Peter Chapman (Interview)

When it comes to film and television, most people think of the actors, writers, and directors. However, soundtracks and their composers can often make or break a movie. A composer’s score compliments the visuals and dialogue in subtle ways that help take the audience on a wonderful journey. 

One such musician/composer is Halifax native Peter Chapman. Peter has been consistently scoring some of the best award-winning movies and TV shows in Canada for the past twenty years.  His story is one of hard work and perseverance. This week we spoke with Peter about his journey, his passion for his craft, and his beautiful contributions to the Canadian entertainment landscape.


HNMAG: Did you grow up in Toronto?

Peter Chapman: I actually grew up in Halifax. I moved to Toronto when I was 19 to go to The Ontario College of Art and Design.


HNMAG: Your mother worked in film when you were growing up?

Peter Chapman: My mom was Lin Chapman and she did wardrobe on a lot of productions in Halifax. Lots of CBC productions and lots of film. I used to joke that my mother and few of her friends were the wardrobe mafia of Halifax. They ran pretty much every wardrobe department from 1985 to 2005. 


HNMAG: That gave you an early education of how the business worked by observing her at work.  

Peter Chapman: One of my first song placements was for a show that she worked on called Street Cents. She used to let me hang out on set while they shot, where I actually met Jono Torrens as well as Mike Clattenburg who went on to make the Trailer Park Boys. I asked her how I could get music on that show and she gave me the producer’s name. I made a cassette tape in 1998 and left it with CBC security in an envelope with her name on it. They called me a week later and were happy to use my tracks, which is a ridiculous way to land a song placement. But it was the 90s I guess.


HNMAG: When you moved to Toronto, was that to pursue a career in music?

Peter Chapman: Not at all. I enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design. My father was a musician and he cautioned me about pursuing music as a career. I wanted to get into environmental design and eventually build television production sets. Music was my real interest. I could also see how many of my classmates were obsessed and passionate about design. I did not share that same drive for design. I realized that I had no interest in competing with them on the job market when I graduated. I was more passionate about music. Ultimately, music ended up consuming my life. 


HNMAG: What was it like to work on Degrassi: The Next Generation?

Peter Chapman: We had a song placement. I was in a band called the Midways in the early 2000’s. It was a 60’s garage rock band, kind of like the Sonics or the Kinks. That kind of thing. I wrote a song called “Don’t You Know” that I think played in someone’s car in the show at some point. We had a couple of cool placements with that band. There was another song in this show called Catfished which is hilarious.  I think we also had a song I wrote in a Smirnoff commercial. 


HNMAG: What was it like to work on Scott Pilgrim vs the World?

Peter Chapman: That was amazing. Because it was a film about music and musicians, Edgar Wright did not want to mess that aspect up. As a musician, it’s frustrating when you notice that the actors are not playing correctly. You can tell it’s fake and it takes you out of it. On Scott Pilgrim, everything is insanely accurate. Every musician had a music coach and hand-doubles to do the close-ups. I was involved with the Katayanagi twins who were in the big electronic battle with Sex Bob-Omb. I had to ensure that their fingers were on the right notes at the right time. It was a blast. The most embarrassing thing happened though; I had just gotten my first cell phone and ringer etiquette was new to me. I’m staring at the monitor just behind Edgar Wright in Video Village. At the end of the take, my mom phoned me. Edgar looked over at me, then gestured to an AD who then escorted me to a private area far away from the director. It was mortifying, not that I blame him in the least. Years later when Daft Science blew up, he tweeted about how much he loved the record. I doubt he had any clue I was the same person he’d booted from the set.


HNMAG: Did you ever read the comic book of Scott Pilgrim?

Peter Chapman: I was not familiar with it all until the movie was made. 


HNMAG: It’s great that the movie kept the story set in Toronto. How did you come up with your album Daft Science?

Peter Chapman: It was a crazy fluke. It was just for fun. I was in a Chicago airport on a layover on the way to South By Southwest (SXSW) in 2012. I remixed Daft Punk beats with Beastie Boys a capellas. The beats were made from their entire catalog. I played it for some friends, and they insisted that I finish it. I put it on the Internet and nothing happened for four years. Someone from the publication Dancing Astronaut found it from a random Reddit post and posted an article about it. Within hours it was getting picked up by dozens of publications and was spreading all over the internet. It was covered by Esquire, Billboard, and People magazine. I was freaking out, sure that I was going to get sued. I was convinced my career was over. It was a crazy thing, it opened up a lot of doors.


