TNC Interview 2022: Daniel James Chan - "Brass instruments were able to stick out and that appealed to my young self."
11th October, 2022
Set 30 years after Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished, follows a new team that must restart the project hoping to understand the mysteries behind the machine and its creator.
We spoke with series composer Daniel James Chan about working on the rebooted series and what drove his inspiration.
Hi Daniel, thank you for talking with The New Current. Congratulations on the season premiere of the new Quantum Leap series, do you ever get nervous ahead of a project being released?
Thank you for asking me to be interviewed. After working on the first few episodes I became a little more nervous about this project because it is tied to a beloved show that I grew up watching. Looking back I think the first series introduced me to so many issues I wasn’t yet aware of. There was a level of expectation that definitely played into things. I was also working with producers and a studio that I hadn’t worked with before.
You have already started to get some justifiable praise for your score, what has it meant to you to know that the fans, old and new, have taken so much to the music?
I’m thrilled when anyone connects with my work. The different time periods allow for all kinds of music and instruments to be used so I try to have fun with it. Maybe some of that joy is reaching the audience.
Where you a fan of the original series and did you have any apprehensions about taking on this amazing opportunity?
I loved the original show. When given the chance to work on this I didn’t really let myself think about the impact of that legacy. The shear workload and pace at which things have to happen are great tools to keep your mind from worrying too much. I had to go immediately into musical problem solving mode.
How did you go about creating the score for Quantum Leap, did the original series offer any insights or inspiration?
The idea was that things related to the program headquarters be grounded in a more contemporary sounding score driven by synth/electronic elements. The leap destinations open the doors to a wide range of styles and sounds. There hasn’t been a major link to the original series music mainly because the approach to scoring is just so different now. We did include a little nod to the Mike Post theme at the end of the third episode when you see Al’s handlink device.
If you could describe your score for Quantum Leap in three words what would they be?
Lots of work. A joke but accurate. But I think “an everything bagel” would be apt. I mean that in a good sense.
Have you always had a passion for music?
It is hard to pinpoint when exactly it began but yes. My grandpa was a self-taught country western guitarist & singer. He was an early influence before I went on to take notice of the magic I felt from watching musicians perform. PBS had a program with the Boston Pops orchestra that helped me make an important connection. They performed scenes from E.T. with the film projected on a screen above the stage. I hadn’t realized until that moment that not only were live people the ones giving us goosebumps but that the music itself was created from scratch to bring it all to life.
Growing up what was the first instrument you fell in love with?
I took to trumpet but French horn and trombone were in the running. Brass instruments were able to stick out and that appealed to my young self. I still love brass now but the French horn is my current favourite.
Who where your biggest musical influences, and have you ever met any of them?
John Williams is definitely the biggest. The other giants like James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, and Michael Kamen were part of my education as well. In college I discovered my obsession with John Adams. I’ve met Williams several times and Zimmer was a judge in a contest I was a finalist in.
"It is also vital that young composers become comfortable working with computers, sample libraries, synthesisers, and even dabbling in recording techniques."
What was it about their music and style that connected with you so much?
Hearing how each composer adapts to fit the different genres of projects is what really fascinates me. Those giants all have signatures but are incredible experts at handling emotion. At the end of the day that is what it comes down to.
When working a new project, film or series, how vital is the creative collaborative relationship between a composer and the directors?
The composer and producer/director/showrunner relationship is so vital. You have to trust each other or the process will be unpleasant to say the least. Everything in the industry is essentially a commodity but you don’t want a collaborator who ever makes you feel like the music is just another part of the post production process. It always feels better when speaking artist to artist.
Is it helpful to be flexible with your creative approach when you are scoring a series like Quantum Leap or the award-winning Legends of Tomorrow?
Legends of Tomorrow taught me so much, especially when I got into the original songwriting on that show. In general you need to be flexible about a lot in this industry but Legends and Quantum Leap both need an open-minded approach. I’ve learned to bring everything I possibly can to the job, learn new things as they come up, and to trust other musicians to contribute their gifts when my own limits have been reached.
Do you have any rituals that you stick to that help guide your creative process?
Coffee. If I don’t have two by noon my brain just doesn’t work at full capacity.
How different is your approach to scoring a TV show or series compared to a film?
There is generally a little more time when working on a film. A budget for an orchestra is often included as well. Working on a show with around 20 episodes in a season is a bit like a marathon, with each one containing between 30-40 minutes of score.
What does you music say about you?
I hope it says that I have heart and good sense of timing and form. Orchestration and harmony are my favourite parts of the composing process so those are things I hope people enjoy.
You are also passionate about composing music for the stage, what was the first piece you composed and performed?
The first concert music I composed was in college and I believe it was a short piece for solo trumpet. I had forgotten about it until this question and eerily I can hear it in my head now. Music is a powerful and mysterious thing.
What is that feeling like being able to be in a room, with an audience, seeing them react to your music?
A very mixed bag of nerves, excitement and pride. In a live concert you just hope everything goes well and with films/TV you have to hope that the audience also likes the story/actors/production/etc. At the end of the day it is an incredible privilege to have anyone take notice.
Do you have any advice or tips you would offer someone wanting to get into composing?
Listen and learn. It is basic but important. Perspective composers want to have a deep knowledge of all kinds of music, even from genres that they don’t intend to write for. The “learn” portion applies to the usual music education things like instrumentation/orchestration, music theory, performance, etc. It is also vital that young composers become comfortable working with computers, sample libraries, synthesisers, and even dabbling in recording techniques. On a more philosophical note it is a good idea to believe that you never “arrive” but continually listen and learn.
Finally, if you could choose just one piece of music you’ve composed to perform what one would it be?
I’m most proud of my concerto for violin & orchestra. Like an interesting photograph I feel it captures something wonderful from my early years as a composer and honours my grandpa’s influence on my life.