Q & A Conducted by James Harvey
The World's Finest pulled Producer John Takis aside to discuss his work on an assortment of 2016 DC Comics-based animated soundtracks from La-La Land Records, including the massive Justice League soundtrack release and the Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders score release. Takis digs into how these titles came together, shares his thoughts on an assortment of different score releases, and how crucial it is for fans to support these releases. He also teases what could be coming down the pipeline for upcoming DC Comics animated-based soundtrack releases. Please continue reading to learn more! The World's Finest: Given that this is our third Q&A, I think we can bypass the intro and go right to the first question-can you explain your role in the production of La-La Land Records' four-disc Justice League soundtrack release?
John Takis: My role as album producer on Justice League had a few dimensions. On the audio end, I took the music that had been selected and worked out the final playlist-how the cues would be combined, how the scores would be sequenced and divided up between the discs. With a multi-disc set like this, there are many factors to take into consideration. You want a good flow from score to score; you want to keep things varied and well-paced; and you want to respect the musical development of the series. You want someone to be able to play an entire disc at once, or even all four discs, and have a satisfying, coherent experience. Those decisions were all made in consultation with the composers, of course. And then there's the logistical dimension of producing, which involves a lot of communication with the label, the composers, the art director and the mastering engineer, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
JT: Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion and Kristopher Carter were integral in terms of choosing what episodes and what cues would be featured. No one knows this music better than they do, and they've spent a lot of time interacting with fans over the years and hearing requests. I had my own favorite musical moments, naturally, and was able to make some suggestions. But the composers certainly had a vision for this release. At the end of the day, you do the best you can to craft an album that captures the essence of what fans love about the show, and I think we achieved that here.
WF: You've become a well-known name among DC animation fans, one of the major cogs for these releases. Can you perhaps delve into what these releases mean to you and, perhaps, share a few memories or favorite episodes from Justice League and the other DC animation scores you've been involved in?
JT: I've said it before, but it's such an honor and thrill to be involved with these releases. Beginning with Batman: The Animated Series, the DC Animated Universe was a big deal during my teen years, and the music was a huge part of that. I spent many years craving soundtrack releases that never seemed to come, so the opportunity to help make them a reality is beyond satisfying. My favorite memory of Justice League is actually when I rediscovered the series on DVD. I was in college when it first aired, and too distracted to catch every episode. So curling up with the season collections and watching the entire show in sequence at last was very satisfying. My favorite Justice League arc is probably "Twilight." Darkseid is a personal favorite villain, and "Twilight" is an important bridge between Superman: The Animated Series and JLU.
WF: Let's say you're about to sit down and plot out another big DC animation soundtrack release. Can you walk us through the process from the very start to the end?
JT: First, we work out the basic project specs. We figure out how many discs the release will be, how much material we want to cover, and what our target release date is. It's ultimately the label that makes these decisions. Then I'll consult with the composers and my fellow producers to figure out the approach we want to take. Will we be releasing complete scores or highlights? Are future volumes likely? While audio elements are located and prepared (either by my frequent co-producer Neil S. Bulk or, in some caes, the composers) I'll look at cue sheets, revisit the video, and start preparing documents. When the unmastered audio comes in, we take stock of what we've got-there are sometimes surprises-and I'll develop an assembly plan, which gets run past by my fellow producers for input.
Once we have a track list, I'll put together a guide for the mastering engineer. Since I'm usually writing liner notes, I'll also be doing research and interviewing the composers. The next phase is artwork. The label sets a budget, we see what's available to us, and I work with the art director to figure out the basics. In addition to the liner notes, we'll gather credits, musician lists and anything else that needs to go into the packaging. Meanwhile, the first audio master comes in and everyone spends a lot of time going through it with a fine-tooth comb, looking for any glitches or areas that need revisiting. When the first art proof comes in, we likewise read it very carefully, make any needed tweaks, and repeat. Once we're all satisfied, everything goes off to the studio for approvals. Then we wait. When we hear back, we make further adjustments as necessary. After that, it's just a matter of finalizing the release date and preparing for the actual rollout and promotion. Whew!
WF: Why do you think there remains such a drive for these type of soundtrack releases? What do you think makes them so popular with the die-hard fans?
JT: I think nostalgia is a part of it-a generation has come of age that grew up with these shows. But at the end of the day, it comes down to top-quality productions that employed top-quality composers. It's simply great music. And we're fortunate, of course, to be living in a world where superhero culture has gone mainstream!
WF: To drive this back to Justice League, do you have any favorite tracks you'd like to highlight here?
JT: I'll give you one favorite from each composer. For Lolita, it's got to be "Farewell Hawkgirl" from "Starcrossed." It's a gorgeous cue, and the perfect way to end the set. For Michael, "Flash Catches Truck Thieves" from "The Brave and the Bold" never fails to thrill-it's so high-energy, with fantastic thematic development. And for Kristopher, I'm going to have to say "Darkseid's Doublecross" from "Twilight." It's a stunning evolution of Shirley Walker's Brainiac theme, and really showcases how much detail and power this music has when unchained from dialogue and sound-effects.
