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Shawn K. Clement

Shawn K. Clement - About his career - The-signal.com Interview

Annemarie Donkin

Saturday 27 January 2007, by Webmaster

They Shoot, He Scores

Flip on any number of popular shows or a movie and likely you will hear one of the bracing, exciting themes of Shawn K. Clement, who has scored nearly 140 movies, TV shows and video games, carving out one of the most successful and prolific careers in the music industry. Clement established himself early on as the go-to guy for indie films, reality TV, conventional TV shows and video games. But the award-winning guitarist and keyboardist did it the old-fashioned way - he earned it - through years of relentless hard work, constant networking and natural talent. Famous for the FOX TV specials "World’s Scariest Police Chases," and "World’s Wildest Police Videos," and the reality show phenomenon they spawned,

Clement got in early and became the "reality show guy," for programs on NBC, ABC and FOX before they were popular. Now one of the hundreds of offshoots of the "Police Video" cult-hit plays every day around the world.

Additionally, he scored such television series as "American Idol," "I’m Still Alive" and "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." His film credits include the horror flick, "June Cabin," "Karla," the animated "2004: A Light Knight’s Odyssey" (with John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Christian Slater, Michael York, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Anne Archer and James Earl Jones) "Bad Girls From Valley High" (with Christopher Lloyd); "We Married Margo" and "Last Chance." Now, as one of the most successful composers for video games, Clement’s scores include "The Sims 2," "Batman: Vengeance," "Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu," the much acclaimed score for last year’s "Open Season" and "Kim Possible: What’s The Switch?"

Clement’s music has also been heard on television shows "Entertainment Tonight," "Extra Magazine," "The Guiding Light," "Ally McBeal," "Donny and Marie," "Married...With Children," "Another World," "The Maury Show," "As the World Turns," "Crime & Punishment," "Ray Bradbury Theatre," "The Heights" and "California Dreams."

By his own admission, the Canyon Country resident cranks out an average of 45-90 minutes of music a week, a phenomenal amount by any measure. "I work constantly," he said. In recognition of his accomplishment, ASCAP presented Clement with a film and television award for "Most Performed Underscore in 2000."

But Clement has only just begun.

"I always wanted to be a film composer, since I was a kid," he said. "Just to make a living writing music is awesome, but my goal is to be a feature film composer; I have done indie films, tons of TV but haven’t yet done the thing I want to do, the ’A’ list movie."

Yet, he approaches each project like a film and scores them the same way - writing cues scene by scene according to the action.

Stepping into the humble adobe structure in the backyard of his ranch, you encounter a state-of-the art studio, (check it out on www.clemistry.com) where he records his main sequences with Sonar 6 by Cakewalk, Project 5, Sibelius music software, five PCs, three Giga studios, Marshall amps and a slew of samplers. But he still watches VHS clips on his 17-year-old 13-inch TV.

"I just pop in a video and can easily watch the shows, cartoons and games I am working on," he said. "If something works, why change it?"

Clement plays all of his own instruments, but sometimes hires additional players.

"I can play anything with strings, keyboards, percussion, whatever it takes," he said "I have all kinds of samplers, but depending what I am doing, I will bring in a live musician for a solo instrument."

A self-described guitar nut, Clement has about 50 guitars, including a 1967 Coral Sitar and a 1952 Gold Top Les Paul (no serial number) in a limited edition of 200. One of the most treasured instruments is a custom signed Bob Moog Theramin, which allows him to create spooky surreal sound effects.

With 250 cues ranging from five seconds to three minutes, Clement pulled out his dobro, banjo, lap steel guitar, bass, guitar and dulcimer to create the "hillbilly-like" score for the recent video game, "Open Season" by Ubisoft, recording straight to a hard drive or DAT.

"For game play, you have to write loopable cues, for a fail or success ending," he said. "Additionally, you have to jump to a sound cue from any location, it’s tricky, the music must be ready to skip a scene."

For someone so talented, perhaps it was natural for Clement to become a musician. His father, Jim, owns Mr. C’s Music in Marlboro, Mass, where the younger Clement hung out as a kid with local rock legends like Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, guitarist for Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

"My father was a guitar player and singer in a wedding band," Clement said. "Milford (Mass.) was a jock town. So I hung out at dad’s store, learning guitar and playing gigs."

His mother, Antoinette, is a paralegal and his brother, Michael still works at their shop. Clement started playing guitar at 12 and by age 13 was playing dances and club gigs.

"I would get home at 3 a.m. and there was no way I was going to get up at 7 a.m. to study frogs," he said. "The funny thing is, I hated school but I was a straight ’A’ student. All I wanted to do was hang out and play music."

As a kid, Clement said he was influenced by Hendrix but equally interested in Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartok, Bernard Hermann and Chick Corea, He admits to being a Led Zeppelin fan and a YES freak. When he was 17, he met Neil Schon, the legendary guitarist from "Journey," at a NAMM, the International Music Products Association show, in Chicago.

