Composer Joseph Trapanese Discusses His Score For Disney+ LADY AND THE TRAMP
Just in time for the holidays is Disney+ original new movie LADY AND THE TRAMP.
In Disney+’s “Lady and the Tramp,” life is good for Lady, an overachieving American Cocker Spaniel who resides in an upscale suburban neighborhood. Her owners, Jim Dear and Darling, spoil her daily and her neighbors, Jock, an outspoken Scottish Terrier and Trusty, a world-weary Bloodhound, are always within barking distance. But when a baby enters the picture, Lady is no longer the center of attention, and the arrival of cat-loving Aunt Sarah only complicates matters. Lady soon finds herself alone on the streets in an unwelcoming part of town. Fortunately, Tramp steps in, and the streetwise mongrel is quick to teach her the ways of the world. Before long, the prim and proper purebred and the fast-talking mutt are partaking in moonlight strolls in the park and romantic spaghetti dinners by candlelight. Tramp savors the independence of a world without leashes or fences alongside his roguish friends Peg and Bull, but Lady misses the comfort and safety of a family, and soon both must decide where – and with whom – they belong.
A heartwarming romantic adventure that seamlessly combines live action and photorealistic animation, “Lady and the Tramp” stars Tessa Thompson as the voice of Lady, Justin Theroux as the voice of Tramp, Kiersey Clemons as Darling, Thomas Mann as Jim Dear, Janelle Monáe as the voice of Peg, Yvette Nicole Brown as Aunt Sarah, and Sam Elliott as the voice of Trusty. The film is directed by Charlie Bean from a screenplay by Andrew Bujalski and Kari Granlund, and is produced by Brigham Taylor. “Lady and the Tramp” is available to stream on Disney + now.
The score was composed and executive produced by composer Joseph Trapanese.
Trapanese is best known for his sleek score work for blockbuster films like “Tron: Legacy,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Oblivion” and the “Raid” series. As a composer, arranger, and producer for film, television, theater, and video game music, he has collaborated with a number of mainstream musical acts such as Daft Punk, M83, Mike Shinoda, and Dr. Dre.
Solo work includes films such as “Lady and the Tramp,” “Stuber,” “Arctic,” “Robin Hood,” “Only The Brave,” “Earth to Echo,” and two installments of the “Divergent” series.
Born in Jersey City, Trapanese earned his BM in classical composition from the Manhattan School of Music. He went on to study at UCLA for his MA and taught electronic music composition at the school from 2008-2011. In 2016, he became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In 2013, alongside a tenacious group of composers, artists, and musicians, Trapanese founded The Echo Society. Aiming to inspire each other and the community around them, the group creates and performs new music showcasing the unique talents and environments of Los Angeles.
Recently I spoke with Trapanese where we had a lively conversation about his previous scores, his love of composing for films and how the filmmakers brought him onto the project to create an original score for the darling LADY AND THE TRAMP.
WAMG: I love film scores and it’s always the first thing I listen for when watching a film. Your new score is such a vibrant part of the movie.
Joseph Trapanese: We all worked very hard to give it a reason to exist. It’s so easy to look at a film like this and think, “oh, they’re just dipping into old ideas,“ but I think we really gave it a reason to exist in 2019. We got it to place where it feels relevant and both old and new. A lot of hard work went into it.
WAMG: Your score feels both nostalgic and contemporary at the same time. You truly captured the essence, especially with the vocals, of the classic Disney film.
JT: It was a true honor to be entrusted with the musical legacy of Disney’s LADY AND THE TRAMP. We wanted to capture the emotionality and the warmth of the original movie.
The music goes deeper into the time period and the beginning of jazz. Charlie Bean and I worked diligently to celebrate the original film by maintaining the spirit of the classic songs, while being unafraid to explore the benefits of modern production and scoring to create an updated musical identity for today.
WAMG: Much of the music has those jazzy type of cues.
JT: It’s like a time capsule of the 1950’s. Music of the time was very alive. The early 20th century American setting inspired us to incorporate traditional New Orleans music and Americana into the fabric of the film. Alongside the artistry of Janelle Monae, trumpet soloist Nicholas Payton, and our 125-piece Hollywood orchestra, band, and choir, we aimed to create a signature sound for this generation’s LADY AND THE TRAMP. We wanted it to have a real presence.
