Blake Neely may be a bonafide metahuman.
The hardworking composer has been responsible for the soundtrack that has accompanied The CW’s Arrow since it debuted in 2012, developing the show’s signature themes and setting its many memorable moments to music. With 69 episodes to score over the first three seasons of Arrow alone, you could be forgiven for assuming that Neely’s dance card was full, but last year he also began scoring The Flash, crafting an entirely new set of now-familiar themes to accompany Central City’s fast-moving hero.
Neely’s scores for Season 1 of The Flash and Season 3 of Arrow are now available in two great collections from WaterTower Music. Both are peerless examples of crafting super hero music that’s memorable without being overstated. But where Neely finds the time to create such amazing music on such a demanding schedule is beyond us (and Flash and Arrow are just the beginning, he also provided music for CW Seed’s digital Vixen series AND is the composer for CBS’s Supergirl and The CW’s upcoming DC’s Legends of Tomorrow). So needless to say, when Neely agreed to answer a few of our questions, one of our first questions was how he does it all. Unless he really is a metahuman.
We’ve talked DC super hero soundtracks before, but this is the first time since the debut of The Flash. How did it feel taking on a second show and super hero after all of your success with Arrow?
It was very exciting, but intimidating. With Arrow we were paving new ground with a character not as well known. But with The Flash, since there was a previous TV version in the 90’s, with a great theme by Danny Elfman and score by Shirley Walker, there was a bit of pressure to do something new for such an iconic comic book character.
It was also slightly terrifying to think about scoring another show each week that would be as big, if not bigger, in spectacle as Arrow. It meant that many more action scenes, that many more villain themes, that much more music.
As a television composer, you need to create music for 22-episode seasons, and now you have two shows (at least that I know of!). How do you keep up with that sort of schedule?
Well, I actually have to keep up pace for four shows right now, because I’m scoring Supergirl and Blindspot. Next month, we will also start on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which will be an enormous show in spectacle, number of characters and action. It will be over 100 hours of television. So whether it’s writing new themes, making new sounds, shaping new cues, or adapting music from previous seasons, it comes down to producing over 50 hours of music this year. I have a great team now, made up of five of us: co-writers, orchestrators, musicians, programmers and a brand new studio that helps it all come together. My only worry is running out of ideas or running out of coffee.
Let’s go back to the beginning of The Flash. How did you approach creating a theme for the show? The Flash is a very different sort of super hero than Green Arrow.
Since we introduced Barry Allen on an episode of Arrow, it was always an idea to make the worlds sound similar enough to blend, but different enough that it wasn’t Arrow 2.0. The way Grant played Barry in that first scene told me instantly what would work for him. But that was just his scientist normal-life character. We got to the pilot episode, and I realized I needed a whole new sound for the super hero side of Barry. My concept was simply a jet engine or rocket. What music would I write that would give you the feeling of force, speed and propulsion. Sure it should be “fast,” but what else? So this evolved into the more constant cycling sounds and layers that are now a part of The Flash music sound.
Also, Arrow is a very dark show without supernatural elements (until Barry showed up, of course). It’s grounded, real and about human strength, agility and cool gadgets. On The Flash, we can explore supernatural happenings and the show has a much lighter approach. So that helped inform my stylistic decisions with the music.
Who are/were your influences while creating the music for both Arrow and The Flash? Especially while listening to the Flash soundtrack, I've almost felt like there were hints of Danny Elfman's music hidden in the tracks. I was wondering if his music may have influenced any of the recordings, and who else may have influenced you as well. (Question submitted by Paul Williams)
Well, definitely Arrow is influenced by my friend Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight but also by Daft Punk, Crystal Method and (oddly) Richard Wagner. I always see it as a super hero opera. The Flash has Danny Elfman influences for sure (glad you noticed) but also some speed metal drumming, a bit of James Horner, and very much Johann Sebastian Bach.
For the crossover soundtrack, was it difficult to take the general themes of each show and merge them into cohesive songs? (Question submitted by Khalid Qarryzada)
It wasn’t difficult because I originally designed the two shows to have styles and sounds that could merge and live together when necessary, but also hopefully stand alone as two distinct music worlds. Had I designed one show as jazz and the other as EDM, it may have been crazy difficult. But being similar in approach, it was very fun to do. I’m currently starting on the next crossovers, which will be equally as satisfying. Buy the biggest crossover yet comes with DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which will combine so many characters’ themes.
How did you come up with the idea for the weird helicopter sound whenever the Reverse-Flash was present? (Question submitted by Rustle James)
It was part mistake (or “happy accident”) by playing around with some reverse effect and part intentional of making a singular sound that wasn’t musical, but could get under your skin as part of the music. And it was inspired by the first time I saw him and his speed-blurred face. I just thought, “I have an idea. Now how do I create that?” One day, I’ll reveal exactly what is in that sound. You’d be surprised.
With Arrow, what sort of influences went into the music that accompanied the Nanda Parbat/League of Assassins scenes?
Ra’s al Ghul was one of my favorite characters to ever score. I got to explore Middle Eastern scales, harmonies and instrumentation. His realm of Nanda Parbat had all this mysticism and felt like another world and another time period. They were super evil and dark. So I was excited to expand the palette in these ways, adding a female vocal, duduk, Eastern percussion. I’m not sure that it was influenced by anything musical. It was more me getting to play in a different sandbox and seeing what castles could be built with these different shovels.
I miss Nanda Parbat already this season and get fired up when we return to Merlyn or the Lazarus Pit.
How did it feel getting to fuse the Constantine theme with Arrow's music? Also, how did you work your way up and get your name out there as a composer? (Question submitted by Erkan Sen)
At first, I didn’t know if we could get the rights to use it, but it worked out. It was obvious that we needed to do it. The fans were expecting it. The actor, costume and character were exact. Bear [McCreary, the Constantine composer] was thrilled when I told him we were doing it. And such a simple thing really brings an older character to life. I would hope the same would happen if Oliver or Barry appeared on someone else’s show.
I wrote and wrote and wrote as much as possible until I found my way to two people who believed in me. Michael Kamen and Greg Berlanti. That led to more and after years of working hard and trying to better my craft, here I am. My advice would be to write what you want, create your own musical voice and get it out to the world as much as possible. That, and never say “no.”
Finally, do you have a favorite episode to date of The Flash and Arrow?
I’m still a big fan of the crossover episodes last season. It was such a blast to combine their musical worlds. And the episodes were so fun to write for. But I also love Arrow episode 220, “Promise Kept,” with the death of Oliver’s mother and 309 with the Ra’s duel on the mountaintop. One of my favorite episodes of The Flash was our season finale and last week’s Zoom episode.
Special thanks to fans Paul Williams, Khalid Qarryzada, Rustle James and Erkan Sen for submitting questions for this interview!
ARROW: ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK SEASON 3 and THE FLASH: ORIGINAL TELEVISION SOUNDTRACK SEASON 1 are now available digitally and in stores as a CD.