Vincent Emmett, the composer and music producer behind the music of The Song, is a powerhouse in the music and film industry. He has worked on musical projects by Paul Colman, Ginny Owens, Rebecca St. James and Michael Peloquin. In film, he has composed music for projects like the upcoming TV mini series God for the Rest of Us, Acts of God, AHA, Not a Fan, The Easter Experience, Pharaoh's Army, Reception to Follow and The Christmas Experience. He's also been on soundtracks for House and Pharaoh's Army.
In this exclusive interview with Kim Jones, he chatted about the incredible music and players found in The Song.
Kim Jones - A lot of people don't know what a music supervisor / producer does when they're working on a major film project. Can you share a nutshell version of what it is that you do?
Vincent Emmett - Yes. The motion picture that we just finished, The Song, is an unusual film for a person that is a music producer and a composer because it's so thick with tasks and things that need to be done - 13 original songs, a soundtrack album for Capital Records, songs that go into the film that support the story that have to be written ahead of time and then, as a composer, to write for an 80 piece orchestra, to inform them what they need to do to support the film, it's a multi-task job on this particular film. You add to that, music supervisor, which I brought my wife Brenda in on, means that you have a good list of songwriters in your phone that you can call on. It's collecting people over the years that you know are talented that you develop friendships with. That's one of the beautiful things about Nashville. There are so many talented people here. When you are writing songs for a film called The Song, you're throwing down the gauntlet and it's tough on the songwriters, the composer, the music director and producer because you're making such a bold statement. You find out what the story is about and you move forward to make the script inform the songs and the songs inform the script. It's half who's in your phone that you can call.
Kim Jones - I saw that you composed several of the songs with Richard Ramsey. I know that beforehand, you would have read the script to get the story in your head. Now this may sound like a strange question, but can I ask how long you and Brenda have been married?
Vincent Emmett - 15 years.
Kim Jones - Jed and Rose's story is in the beginning - young love at the very start of a relationship through sudden fame and fortune on to temptation. Having been married for 15 years, how did you transition back to that early headspace to be able to write such beautiful and meaningful music?
Vincent Emmett - I would like to tell you that it was hard, but it wasn't very hard at all. If you do what I do for a living or you're any musician that has made this living their entire life, scaling the ups and downs of the music business, making good decisions and bad ones, you have a story. It may not be 100% as vivid as Jed's, since it is a movie, but I can't say that I haven't had some of the same struggles as Jed. That's been the wonderful thing about this film. It really stands out in the realm of faith-based films. We didn't realize it until the end, but it's gonna go down in the books as a film that really calls us all out as creative people that have faith - not to paint a picture of what we believe it is, life and struggle and being in this world, but actually just turning the camera around and showing the rawness, the vividness, the ugly, the grit and dirt of the reality of what it is to go through this life. Now Richie (Ramsey) chose to put these people in Americana/roots/old country style music, and that brings in a whole 'nuther can of worms as they say in the south. I grew up playing in church. In a little recording studio in Lexington, Kentucky, I discovered what recording was. In that little bitty two-car garage studio, I was mentored by people that were completely unknown but were building their careers and are now famous. Béla Fleck, J. D. Crowe, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice and artists like Ricky Skaggs and the group Exile; writers like Larry Cordle and Kent Blazy were all there in that little bitty studio, working every day. There were believers and non-believers and for the very first time in my sheltered life, I saw things I had never even read about. I saw that side of life but my focus was on learning the music. That is to say, you can't go through this musical life and not experience what you see in The Song with Jed and Rose and Shelby. So we didn't have to dig that deep to find inspiration to write these songs.
Kim Jones - Which one resonates the most with you as a man and a husband?
Vincent Emmett - I would have to say two - one I was a part of writing and one that I am amazed at the existence of the song itself. That is the song that was written by Jill Paquette called "The Song (Awaken Love)." Jill is an amazing songwriter. I don't even remember how I met her but I remember that she came to my studio, Picture Sonics in Franklin, outside of Nashville, one day and I told her, like I do any new artist that comes in the door, just pick up the guitar and let me hear me what you've got. She picked up the guitar and she's an amazing guitar player, plus every single one of her songs was incredible. So when it came time to build the team to write the songs outside of what Richie, his wife Christina and I were writing, I thought of Jill right away. The song that had to be a home run - if you're going to call your film The Song and it's based on the Song of Solomon and it has a song called, "The Song," it had better hit the nail on the head. It is incredible to me what she accomplished and the inspiration that she was open to to write the song. I think that song speaks to relationships so purely and so wonderfully, that I'll be surprised if it's not a song that used in weddings for a long, long time. I'll also be surprised if it's not an inspiration to marriages. There are lines in that song that are just chilling for a songwriter. If you're not coming to this film from a faith angle or you don't even understand anything about the Bible - if you're just a music person or you just like music, when Jed sits on the front porch of their honeymoon suite, and tells Rose, "I had a dream and I think I have a song," and he really finds his voice as an artist after living under the shadow of his father, David King, when he sings those lines, the power is just incredible. The other song that I was really privileged to be a part of was "Chasing After Wind." One is near the beginning of the film - "The Song" and one is near the end - "Chasing After Wind." It's where Jed really has his moment of realizing what he has lost - his family and career - and the price that he has paid in his life for the bad decisions that he has made. It's a soulful song that states, in a nutshell, "We showed up with nothing, we're leaving with nothing and what is this insane, crazy pursuit for things that bring the lasting joy from birth to death. Why do we make those choices and chase wind?"
