By Scott Stevens
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'Depths' stemmed from an idea I've had since 2008, and it felt wonderful to finally record and add some permanence to it. There are two iterations of the piece in fact. One is the piano version you have heard. The other is a more orchestral variation of the theme that emerges here. - SS
Below are excerpts from a conversation with Scott about his work as a composer. It has been lightly edited for clarity and concision. Listen to the whole Forecast here.
Let's keep following the trail
As an artist, what I really try and do is bear witness to things that are human. There's a scene in a movie that came out with Tom Hanks called A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood that's so emotionally rich and tense and nourishing, where a character who is aware that he's dying is scared of that, because I think it's pretty innately human to be scared of death. It's an unknown for a lot of people -- me included, I haven't died. But when the guy expresses fear, Mr Rogers' or Tom Hanks' response is, 'If it's human, it's mentionable'. I think that often times we try and suppress or hide or let emotions out that are really big.
For me, with the EP, part of it was an exploration in some sounds that I hadn't dabbled in with as much focus or concerted effort, but it was an effort to be still and let ideas flow and not judge them too quickly.
Maybe you or other people can resonate with this: when you're trying to do something creative, sometimes you put an idea out there and maybe it feels raw and vulnerable and honestly what you're feeling in the moment, but then when you listen back, you go, 'Nah, that's not it', and you just push it aside. When you do that, you might be discarding something that was really actually quite close to the mark.
So for this EP that I started with that later became a full album, I was trying to not to judge too quickly or harshly, and that becomes a way of weirdly extending grace to yourself. Like, hey, it's OK if it's not polished the first time around, but let's keep following the trail.
An authentic place
One thing that's really stuck with me was a comment made by [composer] John Williams. He was talking about when he watches a film, his first reaction is a really valuable time, because he'll watch a film and then start writing pretty much right after. All of your reactions are going to be truest and most instinctive, I think, after that first viewing.
Similarly, in our lives, a lot of times when we interact with social media or something, you end up seeing a very curated, very edited version of someone's life, where it could come across as more perfect, maybe, than yours. You know, 'Comparison is the thief of joy', and that's the time we live in. But when we think about our real life, it's not just perfect photos with filters, right? You're living a very authentic and sometimes rough-around-the-edges thing.
In my art, I think it's important to try and put some polish on things, because when I'm writing for clients, they don't want to hear something that doesn't sound finished. But when I'm writing for me, I need for the music to come from an authentic place, and I think for me to try and polish it too quickly, it deprives the music of honesty in a lot of ways.
A posture of reliance
In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle talks about how we experience time. There is chronos time, which is more linear, and then kairos time, which a lot of times is what we experience when maybe you've worked on something all day, and at the end of the day, you're not even aware of how much time has passed -- like, wow, that time flew! Or, you're having a lot of fun with someone and by the time it's over, it's like, 'Where'd the time go?' I think that's a really important part of the faith journey.
I am someone who can acknowledge that I focus too much on my work at times, but I think in my best moments, I am aware -- if not in the creative surge, after the creative surge -- that it didn't just come from me...You're aware of the fact that not everything you did came from you, and there were connections that were made that were more than instinctive, if that makes sense. Which isn't to say that if I do a first draft on something and I feel like I had kairos time, then whoever's listening to it who's paying for it or cares about it should just be like, 'Yeah, this first draft was awesome, I can tell it's been divinely inspired!' I'm not gonna build myself up to that level.
We believe in and serve a creative God who loves creating, and when we get to try and participate in the creation of something, if we're mindful of that, if we're in our spirit saying, 'God, you're here, and I'm recognising that. I'm not trying to do this work or create this thing apart from you. I'd actually really prefer that you participate with me and guide my mind', it becomes a necessary part of putting your spirit in a posture of reliance.
I think the real trouble of a lot of the messaging I see these days is that there's a lot of pushing individuals do to things themselves. There's a lot of DIY -- learn these skills, you can do it, be the master of your fate -- and I think to pursue that becomes a very lonely message, a very lonely way to live your life.
