Interview by: Don of Don411.com
Coordinated by: Lori De Waal of De Waal & Associates
June 2, 2016
Introduction Provided from De Waal & Associates:
Composer, musician, and producer Megan Cavallari has a knack for creating music that industry legend Richard Kraft recently called “amazing and earworm candy.” From film and television soundtracks to stage musicals to being the official composer of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, the award-winning Philadelphia native has managed to land at the top of a her profession (despite the fact that less than 1% of all professional composers are females).
Now Cavallari has been tapped to write and produce the soundtrack, songs, and score for the upcoming animated feature “Jacob Marley” with animator and visual effects director Russ Francis. That goes along with her Jonathan McHugh-produced opera “The Righteous One: The Irena Sandler Story,” about a WWII hero who saved 2500 children in the Warsaw Ghetto, and her ongoing collaboration with Grammy-nominated pop producer Eric Robinson.
She’s also beginning her tenth season with the LA Kings – perhaps her favorite gig because of her passion and dedication to ice hockey (she regularly plays left wing in a men’s league). Cavallari is also a committed vegan. While raising an eleven year old daughter with juvenile arthritis, Cavallari has also launched the Talk Foundation Project, where she records the thoughts and observations of terminally ill children. With a tireless positivity grounded in her Jewish faith, her unique professional profile is matched only by her amazing work ethic and generous spirit.
Interview Questions by Don of Don411.com:
To begin, what you have accomplished for just 1 person is just amazing. What was the biggest challenge faced in your industry for you and how was it over come?
The biggest challenge faced in my industry is there are so many talented composers in Hollywood, and females composers don’t typically get hired. For some reason, I always have. I get over things with my mind set. If I don’t get a job I am always gracious to the director, producer, show runner, music supervisor. I may not be right for this TV show or feature but I may be right for their next. I don’t dwell, I move on and I look for the next job.
Who do you want to work that you haven’t thus far?
I want to score a Mission Impossible move with and all female orchestra. That would be a Mission Impossible come true. I would also like to write with fellow vegan Moby. He’s a genius.
What other television and movies themes by others do you like?
I love film score composers. Danny Elfman, my mentor, the late James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith, Ed Shearmur, Thomas Newman, Randy Newman there are too many I love. Television has upped it’s composers with Shaun Callery, Jimmy Levine, Nathan Barr.
What were some funny and humor things that happened during your career?
I think I get in serious mode when working. I am in post production so every is fast. Once a bass player said “Nice, a chick with a stick” before I began my conducting. I couldn’t help but laugh.
What advice would you have given your younger self?
The advice I would give my younger self is keep in touch with people more. There is money in the phone so don’t be afraid to call strangers and introduce yourself.
How does participating in ice hockey help you with music? What makes hockey special to you?
I am from Philly so the Flyers were everything in our house. I learned to play as an adult. Playing ice hockey is a lot like life it can be hard, beautiful, you fall down and you have to get back in the game, it is demanding, graceful, focused, intense, fun, there’s a huge guy in a small net but by some miracle you score. In ice hockey you have your line. You take care of your line you work together, you have your teammates backs. Like ice hockey I have my line. I have a strong team assistants, directors, producers, the best orchestra in the world, the best singers, mixers. pro tools operators and mentors. I am surrounded by so much talent. I am fortunate to have my dream team.
What advice you you give aspiring composers and how does one get started in the industry?
Just do it. If you can get into USC’s film scoring program or Berklee’s, do it. Learn all the technology. All the programs. Become an intern. I have interns every summer most of them turn into assistants but most of them have gone to one of these schools. Scoring anything. Study orchestration. Try and become and assistant to a film composer. See how they work. Learn everything you can.
What questions would you want asked of you that haven’t been in the past, and what would be the responses.
How did you get your start?
My graduate school (from NYU), thesis went straight to the Mark Taper Forum for a reading.
I met Danny Elfman who was working on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, I told him what I was working on and he said he could use my help on some things. So my first start on Hollywood was working on “Nightmare”. In fact I am on of the singers. Before that I wrote my first fully produced musical at 15 I was paid $75. I couldn’t believe people would pay me to do what I loved the must: composing.
