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Supreme Music Asks Chuck Willis: What About Music?

Supreme Music Asks Chuck Willis: What About Music?

5 minutes, 31 seconds Read

Music is an integral and powerful part of human culture. Its many forms tell stories that bring us together and set us apart through the endless possibilities of its expression.

Music has told the story of our human lives for centuries. It encompasses the secular, political, religious, and technological forces of time and place. It ranges from the music of indigenous peoples to the traditions of classical, folk, jazz, rock, pop, hip-hop, and electronic music, and beyond. These traditions continue to grow, evolve, and intersect.

Editors have a lot of power in choosing a musical mood for directing a commercial. Often, that is the mood they set from the beginning of a film.

We had the honor of speaking with one of the best: Chuck Willis.

Q> Tell us your name and what you do professionally.

Chuck> Chuck Willis. Editor/Lost Planet.

Q> Can you tell us about your first really memorable musical experience and how it influenced you? Why do you remember it so well?

Chuck> I bought the White Album at a young age. I worked in the fields of Wisconsin picking strawberries, cherries and apples to earn enough to buy it. It was my first big ppurchase. My first album! I felt very grown up and of course I loved it. It was vinyl, so you put the needle on the album and followed the songs the way the artists wanted us listeners to hear them. It made a difference and helped shape my taste. You have to hope those early influences are good.

Q> Can you give us an insight into the most memorable project you have done and what role music played in it?

Chuck> Music always plays a huge role in my editing. I need the music before I start putting the footage together. Often it’s a spot that ends up having no music at all, but I prefer to cut with a track to set the tempo and mood, even if it’s just to remove it later. I used to cut a lot of the Saturday Night Live parody spots. When I was asked to do the show opening, I loved cutting NYC footage to that iconic SNL Band music. When you hear the band kick in with that signature sax, you know it’s SNL time. NBC ended up using that opening for many seasons.

Q> Is there anyone in your family who has had a big influence on your musical life?

Chuck> My father was a jazz bass player. He was self-taught and went to Saranac Lake to play in all the hotels with the big bands. I guess it was just a way to get girls. During World War II he served in the Mighty 8th Airborne on a Flying Fortress “The Dry Martini and the Cocktail Kids.” He was stationed in Chelveston, England and traveled to London to play in the USO shows. I grew up on Big Band Jazz, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson and many, many more. We always had the latest Broadway albums in the house: My Fair Lady, Camelot, Guys and Dolls. My father didn’t make a living as a musician, but he was always playing and there was always music in the house. When he retired he had a little jazz trio that played all summer long in the hotels in Bar Harbor, Maine. I still have his bass; it sits in the corner of our living room.

Q> What is the most unexpected place or situation where you found inspiration for a music or sound approach?

Chuck> Hard to say. I listen to music and sound in everything I do, it’s always part of the fabric, so I wouldn’t say unexpected. I’m the type of person who’s always tapping to the beat of something. It drives my wife crazy.

Q> What topics or developments in the music world do you like – or dislike – and why?

Chuck> Honestly, the music world seems dead right now. When you think about how fertile music was in the 60s-90s, the British invasion, rock & roll, new wave, punk, disco, alternative, it seems like there’s nothing left now. Music seems very controlled, very prescribed. Nothing exciting. Certainly nothing new. Where’s Dylan, the Beatles, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Oasis, The Smith’s, REM? You see it in so many commercials, they’re taking more music from the past than the present, Grand Funk Railroad, Neil Diamond, Doris Day, I recently used “All By Myself” for a Lays commercial.

Q> Can you tell us about your favorite recording or mixing session?

Chuck> For the NBC 75th anniversary show, I went with the SNL director and was in a Howard Shore, 70-piece orchestra recording. It was spectacular. When I first started in the industry, we went to all the music sessions. Back then, they were all live, very little synth. I remember a woman coming in and rolling her harp. I also remember singers gathering around a microphone and recording jingles. You really got to see the art of making music. It was magical…and fun!

Q> In what ways do you think AI helps you in your role? And what pitfalls do you see?

Chuck> I try to stay away from AI. I know it will come for me eventually. AI goes against my fundamental creative spirit. Machines are tools we create with, not the other way around.

Q> Making music in 2055 will be like _________________. Who will be the stars of tomorrow and how will they be discovered?

Chuck> I hope music gets back to its roots. It’s a bit like film editing. Digital technology has made it possible for everyone to edit, but not everyone can do it. It’s the same with music. Going back to an earlier sound when instruments were played and lyrics were considered. When music meant something and had a real emotional response and took the listener to a special place. I think the stars of tomorrow are going to be the rebels, the outsiders, people who make music because they have no choice spiritually, not because they want to be rich and famous.

Q> Would you rather write the theme song for a romantic comedy, zombie or Dracula movie? And why?

Chuck> Rom-Com. Much sweeter. More emotional. More memorable. Look, I get it, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is very spooky, as is John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, but do I want to have those pieces of music stuck in my head that conjure up images from those movies or would I rather be humming Singing in The Rain?

#SNL #lostplanet #suprememusic

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