With the upcoming release of Dumplin’ on Netflix, the Inquisitr has been given the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jake Monaco, the man responsible for Dumplin’s musical score. Monaco has been involved with movies as diverse as Frozen and the Hangover trilogy. In addition, he has also helped in creating the music for the Muppets and the real-life drama of Waiting for Superman, and co-composing the music for President Obama’s re-election film, The Road We’ve Traveled. Currently, Jake is also working on Netflix’s DinoTrux series.
Rachel Tsoumbakos: First of all, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I really appreciate it.
Jake Monaco: Absolutely, thank you.
RT: Firstly, I’m really interested in your whole creative process with starting a new project. Because I noticed you have a lot of varying projects you’ve had in the past. So, I’d love to know how you face each one considering they are so different.
JM: Yeah, absolutely. So, I began writing music when I was in high school. I started playing the guitar and doing some songwriting. Then, I actually formed a band and we played out a little, did some touring around. A couple of years after I graduated college, we kind of dispersed and I wanted to continue pursuing a musical career. Then I joined the film scoring focused program at USC. It’s a great launch pad to help get you into the industry here. So, I went through that program from ’06 to ’07. After that, I began working with a composer named Christophe Beck, starting out as his assistant. Slowly, I learned things as I was going and learned a lot of the orchestration and actually story-telling through music.
RT: Yes, because it’s very interesting, isn’t it. You know, a lot of people don’t realize how a TV show comes together so completely with the music.
JM: Yeah. The music really acts as another character. Specifically so, in these children’s shows where the music has to be slightly more overt to help the audience to actually understand what’s happening. When we’re directing this program at a preschool age, we want to make sure it’s easily understandable to them. Whereas, if the show is marketed more towards a 6-year-old to 12-year-old range it also can be played a little differently. And then, if you’re reaching a more mature audience, some of the devices used are actually the same in both. However, the way they are approached can be a little bit different, depending on the audience that it’s reaching. The first thing I always try to do on any project is finding the unique sonic identity for that show. So, whether it’s Stinky and Dirty the toy trucks and they’re trying to problem solve here out of trash and whatever, my approach to the score was what if I did kind of the same thing, find some instruments or get things out of my kitchen and see if I can make any sorts of rhythms out of those instead of using a normal shaker that you would buy at your guitar center.
RT: Yes, because you have a lot of interesting instruments, don’t you?
JM: [Laughs] Yeah.
RT: Is that a normal thing for music scorers or is that your thing?
JM: You know, everybody’s a little bit different. I’ve seen some people that pretty much solely will write in front of a keyboard. Or, everything might be inside the computer and then they hire musicians to play the stuff and record it. Whereas, other people that I know work almost entirely in synths. It just really depends on what they like to do. I know a lot of other people that also will collect instruments and just kind of make weird or odd noises. Any time I am in any other place other than L.A., if I go into a music shop somewhere, especially in another country, the first thing I do is try to find something that is unique to that of the world. For example, I went to Greece and I came back with a baglamas, which is a small six-stringed instrument that almost looks like a guitar but, it has a very different sound to a guitar.
RT: So, moving along to your involvement with ‘Dumplin,” was it a bit intimidating to take on a project that’s linked with Dolly Parton?
JM: Yes, but not particularly because of Dolly. The reason it was a little daunting for me is the style of the film was a little bit different than things I’m doing. It was challenging to get into the mindset and the introspective feelings that the main character, ‘Dumplin,” is feeling in this journey that she goes on from the beginning of the film to the end and this kind of self-realization as a teenage girl. However, I remember how hard high school was. Everyone has their own experiences. It was something I could relate to, seeing some of what she was dealing with and being able to story tell and to try to find some sort of common ground that I could understand with the main character. And, I think that’s what the challenge was in the beginning. But, once that was found, I think the entire process became a little bit easier with everyone involved.
RT: When you work on a musical score, do you read the script and work from that or do you see the performances after they are filmed and work off that?
JM: Sometimes I look at a script beforehand and then I will work to film. However, sometimes I’m brought on very late in the process where the film is almost done with all the editing. Regardless of which way I have worked on the project, it’s always nice to be able to finish it and then take a couple of months where I don’t see anything having to do with it. And then, eventually, when the project does release, whether it’s theatrical or on TV, being able to see it in a new light, in a new place with a different audience, it completely transforms the film. It’s nice to be able to step back. Of course, I’m sitting there, watching it and I’m like, ‘Oh, I should have done this,’ or, ‘I could have done that.’ [laughs] But, it is what it is. It’s a learning experience with each project.
RT: Yes, look I don’t think you ever walk away from something and say it’s perfect. Everything is a learning experience in the creative fields.
JM: If you ever get to that point, I think you kind of have to stop and maybe choose something else then. I never feel like I have perfected any of this and I always want to be learning and I always want to improve in some way, shape, or form, or create something new. And that’s what I love about this job, that’s it’s not so repetitive, it’s not button-pushing, so to speak. Every day it’s different, which is what I love.
RT: ‘Dumplin” is very different to what you’ve done previously. However, is there a genre in particular that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet but would love to explore?
JM: Absolutely. I love psychological thrillers. They are probably my favorite type of movie. I’m not talking about the horror, or, blood and guts, and all that. The intense psychological stuff that’s just like, ‘What?’ There’s been a couple of opportunities where I’ve got to kind of play in that theme but I didn’t do an entire film. So, just to really immerse myself in it and to go along with that journey and tell that story through music is a very exciting thing for me and I look forward to hopefully having an opportunity someday.
RT: What have you got planned ahead after ‘Dumplin”?
JM: I just finished working with someone that I met up in Pixar, on a documentary called, Through the Windows. It’s a documentary about the first gay bar in San Francisco that openly became a gay bar. Meaning, they took the black shades off the windows and it was in public. It goes through from the ’70s, the ’80s, and all the way up to the present day and there are a lot of people that still go there, who were there during that time. So, it’s talking about how it eventually opened up and how it’s changed over the past 50 years.
RT: Oh, wow. That sounds really interesting.
JM: It was a great project to be a part of and I am very grateful to have been involved
RT: Awesome. Well, they’re all of my questions, So, thank you so much taking the time to answer them for me.
JM: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
“Willowdean (Dumplin’), the plus-size teenage daughter of a former beauty queen, signs up for her mom’s Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant as a protest that escalates when other contestants follow in her footsteps, revolutionizing the pageant and their small Texas town.”
Dumplin’ stars Danielle MacDonald, Jennifer Aniston, and Odeya Rush and features the music of Dolly Parton.