What was it like to work with Danny Elfman and film score legend Jerry Goldsmith?
Though their styles were completely different they were both professional, geniuses, and hard working. I work with Danny until Dolores Claiborne. He even gave me some equipment when I was scoring my first film. Watching Jerry and Danny compose was amazing.
What is it like to conduct your own music?
Conducting your own music is a thrill because you only imagined in your head have it would be and then the orchestra hits the down beat and it’s magical: all your notes come toward you. I am fortunate to be able to work at Capitol Records. The studios/engineers/mixers have recorded everyone from Sinatra recorded to U2. I have a relationship with everyone. I love conducting in that room. I know there will never be a technical issue. I love the sound of the live orchestra and no one hears it better than the conductor.
How did you get the gig working for the LA Kings?
I was participating in a Darryl Evans ice hockey workshop. We were all getting dresses and I noticed one women how could not put on her equipment so I helped her out. She said she worked for the LA Kings and that Luc wanted every to take a workshop to see just how hard hockey is. I told the women to stay behind me and I would help her. Afterward, I helped her take off her equipment. She new my last name (from our jerseys) so she asked my name and what I did for a living. When I said composer Heidi Androl (a former commentator), said the Kings music was terrible and needed more energy to it. So 2 weeks later Heidi asked me to start writing for the Kings.
When did you know you wanted to be a composer?
When I was in the 2nd grade, Ms. Mengenie asked the girls and boys what they wanted to do when they grew up. They boys wanted to be rich or a fireman all the girls wanted to be a mommies but me. I said “I am going to be Leonard Bernstein” every laughed so I walked out, walked home and told my mom about it and she said “good for you!” and made me lunch. I was so into Westside Story, and his conducting was so passionate. He loved music so much and with such enthusiasm! I mean who wouldn’t want to be Leonard Bernstein?
What are fun things others should know about you?
I play on a male ice hockey team.
I have run 18 full marathons and 6 half marathons.
I am part jock/part musician.
I am and Italian Jew and my dad’s favorite expression was “Take your good time with you”-that’s what I do. I came from a happy home.
I have a non-profit organization call The Talk Foundation.
2 ducks live in my pool. Their names are Sweet Potato (the female) and Quack (the male) they come every year. She is a bit bossy and he is a true gentleman.
When I signed up for Kings Ice Hockey Camp I didn’t know it was for kids. So all the hockey moms dropped off their kids and I jumped on the ice. Those 10 year olds are fast! Then I started working with Darryl Evans of the Kings organization.
My recording studio is an ice hockey shrine. Anyone from Canada would be amazed!
How can others follow you (Websites and Social Media)?
My web site: www.megancavallari.com and on Facebook www.facebook.com/megan.cavallar
Biography Provided from De Waal & Associates:
So, you think you had a busy day? Consider what a typical working day might be like for composer Megan Cavallari. Start with the fact that Cavallari is one of only a very small handful of women who have established themselves as major creative artists in the professional music industry. But not even most of the men can point to a resume as diverse, eclectic, and impressive as this diminutive Jewish-Italian Philadelphia native: more than a 100 film scores as performer, arranger, conductor, or composer; the official composer of the L.A. Kings for ten seasons; 25 television shows; 16 stage musicals; and hundreds of songs, jingles, and assorted musical offerings have earned her respect, acclaim, multiple professional awards, and a reputation as someone who seemingly creates and produces music in every waking moment of a 37 hour day.
Then consider that while music is the dominant focus of Megan Cavallari’s professional life, it’s probably the easiest thing she does. For kicks, she might suit up and play left wing in a men’s hockey league, where she might find herself hurtling over the ice after being checked by a guy twice her weight. Or, she might be dealing with the very real challenges facing her eleven year-old daughter, surviving life with debilitating juvenile arthritis. She might be at temple, reaffirming a faith that is part and parcel of a family legacy with all the drama of an HBO miniseries. Or she might be talking to children in a hospital’s terminal ward, recording their thoughts in private and open conversations – just because she knows those moments of free thought and reflection are all the more valuable to those with little time left. In short, your busy day has nothing on Megan Cavallari’s.
