July 10, 2020

Catching Up With…Jeff Cardoni


The composer shares his insights into working on “The Michael J. Fox Show,” and what it’s like running with the big dogs in film.


Catching Up With…Jeff Cardoni

Composer Jeff Cardoni talks about his life and musical career.

Three things we already know about this Fall season: 1. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is a surprise; 2. “Homeland” is already underwhelming; and 3. Jeff Cardoni is everywhere! With projects both on network and cable television, the Topanga Messenger was fortunate enough to talk to this in-demand composer about his work.

Topanga Messenger: Approximately 30 projects in and so much of your work is being showcased this fall. How do you keep things fresh and find inspiration?

Jeff Cardoni: Well, it’s actually closer to 80 projects but who’s counting! This business is always a roller coaster and it just so happens that a bunch of things are hitting at the same time this fall—the new “Michael J Fox Show,” “Full Circle” on DirecTV, “Teach” on CBS, and a couple of films, A Perfect Man and The Secret Lives Of Dorks. Finding inspiration is easy. This is the greatest job in the world so every day I get to get up and write music. That’s a gift I never take for granted. That’s the easy part. The projects I’ve worked on have been really varied, from heavy dramas to comedy. That in itself makes it easy to keep it fresh.

What creative license is there working a huge project like “The Michael J Fox Show?” Do you have a different mindset alternating between film and television?

You know, so far, Michael J Fox has been really free and creative, much more than some. Granted, it’s within the context of a half-hour comedy, but I worked on the pilot and so wasn’t locked into temp music. In the time between the pilot and the series going into production, I got to experiment with some ideas and kept sending them to the show’s producers and editors. By the time we ramped up in June, there was already a library of ideas that we started trying out in the cuts, so it was really organic. I also wrote the theme song, which was nice because I’m able to use the melody from that and weave it into some of the cues, especially some sensitive moments, which works really well.

Speaking of television, FX’s “The League” has to be the catchiest theme in years. Where did that come from?

Thanks for that. You know, it’s actually much longer than the five seconds that it is now! We played it long in the first episode but now it’s become that sound bite. Where it came from, I have no idea. After a bunch of ideas, I just came up with the melody on guitar and tried it but it didn’t seem to pop enough. My wife, Jules Larson, is a singer so I called her into the studio and the music supervisor Patrick Houlihan (who is also a singer whom I played in bands with in a past life) was there, so we all got around the mic and tried it. That’s all it was. Three minutes and the rest is history.

You were trained playing piano and then moved to a rock band. Why transition to film scores? What was the inspiration?

My childhood was like the movie Shine. If you’ve ever seen it, it was quite traumatic. Rock was probably a rebellion from the structure of classical music. First it was drums, because what way can you annoy your parents more, right? After that, guitar, touring in a van playing guitar in indie rock bands. Our manager was in LA and a music supervisor on films, so I was introduced to film through him. Once I saw that world, I was hooked and knew that’s all I wanted to do with my life. I moved to LA and just started chipping away at a career.

What film score inspired you to compose and how does that score inspire you today?

Obviously, I love the greats that everyone else does—John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrman. Specific films that were my biggest inspirations are Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands for its sheer emotional beauty, and Thomas Newman’s Less Than Zero. That visual/musical aesthetic was really moving to me, kind of the same way some of Michael Mann’s montages were.

How did you come about working on “Teach?”

I had worked with Davis Guggenheim’s picture editor, Greg Finton, years back on Morgan Spurlock’s series “30 Days” on FX. We had lost touch, but I randomly sent him some music in early 2013 to reconnect. Months later, I got an e-mail from him, saying they were temping “Teach” with my music, that it was working and would I be interested in coming in? Of course, I jumped at the chance. There was a bit of intimidation at first. Davis is an Academy Award-winning director, plus his past composers were also great—Mark Isham, Christophe Beck, Michael Brook. The bar was high and I wanted to impress. It was a hard one, but I’m really proud of how it turned out and it was nice to work on something with such an important social message, which is what Davis does so well.