Music Fusion For “Matador” – An Interview With Composer Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Right: Juan Carlos Rodriguez at work in his studio. Left: Gabriel Luna as Tony Bravo in El Ray Network’s “Matador.” Photo Credit: El Rey Network

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

Juan Carlos Rodríguez was passionate about scoring to picture. The Venezuelan born pianist moved to the United States in 1995, and spent eleven years devoted to the Latin music industry. During that time he worked with acts including Bacilos (as keyboardist and arranger on the double Grammy award winning album “Caraluna”) and Shakira (as recording engineer on her crossover album “Laundry Service.”) A part of the Latin music wave that drenched the US in the mid 90s, Rodrguez found an entrance into television, scoring the hit NBC’s Telemundo series “Prisionera” in 2004. Over more than 1,000 episodes and 10 years later, Rodriguez continues to work with Telemundo on hit series including “Más sabe el Diablo” and “La Patrona” for which he earned the BMI Film & TV Awards in 2010 and 2013. IN the past five years, Rodríguez’ music has been featured on “Parks and Recreation”, “Dateline” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” His diverse style and multicultural approach to music has led him to compose the music for El Rey Network’s latest spy thriller series, “Matador.”

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Created by Jay Beattie, Dan Dworkin, Andrew Orci and Roberto Orci (writers and producers behind series including “Revenge”, “Criminal Minds”, “Sleepy Hollow” and “Hawaii Five – O”) and co-produced by Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City” and “Machete”) “Matador” follows DEA agent Tony Bravo (Gabriel Luna) who’s recruited by the CIA to infiltrate a LA soccer team to spy on its corrupt owner. The show runners came to Rodriguez looking for the perfect blend of styles to enhance the storytelling.

“The style is a little bit of everything, they were looking for an American sounding score with hints of Latin music but you could only hint it when you really know the musical language, otherwise it sounds forced and out of place,” said Rodriguez. “My goal was to find the right tone and direction musically.”

During the early stages of creating the score, Rodriguez refrained from having direct discussions with the creators of episodic directors, including Robert Rodriguez, in order to work through the different sounds and styles that would fully aid the characters and story.

“The first instinct is to talk, but at that point I wanted to listen and absorb what they were suggesting and looking for,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to create a reoccurring theme and a specific chord progression for Tony Bravo that had moments of excitement while being a cool spy. It’s a very distinctive score.”

To create a unique sound that revolves around a spy thriller that is “American” with “Latin highlights”, Rodriguez turned to his upbringing. Venezuelan music is a rich concoction that fuses a multitude of styles introduced into the culture. From the slave trade to the gold rush, migrations of all kinds have deposited cultural remnants into the Venezuelan sound. African percussion, salsa, samba, Calypso, waltzes, chants and the influences from the Caribbean and neighbor countries have helped to create Venezuelan rhythms and rich music styles. To create a score with a mutli-cultural flair for “Matador,” Rodriguez first visualizes the music, then works through the sounds on the piano until he finds the right notes.

“Sometimes I start with a beat or rhythm and sometimes with a texture, but always keeping in mind the melodies and motifs for the characters, situations and sub-plots I’m composing for,” said Rodriguez. “I really like exploring and creating new sounds. I use a specific sound palette for sonic continuity. That’s how you give a show its music personality”

While proficient on the piano, Rodriguez dabbles in additional instruments including the guitar, harmonica, and various percussion instruments. He’ll record himself performing these instruments in a structure’s earliest stages, staring with simple notes or melodies. When he’s ready to advance, he’ll bring in a professional guitar or percussion player who he’ll instruct on creating specific styles or sounds until they arrive at a completed structure. He creates the final scores using synth sounds and layering musical tracks, including samples he recorded during his process of finding the perfect sound.

In addition to scoring “Matador”, Rodriguez recently finished composing the second season for top Hulu’s series “East Los High” – a show that reflects the lives of teenagers growing up in East Los Angeles. While the show has a youthful focus, the content appeals to all ages.
“Again, you have to find that melody or motif that’s required for every show and read the script before you start composing so you always know where you are coming from in the story and what is coming next.” said Rodriguez.

Currently, Rodriguez is wrapping the last episodes of “Matador.” and enjoys having the opportunity to continuing exploring a unique fusion of styles.

“I really like trying new things with the show. This is a dream project for any composer. I feel very fortunate,” said Rodriguez. “I wanted to be bold and daring, I wanted something different. It took a while to find the sound, but after that we are now flying with it. It is very exciting!”

To learn more about “Matador,” please visit:
http://www.elreynetwork.com/#/originals/matador