Mike O’Neill’s Gemini Nom-Nom-Nominated Music

Yesterday it was announced that Halifax musician Mike O’Neill was nominated for a Gemini Award for original music for his score to Laura Calder’s cooking show, French Food at Home. Last year Mike won the Gemini. My guess is nobody could stop humming the incredibly catchy theme song, so da-da-da-dee-da-da-dooed their way to checking the Mike O’Neill box.

Mike has a storied career in music, both with his Juno award nominated band The Inbreds, and as a solo musician. He  also works in the film industry as a sound mixer, perhaps most notably in the Trailer Park Boys television show, where he also appeared as a guy named Tom Collins.

After his nomination, Mike—who prefers a soundtrack of Information Morning to his own cooking—took some time to answer a few questions about working on cooking shows, never letting his success get to his head and always at the ready with his trademark self-effacing humour.

How did you get into soundtracking cooking shows?

I was called directly by Sonya Jampolsky, a producer at Ocean entertainment. Apparently they had reached the very bottom of the barrel.

What does the job entail? At what point in production are you generally brought in?

This job is not a typical scoring job. I don’t score to picture. When the job began I talked to the director Henry Less and he played me a bunch of tracks he loved but couldn’t afford. I had to expand on that. I did my best to write cues that evoke the same feelings. Where I fell short is where the “Mike O’Neill” sound is most evident!

Then I edited each cue to three different lengths. One 60 seconds, one 30, and one 15. Then my job was pretty much done. The director and editor found appropriate places for the pieces. So, to get back to your question, I started writing when the show was in production. By the time all of my pieces had passed, the inspection of the producers, director, and broadcaster it was time to lay them into the soundtrack.

What is the creative process behind scoring different shows? Is there a different creative well that you draw from for each show?

I guess so. I always think “I’ll use up all my songs!” but generally what happens is that the starting point is so different from my own music that it doesn’t feel like I’m drawing from the same well. But every job I’ve done results in a few songs that get moved to my personal pile. The shows never get those. They usually aren’t right for the show anyway.

What do you think makes for a good score for a cooking show? What role should it play?

The way music is often used in TV is that it is applied when the program seems slow or it’s dragging. It does seem to work. I just don’t like it when music is telling you how to feel. I don’t think it fixes what’s wrong with the performance; I think it enhances a performance.

Is scoring for a cooking show at all different than any other show, or is it all pretty routine?

From my experience it’s not that different. 90 percent of the programs I’ve worked on have had very specific ideas and expectations of how the music should sound.

Has making music for cooking shows changed the way you look at cooking at all? Or cooking shows?

I watch this one because my music is in it. I get a kick out of how they shoot it and Laura’s image. It’s sort of flirty.

Mike O'Neill

photo by Mat Dunlap

What was winning the Gemini for scoring Laura Calder’s show like? Was it pretty exciting? And how does it feel to be nominated again?

It was completely unexpected. It still feels like it was a fluke. I’m very proud of it, but I remind myself that if I’d lost, my friends would be telling me it didn’t matter. My family is proud. I’m sure I won’t win it again.

Do you ever cook a recipe from a show you wrote the score to, while listening to the music you wrote? Because that would be awesome and indulgent in the most hilarious way ever.

I’m doing everything with the music I’m writing in my head. I’m thinking of my own music now. That’s indulgent. Are you laughing?

[ed. note: I did laugh when I read that, even if I was hoping for something a little more operatic—or at least Jennifer Lopez-y—in terms of self-indulgence. Also, I feel it must be noted that that must be one hell of a barrel if Mike is at the bottom of it.]