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Interview: Gabriel Mann opens the musical doors of ‘School of Rock’

School is in session with Gabriel Mann. The "School of Rock", that is, as Mann is the composer for Nickelodeon’s TV series inspired by the Jack Black film of the same name. He connected with AXS for an email interview to discuss working on a teen-oriented comedy after four seasons on SundanceTV’s dark drama "Rectify" (which you can learn more about here), and how he’s not overly concerned with if his composing work gets more attention.

AXS: You have a successful mainstream music career with your band The Rescues. So what attracted you to begin composing in addition to that?

Gabriel Mann: I didn’t get seriously into music until college, where I majored in composition and was the music director of a singing group. It was the first time I was involved in any sort of major ensemble, and I learned a lot about writing, arranging and producing music there. I came out to USC and did the film scoring program, worked for a few years doing random odd musical jobs, then decided I wanted to make records – I was kind of turned off writing music for media at that point and was much more interested in getting my own voice out there. I recorded five solo albums before I returned from a tour and started writing songs with David Schwartz for "Arrested Development." I worked with him for several years and got more interested in doing music for television; I enjoyed the variety of the projects and the regularity of the work and ultimately got my own show. I’ve been coming to my studio every day since, writing score and songs for all sorts of projects.

AXS: How do you describe your composing career? Are there certain projects that have shaped your sound in that respect?

GM: I have fondness for many projects, but there are a few that have been instrumental in my career. I scored a series of “Spyro” video games long ago with Rebecca Kneubuhl; those were really the first big projects I worked on. When I got the pilot for "Modern Family" that was obviously a big deal, though I didn’t realize it at the time. And since then probably my most meaningful, creatively satisfying project has been "Rectify." It was a real creative collaboration in which I feel like I got to express myself in a way I hadn’t been able to until that point.

AXS: Those are all quite different from "School of Rock," so how did you wind up making music for a Nickelodeon show? What about that series and your other current projects interests you?

GM: "School Of Rock" is a joy to work on, as I get to write, record, and produce songs as well as score the episodes. The msuic team at Nickelodeon brought me on and I’m so grateful for it. I had worked with the director of the "Rosewood" pilot, Richard Shepard, in the past, so that was an easy call. Other shows vary between knowing somebody and having worked for them before in some capacity and pitching myself for things I’m interested in, like "Dawn of the Croods" for Dreamworks Animation for example. They’re all very different projects obviously, and require a completely different sound for each. I particularly enjoy that variety. I love jumping from one genre to another and immersing myself in their specific worlds, bouncing back and forth I think keeps it really fresh and interesting.

AXS: With multiple projects happening at the same time, do you stick to the same basic operating procedure or does it vary by what you’re working on?

GM: The latter; every project requires a different sort of flow, a different kind of writing and recording that’s entirely dependent on the project itself and what the music sounds like. That said, I try to approach it all like a normal job. I come to the studio and get to work making noise every day.

AXS: How do we sum up Gabriel Mann musically? What are the projects or albums that you’d point people toward to understand everything that you do?

GM: I’d say to get a sense of the breadth of stuff I work on, watch a little "Modern Family," some "Dawn of the Croods" – I compose this with Rebecca Kneubuhl and there is some super funny music in there – and the full four seasons of "Rectify" to get into the darker and more beautiful sides of my brain. And listen to The Rescues, the band I’m in with Kyler England and Adrianne Gonzalez.

AXS: Being both a mainstream musician and a composer, do you feel as if there’s more knowledge of composing in the mainstream music world?

GM: I do think there’s greater awareness to some extent, certainly within the industry, but when you leave Los Angeles and go out to the rest of the world, I think it’s still a mystery to most people. It kind of goes through most people without a specific thought. They feel the music, which is what’s supposed to happen. They’re not supposed to be curious about who wrote the music; they’re supposed to feel what the show is trying to get them to feel. So if I help get that feeling across, that’s good enough for me.

For more on Gabriel Mann, visit his artist page at AXS.