'Don't die with the music still in you'
I think there is a difference between an occupation and a vocation, but for some, there is a co-mingling of that. For me, making a living from writing music is both an occupation and a vocation. When I say vocation, that's when I start to try and distance that definition from just being a job.
I feel like it's important for me to try and use something I'm so passionate about. Something that [filmmaker] Destin Cretton said really stuck with me, because I would really like to have kids someday, and he talked about the importance of his kids seeing him doing something that he loved.
If there came a time where music was not seeming viable, or out of some sense of urgency I had to try and take some other work to support a family, then sure, that could happen, but as much as can, I feel so deeply within myself that I must create, and music is what I love creating the most, so to be able to write music for stories or write music for commercials or help communicate things is really important.
The runner from Chariots of Fire said 'God made me fast, and I run to his pleasure', and the way I feel that in my life is, I feel like I was made for music. So much of my fibres, my nerves, my thoughts, my everything bends towards music. I'm curious and cherish it. It's basically like having toys. Music is a toy, and I like playing with music like a toy. But it's so much more than that. I know the way music makes me feel. I know the way that music makes other people feel.
Something that [jazz musician and teacher] Dan Nelson said when I was a student under his tutelage was 'Don't die with the music still in you.' I think that could be a metaphor, and certainly that could apply to most other things. You could substitute it with art, painting, anything that's not even art related -- don't die with your passions still in you, that voice unexpressed. I don't want to die feeling like I wasn't a good steward of my joy for music.
Stay the course
There's been times where I've wanted to quit. Obviously never enough for me to actually quit, 'cause otherwise I wouldn't be talking to you today. But very early on, [music teacher and composer] Eric Schmidt said in an informational phone interview that I did with him, 'Just so you're aware, it could take you five to ten years before you hit anything that looks like sustainable work with film music and television music or commercial music.' And he was 100% right. Thankfully, I had some other mentors in my life as well as some books on film scoring that said similar things.
At the start, I'd always hoped that it would be faster, that I would be further along than where I see myself today. It can feel a little bit like a war of attrition, where you send some stuff out as a composer hoping that someone will listen it and want to pare it with some sort of story or media. Often times, you won't hear back, or if you do hear back, then it's not what they need at the time, or some other thing was closer to what they needed, so you feel that you're just getting rejections.
For me, the rejections are never pleasant. You don't actually want someone to reject your music. But I also had just enough doors open to where I felt, 'OK, I need to keep going', or I had enough mentors who could identify with that or who had similar experiences. To feel known and seen, to know your struggle is not unique to you. [The belief that your struggle is unique to you] I think is a lie that a lot of people start to believe. I don't mean friends or family members but that inner voice of doubt, which often is not you, but is the devil trying to get you off course.
I think you just have to stay the course and be wise about if you do need to course-correct, but if you're listening, those promptings, those movings and thoughts you need to have will come. I've never felt anything except, 'OK, this may be hard, but you need to do this. This is still absolutely what you are made to do.' I don't say that out of some sense of pride or self-aggrandising. I'd be like if you just call me a screwdriver, it's like 'OK. I was made to be a screwdriver.' I might hear differently. I might need to be a ruler later. But right now, I'm a screwdriver, and I need to be the best screwdriver I can.
Scott Stevens is a composer whose versatility stems from eclectic influences. His music (listen on Spotify) is featured in multiple independent film scores as well as ads for Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi and Red Bull, among others. Scott holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition from Point Loma Nazarene University and a Master’s degree in Global Music Composition from San Diego State University.
Scott's other work on Foreshadow:
- Dawn Will Prevail (Music, December 2020)
- Perspective (Music, January 2021)
- Forecast (Ep 4): Listening Inwardly (Interview, April 2021)
- Forecast (Ep 10): The Strength of Gentleness (Compilation, July 2021)