Exclusive Interview: Dennis McCarthy, Part 2
Dennis McCarthy produced Brent Spiner’s semi-legendary album, Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back. And, oh yeah, he composed the main theme and music for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as music for The Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise. McCarthy also wrote/conducted the music for Borg Invasion 4D, the short film/attraction at Star Trek: The Experience movie, as well as for the computer game Star Trek: Borg. All told, McCarthy spent 18 years helping immerse Trek fans in the adventures of their favorite characters, along the way earning two Grammy Awards. His numerous other credits include Enos, V, The Twilight Zone, Dynasty, MacGyver, Deadly Games, Stargate SG-1, Breast Men, Project Greenlight and Prayer Hour.
McCarthy, as you might imagine, has long been on StarTrek.com’s interview wish list. He proved elusive for a few years, but with an upcoming appearance at Creation Entertainment’s Official Star Trek Convention next month in Las Vegas – where he’ll be appear on stage to take questions from the audience and also participate in a special concert event with the Nevada Pops – we finally can check him off our list. Below is part two of our exclusive two-part interview with Dennis McCarthy. Go HERE to read the first half of the conversation.
We're going to throw titles at you. Please give us your memories of the experience, whatever it is that stands out most. Let's start with Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back...
McCARTHY: Brent's album was such fun because all the guys came in to help. So it was Patrick and Jonathan and Michael. And they were all great. It was like being back on the road in my old Glen Campbell days. We were doing it live to tape, so it was close to the live experience. Yes, we used tape back in those days. The camaraderie of that crew was unbelievable. We used to, every now and then, go out and have a big lunch, all of us and just laughs and scratch and play with each other. Those days will never be replaced. There's no way that could ever happen again. I've never been on a show, ever, where the crew and the actors were all just such a harmonious family.
McCARTHY: I was thrilled that I got to score the first (TNG) film. That was great. It was quite an experience. I'd never worked with an orchestra of that size. We used the 24 voices out of the L.A. Master Chorale. It was a very poignant show for me to do because my wife's dad had passed away just as I was starting to write the Nexus theme. It was a sad moment. I had one idea for that scene that I was going to go with, but when he passed away I just thought I'd make it an elegy for him. I got a little bit slammed for it, but that was my inspiration for that piece and it was important for me to do it.
You had the distinction of creating the main theme for Deep Space Nine. How did that come about? Did Rick Berman simply ask you to do it?
McCARTHY: That was exactly how it happened. I suspect they may have asked Jerry, but he was probably busy, which was great for me. I went over to Rick's house and played it for him. He had a couple of suggestions, note-wise. He said, "It's people out in space, lonely, and they're not having a lot of fun." I said, "OK, well, that sounds like a trumpet player to me." And off we went. We did the trumpet and horns, with the melody flying over the top of it. That was a wonderful experience.
You scored multiple episodes of DS9. We're particularly fond of your work on "Duet." But which ones are you proudest of?
McCARTHY: "Duet" is absolutely one of them. That and "The Visitor." Both stories ripped your heart out, and I wanted the scores to do the same thing. The score for "The Visitor," I really dug into the string section for that one. I got everyone I wanted to play on it, and it sounds great.
Same thing on Voyager and Enterprise. Which scores are you proudest of... and why?
McCARTHY: For Voyager, I can't remember the name of the episode, but it was a Chakotay episode and I used Native American sounds. So it was a lot of woodwinds. I loved that one. And for Enterprise... I'd say the first episode, the pilot, "Broken Bow." Interesting story about Enterprise. I was doing it for a while and I got a call from Peter Lauritson, who said, "Hey, Dennis, we want to make a change in the music." I thought the next sentence would, be, "Have a nice life. We'll send you a gold watch." Instead, for the only time in my career, somebody said, "We want to change the music. Come on down and we'll talk about what we're going to do." I was amazed. I went down and we decided to get more into the synthesized aspect of things.
You ended up recording on September 11, 2001, even though the studio was closed following the attacks in New York City. What do you recall of that chaotic day?
McCARTHY: We recorded on September 10 and September 11. We recorded on the 10th and left all of our instruments and all of our stuff in the studio because we were coming back the next day. Now here comes 9-11. I was with my wife and we sent of our granddaughter off to school and tried to remain calm. I said, "We'd better go down to Paramount." I called the studio and they said they were closed. But I'd left my briefcase and my stuff there. So I went down to the studio. The security guys knew me and said, "There's nothing going on here." I went to go get my stuff. So we walked over to the scoring stage. I got in there and all the musicians were there. They'd come through the said gate. I said, "Listen, guys, I know a lot of you have relatives in New York. If you want to go home, please go home." Five of them said, "No, we'd rather play." So the second half of that score was done on 9-11. We'd turn on CNN, see what was going on in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, and then we'd turn the TV off and go back and do a cue. So it was quite an emotional day.
What was it like that last day working on "These Are the Voyages...," the Enterprise finale, when you knew you'd reached the end of your own Trek journey after 18 years?
McCARTHY: It was very sad. It was great, too. It was great because all the guys were there. We did our score and then had a little champagne and cheap scotch and some cake and appetizers and just talked about the last 18 years. Most of the players, especially the woodwind and brass guys, had been with me from day one on Star Trek. It was 18 years for them, also. So it was a sad day, but also a very, very good day. And it was after the actual wrap party because our work was always done in post-production. So it was just us, nobody else, and we could tell all of our musician jokes without offending anybody.
At the end of the day, what did your 18 years with Star Trek mean to you personally and to your career, and in what ways do you think it helped shape or complement the franchise?
McCARTHY: As far as my career goes, it was a real career-maker. I'd done other shows before. I did a ton of the Aaron Spelling shows and movies of the week, but nothing had the solidity, the steadiness or the wonderful opportunity to work with all these great musicians. We worked on some truly great episodes. I don't think that will ever be replicated in my lifetime. It was a unique experience, and I'll treasure. And so far as what my music I added to the franchise... I hope, for the fans watching the show, that it added something to the experience. There were times when the music had to be wallpaper, but when things built up again, I hope it helped the shows and propelled the action and the sadness and the love and everything else that went on through the scripts and through the acting. I'm pretty happy when I look back.
Click HERE for part one of the interview.