If you’ve partaken of Bravest Warriors season 4, then you’ve been serenaded by the sweet tunes of one Neil Parfitt, Toronto-based film and TV composer at large. Notice any video game easter eggs so far? Neil used his real SNES Mario Paint music program to add sickness to the club beatz in episode 407, Beth and Plum’s girl’s night out. His love for Bravest Warriors precedes his employment on the show and comes through in every music cue he creates for it. He has but one (1) wee ask of the Big Bosses in return: please license more characters for Funko Pop! collectibles!
Was music always a big part of your life? What instruments do you play / used to play?
Absolutely! Growing up, my dad worked in radio and advertising and was always bringing home the latest records, tapes and CDs… am I dating myself yet?! My mom was in advertising and film. Between the two of them, music was a huge, constant element of my childhood—third only to Lego and Nintendo. I started on piano and moved between drums and wind instruments in high school. Baritone sax was the best—although I think one of my arms is permanently longer from lugging that stupid heavy case home to practice. I also played keyboards in a band from grade 8 to 12 with my best friends. These days you could say I play the “mouse”… okay, keyboard is still my primary instrument. And my DAW lets me use any instrument I desire.
Saw your ‘programming music’ science fair project. Did ya win, literally and/or figuratively?
Oh man. So my mom got this computer at a garage sale in 1990—for the Y2K kids, it was an IBM PCjr. A BEASTLY beige piece of junk with no internet and no hard drive! But it did have a cartridge with GWBASIC on it: unique to that computer, it could play 3 voices simultaneously so you could program some terrible, but polyphonic music. My science fair project was how to code music. And nope, I didn’t win, probably because it wasn’t a volcano or some cliché small town crap thing like growing bean sprouts. My mom thought I was a winner. So I didn’t spiral into emo-despair as a teen. Yeaaaaaah!
Mom approval is all that counts. When did you know you wanted a career in music?
Mid-grade 9 was the spark. My music teacher at the time let me do my own thing, like stay after school to play with the synthesizers (an Ensoniq SQ-80) and sequencers that were kicking around underused. So I’d mess around making songs with all that gear, which led to scoring his son’s college short film later in the term… aaaand I was hooked.
Did you go to school to study music, or anythin’ else?
I went to Fanshawe College for Music Industry Arts and studied Music Engineering for 2 years. They really kicked my ass and got me ready for the real world! But my first experience analyzing orchestration came through digesting the scores of 8 and 16-bit era games. On the Super Nintendo system you could go into most game options and pull the background music – I’d dump it onto cassettes and listen to them on a Walkman on my way to school. Neeerrd!
I also was (am) a huge fan of movie soundtracks. My favourite composers when I was old enough to be aware were Danny Elfman, John Williams, Shirley Walker, Jerry Goldsmith, Brad Fiedel. Michael Kamen and the man… Harold Faltermeyer! I listened to film scores constantly.
How did you break into composing for the film and TV biz?
Out of college, I logged about 90,000 hours a week for a year doing post-audio for commercials. I was burned out, so I quit to re-focus. After quitting work at a gas station – hey I was broke and still only lasted two days – I found out about a 4th degree connection in Nelvana’s music department. I had no idea who they were, but I knew all their shows from watching Saturday Morning Cartoons! The fire was re-lit – I HAD to work there. I called them weekly for almost 7 months. They finally caved and hired me as a Junior Music Editor. I learned the ins and outs of the composing craft, working with all the underscore and editing on nearly 100 episodes across 8 shows. It was great! But a year later Corus bought them, and I was phased out of a job in the transition. I did my own thing, then in 2004 Corus called me to pitch on some shows and I started winning some contracts, the two biggest being Bakugan and Beyblade. Those kept me busy for many years and hundreds of episodes each. I have to throw a shout-out to Nelvana’s Supervising Music Producer Mike Northcott; he took a chance on me all those years ago. Man, I sound like a bumbling old man… I’m 38!
What have been your favorite projects to work on and why?
This is a trap question, right? Bravest Warriors for sure! It genuinely makes me laugh, a lot – and if you’re laughing while working, that energy makes its way into the music. Last week I made a death metal track, and for 3 seconds of screen-time, I spent hours coming up with the riffs, programming the drums, hiring out guitars and recording my own vocals. I’m having a blast: I never know what the next episode will bring.
