Interview with Composer Fred Mollin

This is one of my early interviews that I found in one of my desk drawers recently and decided to post online. [Originally published in Fast Forward, the newsletter of the Fredericton Science Fiction Society, June 6, 1996]

An Interview with Fred Mollin
By Lynn Stapleton

On May 23, 1996, I had the opportunity to do a telephone interview with Forever Knight’s composer, Fred Mollin. Mr. Mollin has amassed a considerable career in music, ranging from producing albums for such artists as Jimmy Webb and Dan Hill. He has won one Gemini Award for series score for Beyond Reality, as well as two Juno Awards for Producer of the Year: Dan Hill; and Best Children’s Album: The Rugrats. He’s also received multiple nominations for Producer on Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch.” Mr. Mollin has a large body of work that ranges from series work, miniseries, cable movies and motion

Here, Mr. Mollin speaks of his experiences in the music business, his association with Forever Knight, upcoming projects, and the newly released Forever Knight Original Soundtrack Recording CD. The music was written by Fred Mollin, with guest appearances by Geraint Wyn Davies, Nigel Bennett, Lori Yates and Stan Meissner. Long Live the Knight!

LS: How old were you when you first got bitten by the musical bug?

FM: I’ve been playing music since I was really young. I started playing…my first instrument was drums, so we’re probably talking age 10. And then really when I made my first kind of professional music debut maybe when I was about 14 or 15. So I’ve been doing it since I was 13.

Image belongs to Fred Mollin.

Image belongs to Fred Mollin.

LS: Music sort of runs in my family. Does it in yours?

FM: Music didn’t run in mine. I don’t know where I got it from, but I got the musical bug really early. I didn’t really have much of a choice. I just followed my muse. I quit school when I was 16 to pursue music, so I’ve been a “professional musician” since I was 16.

LS: What sort of musical background did you have before composing for television and movies?

FM: Well, I was a singer/songwriter, and I had rock bands when I was in my teens and into my early twenties. I then went into performing acoustically as a singer/songwriter. I moved to Toronto because my older brother had moved there, and I wanted to check it out. When I was about 21, I made a career change that took a couple of years where I went from being a performer to a music arranger and then a record producer. Over the course of, let’s say, the next couple of years – so we’re talking the early seventies now – I made that change and all of a sudden we’re producing records. I produced records, pop albums for the better part of…I guess from 1970…’74 until about 1983. Within that time, I produced a lot of artists and had a lot of hits. I was very fortunate. Probably the biggest hit that you would know of in Canada would be Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch.”

LS: That’s one of my favourite songs.

FM: That I produced a long time ago. 1977 or 76, I think. So I was real fortunate that I was able to make that part of my career happen at an early time. Then I lived in L.A. For a number of years while I continued to produce records. In 1982, I moved back to Toronto and around that time I was fairly disillusioned with the record business and I just wanted to get more…I just wanted to get back to more of my own composing, my own music. So over the course of the next two or three more years I made a very slow transition from producing records to writing songs again, and then getting into TV and film music. I didn’t really plan to do that, it happened that things just worked out, and I had a couple of options. I took them and they worked out well. By 1985, I was full time composing for TV and film. So I can safely say for 11 years I’ve been a full time composer in this medium, whereas before 1985, I was still perceived as a record producer.

LS: I’ve noticed while watching the Canadian SHOWCASE Channel, where they air Friday 13th: The Series and Beyond Reality, that your name is listed there as composer.

FM: Right. More of my oldies, but goodies.

LS: You’ve also composed for the CBC drama, Liar, Liar.

FM: Yes, that’s a great film. I’ve also done a recent one for the CBC called Little Criminals.

LS:: I’ve seen ads for that.

FM: You must see that film. It’s brilliant. It’s so stark…so powerful.

LS: What kind of musical influences did you grow up with, that helped inspire you with the bands?

