is. I just try to get in sync with what they’re seeing and imagining. With film score, there’s such a heavy reference on other film scores, so it’s like, “OK, in this scene I want The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s score meets these horror films…” So you have all this really nice reference so you’re not shooting in the dark. So it’s like, “OK, I’m just going to do my version of that.” Set up that kind of a palette, I guess.

Do you have an inkling of what you’d like to do with the film as of now?
I haven’t started making sounds yet. It will discover itself, but I have an idea. The way the movie goes, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s very peaceful, and then all of a sudden, the guy gets held hostage. And from then on it’s super tense. It’s going to be two parts, so there’s going to be some serene music to start off, and then the nastiest, on-edge music. It’ll be fun. I’ll start creating sounds and playing stuff over the picture and seeing what’s working. Creating orchestral elements that don’t sound mocked up is going to be the challenge, making them sound somewhat real.

You’re working on a new album of trailer music, The Verge of Total Chaos
It’s just now finished. I was actually done with it at the end of March, but the mixer was busy on a film, but he just turned in the last mix. We’re just starting to release stuff online–one track here or there. All the trailer companies have eight of them, but they’ll have all 12 by Tuesday, and they’re already getting cut into a ton of stuff. Then it will come out on iTunes in a few weeks.

With From the Blue you said you didn’t have any expectations, but with The Verge of Total Chaos, you’ve already made a name for yourself. Your music is being used in a lot of trailers for blockbuster movies. With this album, did you, say, have films in mind that you knew were coming out that you thought the music you were making would fit in with?
I didn’t. I attacked it more from a musician’s standpoint. I did a lot of rock songs on From the Blue, and one or two of them got placed. I realized that this hybrid orchestral sound was what was working, what they were looking for, and all the editors responded saying that too. They love the old traditional stuff mixed with this new edgy stuff. But I kind of really wanted to expand on melodies and huge epicness, so a lot of the tracks have a really orchestral, epic feel. The other half is sound design-like, straight up electronic alien robot demons [laughs]. It’s always a risk each time. I just put it out and hope for the best.

Eight years ago yesterday, you were diagnosed with stage IV testicular cancer. When you were diagnosed, how did you react? Did you think, “This is it?”
Well, the first 30 seconds were a shock. I definitely had a panic attack. I’ve had panic attacks my whole life, and surprisingly at that moment after, I was super calm. Something otherworldly told me that there was going to be a lot more, and this wasn’t it. Then it was just going one day at a time. But if I had to go back and do it again, I would do it again–even lose all the hair and throw up every day for six months and get cut open–just to be who I am now. I ended up volunteering in a hospital for a couple of years after and helping other cancer patients. It was such an intense spiritual feeling of helping, and sometimes they wouldn’t make it and it was very heavy too. But it gives you such an appreciation of life. I think I put it all into music in a way that I never would have done.

Did you write a lot of music during that time?
Right before it, my band, we were signed. We were at Nine Inch Nails’ Danny Lohner’s house, and it was just like the most epic, exciting time. We were right on the verge of potentially having a really great band career, which at the time was a dream come true. I’m thankful now. I’m so much happier I’m composing. I’m glad I’m not in a band and touring and doing things like that. That was the biggest frustration. It wasn’t even chemo and all these cancer treatments, it’s that I lost the momentum of the band.

I tried to keep it up as best I could. I actually spent so much time learning even more computer production during that time, because I’d be in my parents’ house. I didn’t really have energy to go down into the band room and practice music live, so I’d just be working on the computer. Definitely after that, six months after treatment and I was in remission, I dove into music like crazy.

The Verge of Total Chaos will be available through iTunes and http://positionmusic.com/. In the meantime, you can hear songs from the album at http://soundcloud.com/dannycocke (or, just go to a movie, because you’re bound to hear something he did in a trailer). You can learn more about Danny Cocke at http://Dannycocke.com or at http://www.facebook.com/dannycocke.

MC Rut Gives Sacramento Something to Scream About

Great Expectations

Crank up the volume and feast your ears on a musical smorgasbord that definitely requires a full concert hall. The native Sacramento band MC Rut combines the talents of singer and guitarist Zack Lopez with drummer and backup vocalist Sean Stockham. Lopez’s angsty lyrics explode on a canvas of poignant guitar riffs, for a full sound that is raw and edgy. MC Rut doesn’t tiptoe into their songs—they give it all they’ve got, musically and lyrically.

Who would have known a two-man band could rock this hard? This dynamic duo has been playing together since they were only 12 or 13, too young to even understand that music could be a business. “It was great,” says Stockham. “You played music because it was fun. Some kids were skateboarding. We were playing music.”

In 2000, when they were still in their teens, the guys were involved with a band called Leisure, which was appropriately named considering that neither Lopez or Stockham identifies very strongly with the band. “It was just an outlet to play shows with and be part of the scene,” Lopez remembers. It also allowed them that first taste of life as musicians. Living in Los Angeles and having a record deal straight out of high school. Lopez recalls, “We felt like we beat the system or something—but we definitely didn’t.” When the band dissolved in ’03 and it was time to join the real world once more, it was a disheartening experience. “It all fell apart and it forced us to join the club, so to speak, of what everyone else was doing,” Stockham says. “We came back tails between the legs and everything.”

In a sense, forming MC Rut was an organic decision to go back to their roots, to what music started out as for them. “That’s what we knew music as,” Lopez explains. Stockham adds, “We got sidetracked for seven or eight years. That’s what we consider that period of time in between the beginning and now.”

These boys are now so close that they virtually finish each other’s sentences. Although there are only two of them, the talent of the band is in no way compromised, and each member has settled into his niche. They relay that Lopez’s specialty is “playing loud guitar and singing” while Stockham’s specialty is “playing loud drums and singing.” Oh, and did they mention playing loud?