"I didn’t know who he was, I was checking out his (Schon) guitars," Clement admits. "I was a real fusion head and wasn’t into arena bands. But he came up to me, and said ’Hey dude, let’s jam,’ he was a great player and I actually became a ’Journey’ fan.’"

Later, Clement attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he realized he wasn’t going to be the next rock god and focused on composing. After repeatedly coming to Los Angeles for the January NAMM shows, Clement decided to move. "It was obvious to me I should be here," Clement said.

In 1993, he stayed in L.A. with friends and joined a country band who played regularly at Roxbury on the Sunset Strip. Already he had played sessions with a diverse group of musicians including Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Don Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, B.B. King and Harry Dean Stanton. After a brief return to Boston, Clement packed up his Toyota and drove to Los Angeles to stay with a buddy in Studio City.

"I had a couple of jobs lined up and all I had was $500, my guitars and clothes," he said. As luck would have it, Clement arrived the day of the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake.

"I was moving in with Tom Coster Jr., (who later co-wrote "Slim Shady," Eminem’s big hit). "Tom wasn’t there and the building had a gas leak, so I drove to a pay phone, looked across the street and saw a friend, who got me the country gig in 1993. I didn’t know what to do so I told him I literally just got here and my place was completely demolished," he said.

Clement found refuge at a friend’s house in Van Nuys. "I was living the life of a broke musician and went to temp agencies to get work. Sometimes I would go days without eating," he said. "Eventually, I was doing odd jobs as an extra, a set painter, scenic designer and artistic director on music videos like Nirvana’s ’Heart Shaped Box’ and Michael Jackson’s never released ’Is This Scary’ video."

But he took small gigs, scoring for soaps and "Savage Dragon" for Cartoon USA. But as always, it is all about who you know. When a friend, actor Anthony Stewart of the legendary "Taster’s Choice" commercials, auditioned for the role of Giles on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," he gave the producers a copy of Clement’s "Savage Dragon" demo, which Clement describes as an edgy, "Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails"-inspired score.

Then, in June 1997, Clement got a phone call from Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator, who had just listened to the tape after the first 13 episodes and wanted to hire him for the second season.

"Every major guy in town wanted that gig," he said. Clement also wrote the songs for Buffy. "I kept the rights to the songs; it is the smartest thing to do in the music industry," he said. ’Buffy’ was a big break for Clement. "TV is the hardest gig in town, it is a 24/7 business, I have to deliver a score every week," he said. "I always think I need more time but I finished the project five days early."

Clement loves to tell the story of how he met his wife, Joan.

"This is a classic story. I took the job in the mail room at Sony Pictures. One of my routes was the floor with the lawyers for home video, where I became especially friendly with one in particular," he said. "One day she started talking to me and we became friends and I kept thinking ’why would she be interested in a short, Italian, broke musician?’ But I am a total workaholic, so apparently, she saw talent and ability and realized I wasn’t a typical lazy musician.’"

Shortly thereafter, she took a job with Encore Media in Denver.

"When she moved, I left the mail room and got my first real gig, ’Savage Dragon,’" he said. "Literally the day after that ended, I picked up ’World’s Scariest Police Chases,’ and bam, I was on the gig. Joan was in Denver for a year, then I got ’Buffy.’"

They married after she returned to Los Angeles and moved from Beverly Hills to Canyon Country in 2000 where Clement writes music full time and licenses out his music library.

"We are partners in the business," he said. "A total team."

The rural atmosphere allows the Clements to indulge their deep love of animals and nature.

"My wife and I are both animal freaks. We just got two miniature horses named Half Note and Drummer." In addition to the minis, they have a couple of rescued horses, chickens and "technically" five dogs. In 2005, they helped with the intake of approximately 250 dogs that were rescued from Hurricane Katrina. The Clements are also trained and certified as members of the team deployed for emergency evacuation of horses in the SCV during fire season.

While Clement has worked in virtually every musical style, he is best known for his dark, intense, deeply-layered scores. So, in 2002, when he got a call from horror director Clive Barker’s people ("Hellraiser") he thought it might lead to another gig.

"I was excited to hear that he knew about it," he said. "He wanted to tell me he enjoys listening to it while he paints."

Barker hasn’t made another movie since the meeting, but Clement holds out hope he will be on the short list when he does.

"Someone has to give you the shot," he said. "I got Buffy with no agent, I didn’t know anybody, all they had was my cassette tape and I got the gig."

He has sage advice for those wanting to get into composing.

"TV scoring is hard, hard work. You have to have that drive to work this many hours and survive lots of early rejection," Clement said. "But if I get tired or burned out, I just turn on a movie and hear the score. Then I know I have to do it. I love it, it is a passion, I can’t or won’t do anything else."