We recorded “He’s a Tramp” in New Orleans and it was so exciting to have that opportunity. We didn’t want to be limited by modern technology.
WAMG: There are some very endearing moments in the film where your score just adds to the moment, such as in the track “He Has A Home,” it’s very orchestral and lovely. You’ve worked on “Tron: Legacy,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Oblivion”. What’s your favorite kind of music to compose?
JT: I have a very diverse background. I grew up listening to Hip-Hop, I grew up listening to film scores. I played in jazz bands and learned about a wide range of music. I’m a fan of Duke Ellington’s saying. “There are two kinds of music… good music and bad music.” What’s cool about film scoring is when I get asked by a filmmaker to compose for their movie, we sit down and discuss the characters, the time period… I try to understand the DNA of the film so that the music has a unique integrity only for that film. I’m very passionate about the music being a part of the narrative of a film.
I’m a fan where the score has a seat at the table. As in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON I loved being influenced by Hip-Hop. After it was announced that I was doing the film, my friends called me up saying, “this is so cool, you’re writing a Hip-Hop score!” I was like, are you kidding me!? I’m going to write a Hip-Hop score next to the music of Dr. Dre?! Those guys are like the Beethoven of Hip-Hop! What I tried to bring was the emotionality that was happening behind the studio scene and within their families. Hip- Hop is so full of bravado and energy and such powerful music and I was trying to provide the vulnerability and something new with the score.
The album features new versions of classics such as “Bella Notte” and “He’s a Tramp,” the latter performed by multi-talented actress, singer and songwriter Janelle Monáe. Monáe performs one of the animated film’s most iconic songs (written and originally performed by Peggy Lee), “He’s a Tramp.”
Another classic song from the film, “Bella Notte,” is performed this time around by F. Murray Abraham and Arturo Castro, as Tony and Joe, respectively.
WAMG: How much were you involved with these new versions?
JT: I had the great pleasure working directly with her. She’s amazing. Plus I worked on the new Cat Song “What A Shame.” That was written and performed by Nate “Rocket” Wonder, Roman GianArthur. They’re brothers and they also produced the song. It was very much a team effort. We all worked so closely together so the score and songs have this musical palette that really blends together. I helped them record some of the band music for the Cat Song and they would come to listen to score being recorded, so we would have conversations during the break on how both parts were influencing each other. It had a huge impact of the final product. It was huge collaborative effort.
WAMG: Speaking of the “Cat Song,” how did the conversation start with redoing the Siamese Cat Song and the racial overtones of the original song in the original movie?
JT: We came to the table saying we need new cats. The director Charlie Bean said the names of the cats are Devon and Rex (Nate Wonder, Roman GianArthur) and they’re really funny. It was basic… we asked ourselves how are we going to do a new song, whose going to sing it, who will write it. They turned in a demo and Charlie said, “they are the cats!” I don’t think they thought they were going to sing the song. By the end of the day, we felt we had a great new song.
WAMG: It works really well! It was another great and hilarious way to update the cats.
JT: You don’t want to change the original films. It’s like a time capsule of the good and the bad. You have to approach it head on so from the beginning we knew we had to come up with something new.
WAMG: How did your enthusiasm for writing music come about?
JT: My friends in high school started playing in the band and I thought it was so cool. I joined the band and went to summer music camps. I noticed STAR WARS and other film scores. I wanted to go to school for music education to learn how to arrange and compose. My parents also encouraged me and I knew I wanted to make a living from composing. I always wanted to make music and I went to Hollywood where film scoring is so much alive. You need to have a great understanding of how cinematic sound works and I developed a skill set. I played in a Latin jazz band so I have great understanding and appreciation for musicians. I feel very lucky to have composed for so many different films.
WAMG: What’s coming up next for you?
JT: I worked on the PBS kids series “Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum” over the summer. It’s something I’ve never done before and I had a great time working on that.
I’m doing a film called HAPPILY with BenDavid Grabinski. It’s unlike any movie I’ve ever seen. It’s insane. The score is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I’m also working on a film called SPONTANEOUS with Brian Duffield. Its super fun and goes hand in hand with what I was saying before where the music has a unique viewpoint.
I’m having a great time right now going from all these different types of films. For me it’s about the collaboration and the art. I feel so very lucky. All these projects are so meaningful and it’s quite a journey I’m having.