Since the early 1900’s, people around the world have loved hearing the story of Peter Rabbit. Now, fans of all ages can see the mischievous rabbit on the big screen in the Columbia Pictures film, Peter Rabbit. For a movie with a main character as well known as Peter, a skilled composer was crucial. That man was Dominic Lewis. From films such as Fist Fight to Rough Night, Lewis has shown that he possesses a unique understanding of music in visual media. Currently, his work can also be heard on the first season of the revitalized DuckTales and the first two seasons of the Emmy-winning series, Man in the High Castle.
Prior to the film’s release, Blast Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Lewis about his experience composing for a rambunctious rabbit and the challenges that arise from creating music for projects close to audience’s hearts.
Blast Magazine: In Peter Rabbit, there are a number of modern songs that play throughout the film. How did you decide on the right mix of traditional, orchestra-based melodies to represent the Beatrix Potter story and new pop music to represent the updated take on the tale?
Dominic Lewis: You summed it up pretty well. That’s exactly what happened and what the thought process was behind it. I wanted to represent this new, modern tale but didn’t want to completely alienate people. I kept it organic and used drums, bass, guitar, organs, and piano. I also used a lot of garden items. I went to Home Depot and bought wheelbarrows, rakes, and shears, and spent days banging on them to make the sound a little different. Using shears and mallets on a wheelbarrow blended everything together much better than high hats or kick drums.
Blast Magazine: Peter Rabbit opens with a trio of birds singing to the audience. Throughout the film, the birds chime in with various songs. Did you write the lyrics to those songs or have some involvement in that process?
Lewis: I did not write the lyrics. That was done by the film’s director, Will Gluck. My job in that process was to get the performances that Will wanted and the execution that Will liked. The birds go through a range of different styles in the film. They go from starting the movie as Sound of Music-esque sparrows to rapping at one point. My role in all that was to be a producer and make sure the performances of the vocals were to Will’s standards.
Blast Magazine: During your career, you’ve worked on projects in a variety of genres. What is the criteria you use when deciding whether or not to accept a new project?
Lewis: With Peter Rabbit, it’s so close to my heart. As a child, my mom used to read me his books. When I got the script, I knew I just had to do it. Wanting to do stuff is a big box ticker in criteria. The director and the material can also be criteria. There are a lot of different combinations that can make me say yes.
Blast Magazine: Both of your parents are musicians and you have been involved in music since you were a young child. How do you think this affected the musical journey you took during your life? Did your parents encourage you to pursue music as a career or was that your own decision?
Lewis: They did encourage me but they didn’t want me to follow in their footsteps of being an instrumentalist. My dad was active in convincing me not to be a cellist because there was no money in it, something he knew from experience. They did encourage me to pursue a part in writing music. As a teen, my dad started to play on film sessions and that’s what started the spark in me to start writing film music. With my upbringing, music was everywhere. It wasn’t just from my parents, but also my sister. She’s really talented and a great singer. She was always listening to music and introducing me to new bands.
Blast Magazine: You’re currently in the process of composing the music for season 3 of the television show, Man in the High Castle. It’s a show depicting a dystopian world with many uncomfortable and thought-provoking scenes. What is the process like to create the scores for each season of this show, given its intense emotional storylines?
Lewis: It started out very small and intimate. The direction of season 1 was very character-based. I focused on specific instruments for each character, such as the clarinet for Juliana and the horn for Joe. Things kind of overlapped towards the end of the first season. Season 2 got massive and I had free range to throw everything at it. The end of the world is so big, so I was able to be bigger. The feel of the season was very bombastic and quick. With season 3, it feels like I’m blending both of those things together. It’s a little different and I’ve been more experimental harmonically with this season. I tried to push myself to not take the easy route. I want to find new, interesting harmonies that won’t alienate the audience and will pull them deeper into the stories.
Blast Magazine: You also composed the score for the first season of DuckTales. Were there any unique challenges that arose with that project as it was a story that already existed and was being revamped?
Lewis: It was very similar to Peter Rabbit in that I didn’t want to step on people’s memories and dreams. It was really exciting but very daunting to take on. Mark Mueller’s theme song is iconic and you don’t want to anger people by changing it. With Ron [Jones]’s score for the original, I chose not to go back and refresh. I didn’t want to copy it in any way or give that feeling. I wanted to come at it fresh and make something new. It was daunting and challenging but if you block off the memory of something you love and plow forward for the new version, it tends to work. Matt [Youngberg] and Francisco [Angones], the show’s creators, have done an amazing job with the new DuckTales. It’s easy to put music to it because the show is so great and tells me what to do. It’s a real achievement to have 2D animation that can hold up to a massive cinematic score.
Blast Magazine: Moving forward, where will we be able to hear your music next?
Lewis: Peter Rabbit came out this week and I am putting together the soundtrack now. DuckTales has been greenlit for its second season and the last 2 episodes of Man in the High Castle will keep me busy for the next couple of months. I’m also having a baby in the next 2 weeks, so I’m hoping to be a helpful dad.