The pair played as an official band for the first time at the Capitol Garage in December ’06, and have made quite a stir since their debut. So far, they’ve released two EPs, which they simply refer to as “The Blue One” and “The Red One.” “These are our mix tapes,” Zack laughs. Although their second EP was just released in May, it was met with applause and a cry for an encore throughout Sacramento and beyond. The song “Busy Bein’ Born” is a hit in the UK, and the guys feel that it’s a much better representation of their style and musical capabilities than “New Low,” the catchy and more straightforward US single. Lopez explains, “We’re a lot heavier and a lot rawer and a lot more aggressive. [New Low] just kind of came out the way it did, but “Busy Bein’ Born” encompasses everything we do—it’s heavy, it’s soft, it’s melodic, it’s got lyrics, it’s got melody.”

Yep, it’s got melody, but don’t think that MC Rut is just screaming for no reason. Woven in with the powerful vocals and bad ass guitar riffs is a very honest fear of the ordinary, of struggling to make it in a life you don’t even want—as the name Middle Class Rut implies. “We’re goal oriented people, and the thing about the 9-to-5 American dream middle class is there’s really no goal—there’s just an end,” Stockham says.

They’re riding the coattails of fame now, but understand the fickle nature of the industry and that a 9-to-5 job could be just around the corner—although they continue to evade that world like the plague.

Amazingly, the fame doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads. But, they do admit that it’s a much more friendly world when you get to be the headliner rather than the opening act. Stockham recalls playing at the Boardwalk multiple times as an opening band, and generally being treated pretty badly. “Now when we roll in there and throw a show and it’s our show, we’re kings for a night,” he says proudly. With the reception they’ve been getting recently, it looks like they’ll get to be kings for more than just a night.

When it comes down to it, though, MC Rut is just two guys doing what they love. Public attention comes secondary to the music. “It just so happens that people are starting to listen in and recognize what we’ve been doing,” Stockham says.

Submerge catches up with MC Rut in the interim before they hop a plane to London—an interview that appropriately takes place at the Streets of London bar.

Can you tell me a little about the projects you’re working on now—the new album and the upcoming tour?
Sean Stockham: We’re always playing and writing music whether it’s an album we’re writing for or not. We do what we do. We get together five or more days a week and play music for as many hours as we can. Right now we’re getting ready to go to London in November. Obviously we’re really excited about that

Have you guys ever been to London before?
SS: This is the first time. It’s definitely something we’ve dreamt about doing since we started playing music. At some point we had stopped dreaming about it, and it didn’t even seem realistic.
Zack Lopez: Now it’s reality.

When do you think the new album will be realized?
ZL: We don’t even know really what the new album is. We’ve never written a song for a specific project.
SS: Out of what we have now we could probably put together maybe four to seven projects.

Why did you make the decision to release EPs instead of a full album?
ZL: They are full albums essentially. We’re just scared of the word “album.” Once you commit to saying “album,” that’s your first album.
SS: It’s just like not committing to marriage”¦ There’s something very scary about marriage and there’s something very scary about a full-length record.

So people have described your lyrics as being kind of aggressive. Did you write these songs during a dark period, or are your lyrics pretty consistent?
ZL: It wasn’t a dark period; it was just a normal life period. You don’t necessarily have to be depressed, you know? Most people aren’t happy with their lives as it is and I think that’s a big part of this band.

Your songs express a general dissatisfaction about middle class life. Would you say you have a fear of the 9-to-5 lifestyle?
SS: It’s different than like the fear of death, because none of us have actually experienced death”¦ The 9-to-5 thing is something that’s always right there.
ZL: I feel like some people are down with what they do and that’s great. It’s all about being happy with where you’re at. When you come to the point where you’re struggling to be somewhere that you don’t even want to be in the first place, that’s when you’re bummed.

Do you think that’s an artist thing?
SS: I don’t want to say that. You can say that, but yeah, that’s probably exactly what it is.
ZL: We expect a lot from ourselves. And if we don’t get it, then we’re miserable, and we keep chasing it till we get it.

You guys have high expectations, then?
ZL: From the first time we played music, we expected everything”¦ But at least we’re on the road to hopefully getting there. We’d rather be trying to get somewhere than never try and never be anywhere.

How do you think living in Sacramento affected your lyrics, or did it?
ZL: It definitely didn’t. It was more living in L.A., living on a failed dream that affected our lyrics.

In one of your songs, the song “I Don’t Really Know,” you write, “We’re never going anywhere, just circling around.” Do you still feel that way at times even today, even though it seems like your band is really taking off now?
SS: I think everyone feels like that, generally stated. For us in the band, its such an exciting time right now it would be really hard to not feel like shit was improving at least.
ZL: You’ve got to understand, five minutes of your life where you could feel so strongly about something you could write 10 songs, and you have to express what you felt at that point. It doesn’t necessarily express how you feel all the time”¦it represents who you are at that point. And we’re really good at writing songs about moments.

So if you wrote a song about right now would it have a more positive spin on it?
ZL: It would sound like 311. And we’d be bummed on it.

How has your music evolved between the last songs you released and the new songs you’re working on now?
ZL: The vibe is the same, but we feel like we’re better songwriters. If we don’t consistently keep writing better songs, we feel like we’re not doing our job. Every time we’re writing something, the only reason we ever move on something is because it’s better than what we’ve already done. If its not, it gets left behind, and that’s where it deserves to be.
SS: At the same time, if what we’re doing now doesn’t at least have something in common with what we’ve done before, then it’s not even us.

MC Rut