From rock and roll to composing to graphic novels, Tree Adams has enjoyed a very interesting career. Recently we had to chat with him about his life in music and now graphic novels, talking about the challenges and rewards of being in the entertainment business for over twenty years.
So were you always interested in music or did that kind of grow in you over time?
Tree: At three or four I started taking piano lessons, I was forced to play at a young age and then I discovered rock, Jimi Hendrix was one of the first and it dawned on me oh yeah, it would be neat if I could play guitar. By that time I was ten years old and that’s when I started to love it and it’s been my life’s passion since then.
When did the interest in composing come along?
Tree: Well I started doing singer/songwriting stuff, playing in band, getting a record deal and spent like a decade on the road. I think in 1995 or 1996, that band was on the wane and I had the opportunity to write music for an independent film a friend of mine was making and I got kind of excited about not doing the band thing, not playing or singing the same song, but this sort of adventure that came with storytelling in film. That opened up a fun world for me where I could dabble in all these other styles and use that classical training that I had and I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now.
Composing sounds like something that would be very difficult to do. Did it come easy to you or was it something you had to work on, especially early on?
Tree: There were parts of it to me that were simple, the actual part of creating arrangements and melodies, that always came easily to me. The part of learning all of the programs, figuring out how to use a computer, that was a real system shock for me, this was 1995 obviously. Then all of the political stuff that you have to learn, dealing with producers and directors, that was also a system shock and figuring out how to work with a team. You essentially become a field general because when you do a lot of these projects it’s seldom just you, you usually have a bunch of musicians, sometimes a whole orchestra, you have orchestrators, copyists, a contractor who books the orchestra, music mixers, layers of assistants who are helping you and all of these different facets of the job, you never think about them. You think I’m a musician, composer, I’ll deal with the music, the notes but then you have to deploy an army to get the thing done and that takes a lot of getting used to.
With your rock and roll background, you must have really enjoyed working on a show such as Californication.
Tree: Yeah, that was the perfect gig for a rock guy. The creator of the show, Tom Kapinos, he just basically wanted us to create a sound that was a band sound, so I had a partner on the show, my friend Tyler Bates, and every season we would pick a bass player and drummer, usually guys from big touring bands and we would basically map out what was going to happen and then we’d basically get together and play it like a band.
Do you have a certain process you follow when you work or does it change from project to project, depending on the subject matter?
Tree: It definitely changes from project to project, Californication is an example of one. I’ve done a bunch of orchestral projects and for instance, the show The 100 I’m doing, there’s kind of a big orchestral battle sound for a lot of it so I’m writing for strings and horns for a lot of for that show and often some big percussion layers, exotic middle eastern sound and you know for that I have to get really thematic. I have to come up with melodies for characters, with midi files and audio files corresponding and trying to keep track of all the different kinks in the characters as we go, so that’s a different kind of work, all these different textures, and melodies. Sometimes something will come back ten episodes later that we haven’t seen and we’ll need to somehow invoke some theme, which is something the fans are very engaged about on that show. If I get it wrong they will call me out on it so I have to really make sure we’re helping the integrity of that structure and helping to tell the story, which is kind of cool.
How and when did you come up with the idea to move from the composing word to that of the graphic novel world with Duskriders?
Tree: I’ve always been a huge fan of graphic novels and I loved all the Marvel and DC superhero stuff when I was a kid, then I got into the more dark and mature comics as I got older. I’ve been a fan of things like Sin City, The Void, Heavy Metal Magazine, Preacher, that kind of Vertigo/Dark Horse kind of feel and style. About eight or ten years ago I worked on a show called The Middleman which was based on a graphic novel and I got really psyched on the idea of maybe doing something like that and I had been writing a lot of music, Californication and stuff like that and then I was getting hired to do that same sort of rock score again and again and I thought you know what, maybe I should write a fun, science fiction tale, a show I wish I could score and I’d score. I began writing the story and I got my friend Chris Farber to help me flesh out the back story and help me define the world, then I began writing songs and score for it and then all I needed was to get somebody to illustrate it. It took me eight years to get to this point, in part because I got busy with other jobs and it all got put on the backburner but eventually I got this guy Josh Zimmerman to draw it and he did a fantastic job.
Did you find much difference between writing music and writing a graphic novel?
Tree: Well I’ve always been a writer, I’ve been a songwriter, written lyrics, poetry, I married a writer and I read so I really do enjoy that process, that was kind of a natural thing, and storytelling has always been paramount to me, even in music. What I really enjoy about writing a graphic novel is that it’s very similar I think to directing a film. Most of the writing that goes into a graphic novel script is like a letter to the artist like hey, let’s shoot this from a low angle or from her point of view so she can see the gun in his hand and maybe in the background you have a city with the sun going down, you play it out and that to me is really interesting.
I want to thank Tree Adams for taking the time to talk with us