Second is Beyblade. It was an extremely challenging show as I was working directly with Japanese production. I had translators and everything… EXCEPT PICTURE! I’d get endless lists of music requests with a brief description and the number of seconds required, like, “Image of courage bursting through heart of dragon: 120 seconds”. All notes were translated from Japanese—lots of humorous confusion. I was literally writing blind. The Music Supervisor at Nelvana, Norm Beaver (who’s also my Bossman on Bravest) saved my life as the client liaison. I seriously don’t know how else I’d have made it through!
(Neil recording episode 409 with Stephanie Seki and Brett Carruthers of Sugar High Bunny Punch)
What are your must haves for a day of composing?
Cheesy as it sounds, there’s only one: inspiration. If I’m uninspired, I won’t be happy with my results and I’ll have to revisit cues later. Obviously, you can’t force inspiration if you’re feeling the moop. So I’ll go clear my head. My living room is full of toys and random fun things. I’ll boop my cat’s nose, throw on some old Nintendo to hear some Koji Kondo music. That kicks me into gear! That, or hopping on my motorcycle for an hour. Both are great to ‘reset’.
What is your favorite kind of music to compose vs. listen to as a fan?
Bravest music, because I get to mash my favourites: Orchestral, Chiptunes and 80’s Synths. I can push it over the top and make it ridiculous. My favourite cue of the show so far is on episode 4.04: EIGHTIES-TO-THE-MAX-CHALLENGE-MONTAGE. I threw everything in there. Wanky guitar, reverse piano, simmons toms, cheese horns. Nothing was sacred – muahahah! As a fan, I’m a synth-head so I love Massive Attack, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, Metric and newer synthwave bands like Gunship. But I listen to everything.
I love posting those ‘behind the scenes’ vids and stuff where I’m messing around with tech and synths. I want people to know you can have fun in this business, even with the stress and crazy deadlines. I also teach night school at a local college a few evenings a week: ProTools for Music Production and MIDI Programming & Synthesis. Honestly, I don’t need that work; I just enjoy it. I want to pass along knowledge and help people use these tools to their full potential. A lot of these resources weren’t there when I was starting out – it was just word of mouth and trade magazines.
The internet is great resource, but not a be-all-end-all… there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Getting practical hands-on experience with real-world feedback is tremendous. With the tools available today, anyone can dive into composing without spending a small fortune. Like with anything else, you have to be driven and persistent. And finding a mentor is hugely important! I’ve been in the business since 2000, and my “Big Three” mentors have been composers John Welsman, Lesley Barber and Andrew Lockington. All legends in Canadian composing lore. I’ve learned a ton working with each on countless shows and films. Ask a composer in your city out for lunch; see if you can be an asset to them, or even a fly on the wall during a session. It’s all invaluable experience. And keep researching, keep learning—I’m always in brain-sponge-mode!
What do you love most about Bravest Warriors?
Catbug!!!!! Plum. Danny. That’s a hard one! I really like the humor. It’s like the show was specifically designed for my brain. Also, how the hell does Benjamin Townsend come up with such golden catchphrases and wordplay? It’s magic!
What are your favorite cartoons?
Uh oh! Is this a trap question again? In addition to Bravest Warriors, I love South Park, Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Family Guy, The Maxx, Hartman era Simpsons, Mr. Pickles, Tron: Uprising, Archer, Batman: The Animated Series, Metalocalypse, Robot Chicken and I have a huge soft spot for Happy Tree Friends… Lumpy is the best!
What is your Dream Project to compose on, if you have one?
I’d love to score an animated feature with orchestra. That’s the dream! But honestly, Bravest Warriors is a dream gig, and I’m not greasing the wheel. I was a BW fan well before I even knew this opportunity existed so it’s been an awesome experience. Basically, I get to work on fun music, in stylistics I love, laugh and get paid to do it! Sweeeeeet!
PS: Fans of the show can find me here if you want to say hi!
Thanks a bunch for the interview Neil! I’m excited to hear all the rest of your bangerz on Bravest S4 and beyond!