Kim Jones - Alan said that the song that rang the truest with his was "Chasing After Wind" as well.
Vincent Emmett - That's great. I am so glad to hear that. He was amazing and his performance was incredible. The song ends in an odd way; he ends before the band expects it and in a very emotional way. We left it that way on the record for Capital. The scene in the film is incredibly emotional. It's one camera shot - it never edits or pulls away for the entire song and Alan is hitting it right on the mark. He was dialed in.
Kim Jones - I read that you spent a lot of time working with him to get him comfortable with the Americana style. Where there any hair pulling moments where you felt like you just weren't speaking a language he could understand? Where you just couldn't find the words to describe to him what you needed?
Vincent Emmett - (laughs) I think that there were a few times when Alan was in the studio and he wanted to punch me. Of course, he wouldn't have. He's way bigger than me and I'm glad he didn't. There were a few days that were a little bit rough. We were both pursuing the same thing so we were never struggling with each other. I was struggling to get him to be comfortable in an incredibly difficult pursuit - to get him to be comfortable and release everything he knows to sing songs with passion in a voice that he has never sung with before. Now that it asking a human being to do something that is nearly impossible. I would say, yes, I am skilled at doing that, but it's also a tribute to Alan and his abilities. We were blessed with a singer with great ability. He had nearly no knowledge of Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie. He had heard of Bob Dylan but had never listened to Bob Dylan and that whole vein of American music was just not what he had grown up listening to. He had grown up in church, singing church music and listening to church music. He sings in a group today called Anthem Lights - a wonderful group with incredible vocal ability - but nothing about their style has anything to do with The Song. He was coming into a foreign land and he was working with someone he was just getting know. It actually got to a point where I asked him to come to the studio the next day (after a long hard day of singing and straining, listening and learning the songs) dressed as Jed. He just kind of looked at me. I mean, he has this great style of dress. Just look at him in interviews and you'll see it. But the next day, he came in ripped jeans, a shirt that didn't fit, scuffed boots and as he walked down the driveway, I could see the difference. He had thought about it and put that extra step into it. That is a hard worker. He came down the driveway that day and I knew we had turned a corner. He came in looking like Jed, talking like Jed and walking like John Wayne. It was the same thing with Caitlin. She's a very hard worker who is willing to go on the journey.
Kim Jones - Is there any question that you wished that someone had asked you about the film that they haven't?
Vincent Emmett - You know, I think that I feel a little guilty sometimes as a composer and music producer. My mom told me something early on, when I was young - like 8 or 9. I was on a weekly television show with Alison Krauss and she, my mom, saw that people treat you differently when you're on TV. She said, "You know, God's given you a talent. Don't ever forget he can take it away." I think back on that and I'm so glad that she did. I've grown up with an appreciation for what I have. Music is not an easy career to sustain. It wasn't platinum records from the beginning, but I've made a living for 35 years doing this. So I feel a little guilty and I remind the guys that work for me, "We're not living a regular life. This isn't normal life right here. Normal life is climbing up on a ladder and cleaning out gutters or laying shingles in 120 degree heat. That's reality for some people. So with the privilege of doing this comes the responsibility to go at it and hit excellence." That's one of the things that I loved about working on The Song. I'm so privileged to have worked with that crew. It's rare! I can't say that every movie, every project, every record label or every artist I've worked with thinks that way. They don't! They all shoot for excellence and it's such a rare thing. I know it might be hard to imagine (for the people reading this) that not everyone in the industry does it that way. We're constantly fighting to get people who want to do more than just call it a day at 4:30 and go home. That's one thing. Another thing that I feel slightly guilty about is that people are focusing on me because of my titles in the film. I live in the luxury of Nashville, Tennessee and there is not another music community like this in the entire world. There are nearly 150 musicians in this motion picture. There's orchestra ... I recorded my first orchestral score here in Nashville. I usually go to Europe to do those but after hearing the world class orchestra here, I will be hard put to ever go anywhere else. There's choir ... the choir right down the road from me has Grammys! Then there is the band that you hear on the Capitol Records soundtrack and on the film - it's half Robert Plant's Band of Joy and half or a third of Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder. I kind of mashed those up together to create the band that you hear. Where else could I do that? I've got Andy Leftwich, one of the greatest fiddle and mandolin players on the planet today. Playing guitar is Cody Kilby and Byron House is on bass. Marco Giovini is on drums. Amazing musicians. And then I've got Jerry Douglas. Jerry may be one of the best dobro players of all times. Rob Ickes is one of the top two or three greatest dobro players of all times and I've got both of them on this film. Player after player, singer after singer, musician after musician that are such world class that came and worked so hard. Then, on top of that, to have an actor like Alan Powell who can actually sing and play guitar and to have an actress like Caitlin Nicol-Thomas who can sing and the fiddle that you hear is actually her playing... I insisted on that because, number one, if you're going to make a film called The Song, filled with Americana music, you can't fake that. We didn't want the film to be a character of a genre. We wanted it to be real and it was. And that's not even mentioning Emmylou Harris, Ricky Skaggs and Roger McGuin, who recorded a remake of the historic "Turn, Turn, Turn." That wasn't just a privilege, it was also a significant historic music event.