“Nothing is as nostalgic as music or smell, and unfortunately you can’t smell animation (yet!)”: Music composer Xav Clarke

Xav Clarke

A fantastical story about a goofy little boy from Wolfboy and the Everything Factory, the latest animated series on AppleTV+, aptly throws light on the marriage between music and animation. And to tie this beautiful knot, music composer Xav Clarke was roped in. Clarke, who feels that the nostalgic element of music enhances the storytelling manifold, was responsible for the amazing playful scores that can be heard in the AppleTV+ series.

As the character ‘Wolfboy’ is a dreamer, the composer could relate to him a lot which helped him to create authentic music. Clarke told AnimationXpress in an exclusive interview, “I’m very nostalgic and reflective and in that respect, I love to put melodies in my music that tug at the heart strings or are pretty in a sad way. There were some sad moments in the show that I could really channel my own feelings for and hopefully that made them come across in a relatable and dreamy way.”

Explaining about the essence of music breathing life into any animated character, he shared, “The importance of music very much depends on the context. I think that of course many shows or characters work without music too, but with music you have a whole other level in which you can paint with emotion, instrument choice, melody choice – they can compliment and really seal our emotional connections to the characters, nothing is as nostalgic as music or smell, and unfortunately you can’t smell animation (yet!).”

For him, his works are full of spontaneous moments. And while working on Wolfboy and the Everything Factory, it was no different. 

Recalling an interesting fun incident, Clarke shared, “One thing that was quite funny was that for the title cards I had the idea to sing a theme from each episode through a fuzz pedal, with a Fender Rhodes and distorted bass guitar in the background. Apparently, when the producers first heard it, they thought there was a technical problem and that the speakers were blown and one of the show’s creators had to jump in and assure them that that was how I intended it to be, that it was in fact deliberate. It didn’t seem to bother them too much as from then on, each episode of the show starts off like that.”

Clarke’s rainbow world of complex sounds, textures, and emotions boasts of compositions for animated works and music albums with bands Itchy Teeth, Captain Fix & The Midnight Honeys and Starfish Men. The versatile free-spirited musician has also scored for numerous animated series including the BAFTA winning The Amazing World of Gumball. He feels that composing for both are sides of the same coin: ‘writing songs, scoring, playing live – it’s all part of music’s rich pageant’.

“I think when it comes to writing for my own albums; it’s a process of creating a world and figuring it out as you go along, whereas scoring music to a picture is more about being a part of the world that everyone else is creating too! Writing music for animation is a wonderful chance to collaborate with voices, pictures and stories. Making an album has to stand alone with just music, so in that way they’re very different. However they are also similar as I’m trying to express emotion with sound,” the young musician said.

The musician’s journey began when he met his best friend Charlie at the age of 15 on the first day of his University. Both of them realized the same night that they ‘wanted to be musicians in a band together’.

And today, right from composing for award-winning series, earning fame for psychedelic-pop music to sharing stage with renowned musicians like Daniel Pemberton and Michael Giacchino; Clarke has seen it all. He somewhat credits his love for experimentation for making him stand out in the crowd!

“I think that having not studied in the traditional way to become a composer has given me a different sound- having played in bands and written pop music for years, I think I brought that energy into my scoring and perhaps that has made it sound unique in some way. I love to experiment with typical ‘band’ instruments and I think that different types of melodies appear when you start writing on an electric guitar rather than a piano,” he said.

Cherishing the lifetime experience of playing in Danny Boyle’s film Yesterday, Clarke who started his gigs as a teenager said, “Wow, working with both (Daniel and Michael) was incredible. Daniel is such an experimental composer, he and Adem Ihlan had my band ‘Itchy Teeth’ in Abbey Road Studios ‘jamming’ with crazy instruments and shouting into microphones whilst working on a huge movie! That kind of chance taking doesn’t happen very much. It was very inspiring to be a part of and to see his process. He sees sound very differently to a lot of other composers I’ve met and there’s a kind of rawness to his work that I really love.

Michael took a chance on our band to record a song he’d written and that was just a dream! He is the loveliest and most trusting guy and I still can’t believe we got to do it! We performed it at the Royal Albert Hall, what an honour.”

As a word of advice, the determined composer suggests not to get too attached to the music that one creates in the process, as the director may not like it. Still there has to be passion to believe in one’s own creation.

“It’s a mixture of being realistic and not too precious, but at the same time, pouring your heart and soul into each cue! If it doesn’t end up being used, you can always recycle the ideas for some other project. Many rejections of mine have ended up having amazing new homes on albums, or in various bits of score that you would never have imagined at the time,” Clarke revealed for the aspiring musicians.

Without disclosing the project name, the young artist did mention that something interesting is being brewed for an upcoming new show for Cartoon Network and HBO Max. Till then, do check out Clarke’s latest work on AppleTV+.

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