Interview: Rick Garcia & William V. Malpede ("Quiet Is...")

Rick Garcia (left) / William V. Malpede (right)You may think of Disney's TV channels as filled with brightly-colored sets and sounds, and of course there are plenty of shows that feature those, but there are some quieter moments on the channel.

Some of the loveliest quieter moments come courtesy of the new Disney Junior interstitial series "Quiet Is...", a ten-episode series created by illustrator Sara Pinto and photographer/filmmaker Luciana Frigerio and produced by Scotland-based animation studio Ko Lik Films.  It's a series of two-minute shorts designed more for quiet time, for getting kids in the getting-ready-for-bed mood.

While the visuals themselves are striking, they're accompanied by tender, often (but not solely) mellow songs that don't so much explain the visuals as much as give the visuals an extra dimension.  The series' songs were composed by Rick Garcia and William V. Malpede.  The songwriting team have worked together on a number of other projects, including the movie Rango, but this project was considerably different.  They chatted with me by phone yesterday in advance of Sunday's Father's Day premiere of the tenth episode in the "Quiet Is..." series, an episode titled "Dad Reading."  You can see the nine previous episodes at Disney Junior's videos page, and even though the rest of the world won't see the latest video 'til Sunday, you can watch it here today.  Read on to find out about the series' origins, the challenges of writing for this particular project, and whose voice they're blown away by.

Zooglobble: What are your first musical memories?

Rick Garcia (RG): My first memory is from age 4 -- my mother was a singer and a big fan of Nat King Cole.  She put on a record of his, and I was blown away by his voice.

William V. Malpede (WVM): Yeah, he had a fantastic voice... I have two memories.  First, touching piano keys -- I was in 1st grade, maybe, and there was this magical connection between the body and the music.  I also remember hearing opera, my mother playing opera, and my sister playing classic rock albums from the late '60s and early '70s.

How did you get involved in the project?

WVM: I had worked with Rick for about five years or so, working on films.  We were both friends with Lori Mozilo [Development Executive, Disney Junior], and she approached us about working on this.  I was thrilled.  I'm a big fan of music in animated films, and this was tied to that.  She brought mostly-completed videos to us, and they were lovely.

I was going to ask you next how the songs were created -- whether they came first, or simultaneously -- but it sounds like they came last?

RG: Yes, we met first with Lori and Nancy Kanter [Senior Vice President, Original Programming and General Manager, Disney Junior Worldwide].  They brought us a video and asked us to write a song for it.  They loved the song we wrote and asked us to work on the project.

You know, the videos are beautiful in their own form.  We were after an emotion, not as much the lyrics.  The songs are truly unique unto themselves; even if you heard the song separately, you'd still be hit the same way.

WVM: The songs are supposed to be timeless.  One of the directives we received was the songs weren't supposed to narrate the visuals, but instead tell a companion story -- they didn't want it to be spot-on.

You also wrote songs for Rango -- how was the experience of writing these songs different from writing songs designed to move the plot along in the movie?

RG: The Rango songs were written very differently -- they were the first pieces of music written for the film.  We had a lot of free rein.  The lyrical content in the songs was musical narration, so there were a lot of rewrites lyrically (and musically) for that.  Here, we knew we were able to write different styles of musical.  In Rango, there was a specific musical style (mariachi owls).

WVM: For "Quiet Is...", we'd often talk about instrumentation -- the choice of instruments sets the emotional landscape.  It gives us musical colors or a palette to help out... One piece we did have to treat a little differently, there's a piece with some sheep getting a bit rambunctious ["Counting Sheep"] -- in that case we needed to be a little more literal.

What have you enjoyed most about the project, or what were you surprised by at the end?

WVM: There are many ways to go about scoring to pictures -- there needs to be a balance between the song form (a verse, chorus, so on) and the pictures.  In theory, those two approaches conflict.  But there were times when we'd write a song on piano or guitar and sometimes those things would go great with the pictures.

At times, some songs had too many lyrics and we had to get rid of some, but I expected that.  Overall, it was really good.

RG: It was effortless working Lori and Nancy -- they have a lot of expertise, and their feedback was helpful throughout.  In terms of concerns, you're always nervous when you have timelines to meet but people to be 1,000% satisfied.  There was a certain amount of rewriting necessary, but it was a great experience, a great creative time.

It sounds like you had a lot of creative freedom, but I also know from talking with musicians that getting used to writing songs that are 2 minutes long -- not 2 minutes and 10 seconds, not 1 minute 50 seconds, but exactly 2 minutes long -- can take a little getting used to.

RG: We are used to writing to a certain time length and those constraints.  But those deadlines, you start sweating bullets.

WM: When you write for media [pictures], it's just part of the experience.  Not really a concern.

What's next for you, either with "Quiet Is..." or other projects?

RG: I don't know what's next with "Quiet Is...".  There's a possibility of another project with Disney, but that's still in the works.  Beyond that, want to dive back into the film world.  I'm always writing, always singing.  And it's such a joy to work with William -- it was mostly effortless.

WVM: Echoing Rick... I would love to see "Quiet Is..." get some buzz, but it's fairly early in the process.  I'd like to write more with Rick, not just kids music but also other music.   I also write choral music, so I'm always looking to do more with that.


Photos courtesy Disney Junior