FM: I was very much…as opposed to…there’s a lot of TV and film composers that I’m sure you’ll talk to that would say, ‘I went to Julliard’ or ‘I studied here…’ and ‘I did this…’. I came from a whole different background, much more from the street, so to speak. I was from a middle class family in Long Island, NY, and I was completely taken by rock and roll by a very early age. By age five or six I was walking down the street, to the record store myself and buying records. I really loved rock and roll: it got me really excited by music, so my earliest influences were Buddy Holly, then around 12, it was The Beatles. And The Beatles were obviously the ultimate inspiration in a lot of ways, people like Elvis. All these were important influences. Then after The Beatles, I have so many people I was inspired by for my song writing, such as Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, and James Taylor.

LS: And now you’ve been producing some of their music.

FM: Yes, I’ve been very fortunate, because I’ve been working with Jimmy Webb for twenty years. I’m just finishing a new album with him right now, actually. But I’ve been really lucky, I’ve had such good fortune in the music and recording business, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s been one of these things where it’s as big a part of my life as anything. That’s really what started it. And my influences continue. I’m influenced now by the great TV and movie composers like John Williams, Dave Grusin and Randy Newman. There are so many people out there that I have such unbelievable high regard for.

LS: My most recent CD preferences have been the Forever Knight CD and the Braveheart CD.

FM: Who did Braveheart, James Horner?

LS: Yes, I believe so.

FM: Yeah, James Horner’s brilliant. There’s so many talented people out there, I feel like a phony. Like someone’s going to find me out.

LS: You’re not. What led you to composing for Forever Knight?

FM: There was a call that was made to my agent in L.A. That Paragon Pictures was looking for a composer for a new series, which of course at that point was Forever Knight. Actually, at that point it was still called Nick Knight. They put a call into about 10-20 different composers across Canada to pitch on it. Pitch on it means that they sent you a couple of treatments, with a couple of blurbs about what the producer wanted and you were to do a couple of sketches that were to evoke the mood of what you would do musically on the series. And I gotta tell you, I felt that there was a very strong chance that I wouldn’t get the job because I’d been working for Paragon a lot and they definitely touted me to Jim Parriott [Forever Knight producer] who I didn’t know. And I think Jim didn’t like being told who he should have. I knew that for real because at one point I think Jim told the guys at Paragon, “Look, don’t tell me who I should hire. It’s got to be my choice.” I remember telling my agent, Wayne Burgos – a great guy who died with AIDS, very sadly – that I wasn’t even going to pitch on this because I’m perceived as one of Paragon’s team, or something, and it seemed to me this guy wants to make his own mind up, and it seemed like I was starting off in a very bad way. I told Wayne, “Look, I don’t think I’m going to pitch on this, cause I think it’s a waste of time.” He told me not to do that, and just pitch it. If it was great, the guy was going to like it no matter what Paragon or whoever says. Basically Wayne said not do give upon it.

LS: The opening sequence is very evocative.

FM: Exactly. I did two pieces and one of the pieces I did turned out to be the theme. I mean, literally, outside of remixing it, that’s what I gave to Jim Parriott. He did have about 20 submissions, and they were all from the best composers in Canada. I really thought I didn’t have a chance in the world. Then it turns out I got the phone call saying we got the gig. That’s kind of the ultimate compliment because I had a lot going against me on that. When I met with Jim, we just got along so wonderfully, that it turned out to be – for my money – probably one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel that the music worked for him and I was able to have this wonderful give and take with this guy for the past four years. It’s been incredible.

LS: I had a group of friends over to watch the season finale, and it was great how the music added to the feel of the show.

FM: It was a great show.

LS: Very ambiguous ending.

FM: Absolutely. I spend about 10 minutes on the internet every night answering fans’ concerns, and I said, “Look, I don’t know if you were watching the same episode I watched, because you never see LaCroix kill Nick.

LS: And you never see Natalie actually die.

FM: You never see Natalie die. It’s totally ambiguous.

LS: I think the only one we know of for sure, would be Tracy.

FM: I think, yeah. And frankly, you know, if we had to lose Tracy, we lose Tracy, because she added an element to the show that was frankly more cop. I always felt, the only problem with the show is that sometimes it was too much of a cop show, and we love the vampire side. So I think we’re in very good shape because if they want to do a sequel movie or whatever, we’ve done nothing. I mean all we’ve done, as you say, is create an ambiguous ending, which we can easily change.