WF: In the album's liner notes, Dynamic Music Partners mention that, as they started to score Justice League, the synth materials they used were pretty new. What do you think about this move toward synth music with Justice League? At the time of the show's premiere, I remember it was a big talking point among fans.
JT: Obviously, composers, creators and fans alike would have appreciated having the budget for a live orchestra. (They actually did get an orchestra for the theme music, which was terrific!) But Lolita, Michael and Kristopher took the tools they had and really figured out how to make the most of them. They learned how to play to the strengths of the equipment at hand, and how to supplement and improve things when possible. Ultimately, they were able to make magic happen. Good writing is good writing.
WF: From Batman: The Animated Series to Superman: The Animated Series and now to Justice League, it's safe to say there's been a progression in how these cartoons were scored. How would you describe the score to a typical Justice League episode, and would it even be fair to compare it to Batman, Superman or even Batman Beyond?
JT: It's fair in the sense that there's a degree of thematic continuity, just as there is character continuity. But every show you mention is unique, with its own distinctive aesthetic and particular dramatic needs. Justice League is a very different show from Batman or Superman. There tends to be a lot more characters flying around in every episode, so I think the composers were probably a little more judicious in terms of how they utilized hero-specific leitmotifs. If a theme for Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman were to play every time that character makes a move, it would not only get old very quickly, but between all the bouncing back and forth between characters you would have very little time to actually develop material. So it's about looking at the bigger picture. Justice League is a more epic series, with drawn-out arcs. And the composers had a different toolbox to work with, which naturally impacted the scoring. It's rooted in the symphonic sound of Batman and Superman, but synth and pop elements nudge it in the direction of Batman Beyond. It's almost a rock opera at times!
WF: To shift this over to Batman: The Animated Series, its fourth soundtrack includes the last scores and cues from the first 65-episodes of the series. A good portion of the release is devoted to the "Arkham Archives," a collection of previously unreleased music. Was creating this segment as easy as going through the previous episodes and finding the un-included cues, or were there more to it? Was the drive for this section to make sure every bit of music was included?
JT: Sifting through the episodes and cue sheets was a big part of it. I also went through documents provided by the Walker estate, and we checked the recording sessions for interesting alternates or unused cues that might have otherwise been overlooked. We really wanted to be as comprehensive as possible for the most passionate fans!
WF: Is there a worry about diminishing sales with an album such as this? Is it safe to assume that's the same for any ongoing soundtrack series? To counter though, this collection features some really great gems, like "Fear of Victory," "His Silicon Soul," Zatanna" and "Off-Balance."
JT: You always want a release to be well-received, whether it's the first or fifth volume in a series. Fortunately, people seem to really love Batman! Which is great, because every one of the scores on these albums is outstanding. When we leave material off one of these DCAU releases, it's just a question of balance, flow or limited space. We had a major Penguin-themed score on each of the four Batman: The Animated Series volumes, for example. The three big Scarecrow episodes were divided between volumes two, three and four. And each project has its own needs. With volume two, we wanted to cover the major characters the label hadn't gotten to on volume one. With volume three, we had a little more freedom to delve into the wilder and weirder corners of the show. It's unique every time, and I think every volume is essential in its own way.
WF: Do you have any favorites among the tracks on Batman: The Animated Series, Volume Four? Are there any hidden treasures fans may uncover here?
JT: I love the first series appearance of Ra's al Ghul's theme in "Off Balance," and how it grows out of Talia's material. I love the Arkham Asylum medley in "Nothing to Fear." I really love the fusion of the Batman and HARDAC themes in "His Silicon Soul." My favorite "hidden treasures" are the two unused WB logos by Shirley Walker. They're amazing! And they've never been heard by the public until this album.
WF: In terms of Batman: The Animated Series, and even Justice League, what do you foresee as the next step for the next set of score releases for these two shows? What would you like to see?
JT: In the world of Batman, I think we're likely to proceed to the second production season, which is 20 episodes and includes the show's period of rebranding as The Adventures of Batman & Robin. I'm really excited to move into this batch of episodes, since they include some of the very finest scores! As for Justice League, I suspect our next priority will be Justice League Unlimited. How soon all this may happen, I can't say.
WF: La-La Land Records has also released the excellent Batman: The Killing Joke score and the Justice League vs. Teen Titans/Batman: Bad Blood double soundtrack release. It's an absolute no-brainer to pick these titles up, but in case a few folks need convincing, can you tell us why we all need to rush out and snag these amazing scores?
JT: Put simply, they will broaden your musical Bat-horizons! Batman: The Killing Joke is an intricate and chilling score, as you'd expect given the source material. It's quite far removed from Batman: The Animated Series, but it casts a spell. In my experience, it will grow on you with every listen. Also, Mark Hamill sings! As for the double-feature, Batman: Bad Blood is terrific, action-packed fun, and Frederik Wiedmann was really able to cut loose in an epic way with Justice League vs. Teen Titans. These are two of his best scores to date in the DC Universe. They get the blood pumping!
The World's Finest would like to thank John Takis for his participation in this Q & A. Check out La-La Land Records for a vast selection of soundtrack releases and more!
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