HNMAG: Why did you go to SXSW?

Peter Chapman: A bunch of hip-hop artists I’m pals with were invited and I was their DJ. Our hotel had an open bar every night and a free breakfast in the morning. There were artist areas where you would get a massage and they’d just feed you Red Bulls and hamburgers before sending you on your way. I saw a bunch of great artists in shockingly small venues. It was an insane week of music and partying. I still have my 2014 SXSW artist backpack they gave me!


HNMAG: When did you get busy working on scores for film and TV?

Peter Chapman: I got really lucky. I got in about twenty years ago when the competition wasn’t as insane as it is today. It was a lot easier to get on people’s radars. I knew early it was what I wanted to do for a living. I started doing a lot of commercials. I worked for my friend’s company Song and Patter. That was where I got experience writing for picture under tight deadlines. I put together a small reel and befriended an awesome music supervisor by the name of Andrea Higgins. She took an interest in my work and started pushing me into more challenging jobs. I would do “Sound Alikes.” That’s when there is a song that would be too expensive to license such as “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper and I would compose something along those lines. Andrea introduced me to Ron Proulx who is my current manager. The two of them got me in front of a lot of TV/film producers in 2008 when I was in my late 20s but still relatively inexperienced. My first TV series was Durham County. It was being scored by my former Ontario College of Art and Design audio teacher Tom Third who was integral in helping me land my first few gigs. He’d scored the first season of Durham County, but had a conflict preventing him from doing the second and subsequent seasons. He, Ron, and Andrea took a big risk in getting me hired as his replacement. It was a sink or swim situation but I went on to score seasons two and three. That first TV credit opened up the doors to pretty much everything since. 


HNMAG: Do you work on a lot of Canadian productions?

Peter Chapman: Yes, it’s a mix of Canadian and American based projects. I just finished a great comedic series called One More Time, created by the hilarious Canadian comic DJ Demers. It details a semi-autobiographical story of him managing a used sporting goods store while also being deaf. I got to work with Counterfeit Picture’s Shane Corkery, who was hilarious, as well as the showrunner Jesse Gabe, who was also a showrunner on Workin’ Moms. I scored all seven seasons of Workin’ Moms alongside Maylee Todd. I recently finished both seasons of The Lake for Amazon Prime. Years ago I was brought in by a great director I’d previously worked with named Jay Karas on a Funny or Die project which was really fun. It was a clip to launch a fundraiser. A bunch of celebrities; Sarah Silverman, Jack Black, Will Smith, Will Ferrell, banged on a bunch of pots and pans. When it was edited together I had to re-score the banging to make a song sound like they were all jamming together. It was hard! Me and the editor were constantly going back and forth adjusting things. Ultimately, it turned into this whole cacophonous jam. 


HNMAG: Workin’ Moms is set in Canada.

Peter Chapman: Like Scott Pilgrim, it’s a real Toronto-based show, and they embrace it. There are a lot of local landmarks and restaurants in the show. On more than one occasion I’d be out for dinner with my wife experiencing deja vu, only to realize I was sitting on a location from Workin’ Moms


HNMAG: Do you also play with a local band?

Peter Chapman: There’s a group that I occasionally record with called Tongue Helmet. It’s a reference to woodpeckers wrapping their tongues around their brains as protection. Our drummer is a bird enthusiast. It’s myself, Danny Miles – who plays drums for July Talk, Timbuctu, and DJ Irate. It’s live sampled hip-hop revolving around Danny’s drums. We play everything, then we sample it. Touring with them is super fun. I am finishing up a solo record which is a follow-up to my last Coins release. I think it sort of sounds like mid-90’s, French, electronic synth music if that makes any sense. It’s a record I’m making purely for myself. I’m not that concerned if anybody likes it. I spend my life writing music for other people so this is for me. 


HNMAG: Are you working on any new scores?

Peter Chapman: I’m working on an unannounced CBC kids show which I can’t talk too much about. I’m actually taking a break from the theme song to talk to you. What I can say is it’s a beautiful show. It looks amazing and I’m very excited about the music. I’m gearing up for a film called Vengeance which is a follow-up to season four of Wynonna Earp, a series I scored with Rob Carli. In the Fall we’ve got the third season of SkyMed, which is a super fun show to score. It’s a drama about first responders flying around in airplanes in northern Ontario saving people from creatively critically injuring themselves in gruesome and occasionally comical ways. On their days off the characters all make out with each other and drama ensues. It’s awesome.

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