LS: The group on the fan-fiction list are going to be busy for the next while, because of the ambiguous endings, such as in “Last Night” and “Human Factor” [ep. 316].

FM: Exactly. On that one [“Human Factor”], clearly I believe that Nick brought Janette over, because the next day he sees the bodies and they have fang marks in them. Janette’s fangs. You know what. I think we’ve luckily left it [“Last Night”] ambiguous enough that if they need to come back to the show, doing a movie, or another season, we haven’t done anything wrong except create a lot of controversy. I loved the final episode. It was very emotional.

LS: Many of the show’s fans know that the cast is a close-knit group. Is that common or uncommon on other projects you’ve worked on?

FM: I think it’s not really that common, but at the same time, certainly the longer a show runs with the same team, I would imagine the closer you’d get. I think the fact that we were together in a sense, even though it was three seasons, it was actually four years. I think we just happened to get a little involved in each other’s lives, and I made wonderful friends. I think there’s a lot of the camaraderie there. It wasn’t unusual, though, maybe for a show that only ran for three seasons.

LS: What were some of your favourite episodes to score?

FM: Well, I probably would have to say the finale was the most emotional. I mean I really found myself getting very emotional as I was writing certain cues, like when he brings Natalie across, or not when he brings her across but when he bites her. ALS:o when I wrote the whole cue for Tracy, the whole thing after Tracy’s death, like all these things. When Tracy had to impale Vachon [“Ashes to Ashes”, ep. 321], that was very emotional. That show [AtA] was probably my most ambitious and probably my proudest moment, scorewise, because I think out of maybe…the show is 44 minutes long, so I would imagine there is 42 minutes of score in that episode. It’s all real big stuff and I felt great about it. I would say “Ashes to Ashes” was one of my favourite scores. ALS:o “Last Night” and “Queen of Harps” were my favourites. There’s one cute from “Avenging Angel” that they just let me go with no sound effects, just me.

LS: That’s one of the scores on the CD.

FM: Yes. There were 70 episodes, and there’s a lot of shows I loved.

LS: “Undue Process” is one of my all-time favourite episodes.

FM: “Undue Process.” Absolutely. That was another very emotional show. That’s on the CD as well. There’s a lot of favourites, but certainly of the third season, “Ashes to Ashes,” and “Last Night” are real high up on the list. There are a few others earlier on, too.

LS: How much creative leeway do you have with composing an episode?

FM: I have a lot. I was very lucky in that I was able to establish a form and a style with Jim. And once I kinda locked with it, he liked it. It was kind of like, ‘Okay, Fred. You run with the ball now.’ So I had a lot of freedom to work within the world that I had created that he liked. I couldn’t go too much further to the left or right, but as long as I stayed within the realm that he liked, I basically got to score the show as I saw fit. And it was a wonderful amount of trust. It was an incredible experience.

LS: From any of the different episodes, what was your favourite moment?

FM: Well, that’s a good question. There were so many. I have to go back to the most recent shows. I think just “Last Knight” overall. There’s just so many incredible moments in that show. I think the moment in “Ashes to Ashes” with Divia and LaCroix.

LS: Kathryn Long did a fabulous job as Divia.

FM: Yeah, that’s incredible job. I loved the scenes, the montage in “Avenging Angel.” I think that was kind of direction we could have taken in a fourth season. I loved “Queen of Harps” which just had great production value, wonderful scenes.

LS: I like the flashbacks.

FM: The flashbacks are always really rich. There were wonderful flashbacks on the train where they meet the young Hitler [“Jane Doe”] – those are great flashbacks. I love the show. I was a big fan, as well as being a big part of the show. I was a huge fan.

LS: A number of the fans know that the cast are into playing practical jokes on each other. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a practical joke on the set?

