The Edit

GEORGE SHAW ‘MYTHICAL CHINA’ INTERVIEW

george shaw

 

During the 80s and 90s composer George Shaw grew up on Saturday morning cartoons, superhero comics, movies about aliens, monsters, mutants, time travel, action heroes and Jedi. Not to mention the melodies of film icons such as John Williams, Alan Menken, and Alan Silvestri.

George is now a film, TV and games composer, whose work covers 17 feature film credits, custom music for trailers, over 60 short films and video games.

His latest feature is Baby Steps, produced by Oscar-nominated Li-Kong Hsu, producer of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Plus, YouTube videos featuring George’s music have amassed over 300 million views.

We caught up with George at LA’s legendary Village Studios, where he was recording his album, Mythical China, inspired by Chinese mythology, to explore how he’s combining both Eastern and Western music, and the process of finding his own authentic voice.  

Tell us a bit about your journey – how did you first start making music?

It really started in my childhood, growing up in Houston, Texas. Every Sunday, I had to go to Chinese school, which was a real bummer – what kid wants to go to more school on the weekend?! I started playing piano, and really got interested in playing clarinet in bands and orchestra.

I realised I could audition and get into the Houston Youth Symphony, which had rehearsals on Sunday… Which was my ticket out of Chinese school! So that’s where my love of music really began. I fell in love with classical and film music, and I decided I wanted to be a composer and to tell stories with music.

I went to USC to study composition and film scoring. During my college years, I discovered the movie and soundtrack for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which blew me away. It made me interested in exploring more of my own Chinese culture, and learning about Chinese music.

So, it came full circle – from, as a kid wanting to get as far away as I could from Chinese school and then this drawing me back in. I then started to learn how to play Chinese wind instruments, and I studied how to play the erhu and guzheng. Now, I have this amazing, authentic voice, where I can combine my Western classical training with Eastern and Chinese music, and really create something unique.

george shaw

What types of music do you compose?

As a storyteller, I love composing music to stories.

Particularly, having a classical background, I love writing for the orchestra. But I also love to explore the rich world of sounds in many types of world music – including Chinese music.

I love combining many genres and styles of music, integrating it into storytelling, and using orchestral sounds as well as contemporary sounds and world music.

What are some of your favourite projects?

I’ve done a lot of really fun projects over the years!

A few things that come to mind are co-writing a song with [Marvel Comics legend] Stan Lee… (‘Ode to Geeks’). I also did four seasons of a YouTube Originals show called Escape the Night. More recently, I’ve been producing my own stuff. I created a fan film called Star Wars Musical, that spoofs Star Wars as a Disney musical.

Another film that’s close to my heart is a feature film called Baby Steps, which was produced by the producer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

How did this latest project come about?

I was very fortunate to have my mentor at Universal, Nikki Walsh, introduce me to Audio Network. They have been fantastic, giving me free rein to do a project I’ve always wanted to do: combine Chinese instruments with Western orchestra. Then the idea of this album was born. 

Mythical China is a series of pieces inspired by Chinese mythology, which is something I grew up with, but which I didn’t appreciate ‘til much later. Learning more about my history and culture is incredible; it was wonderful to go back and read about these old Chinese legends and write music based on them – it was a lot of fun.

The musicians I’m working with are world-class soloists – many of them recorded on the Mulan score, as did my engineer. We have five really talented musicians, playing instruments including the Chinese flute and hammered dulcimer; a guzheng, which is a Chinese zither, a pipa which is a Chinese lute, and I’ve also recorded Chinese percussion. Plus, we’ve got a Mongolian singer whose cinematic vocals gave me goosebumps.

As a composer, the dream is always to work with incredible musicians. They’re the ones that breathe life into my music.

As a huge movie buff, some iconic soundtracks have been recorded at these studios…

The history of this studio is incredible. Lady Gaga’s recorded here, John Mayer, Elton John; for me as a soundtrack fan, the Ghostbusters soundtrack, written by Elmer Bernstein, was recorded here.

As well as, more recently, the live-action Mulan film, from Disney.

george shaw

What about this studio makes it so good for recording?

It’s exciting to be in a room that sounds great; you can really achieve an intimate sound – that’s fantastic for what we’re doing today.

How do you see Mythical China’s tracks being used?

When I was composing the music, for inspiration I was looking, visually and story-wise, at a lot of Chinese fantasy movies and Chinese fantasy video games – and trailers as well.

So I can imagine this music going into one of those kinds of projects, whether it’s a TV show, a movie, a video game or even a documentary.

What’s it been like working with Audio Network?

Amazing – what other opportunity would I have to create an album of music that lives and breathes with a live 60-piece orchestra and world-class Chinese musicians? I get to present how this music sounds in my head and then other people get to hear it! I am so grateful to Audio Network for their support, making it all happen and giving me the freedom to make incredible music.

The one thing we’re often told as composers is, ‘find your own voice.’ And that’s such an elusive thing to figure out how to do, but in this opportunity, I really got to explore my own personal culture. To meld those two worlds – the Western and the Eastern – was a unique opportunity, so I’m very grateful to get to do it.

Traditionally, Hollywood hasn’t been open to outside voices, and different sounds, so it’s important to me to introduce people to an authentic voice that understands both Chinese and Western sounds. It’s truly an honour.

george shaw

Listen to George’s amazing album Mythical China now. For more world music to license, check out our world lifestyle series. Plus, we have masses of music for everything from blockbuster trailers to video games, YouTube content to comedy musicals.

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