“Yoga Hosers” Composer Christopher Drake’s Amazing Adventure
By: Marjorie Galas
Sundance 2016 will mark yet another milestone in the remarkable career of Christopher Drake. The composer is making his first visit to the fest to witness the premiere of “Yoga Hosers” – his second collaboration with indie director Kevin Smith. His journey to this moment is as remarkably fantastic as any storyline unspooling at this year’s venues.
Growing up in Arizona in the early 1990s, Drake spent his teenage years playing guitar and performing with local bands. As he entered his twenties, he decided he’d peruse film composing. He set his sights on relocating to California, despite his lack of a formal music training. In preparation for his adventure, he began teaching himself composition basics and piece by piece, he purchased all the gear he needed.
“I was like a hermit so that I could save money while my friends were out enjoying their 20s,” said Drake. “I figured I would go to California, and maybe attend film school at USC. I wanted to get the tools first, and I learned on my own.”
Early in his development, the fledgling composer entered a film score competition presented by Turner Movie Classics and placed second. While the prize has slipped from Drake’s memory, the confidence he gained from the recognition proved the perfect reward – he felt ready to look for work. He knew he couldn’t start at the top, and determined the lower budget and generally younger demographic behind animation may make him a more relatable candidate.
“I recognize now I was so naïve. I had no agent, I didn’t even know how to submit. Email was in its infancy, it wasn’t as easy to send demos then,” said Drake.
Drake learned Smith, who’s first feature “Clerks” and subsequent films resonated with his sensibilities, was in discussions with Disney to direct an animated film. Drake cold-called Disney and received a responce, providing an address to submit his demo. Inspired by his positive interaction with Disney and once again operating on naïve exuberance; he moved to California, settling in the fertile animation grounds of Burbank.
Although he received no additional communication from Disney, another fortuitous encounter opened the doors to his career. A horror and sci-fi fanatic, Drake aligned himself with VFX artist Bob Burns. Burns had regularly presented an annual Halloween extravaganza at his Burbank property that featured original props and full scale, life-like re-enactments of classic horror tales. Burns asked Drake to score that Halloween’s event.
“The night before it opened we had a VIP preview filled with A-listers,” recalled Drake. “That’s where I met Guillermo del Toro. He told me he loved my music.”
Del Toro hired Drake to score the director’s cut of his 1987 short “Geometria.” He continued to collaborate with the acclaimed director on the animated “Hellboy” films, and his career as a composer was solidified. He scored a number of DC Comics and Warner Brother Animation video adaptations of graphic novel fare including “Wonder Woman”, “Justice League: Doom,” and the “Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.” In 2013, after scoring the adaptation of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1”, Drake was invited to participate on a special Paley Center panel highlighting the film that Kevin Smith moderated. After the panel, the two men quickly developed a rapport.
“We had an easy conversation; he’s such a charming and normal guy. He invited me to his house to take part in one of his podcasts,” said Drake. “A few months later he called about ‘Tusk.’”
“Tusk” is a Frankenstein-esque tale chronicling a podcaster who, lured to a remote location and held against his will, is turned into a human walrus. Drake dove into his love of horror, associating the tale with a fusion of John Carpenter style synth sounds and classic scores of horror tales from the 40s and 50s. He developed a demo of his vision, while remaining flexible and accommodating to Smith’s preferences.
“Every director has their own way of communicating (what they are looking for musically). When I’m starting with a director I’ve not worked with before, I’m always learning, trying to get into their head like an FBI profiler, trying to understand what they are into, what their tastes are,” said Drake.
He quickly discovered Smith is as collaborative with his department heads as he is with his actors. He values everyone’s talents and abilities and is very open to suggestions and changes. While Smith wanted to go in a more Gothic and classical style, he was open to Drake’s experimentation with the score. Throughout the editing process, Smith had used a temp track and found the musical suggestions Drake’s score offered helped define new elements to the scene he hadn’t noticed during his earlier edits, a process the director embraced.
Shortly after reteaming with Smith on “Yoga Hosers”, Drake discovered he’d be heading into an entirely different collaborative experience. “Yoga Hosers” does re-introduce some characters from “Tusk” – primarily 15-year old convenience store clerks Colleen and Colleen. The two best friends are off to a party when they encounter an evil force that threatens their Canadian home town. Unlike “Tusk”, which was a departure in style for Smith, “Yoga Hosers” is a return to his comic genre. While Smith was open to an experimentation in expression with a cohesive soundtrack built around a more classic style of orchestration in “Tusk”, he had some very specific ideas for the soundscape of “Yoga Hosers.” The score would include a little bit of every style and would help to usher the comic timing. Drake knew balancing the music with the story elements would be his greatest challenge.
“Comedy and horror are two places were music can oversell and you can take it too over the top,” said Drake. “80s horror, cartoon, super hero samples, drama; I was like a character actor working with the music. I had to be flexible.”
Working off Smith’s notes and building the score through samples of instruments he built upon, layer by layer, Drake found pregnant pauses and areas where he let the music drop out. This helped to create a balance with the “Looney Tunes” mixture of styles that were connected throughout the film. Additionally, Drake did include some subtle motifs for characters such as homicide detective Guy LaPointe (Johnny Depp) and the two Colleens. He also sampled some public domain music that has been used repeatedly to represent evil in films, including “The Shining” and wove it into the score, to great comic effect.
As Drake prepares to watch the premier, he’s grateful to have continued to collaborate and explore new avenues with Smith. While he loved having a completely different experience scoring “Yoga Hosers” his favorite moment came, quite appropriately, by happenstance. Acting as musical coordinator on set, he was assisting in teaching a guitar chord to the young actresses on set. He happened to be present the day guest star Stan Lee performed his scene.
“He plays a 911 phone operator and he had to yell the line ‘God damn yoga hosers!’” said Drake. “He’s a legend, and there I am, watching him yell ‘yoga hosers’!”