Cavallari sees a strong personal and spiritual component to her projects, beginning with a lesson learned from one of her early mentors and champions. “Danny Elfman used to say about making music, ‘you put the antenna up and you hope God is listening.’” Cavallari had just completed her master’s degree at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts when she came to California with her award-winning musical project and caught the ear of Elfman. Her first high-profile gig was alongside Elfman as he composed and recorded the now-classic score from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which lead to work on several subsequent Elfman scores. She likewise worked with legendary film scoring artists Jerry Goldsmith and Edward Shearmur, and artists such as Johnny Mathis. “Music takes people into a very different space and realm, and engaging with that means I’m always full of new ideas.” She also confesses to a history of being in the right place at the right time, and being around the right people. “I’m super lucky – and then I surround myself with great musicians, producers, directors, and music supervisors who keep asking me to do things!”
The gritty dedication to teamwork also explains her passion for ice hockey, reflected in the many pieces of memorabilia that populate her recording studio as well as her passion for the Kings, who are more than just one of her many employers. “Hockey reminds me of life,” she explains. “You fall down hard, you get up. It’s poetry at eighty miles an hour, and it all comes down to getting that puck past that huge man into that tiny cage. There’s no star – you have to work as a team, you have to have those guys behind you, you have to have your line. I have my line in my work – my musicians, my agents – and my line has to be great for everything to work.”
That the work ethic is the product of strong, passionate parents shouldn’t be surprising, but the story of Megan Cavallari’s family offers additional perspective. Her Jewish mother’s family, emigrated from Russia and engaged as union activists, were targeted by the FBI and blacklisted during the McCarthy era (an uncle was called before congressional committees), which lead them to hide their Jewishness. Meanwhile, her Italian-born father was raised Catholic, but had rejected the church when he saw how they treated Italian Jews during World War II. “My father was more into Judaism than my mother,” Cavallari says. “Passover was his favorite holiday.” Learning prayers from her grandmother and great aunt, Megan wasn’t able to fully explore and embrace her traditions until she relocated to California after college. Despite the complex issues of religious identity, Cavallari’s parents excelled and exemplifying the better values of both faith and social responsibility – they were teachers who specialized in working with disadvantaged kids. “My parents had a loving relationship for 43 years, and I grew up in a home that was completely supportive,” she explains, citing a brother and sister who are both business owners “and fighters.”
That fight is needed on a daily basis when it comes to raising daughter Shoshana, who is in chronic pain from juvenile arthritis. “She’s suffering, but she has such a great attitude,” Cavallari observes, proud that her daughter will attend the prestigious Milken Community School next year. “She’s really my role model – kids tend to look at the bright side of things, so I learn a lot from them.” That’s one of the impulses that lead to Cavallari beginning the Talk Foundation Project. The idea is simple: with some simple digital recording technology, she visits with children in terminal health situations and simply allows them to talk. Currently engaging with Kaiser Permanente with specialists who work in childhood oncology, the recordings are simply private mementos of the subject’s life at that moment. “I say a prayer before I go into the room, I remind myself that this is for the good,” she says of the 20- to 30-minute conversations. “Some of these kids are happy, some are angry, some are going to rant or scream – but whatever they need to do, they do it.”
The constant demands for writing and producing music keep Cavallari focused, despite the many obstacles that she has faced. “Less than half-a-percent of composers are women,” she says. She recalls a particularly humiliating moment early in her career: an agent had submitted her as “M. Cavallari,” and she was hired based on her demo. But upon entering a production meeting, she was told that “casting was upstairs.” After explaining who she was, she was terminated because someone on the production insisted that only a man could compose the score for an action film. That’s lead to one of Cavallari’s bucket-list projects: “Someday, I want to do a ‘Mission: Impossible’ score with an all-female orchestra.” (Her other bucket-list gig would be working with fellow vegan Moby.)
Until then, Cavallari is hard at work on a new animated musical film project called “Jacob Marley” with director Russ Francis, with several other high-profile film gigs in development. She’s also begun a relationship with Grammy-nominated pop producer Eric Robinson, and is working with producer/composer Jonathon McHugh on a new opera about WWII hero Irena Sandler (who rescued 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto), which will debut with the Angel City Chorus. All projects to fill an ordinary day in the life of a not-so-ordinary composer.