With the combination of Disney+ Day and the D23 Expo, this week has been full of Disney news, trailers, and premieres! As part of the festivities of Disney+ Day on Sept. 9, Pixar released CARS ON THE ROAD, a fun 9-episode series featuring the duo of Lightning McQueen and Mater. To celebrate its release on Disney+, I sat down for an interview this week with Jake Monaco, the composer for CARS ON THE ROAD. Keep reading for my exclusive interview with Jake Monaco!
CORBAN: Hey Jake! I’m excited to chat about some Pixar music. So let’s take a few steps back – what was your first experience working with Pixar, and how did you get involved with CARS ON THE ROAD?
JAKE: I remember getting a call in January of 2016 from the head of music for Pixar/Disney Animation asking if I would be interested in flying up to meet the composer of a short and help the project across the finish line — little did I know that little PIPER would be the start of many wonderful relationships to come. Once PIPER was complete, I started working with the promo team — everything tied to product partnership (ie McDonald’s) needed original music, always in the style of the corresponding film’s score and sometimes even using the theme from the film. This also happened with the promo push for INCREDIBLES 2, which Bobby Podesta directed — we’ll come back to him. Then came a piece of source music for TOY STORY 4, FORKY ASKS A QUESTION, LAMP LIFE and OUT. In early 2021, I got a call that Bobby wanted to work on a song for an episode of the upcoming CARS ON THE ROAD series — so in March of ’21 we started writing “TRUCKS” — Bobby also asked me to come on as the composer for his 3 episodes — which then turned into all 9 for the series.
CORBAN: “TRUCKS” is such a fun tune, and your score brings a fresh sound to every episode of the series. The CARS films have one of the most recognizable Pixar scores. How did you incorporate elements from the CARS scores into your work for CARS ON THE ROAD, and how does the music you have created stand out from the others?
JAKE: I got to start with a clean slate! One of the things that the creatives behind the series wanted to do was push the franchise into a more contemporary place and music was one of the things that could help. They weren’t necessarily trying to capture the same sound as the film trilogy. Every episode embraces a completely different genre. The only sonic continuity between episodes is what we called the “Cars World Intro”. This little portion usually starts off the episode before it takes a complete left to wherever our adventurous duo is headed.
CORBAN: That’s awesome! I would love to learn about the timeline of working on a show like CARS ON THE ROAD. With all of the changes brought on by COVID-19, what does your timetable look like for writing music like this?
JAKE: I started working with Bobby Podesta on “TRUCKS” in March of ’21 — I started some other pre-production pieces over the summer — there are quite a few that were animated to the music. There are spots in “LIGHTS OUT”, “THE LEGEND”, “B-MOVIE” and “ROAD RUMBLERS” that all had bits that needed to be scored ahead of animation. By the fall, we started getting into scoring — I chose one ‘set piece’ from each episode to start off with — the goal being to lock in the tone/style of the score for that episode. The rest of the score emerged from there. We started recording the first week of May and the dub ended the last week of June — I think even now, we are still tidying up some international deliveries and additional paperwork — it’s a LONG process!
CORBAN: For a series of short films, that does seem like a long time! But it definitely goes to show just how much intentionality and heart are put into every step of the process. You have worked on a wide variety of projects over the years, from short films to TV show episodes and feature-length films. How does the runtime or platform of a project affect your composition process, if at all?
JAKE: I think it’s less about the runtime/platform and more about the content and the audience — Having said that, the longer the runtime, the more opportunity there is for larger musical arcs. With CARS ON THE ROAD, we are racing from one thing to the next to cram it all into 6 minutes — but of course, this will ultimately be determined by how the project is written. I guess there isn’t a hard and fast answer for this!
CORBAN: Your score definitely made the most out of the short runtime! As you think about what inspires your work, what would you say to someone who is interested in composition?
JAKE: I highly recommend starting out as an intern or assistant — there is nothing like getting some real-world experience before jumping in headfirst — composing the music is probably less than 25% of my job — there are many other facets to learn. I started assisting Christophe Beck in 2007 and branched out on my own by the end of 2014 when I landed DINOTRUX.
CORBAN: That is some great advice, especially for people just getting started in the world of film music. As you journey forward yourself in your career, do you have any other projects in the works?
JAKE: I finished an animated film about the Tasmanian devil for Warner Bros. at the end of last year. I think it is slated for release in 2023. I also just started work on a National Geographic series slated for next year.
CORBAN: Wow, I am so excited to hear your work on those projects very soon! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat!
And to the reader, you can check out Jake Monaco’s work in CARS ON THE ROAD, now streaming on Disney+!