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The World's Finest Presents

Keeping Score: John Takis Discusses The Superman: The Animated Series CD Soundtrack Release
Interview Conducted by James Harvey

After much fanfare and boundless anticipation, acclaimed record label La-La Land Records released the massive four-disc CD set Superman: The Animated Series - Original Soundtrack from the Warner Bros. Television Series in January 2014. Including the complete score to twenty episodes of the acclaimed animated series, along with a host of rarities, the soundtrack release features the knockout work of composers Kristopher Carter, Harvey R. Cohen, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Shirley Walker, delivering some of the finest music ever recorded for an animated series. The World's Finest caught up with Superman: The Animated Series soundtrack co-producer John Takis to talk about how this super collection came together.

The World's Finest: First up, can you tell us a bit about your self and some of your previous works?

John Takis: I was a fan of film music from a very young age. In my late teens, I fortuitously discovered Film Score Monthly magazine and learned that there was a vibrant community of like-minded individuals out there, having discussions and debates and writing about what they loved. In 2000, FSM founder Lukas Kendall plucked a letter I’d submitted out of the mailbag and asked if he could run it on the website. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to write reviews and feature articles for the magazine. In 2007, I began writing liner notes for the Intrada record label. Since that time, I’ve worked on more than 60 projects for labels such as La-La Land, Film Score Monthly, Quartet and GNP Crescendo. It’s been a thrilling, rewarding, humbling, fascinating process!

WF: And that leads us to this - how did you get involved with the Superman: The Animated Series soundtrack? What exactly was your role?

JT: My relationship with the animated Batman and Superman series of the 1990s goes back to my childhood. I was twelve when Batman: The Animated Series premiered, and I fell in love with its music from the beginning. Many years later, when La-La Land Records released the first BTAS album, I exchanged some emails with LLL president MV Gerhard to express my gratitude and general love of Shirley Walker. So he knew I was something of a “superfan.” After I’d begun to write for the label, he offered me the liner notes for BTAS Volume Two. That was a dream assignment for me, and worked out well. When he later asked if I wanted to co-produce the Superman: The Animated Series soundtrack, I naturally jumped at the chance!

My role as co-producer involved helping select material to release, sequencing the discs, choosing track combinations, creating reference documents, consulting the composers, etc. I also wrote the liner notes. L.A.-based co-producer Neil S. Bulk diligently tracked down elusive audio materials, did transfers, coordinated with the studio, and generally supervised the tech side of things. We were lucky to have the expert assistance of Mike Matessino on the audio end and Jim Titus on the visual end, in addition to a host of folks you’ll find on the album’s credits page. And of course, executive producers MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys were there every step of the way, making it all possible!

WF: The complete scores to twenty Superman: The Animated Series episodes are featured on this massive soundtrack. Outside of a few obvious choices, there were a couple surprises ("Monkey Fun," for example).  What criteria was used to select the episodes to include here?

JT: We knew from the beginning that we were going to have the pilot and the series finale. We also wanted to highlight as many of the show’s memorable multi-part episodes as made sense for one set, and “World’s Finest,” “Apokolips…Now!” and “Little Girl Lost” headed the list. You’ll note that already this lineup includes the majority of the Darkseid/Fourth World Saga! That being the case, it seemed fitting to include “Tools of the Trade” and “Father’s Day” and arrange the entire saga in chronological order. That gives the listener an expansive musical arc that they can trace across all four discs. So, for example, Dan Turpin’s theme is introduced in “Tools of the Trade,” and then pays off with a big hero moment in “Apokolips…Now!” That two-parter, in turn, features material by Kristopher Carter for Darkseid’s horde, which is then taken up by Lolita Ritmanis in “Little Girl Lost.” In “Little Girl Lost,” Ritmanis introduces her theme for Supergirl, which Shirley Walker subsequently references in “Legacy.” So it all ties together in an intricate way that I think listeners will find extremely satisfying.

After that, it was a question of finding a good combination of classic characters and scores that would let each composer shine and show off the true diversity of the series. So you have, for example, the mystical space opera of “In Brightest Day,” the rock vibe of “Livewire,” and the jazzy energy of “A Little Piece of Home.” You asked about “Monkey Fun,” and that’s another good example—it has a semi-comic, jungle-picture vibe that is totally unlike anything else on the set, and provides a nice contrast with the more somber and epic scores. (Additionally, LLL’s official mascot is a monkey. There was pretty much no way to resist music for the Man of Steel battling a giant ape!)

WF: A quick follow-up to the previous question - out of the episodes not included here, which ones would you like to see covered on a second release (if that was to happen)?

JT: Given our commitment to releasing full episode scores, there was no way to include ALL of the series highlights and major characters in a single volume. If things work out the way we hope and we are able to do a second volume, I would like to see characters such as Metallo, Bizarro, Toyman and the renegade Kryptonians get the spotlight. I imagine we’d showcase more super-powered team ups, and you could probably expect to see the remaining multi-parters (we’re big fans of Lobo). The Emmy-nominated “A Fish Story” would be a priority, as would the memorable “Brave New Metropolis.” And I think the series-spanning Brainiac arc would be an interesting “spine” in the way that the Darkseid Saga was for this first set. But this is all speculative.