FM: Yes, I was the butt of one. On one episode called “Blood Money,” which was the last episode of season two. Ger [Geraint Wyn Davies] directed it. It was…Ger basically asking all his friends to do little cameos, walk-throughs, or extra parts. I had seen him in a restaurant a couple nights before he was shooting, and he says, ‘Ah, you’ve got to come on the set and I’ll put you in one of the scenes and you’ll do a walkthrough. I told him it sounded great, no problem, and it sounded like fun. In Toronto, I don’t live far from where they shot the show, so I said, ‘No problem.’ I went there and said, ‘Okay, look. I’ve got on my black jacket, black t-shirt.’

LS: They’ll stick you in the Raven.

FM: I said I’ll be like a Raven customer, and he said, ‘Great.’ So the day we shot in the Raven, I hung around and shoot the shit with everybody. When they wanted to shoot the scene, the one they wanted me in the background for, Ger kind of choreographed it, and it was a scene where Janette and Nick walked through the doors of the Raven; they were talking. He choreographed it with Lori [Yates] singing in the background. I kind of walked through, and he found an extra, blond hair, very attractive girl who was going to be fake talking to me in the background, as in the foreground, Janette and Nick are still talking. And so basically as an extra – I’m an actor and have been for many years, and I’m kind of a performer, so I know all that side of it. For people who don’t, as an extra, you never look at the camera, you’re always supposed to be doing your thing, whether its talking to someone or whatever. So I never looked to see where the camera was, I was looking at my companion, this fetching girl, faking talking and we were doing rehearsals. Then they do the first take. I wasn’t watching where the camera was going, cause I’m imagining the camera is on Janette and Nick, and it’s none of my business. I’m just an extra doing my extra business.

LS: So Ger just brings the camera around in front of your face…

FM: That’s just what I was going to say. What Ger had done is that he had told the girl on a certain direction or count or something to basically lock lips with me, and to really as close to sexually overtaking me, except with all her clothes on. The girl basically starting kissing me, this is while the camera is rolling, and I’m thinking to myself this girl is really thinking that she’s going to get a better extra part, if instead of fake talking, she’s faking that we’re kissing. Next thing I know, she’s jamming her tongue down my throat, and you know I’m a married guy, and I’m getting sweaty here. Of course by now I’m hearing laughter because the camera is right at my face. So they got all this on film of me being a) caught by surprise and b) being embarrassed, but the camera’s there and its like ‘oh shit’. They really got me on that.

LS: That’s one shot that didn’t make it to the Blooper Reel.

FM:: It didn’t make it to the joke real and I’m thankful. I was probably so shocked and embarrassed, that it would have been so hysterical. But yes, I was the butt of Ger’s practical joke at that point.

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LS: How were the selections for the Forever Knight CD chosen?

FM:: I didn’t choose them. I sent every single show’s score down to Mark Banning at the label, at Crescendo Records. Mark was patient enough and loved the show enough to go through all the cues and he picked out what he liked. Once he picked out what he liked, I then added a couple of suggestions on my end, and then I sorted through what he liked. We then kind of got to an agreement on what should be on the album.

LS: Some of Nigel’s [Bennett] cues are very interesting.

FM: Those are great. Nigel wrote them himself and he was very funny. We came in on a Sunday morning and did those real quick. It took him ten minutes to do them and we were all on the floor laughing, because they were so good.

LS: Are there any science fiction programs that you haven’t done that you would like to score for?

FM: That’s an interesting question. I’m not usually a huge sci-fi or horror fan, believe it or not, even though I do a lot of horror and science fiction scoring. So I can’t really say there is. You know I’m not really a Star Trek fan…I wouldn’t say that I aspire to scoring great projects. I don’t care what genre. I mean, if you give me a great drama, thriller, comedy, romance…I’m delighted to do a good project. I don’t really shoot for sci-fi or horror as my idiom. Actually, these days, I’m trying to get out of that a bit because it can pigeon-hole you.

LS: I remember that you had done some scoring for The Outer Limits. From that interview it seemed that the experience was not a fond one.

FM: No. The L.A. producer was a very bad person to work with, and made you realise how wonderful someone like Jim Parriott is. You get very thankful on a show like Forever Knight when you’ve worked on The Outer Limits, which is the opposite.

