Beau Black Talks About Music and Commercial Success
At only 32 years; Beau Black has achieved far more than most other musicians of that age. And with his work on the new animated film and subsequent series; The Lion Guard – he has just become a household name across the globe. Black spoke to people magazine about his career and his current project.
A New York City native, Black began performing live on stage at age eight with his father, Jay Black, of the 1960′s band Jay and the Americans (“This Magic Moment”). Black’s childhood, spent alongside gifted vocalists and musicians in an exciting rock-and-roll culture, greatly influenced his passion for songwriting and composing. He has been focused on honing this artistic craft since the age of 12 and released his first album, titled “Meant to Be,” in 2008.
Black’s music and compositions have appeared in over 50 national commercials, and numerous television series and movies, including the theme songs for Disney Junior’s Miles From Tomorrowland and Disney XD’s Penn Zero: Part Time Hero, for which he also co-wrote and produced the opening credits.
We caught up with the talented musician to discuss his exciting new project, which continues the epic storytelling of the Disney animated classic, The Lion King.
How would you describe The Lion Guard?
The Lion Guard is the perfect continuation of the classic Disney movie, The Lion King. It is the story of Kion, who is called to assemble a team of animals to protect the Pride Lands, instead of pulling together a team of lions.
What can audiences expect from the movie and television series?
The Lion Guard is perfect for this generation of children, as well as adults. I feel like it’s come at a really great time because the parents of this younger generation went to see The Lion King at cinemas when they were kids, so there is a nostalgic feeling to the project – but it’s also got something new and fresh about it. It’s the best of both worlds.
How did you become involved with the project?
I’ve worked with Disney Television Animation before. I created the theme songs for Disney Junior’s Miles From Tomorrowland and Disney XD’s Penn-Zero: Part Time Hero – and we vibed really well together. I got the call that they were doing another show focused on the world of ‘The Lion King’, so I came up with some songs and it all started from there. I honed into what I thought the music should sound like, and it seemed that everybody agreed. I guess you could call it a swift and easy process and I couldn’t be happier because it’s such an exciting project.
What excites you the most about the music of the project?
What excites me the most is the fact that it doesn’t feel like we are writing music for a children’s show; it feels like we are writing great songs for everybody. We’re writing this music for kids as well as their parents, and I’ve been able to create the music that I want to create. It’s music that I would listen to, so everything has slotted into place really well. It’s been great.
What’s been your biggest challenge in creating the music?
I guess a lot of the very character-driven songs have been a bit of a challenge. Especially songs that involve Timon and Pumbaa. Writing for them is very difficult because they are so beloved and they are such heavily established characters – but I think we’ve now nailed it. I’m really happy with the songs. It feels like we’ve worked to establish a musical sound to pretty much all the characters, so that they have a little more depth to them musically.
What inspires the music of The Lion Guard?
Most of the African influence in the songs comes from the percussive elements, so I listen to a lot of African percussion music. I love that sound and I love to get ideas from there, but there is a lot of Swahili singing as well, so we have Sarah Mirza, who is a Swahili expert involved in the show. She will write me lyrics and phonetically spell it out to make sure that we are being authentic.
Which musical artists have inspired your creative process?
I listen to all types of different music, which means I have a big musical library in my head and I pull from various different influences as I go along. Musically, I really honed in on the sound of Paul Simon. I thought a lot of his music was appropriate because he created a lot of African-influenced pop sounds a while ago.
Can you take us through your creative process?
I work directly with Ford Riley, who is the showrunner and executive producer of The Lion Guard. Ford will give me some lyrics and we will discuss the theme of a song together. We’ll talk about what we are trying to accomplish, and then I will go to my office and I’ll develop a melody and a song while I play around with the lyrics. Once I’ve got the song, I will go and record a master track– and then we bring in the actors to record their voices for the track.
Do the actors record the vocals for the songs during their regular recording sessions, where they are recording their lines from the script?
They are usually brought in separately to their regular recording sessions. We have a separate time for each actor to come into the studio to record the vocals for a song. It usually lasts for 60 to 90 minutes, so it’s pretty quick.
What can you tell us about the theme song to The Lion Guard?
There are actually two official theme songs to The Lion Guard. There is the score by Christopher Willis. He is the composer on the project and he is incredible. Then there’s a song which will play over the end titles of the movie and the end credits of every show. That’s a song called Here Comes The Lion Guard, which is a song I performed live at Disney’s D23 Expo last year. It’s a basic description of who The Lion Guard is. It’s about how Kion and The Lion Guard are fulfilling a calling that is greater than them; that’s pretty much what the theme song is about.
How long does it take you to write a song?
It varies, but it’s usually about two days. I think the theme song took two days in total. Once I get to work, I am hyper-focused.
Do you work with a large orchestra for the music of the project?
With the songs, it’s pretty much all down to me. I play all the instruments and I do all the production. It’s a one-man show. I pretty much play everything, except for horns and strings.
What can you tell us about the choir on the musical soundtrack?
There are two sets of singers in the show. There is a choir of singers for the score and there are several singers who do all the Swahili singing. With my songs, the vocals are pretty much down to me and my wife, who is also a singer. We layer the vocals, although every once in a while I will bring in some other singers to change the tone – but usually it’s just my wife and I. She also sang on one of the songs as a demo and they wound up making her a character in the show because of it. She plays a giraffe named Twiga, which is the Swahili word for giraffe.
How does it feel to be attached to such an iconic legacy?
It’s unbelievable. It’s been hitting me in different stages because I’ve been involved with the project for over a year now – but the closer we get to launch, the more exciting it becomes. At first, it was really exciting to create songs and be part of the initial process – but then it became a little crazier when I started to see some of the early animation. After that, another crazy point was the first time I heard my songs with some of the completed animation – but now everything is coming together with the finished product and I can’t quite believe it. It’s been an incredible ride so far and I really don’t want it to end.
CATCH THE LION GUARD: RETURN OF THE ROAR AND THE LION GUARD ON DISNEY JUNIOR (DStv Channel 309)