INTERVIEW: FORKY ASKS A QUESTION Composer Jake Monaco Talks Making Music

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Toy Story 4 released in June to rave reviews and has worked its way to a billion or so dollars, but the real story is about Forky, the breakout star character who is getting a series of animated shorts and putting the music to the CGI magic is composer Jake Monaco.

Tony Hale returns in Forky Asks A Question as the voice of the titular character. If you don’t know, this is the mildest of mild spoilers, Forky is a toy that was just a spork until Bonnie, the main human character in Toy Story 4, turns him into Forky. The episodes are set to air starting in November on the upcoming Disney+ subscription service.

PopAxiom spoke with Jake Monaco about his work on scoring some Scooby-Doo, the documentary Through the Windows, and making Forky for Disney and Pixar.

Falling In Love

Jake was born in New Jersey, raised in New Hampshire, and went to college in Virginia. “Music has always been a part of my life. I played the guitar when I was very young … In high school, I joined some bands and played all through college.”

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Jake did a “little bit of scoring” during this time too. Eventually, Jake and his bandmates went their separate ways. “I still wanted to pursue a career in music.”

Jake was made aware of the USC film scoring program. “I checked it out … and fell in love.” Jake applied and received a spot in the program.

Post-USC

After finishing the program at USC, Jake earned a gig with composer Christophe Beck (Frozen, Ant-Man). “I was with him for seven-and-a-half years or so. It went from an assistance-ship to an apprenticeship.”

Jake says of his time with Beck, “There’s nothing like real-world experience.”

Jake’s career blossomed from there. “Chris and I are still great friends and work together every so often.”

In the era of the great content expansion, there’s been a more diverse mix of scores and composers thinking outside the box. “I think a lot of the singer-songwriter background I had helps me a lot with my film scoring. It brings a different flavor.”

About Forky Asks A Question

Forky is a product of Pixar who is one of the most consistently good filmmaking studios ever. Oh, and Pixar’s part of Disney, one of the other most consistent studios ever. “What I love about both Disney and Pixar is that everyone is so excited about what they are doing. It’s so collaborative.”

Jake expands on the collaboration present for Forky, “Bob Peterson, who directed all the Forky episodes, flew down with a couple other people from the project. We sat in Studio A at Capitol Records with six or seven of the top musicians in L.A. and went through the recording process.”

“It’s one of my favorite things about my job and the industry I’m in.”

Getting Stinky & Dirty

Last year, our sister-site interviewed Guy Toubes, the creator of hit kids YouTube series Stinky and Dirty. Jake became part of the show after submitting some samples. “I watched the pilot, and one of the things about the show is the trucks, they utilize what they have to solve any issue that they come across. I thought it would be fun to embrace that in the musical approach of the show and try and use more found objects.”

What exactly does that mean? “A banjo made out of a hubcap. Instead of using a standard shaker, I’d fill up a plastic bottle with sand or beads or rice; bang on pots and pans instead of a more traditional drum.”

Stinky & Dirty is a highly creative show about being creative problem solvers, and behind the scenes, that same creativity was going on. “It was about finding interesting and unique instruments to bring to the palette of that show.”

Supporting A Story

Every project is different. But there are questions to ask when starting any new one. “Who is the target audience? Is it for teens … a more mature, adult audience?”

Once those questions are understood, “… then it’s about supporting the story.”

In regards to kids’ shows specifically, Jake explains, “I think one of the tricks is finding that middle ground so that it’s really supporting a story for a pre-school audience but then making it less monotonous for adults watching along with the kids. I want the viewing experience to be fun for everyone involved.”

On Another Note

Jake’s work appears in Through the Windows, a documentary about the Twin Peaks Tavern, a gay bar in the 70s which challenged the status quo by opening its windows. What’s it like shifting gears from computer generated forks to real-world rebellion? “For the documentary, Through the Windows, it’s more about achieving a tone. What’s the mood?”

Jake further explains, “We’re not going to try and acknowledge every beat that’s happening on screen but instead, ride along with the emotion that the storytellers are sharing with us.”

More questions arise. “Is it happy or peppy or serious? And how do we bring those emotions together into a sonically cohesive world.”

Musical Puzzles

Every project is a puzzle to be solved. “With shows like Stinky & Dirty or DinoTrux, it’s more about … jumping in and writing for the episode.”

For other projects, you’re getting pieces of the larger puzzle at a time. So, Jake works with what’s available. “We have a main character theme opportunity here. We have a love scene here. And an opportunity for our antagonist’s theme here.”

“I’ll tackle those three spots, present those, and then from there figure out the rest.”

Singing & Driving

Jake lives in L.A. and primarily works out of a home studio, which means he doesn’t often drive even though it’s a source of inspiration. “My best spot for ideas is while I’m driving in my car. When I’m driving to meetings, I typically don’t listen to much of anything in the car, and my brain will start working.”

Jake continues, “I might start thinking through a story. Toying around with ideas.”

To preserve the idea, “I’ll sing stuff into my phone.”

The snippet of the idea becomes part of the bigger puzzle and the joy of composing for Jake. “Then there’s the challenge of taking that 10 or 15 second bit and making into something that will work for two or three minutes.”

Wrapping Up

Jake worked on Be Cool, Scooby-Doo, so as a lifelong Scooby-Doo fan, I’d be remiss to not ask what that was like. “Having the opportunity to be part of the legacy of Scooby-Doo, it’s amazing.”

Who inspires and influences Jake daily? “Spending those years with Chris was great. He helped my musicality grow by leaps and bounds. Thomas Newman has always been one of my favorites. What he’s done, and continues to do, with Pixar projects from Finding Nemo to Wall-E, is as unique as the stories themselves. ”It’s such an emotional journey that he can take us on.”

Outside of the film music world, “I listen to a lot of indietronica music. It’s got a bit of the indie nature and is rough around the edges but also still more polished. A lot of interesting sounds and devices that bands are using their production these days.”

“What if I used that but flipped it and reversed it and turned it into the sonic identity for this character.

Forky is on its way, so what’s next for Jake? “I’m in the middle of working on another Pixar short called Lamp Life starring Bo Peep.”

Forky Asks A Question will be part of Disney+
when the service launches on November 12th, 2019.

Thanks to Jake Monaco and Rhapsody PR for making this interview possible.

Want to read more interviews like this? CLICK HERE.

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Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.

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