Wilsey: Not brooding, has nice hair. Photo by John Gilhooley
Wilsey: Not brooding, has nice hair. Photo by John Gilhooley

The Chemist

If you've watched any TV over the last few years, you've probably heard some of OC resident Darren Wilsey's work.

Reading your website, I noticed one of your degrees is in chemistry.

I started out with a traditional background in music. Along the way I studied classical guitar and piano and took lessons for years. I was very serious about it. Eventually that led to the option of attending music school. That's a very competitive environment, not that that's bad. It almost turns your instrument into a sword in a way—who can play the fastest. I finished my undergraduate degree and at the time I felt like I was overspecialized. Pretty much all I could do was play music. I felt the need to learn some other things and have some other options. That's what segued into the chemistry thing. But an interesting thing happened during that period. I temporarily put music aside. I would take breaks from studying chemistry and sit at the piano again. It was for enjoyment. It was no longer for a competition or for some evaluation or trying to prove virtuosity. It was for all the right reasons again and that's when the doors opened up. It's a strange way to get there.

Did you ever get the chance to use your degree in chemistry?

I was about to. It was actually a pretty formidable undertaking. I was applying to medical school and living in New York at the time. There was an ad in the Village Voice classifieds for a major label group auditioning keyboard players. Something about the ad spoke to me. To my astonishment, I got the gig. It was like, "To heck with the plan to go to medical school."

How did you get into composing for film and TV?

It seems to be that old adage, "it's who you know." A friend of mine introduced me to someone directing a film back in 1997. From there it kind of evolved. I think one of the reasons I've had some success is that my catalogue is a mixture of good score and good songs. There are rock songs, pop songs, and what you'd call underscore. Here's the most common scenario. Someone produces a television show or a film, and as they start assembling this thing, they use what's called temp music. That can be music from a soundtrack CD, songs that are on the radio. It can be everything and it usually is everything. As they get close to finishing, music clearance becomes an issue. Most of the time they pick out things that are very expensive to clear. A classic example is "Wild Horses" by the Rolling Stones. To try and clear the synchronization and master licenses would probably cost more than it would take to make the movie to begin with.

Is writing underscore a different skill than writing pop and rock songs?

I had this romantic notion of composing. You conjure images of this John Williams personality—brooding and messy hair, frantically writing scores. At least from my experience, it's not quite like that. The trick is learning how to write music that complements the picture and doesn't distract from it. I've noticed that with a lot of young composers on their first couple projects, it's like they almost use it as an opportunity to try and prove they're the next Beethoven. That's fine for concert music, but you really have to recalibrate your way of thinking. It's not about you. It's about the picture. Almost always less is more.



All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >