Interview with Faye Greenberg & David Lawrence
8DIO Artist Spotlight Answers by Faye Greenberg & David Lawrence. Questions by Troels Folmann, June 2014.
David Lawrence possesses a tome of musical credits for television and film from a compellingly, productive career. He has received 2, ASCAP Achievement Awards and is known for his work on American Pie; 1 & 2, Beverly Hills 90210, High School Musical and Teen Beach Movie. He works with his collaborator and life partner, Faye Greenberg on many of his projects. They have written together and separately over their successful careers.
Your film and television musical pedigrees are well established but we would like to know more about your 80’s, R&B songwriting and producing background. Tell us about some of the projects you worked on and what came from them.
D: R&B is something that’s simply part of my soul. I love all incarnations of it. That and Brazilian Jazz. (sorry for the digression) I grew up on Earth,Wind & Fire. I know every nuance of every arrangement on all their records. Now I only sing the counterlines and rhythms when I play their stuff. As if that is really the raw essence of those records, which of course they are. I was fortunate to work with David Foster early on and completely identified with his style of composing and arranging. Then one amazing day Faye and I were introduced to Maurice White, my hero. He asked us to write a few things. Soon after that, WE WERE WRITING FOR EARTH, WIND & FIRE!!! The experience not only fulfilled a lifelong dream, but really honed my producing chops for later gigs. These guys knew all the tricks and tasty licks!
You wrote songs for some of the biggest artists in the 80’s. How do you approach songwriting for specific artists?
D & F: In order to write for specific artists it’s important to have a feel for their musical strengths and weaknesses. To be able to hear their “voice” (and by voice we don’t just mean vocal instrument) in the song and arrangement. And it’s incredibly important to be able to listen when the artist inputs. Sometimes they need to be pushed in a new direction and sometimes they really don’t. When it works it’s incredibly collaborative. We were very fortunate in that we truly loved the talent we got to write for so there was no learning curve at all. We just wrote what we, as fans, wanted to hear.
What was your foray into television and film from from mainstream, hit-making, pop music?
D: I received a call from a friend who was making a horror movie about giant mosquitoes who ingested too much toxic waste. It sounded so absurd I jumped at the chance to do the score. It was your classic horror score with a few emotional moments. I had so much fun writing it that I started thinking a lot more seriously about pursuing film and television scoring. Another friend asked me to score a summer camp movie for Disney and off I forayed into film and TV scoring!
You have a degree in music composition. Was this a useful tool when you were writing pop hits? Does it apply more to your grander undertakings in film and television?
D: It is absolutely a useful tool . I graduated from the Mannes Conservatory of Music in New York City. I always had good instincts about orchestration and thematic development, but Mannes taught me about discipline, structure and economy of writing. Those essential tools are vital to all genres of composing. Learning how to produce records was simply a trial and error process over time.
You are both songwriters and arrangers, what is it like when someone else arranges your material?
F: Only David is an arranger, Faye is an opinionated lyricist (Faye is typing this so it’s okay) who has good musical instincts and has made some very helpful arrangement suggestions over the years (still Faye). We enjoy hearing what other talented people bring to our material, it can be thrilling to hear your work reinterpreted in ways you never imagined. The only real problem is when somebody “over produces” or “over arranges” something you love and that’s the only version that’s readily available.
Do your musical stylings change when you work alone and not together? Is there a collective soul that comes from your combined work?
D & F: There is a “collective soul”, as you so aptly put it, when we work together. We’ve been doing this for 28 years now (how did that happen?) and it’s really second nature, a very safe, creative environment. When we work with other collaborators it’s a different process and that to some extent changes the final product. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.
Faye, tell us about your musical your background and how you got your start.
I always loved writing, particularly lyrics. I wrote parody lyrics for virtually every school event when I was a kid and then made somebody else sing them over the loud speaker system or in front of an assembly. My idea of a good time. I also always loved the theater. My father is a musician and got his start playing shows in New York. I guess you could say I got my start going to shows in New York.
Faye, you have long written for the stage. How is your approach to that different than writing for television and film? How does your process differ from the two?
The approach in many ways is the same – figure out what the character wants/needs to say and then find the best way to say it. With David (in fact with most of my collaborators) we work lyric first. But when I hand off a lyric to David it’s just the first step. I need to hear the words on the music to know if I got my part right. Words on paper (or on the screen these days) and words on music are totally different things. I need to hear how they sing. And once we agree on the music I often go back and re-work the lyric. Probably the biggest difference when I’m writing for the stage is that my collaborators and I have to be aware of the whole show in every decision we make. Dramatically, musically, lyrically, it all has to work as a piece. And when we start we can usually write what we think works best without too much interference. When I’ve worked on projects for television and film it’s usually been one or two isolated songs per project and we had to write what the producer and director wanted for those moments. Hopefully we always bring our sensibilities to the work but it still needs to meet somebody else’s requirements.
