The Untitled Magazine got a chance to catch up with musician and composer Kevin Besignano to chat about his transition from touring to creating soundtracks for feature films, including “As They Made Us” by Mayim Bialik which was just released on April 8th and stars Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergman, Simon Helberg, and Dianna Agron. The Staten Island native toured the world with bands such Unwritten Law, Bullets and Octane and his own band, True Rivals, after attending Berklee College of Music. For the past ten years, he has been building his resume of original tracks for film and TV, including the soundtrack of feature film, Killing Eleanor, for which he learned to play the cello. Read on for our full interview.
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into music? I understand you have been touring for several decades!
I’ve wanted to play music for a long as I can remember. It has always been a number one priority for me, even listening to music when I was young, I pictured myself being the one playing it. I’ve been fortunate that ever since middle school I’ve been able to play in rock bands with like-minded people. It wasn’t until I moved to LA, after college, that I joined bands who were doing it for a living though. I’ve always tried to stay persistent and take opportunities as they presented themselves all while always trying to learn and grow.
You are originally from Staten Island? What was your childhood like?
I was born in Staten Island and quickly moved to Howell, New Jersey, then returned to Staten Island for my high school years. Growing up my parents were always very supportive and encouraged me to work hard. I had great friends, a lot of them I still speak to today even though I live across the country. I’m a very lucky man to have grown up surrounded by such love and support!
Were your parents also musicians or what motivated your path as a musician?
Neither of my parents are musicians but they are fans of music, so it was always present in my house. My sister and I had a record player in our room, and we had a handful of records like Louis Armstrong and Michael Jackson, and we would sing and dance around our room a lot! My Uncle, Tom Fennessey, would bring out his guitar at family gatherings, and I still think about how exciting that always was. The whole house would light up and everyone would sing, The Stones, Beatles, CCR, CSNY, things like that. I have such fond memories of those times. Getting to play along as I got older was extremely special for me. My Uncle would also let me go out to the garage and rummage through his old boxes of sheet music and chord charts to popular songs, he helped really get me started. I’m very lucky to have my foundation in music be built on just simply wanting to share a good time with those around you and I have him to thank for that.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
This is a question that could take some time! I really do enjoy all forms of music so I’m a bit all over the place but if I had to narrow it down to some people that truly influence the way I write music the short list would be something like this, in no particular order… Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt, Trent Reznor, David Bowie, Dave Grohl, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Zeppelin… as far as composers, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, John Powell, Bernard Herrmann then back a little further to folks like Elgar and Bach. I really could go on forever, but that’s a little taste!
You have performed with a number of notable bands over the years such as Unwritten Law, Bullets and Octane and your own band, True Rivals – can you share one of your most memorable performances?
There have been countless incredible experiences over the years but one that always stands out is from 2012. On my birthday I played a gig with Unwritten Law at Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia to somewhere around 12,000 very enthusiastic people and it was one of the most exiting days of my life. In fact, that whole tour that year was incredible, but being my birthday that one show really stands out! I can vividly remember the whole place jumping and singing along and having a great time.
Over 10 years ago you shifted your focus from touring to composing music for film and television – what inspired the transition?
I’ve always dreamt of writing music for film, Michael Andrews’ score for Donnie Darko reached me at the perfect time in my life and really spoke to me when I was younger. It’s very simple, but to me, extremely effective in the context of the film. I still love it. It was over 10 years before I got to pursue anything in film, but I knew since I was younger that it’s always what I wanted to be doing. So, when I got the opportunity, I took it and haven’t looked back.
You learned to play the cello for the award-winning feature film Killing Eleanor – for which you also composed the music. How did that project come about? Was it your 1st feature film?
It was my first feature completely on my own, and I’m beyond grateful to the film’s writer/star Annika Marks and her husband and Director, Rich Newey, for giving me that opportunity and trusting me with their film. It was such an incredible experience. I had originally written a bunch of music just to the script, then had them over one day before they left to shoot and kind of auditioned if you will, playing them what I had written and talked through what I heard for the film. They gave me the gig and then we started a very rewarding collaborative process. As far as the cello, I tuned a guitar like one, wrote the piece on an instrument I was comfortable with then proceeded to play it for a few weeks over and over on a rented cello. I didn’t play with a bow, I plucked it with my fingers, so a lot of the difficulties were avoided right there! But in the end, I’m very proud of how it turned out. The scene it plays over is incredibly well written and acted so that helps make things easier for me!
Tell us about your music to be featured in the film “As They Made Us” by Mayim Bialik which is releasing April 8th in theaters and VOD and stars Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergman, Simon Helberg, and Dianna Agron?
Well, they actually shot As They Made Us in New Jersey not too far from where I grew up, so visually, I felt extremely connected immediately. I wanted the score to sound a bit like my home and childhood felt to me, so that led me straight to acoustic guitars, piano and harmonica. Mayim and I had many discussions about the overall direction, and she even provided me with a playlist of songs that inspired her, it was filled with 60s and 70s folk type stuff, some of which actually made it into the film, such as “Changes” by Phil Ochs. I tried to sonically stay in that world with the instrumentation I used.
If you could work with any film director who would it be and why? What would be your dream collaboration?
Like many, many people, I really love how Christopher Nolan makes a film. It would be incredible to work at that huge blockbuster level. Another absolute favorite of mine is Guillermo del Toro. His ability to craft a world is EXTREMELY special. To be a part of that would be so inspiring. My dream gig though isn’t really with a particular person, but actually with Disney. I’m a massive fan of everything they do and to score anything for that studio would be a dream come true.
What else can we look forward to from you in 2022? Any other exciting projects on the horizon?
Yes there are! I just finished a short film called “Something in the Clouds” working with the writer/director and great friend Johnny Ray with Black Pigeon Studios. It’s currently running in the festivals and I’m very proud to say Johnny won best screenplay at the Sedona International Film Festival recently. Please keep an eye out for it, it’s a fantastic short! Something in the Clouds and As They Made Us are the big things for me this spring!
Do you have any advice to give aspiring musicians who want a career in music?
I would just say the biggest thing is not being afraid to fail. You’re going to, over and over. It sometimes can be enough to make someone abandon their dreams. It’s tough out there. Just remember why you do what you do and that everything is a learning experience. Set goals and work hard. Lastly, once you get there, try to enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it. It’s easy to get lost in a project and let the stress build up. Then it’s over before you know it.