One afternoon, musician Craig Northey (of The Odds) got a message from longtime friend and collaborator Bruce McCulloch (The Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live). For the past 25 years, beginning with his 1995 score for The Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy, the duo had worked on numerous musical, film, and TV projects. Now McCulloch had a new one on the horizon.
He wanted Northey to score an all-male comedy revue, TallBoyz, that had just been picked up by the CBC. Featuring a young, multi-racial/ethnic cast of comedians, it tapped into the vibrant Toronto scene. Instantly, Northey knew he wanted to bring in another friend and collaborator, musician/producer Chin Injeti. The pair had previously co-written “Get Carried Away” with Colin James, for his 2000 album Fuse.
“[McCulloch] talked with the Boyz about music, and what they wanted,” says Northey from his home in Vancouver. “They wanted it to feel very much like Toronto now, and all its cosmopolitan beauty and fun. When he articulated all this to me, I thought of Chin right away. I needed Chin to help me realize that. He’s from [Toronto] originally, and has a foot in the pond. He’s also one of Canada’s – and the world’s – hip-hop treasures. Our methods are different, and I knew we would push each other to new places. That’s what TallBoyz needed.”
When Injeti got the invite, he welcomed a new opportunity to collaborate with Northey again. “Craig and I have a love for all types of music – I mean, like, a real deep love,” he says. “We’re able to pull from the most obscure of references to the most popular – anything from Beastie Boys, to Masters at Work, [to] the Meters. Our different styles of production make it that much better.”
Northey agrees. “I’ve been a fan of vintage R&B since I was a kid, and that’s where Chin and I came together” he says. “Stax, Bill Withers, Sly & the Family Stone, the JB’s, the Meters. Chin [also] has a keen grasp of quirky, early-‘80s alt-rock. He would take me farther in one direction, and I would drag him somewhere weird at the same time.”
The pair implemented Northey’s in-depth approach to scoring, and set to work.
“You just keep trying to honour the mood.” – Craig Northey, on scoring
“When you’re underscoring a scene, you generally have the footage in front of you, and that’s your muse,” says Northey. “My methodology with Bruce is to start way before that. I read the scripts and talk too much with him about it, and then get started forming an aesthetic, demo-ing theme and motif ideas. This time I did that with Chin. We were composing stuff to imaginary scenes two months before we saw anything.” For Injeti’s part, he used his intimate knowledge of Toronto’s rich and diverse culture to tap into the vibe of the score early on. “[Tallboyz] was totally relatable, and felt natural,” he says.
Two other Toronto gems also helped inspire them. “Shad and DJ TLO had already composed a few songs with TallBoyz that were to be sprinkled throughout the series,” says Northey. “They were dynamite, and gave us a few starting points for what might work.”
Though he had scored the 2015 documentary Highway of Tears (Matt Smiley), Injeti appreciates that the TallBoyz process helped build his scoring muscles even more. “I am so lucky that I got to do this with someone as amazing as Craig Northey,” he says. “He taught me to use my instincts as a songwriter towards scoring. The most challenging part was to create seconds of a sound that had the same emotional impact as a two- or three-minute song. Bruce’s vision was so clear, and Craig’s direction was so easy to understand, that it came pretty easy.”
While Northey boast a list of scoring titles – Corner Gas (TV, film and animated series), Hiccups, The Kids in the Hall’s Death Comes to Town and CBC’s Young Drunk Punk and This Blows, he too developed a finer balance between songwriting and scoring.
“Songwriting requires you to bring all the inspiration to the table,” says Northey. “You need to find a great idea, and then manifest it in music. In scoring the inspiration is provided – it’s right there, all lit up in front of you. In TallBoyz, and just about every project I’ve scored, you get to exercise your songwriting muscles because there are often songs required. That part is fun, they’re kind of ‘made to order’ genre pieces. It allows you to stretch into new territory. You’re not the artist putting your song out there to have your hopes dashed by public apathy, or the barbs of critics. You’re honouring the scene with something that enhances the mood. The reward is always learning something new musically.”
With McCulloch’s feedback helping them make it less complex and dense, the pair soon hit the scoring sweet spot. “I think we knew we’d got the vibe down for the series about halfway through episode one!” says Northey. “You just keep trying to honour the mood. Eventually it distills itself down to the essential elements that resonate.”
When asked if another Injeti/Northey collaboration lies in the future, Injeti hopes so. “We’re getting together this week to jam,” he says, “so I’ll hint at it.” And Northey says it’s pretty much guaranteed. “Chin’s a treasure and talent beyond comprehension – he goes deep as an instrumentalist, singer, composer, and person. You want to stay close to people like that. They’re like power points on the globe.”