WF: When it comes to the tracks included in this four-disc soundtrack release, do you have any stand-out favorites?

JT: This is a “Sophie’s Choice” kind of question for me, and I fear that if I start listing tracks I won’t be able to stop! Many of my favorites wound up as samples for the LLL product page, so that’s a good place to begin. Other than those, I’ll give you one for each composer: “Monkeys on the Loose” (Lolita Ritmanis), “Terrorists on Plane” (Michael McCuistion), “Building Battle Suit” (Harvey R. Cohen), “Superman Puts Out Fire” (Kristopher Carter) and “Darkseid Prevails” (Shirley Walker). That last was probably my most-desired cue from the series when the project began, and I just about wept when I heard it for the first time. The entire two-part finale is very special to me, as it was one of the things I discussed with Shirley Walker before her untimely passing. It meant a lot to be able to bring it out on disc at last—especially with the discovery of her original, unused final cue for the series, which ought to be a real treat for her fans!

WF: The Superman: The Animated Series soundtrack contains an extensive booklet. How much research and work went into putting that together? How do you decide what gets left in and cut out?

JT: As you can imagine, a ton of research goes into a project like this—starting, of course, with the episodes themselves (and the comics that inspired them). I also did extensive new composer interviews, and was able to dip into my 2006 interview with Shirley Walker. Then there are the books, vintage magazines, DVD special features, etc. I generally try to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I can and taking note of what I find particularly interesting. By the time I start writing, things have usually gestated for a while and I know what I want to say. Occasionally, I’ll have to cut a piece of obscure trivia because it’s not quite relevant enough to justify interrupting the flow. And I always wind up with more interview comments than I can squeeze in, but that’s par for the course. Ultimately, you try to do the best job you can in service of the material.

WF: Lots of fans ask why it's taken so long to see these scores released. Can you possibly run us through the many complicated decisions required to have a project like this greenlit?

JT: The decision to greenlight the project happened before I got involved. I imagine the choice to pursue the project was fairly easy for MV and Matt, as they are major fans of this material. As always, it’s mainly a question of getting all the ducks in a row. There are a lot of moving parts that have to line up, and both the label and the studios have a ton of stuff going on at any given time. Then, after you get the greenlight, you may have to spend extra time searching for materials, remixing audio, waiting for art approvals, etc. The time and energy that goes into pulling off a set like Superman is truly remarkable—and even moreso when you consider that massive, multi-disc projects like Lethal Weapon and the various Star Trek sets were in development at the same time!

WF: Is there a type of vindication felt when great scores, like this is acclaimed work, are finally released to the masses? Given the niche market, it there difficulty in getting the word out beyond those who regularly visit score or animation sites such as this?

JT: It’s extremely vindicating (and also a bit scary) to work on something for this long, to have so much passion for it, and finally see it go out into the world. As for getting the word out, you do what you can to reach outside the niche market and into the broader fanbase. Even then, some people don’t discover these releases until years after the fact! I’ve seen a number of folks online react to news of the Superman set by saying, “This is awesome! When are they going to do Batman?” I think it helps that this is an ongoing series of themed releases, so that each one helps fuel awareness of what has come before.

WF: Somewhat of a follow-up, as digital downloading starts to push physical media out of the way, is there a worry that superior sound-quality releases - like this CD soundtrack - may eventually disappear? Is there a strong push to make sure that high-quality releases like these keep happening, and what can readers do to help?

JT: While I think digital releases will certainly increase, I don’t think the market for superior-quality CD releases from specialty labels will ever disappear entirely. Just look at how there’s still a thriving niche market for vinyl! Labels such as La-La Land Records will push for high-quality, lovingly crafted releases as long as is humanly possible. Readers can help by purchasing the CDs, but also by joining the conversation on forums, social media, etc. Enthusiasm is infectious, and the visibility helps reach fans who might otherwise miss out!

WF: To maybe whet our appetites, what other DC Animation scores would you like to see released down the line? Are you perhaps...working on something you can tease us about? With this being Batman's 75th anniversary, seems like a good time to release some Bat-themed material...

JT: There’s so much fantastic music still unreleased! Not only from Batman and Superman, but The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans—in addition to feature scores like Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. I can’t promise that all of these will happen, but I’d certainly like to live in a world where they do! As for Batman’s 75th anniversary … I’ll just observe that Gotham City is lovely in the summertime.

WF: Any final words on this new Superman: The Animated Series score release as we wrap this up? Why should fans rush out and grab up this release?

JT: Great Darkseid must be appeased!

The World’s Finest would like to thank John Takis for his participation in this Q & A. Check out his homepage at http://www.johntakis.com/!

The Superman: The Animated Series – Original Soundtrack from the Warner Bros. Television Series CD release is now available to own from La-La Land Records. Click here for the La-La Land Records product page! The title can be purchased through the La-La Land Records website and other select soundtrack boutiques.

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