LS: Parriott seemed to have had a good handle on the show from the start.

FM: He’s just a brilliant guy, and he’s someone that once you’ve earned his trust, he allows you to do your best work.

LS: Aside from the Forever Knight CD and the Friday 13: The Series CD, are there any of your other compilations on CD?

FM: I don’t have any other compilations. I do have, of course, the records I’ve produced, but there’s actually a two-volume compilation album called ‘Vinyard Sound’. It’s on Critique, which is distributed by BMG, and it’s a pretty interesting one and worth a listen. It’s different musical artists from Martha’s Vinyard and there’s a cut of mine on each of the volumes. I’ve got an instrumental kind of new-age cut. There’s one on Volume I called “Kataima Meditations”, and on Volume II, there’s one called “Last Boat Home”. It’s all local bands, well-established artists and all the money goes to charities. They are lovely compilations and are available at the large record stores. As well as the things that I do in record production, I have a new album coming out in September for Jimmy Webb that I’m in the middle of producing now. That will be out on Guardian Records, which is part of BMI, and it will be called ‘Ten Easy Pieces’. Jimmy Webb is singing his most famous songs in kind of an unplugged setting and it’s wonderful. It’s going to be incredible.

LS: Will the sheet music for the main title [of Forever Knight] ever be released?

FM: I’m hoping that the main title theme will be released in a sheet music folio of other TV themes. The person you want to contact – and I suggest all fans contact – is Laura Levinsky. She’s at the Music Department of Tri-Star Television in Culver City. Laura is a lovely gal and the more letters and the more phone calls she gets about it, she can pass it on to whoever is involved. I think the more demand, the more they’ll be willing to put it out. [Laura Levinsky, Department of Music, Tri-Star/Columbia Pictures TV, 10202 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA, 90230, USA].

LS:: I had noticed recently on the FK listservs that there are requests being made to various sci-fi companies to produce Forever Knight merchandise, and get it out there.

FM: That’s something Tri-Star should have done right off the bad. It’s really sad that Tri-Star didn’t understand what they had, because had they merchandised the show, we’d already be in our fifth season and they’d have had a hit on their hands.

LS: Had they even advertised the show, really.

FM: Exactly. They didn’t publicize, they didn’t advertise, and they didn’t merchandise or market, and what a shame because the fans out there wanted it.

LS: Where can we expect to hear from you next, other than the CD with Jimmy Webb?

FM: Well, at the moment, I just finished a movie called The Abduction for the US Lifetime channel and the Canadian network, The Movie Network. It stars Victoria Principle and Robert Hayes. I’m in the middle of Jimmy’s album. To be honest, that’s what I’ve got going. One of the things I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, actually the past year and a half, I’ve been building a library of music for Hard Copy – Paramount’s tabloid show. Lots of people do watch it to get the gossipy junk. But if you do watch Hard Copy, about 70% of the dramatic score would be mine. That’s on a daily basis. I’m continually evolving my library of music for them. So, between that, Jimmy’s thing, and the movie, it’s kept me pretty busy. I look forward to a new series or two for September, but so far we have not lined up anything particularly exciting yet. These things tend to happen now they start organising for a new season.

LS: I’ve been watching a good amount of Canadian programming and I continue to see your name come up in the credits as composer. You’ve become quite successful.

FM: I’ve been very lucky. In the past ten years I’ve amassed a lot of credit. I’ve got a lot of products out there because I’ve been very busy, I feel pretty lucky.

LS: I haven’t got any further questions for you, but I would like to thank you.

FM: I would like to thank you and the rest of the fans.

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About jlynnstapleton

I'm a Licensed Practical Nurse, photographer and writer. My focus in photography has been primarily landscapes, particularly water based images, both in colour and black and white. I love to travel when I can and sometimes find some unique treasures to photograph. I also enjoy writing these blogs and doing interviews when I can. I'm the oldest of three siblings. I grew up in St. John's, Newfoundland [Canada]. I came out as a lesbian when I was twenty-one, and fortunately I've had a supportive family, and friends.
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