David, your work on High School Musical was stunningly successful gaining you accolades of all kinds. The soundtrack album went quadruple platinum. Explain the impact this had on your career.
Well, for one thing it meant I could work more often with Faye! I had been pretty much scoring film and television up until HSM came along. Its success put us in a position to write and produce for more music driven films and TV shows. It also allowed us to pursue ventures in musical theatre.
The production of High School Musical has 80 minutes of music in a 98 minute program. Was this the intention from the outset?
D & F: Not really sure. High School Musical was the first time Disney Channel was doing a proper musical and they were very nervous about the whole thing. It was uncharted territory for them at the time, so every decision was made and adjusted and readjusted as they tried to figure out what kind of musical would speak to their audience. In the end it all came together, cast, story, songs, music, direction and they had a monster hit on their hands. And the fact that it spoke to multiple generations and brought singing and dancing back to television in a big way was the proverbial icing on a very rich cake.
David, your parents are Steve Lawrence and the late Eydie Gorme – the esteemed popular vocal duet of a generation. Please share their influence on, not only, your decision to go into music but how they affected your path.
That’s a tough one. It’s kind of chicken and egg. I was drawn (pretty much as soon as I could walk) to the piano at a very early age. Being surrounded by music and singing at such an intense and rich level was definitely influential in my pursuit of music But it was also being in the presence of truly amazing arrangers and composers that cemented the deal for me. A few of those arrangers/composers – the late Don Costa, for example- were mentors to me growing up and were, literally, permanent fixtures in our house. As far as my parents influencing the path that I took, I think I felt at the time that it would be less ‘complicated’ for me if I pursued composing and producing rather than singing front and center. I inherited both their vocal ranges, but I feel much more comfortable and expressive behind a keyboard instead of a microphone.
There is strong musical DNA in your family – you are also cousins of Neil Sedaka. Are your children showing signs of a musical path as well?
D & F: Our daughter is adopted from China. She is an amazing young lady now. When she was little we wanted her to have 2 years of musical training of some sort. She could pick whatever instrument she wanted. After two years she could throw in the towel if she chose to. We always have music playing in the house and our daughter has, literally, grown up in my control room and ISO booth. Faye and I feel it is important to expose forming brains to music. Well, after 2 years she was hooked on violin and has been playing, studying and performing in youth orchestra for the last 11 years. She reads better than I do! Although she is not interested in pursuing a career in music, the violin will always be a part of her…like nurture over nature, I guess.
Please share the story about the Barak Ballet dance piece commission to be performed in LA this June.
D: I read an article in the LA Times last year about Melissa (Barak) and a subsequent “love letter” review of her Ballet Performance at The Broad Theatre in Santa Monica. I was really impressed, so I ‘cold’ called her and took her to lunch. After 2 get togethers we became fast friends and she asked me to write a 20 Minute piece for her upcoming concert this year at the Broad. My only caveat before composing was that we approach this composition as I would with a director on an independent film. No Temp Score, no preconceived notions on either of our part, just start from scratch together and see where we go. It was a great process and I think we’re both really pleased with the outcome. I went to one of the early dance rehearsals and her work blew me away.
What new projects are you working on and excited about?
D & F: I’m just about to start scoring 2 films at Disney. One, a new franchise called Decendants with Kenny Ortega directing, and the is other is the sequel to Teen Beach Movie. Faye and I also have a movie in development at Disney along with our partner Robert Freedman. It’s our first foray into film as Producers. Fingers crossed!!!
What 8DIO products have you worked with and how have they provided solutions for you?
D: How can I say this accurately……8DIO has saved my life!!! The quality, variety and creativity of the entire library is stunning. I work constantly with the Adagio Strings, Choirs, Basstard (the greatest thing ever!), Epic Ensemble Percussion, Hybrid Scoring Tools, Solo Voices, Solo Woodwinds, Tuned and Untuned Percussion. I’m just starting to play around with Zeus, Steel String Strummer and Mandolin Strummer. Next up will be purchasing the Cage Bundle and V8P 8W library. We are finally at a place in time where technology and artisans, like 8DIO, can provide real inspiration to composers. In a completely practical sense, composers don’t have to sacrifice their compositions to the limitations of libraries anymore. That and the ability to deliver final stems to a dub stage using these libraries is essential to composers today.
Chop You Up (see below) was a cue for a Ryan Reynolds movie. It revolves around multiple tracks of of 8Dio Basstard.
End of Interview with Faye Greenberg & David Lawrence