Adam Dorn is a jazz musician and composer behind shows like Showtime’s Enemies, and documentaries like Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic and Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind and took the sonic reigns on the reboot of 80s action franchise Kickboxer. Is there nothing he can’t do? Actually, yes, “I would’ve made a terrible accountant.”
Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with Adam Dorn about growing up in the music industry, scoring, and more.
Adam Dorn’s musical life got a boost from an early age and a legendary musician “My father was a record producer for years. When I was born, I would say I was born into a musical family. I’ve never not known making music or being around music. At around nine or ten, my father was producing a record for the Neville Brothers. We were listening to rough mixes of the records, and I was keeping time and singing the bass lines. At the age of 10, Art Neville tells me “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but you’re going to be a musician.”
The young composer-to-be started working young “It’s lead to a lot of exposure to some great musicians. At around 16 I started working for a bass player named Marcus Miller. I sat and watched and learned. It was a real apprenticeship.” During his young life, Adam spent time in the studio with other legends such as David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, and Miles Davis.
Adam shares one story growing up with a music producer father “I shared chicken salad with Charlie Watts,” that’s the drummer for the Rolling Stones. “I was backstage at a Stones show and more interested in the video games they had set up.”
What sparked an interest in composing for film and television? “The first film I remember watching where the score really caught my attention was Midnight Express. I have to say that Giorgio Moroder is a big reason I fell in love with synthesizers and technology.”
Oscar and Emmy-winning director Alex Gibney took inspiration from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tim Weiner’s book, “Enemies: A History of the FBI” to make the Showtime docu-series Enemies. For Adam, it was an easy project to work on “I’m incredibly interested in history, including military history.
The process for Enemies was a rewarding one for Adam “Spending the last five months working on a doc that deals with a lot of reexamining of things like the Iran Contra. And how the military keeps things super-secretive and not loose with the details. It’s fascinating to me.”
The conventional thinking is that people like composers are all having fun and it’s not work. However, though it is fun Adam reveals some of the drawbacks of the job “I just spent the last seven months working on a documentary about Donald Trump. Did I want to spend 15 hours a day looking at images of Donald Trump? No. But I wanted to add the musical narrative to a film that is pointing out the irregularities of this current government.”
Explaining a job like scoring to someone who doesn’t do it or remotely work in the industry is weird. Adam’s heard “That’s a job?” His reply “Do you watch movies? Do you hear the music in there? How do you think that happens?”
As prolific as Adam’s been, doubt and a bit of fear are a part of the creative business “Anytime there is this one or two-month lull in gigs, I think ‘That’s it, it’s over.’ It’s silly. Shut up. Take a breath and relax and things get going again. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Kickboxer in the 21st Century
Perusing Adam’s filmography, there’s plenty to note. But as a child of the 80s who loved Van Damme movies, there are a couple of films that stand out. “No one brings up the Kickboxer films!”
Adam scores the new versions of the Kickboxer films. But how did it come about? “I was working on a documentary for Showtime about the life of Richard Pryor. The editor on that film, he calls me after the doc and asks ‘What do you know about action films?’ I’d never worked on one, ever, not even close but I said ‘I don’t know man, they seem like fun, non-stop music.’”
The response after that “My friend says ‘Get ready to write non-stop music. I’m editing the new Kickboxer film.”
Adam’s next words “Is Jean-Claude Van Damme in it?” In case you don’t know, the answer is yes.
About the amount of work on Kickboxer “These movies have a lot of music. The film is about 100 minutes or so and like 90 minutes have music. It’s wild.”
The fervor for action films never goes away “I go to premieres, and people go wild. And now we’re doing another one. We’ve got The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) from Game of Thrones in it, Mike Tyson is in it …”
Adam didn’t revisit the music of franchise “I didn’t want anything to feel repeated. I didn’t refer to the original films and their soundtracks. I didn’t want anything to seep in even subconsciously so I could create something entirely new.”
Though that’s not to say he didn’t give a shoutout to late-80s action soundtracks “There’s a moment in the first film where they escape from the prison where I did … something you’d hear in Miami Vice.”
Adam’s key to success as a composer “The most important thing is listening. Getting a sense of what the filmmakers need the music to do.”
About roles in filmmaking “It’s a team. You’re a writer, actor, director, and it all informs what the film will become.”
On an emotional level “Working on Serial at the same time as Enemies, each one gave me a break from the other. I could come back and look at them fresh after spending time with the other. It was great being able to go between the two.”
Adam gives a shout out to another composer “I admire Hans Zimmer and a big reason for that is that he and his team they really embrace technology.”
About his influences though, they stem from his roots as a jazz musician “I have to say my biggest influences come from jazz like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Frisell. I draw the most influence from that and the basis of what I am as a composer.”
What’s next? “Well, two things I can’t talk about. So, that’s that,” we laugh. Then Adam offers a clue “Iconic pop culture.” Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Thanks to Adam Dorn and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.