We talk to Misfits and Bad Education composer Vince Pope

We talk to Misfits and Bad Education composer Vince Pope

With Channel 4´s recent British police comedy drama No Offence being commissioned for a second series and the big screen version of the BBC hit comedy Bad Education due to hit movie screens this month, the music of composer Vince Pope will certainly be familiar to UK audiences. The BAFTA award nominated, and Royal Television Society-awarded composer is a customer of Time+Space so we caught up with him to talk about his musical background, his studio set-up and the software tools he regularly relies upon...

Your musical career began at an early age, can you tell us more about that time?

My father was a jazz pianist and I was the youngest of four boys all of whom learnt the piano and one other instrument. My second instrument being the saxophone. At one time, I think my father thought he might be able to create the British equivalent of the Jackson 5, albeit with the four of us!

I was classically trained but by the time it came to going to university I decided that maths might be the more "sensible" option. Also I wasn´t always a great fan of the structure that the standard music degrees seemed to offer, having done music A Level. I was more than happy to continue my musical education on my own so to speak.

So to that end whilst at Uni it was calculus and relativity during the day, and then sneaking off to the Guildhall to hang out with my mates and play music. One of whom, Omar, made a successful solo career and the other, Jerry Meehan (bassist) became a sideman for all the biggest names in pop music. So that being said, I was always in "musical" circles during my time at Uni and by the end of that degree I realised that I was going to pursue a career in music.

Once you completed the degree, where did your career path take you?

Fresh out of Uni I became part of a band called Ethereal, and we enjoyed success signing to EMI publishing and releasing a first single with John Truelove (the discoverer of Candy Staton – You’ve Got The Love) but unfortunately it didn´t last as band politics and frictions destroyed us. These revolved mainly around the ideas of direction and of course, although they seem inconsequential now, at the time they became insurmountable. A terrible waste that to this day feels like the biggest lost opportunity of my musical career.

Picking myself up I realised that perhaps the next best step was a career in music that didn´t rely on other people. I wanted to make my own career decisions free from friction and anything that would get in the way of my creativity.

So I was initially attracted to music for advertising as I had good contacts with people in the industry, and the lack of a singing voice didn´t seem too much of a drawback. It wasn´t long before I had set up Beetroot Music and was enjoying a charmed life writing music for many big name commercials. But recently I have moved away from the cut and thrust of advertising for more long-term work. Beetroot Music still provides great advertising music but I am more involved in music for TV, film and Drama.

Which projects in recent years have you most enjoyed working on and why?

I will always have great memories of my time working on Misfits as it was 5 years of my life and provided me with my first Bafta nomination and a Royal Television Society award for Best Music. I would also say that it pushed me hard into areas that were new to me at the time. It’s also great working with so many fantastic directors and meeting so many creative people. It’s something that I think on some level has a cult following that means it keeps on giving to new audiences. 

What’s been the proudest moment of your music career so far?

My proudest moment is definitely the Bafta nomination and Royal Television Society award for Misfits. I always felt that awards are unimportant, but it was only when I didn´t pick up the Bafta that I realised how much I cared. 

We’ve been enviously checking out the Beetroot Music studio photos, what key pieces of hardware have you got in there?

The most important piece of hardware is my Apple Mac. It’s old but it’s still the powerhouse behind everything else - 32Gb of Ram and packed to the rafters with SSD fast hard drives! My biggest toy is a midi Roland Jupiter 8, as it’s one of my favourite analogue machines ever and for recording a Neve API Lunchbox, and Shadow Hills Mic Presets give me the right sound for any project.

Any recent studio purchases that you are particularly excited about?

Every so often I buy a new software synth. At the moment, by far my most used "new" acquisition is Sylenth1 by LennarDigital.

Is there any piece of equipment or an instrument that you’re currently hankering after?

Yeah, I would love a fully functioning Yamaha CS80, so if you know of anyone who has one please get them to get in touch ;-)

Moving back to your recent work, congratulations on the fantastic score for Channel 4’s No Offence, were you given a lot of artistic license or was the brief very specific?

Oh, I persuaded them to go with the Wild West Americana kind of idea, mixed with some Celtic influences just for good measure. I think when you get a sound, you know if it’s going to work for the particular production and this worked straight away. I played the director and producers some ideas and although they were worried about how this might work over the whole 8 episodes, I think they loved the direction enough to give it a go.

Tell us about the software/virtual instruments that you used throughout the project, were there any in particular that featured heavily and why did you choose to use those?

For No Offence there was a lot of live work because of the nature of the sound I was looking for, but to complement that I work in Kontakt using Symphobia 1 & 2 as I find their string sounds the most realistic for small ensemble work. I especially love the Con Sordino string patch in Symphobia 1.

When it comes to accepting work for television, how do you know when a show is ‘right’ for you, and that you want to work with it?

I guess it’s really just about getting on with the director/producer. Can I work with this person over the next however many months and will they want to hear what I have to offer? I certainly want to get on with the people I work with. It’s crucial.

SpectrasonicsStylus RMX and Omnisphere feature in your set-up, what makes these products really stand out to you as a composer?

Omnisphere to me, simply always offers something. It’s a fantastic behemoth of a synth that is relatively easy to programme and has great sounds straight out of the box. But if you want to get under the lid then that’s all there and easy too. To me I would program Stylus less and its definitely more a preset tool but one that if you need big US TV sound always provides.

You also use iZotope software, which products are you using and what features of these are particularly useful to your work?

I primarily use Ozone and Trash 2. I always use the Ozone Multiband compressor on my mixes as it’s intuitive and sounds great. The effects always enhance what I put through them.

How do you choose which product fits the best with the sound you’re trying to achieve?

Just decide what you need… Go to blogs, talk to friends and find out what’s out there because there’s always something that fits the bill. Also, experiment and listen! I am a bit like a musical magpie in that I’m always ready to take some sound, or some idea and store it away in my head for later if it stands out and I like it. I listen to music ALL the time; it’s really my entire life. Sometimes to the detriment of family life.

One of your most recent projects has been the soundtrack for the forthcoming Bad Education Movie, starring comedians Jack Whitehall and Harry Enfield, can you tell us more about the music you’ve created for this and the software you used?

Wow - go see the film! I have used everything in my armory for that one . Its the most music I have ever produced for one project. From Pagan Morris dancing music to house music to 100 piece epic orchestral score and EVERYTHING in between.

I purchased Spitfire Hans Zimmer drums for that one. Sylenth1 came in really handy for the house and club tracks. I should put a shout out to Reason cause I have used that consistently over the years when I’m cutting up beats or quantising audio. I love it. I also purchased Evo Grid 2 from Spitfire but have yet to use it. I got it for my next project, so keep your ears peeled!

How often do you use real/live instruments in your TV work and what tends to influence whether you use virtual or live instruments?

Live is always better for me. So if the budget has money for it I use it, but there are some instruments I would never subject my listeners to in the sample domain. Solo Sax guitar or any string instrument. They are simply too expressive to leave to samples. When I used real strings on the Misfits score it simply came to life in a way that it would never have done otherwise.

And finally, if you could only work with one virtual instrument/plug-in for the rest of your career, what would it be and why?

That is HARD… only one? Can I take a sampler and a library? Actually even that doesn’t make it any easier. I think it would be Omnisphere because although I might not be able to get that "real" thing that samplers do, the sheer depth and breadth of the sounds and the programmability I think would keep me going for a very very long time. It’s got everything in there - it really has.