Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mark Chait ("The Power of One" Co-Writer) Interview

Earlier this week, I had a chance to interview Mark Chait, co-writer of "The Power of One" by Donna Summer from Pokemon 2000. In the interview, we discuss how he got started in music, what writing the song was like, the song's impact (and yes, we discuss Herman Cain, as well as one other politician), and his current work producing music in Los Angeles and China. It's a great listen if you want to learn more about the song, or the state of the music industry:

If you want to learn more, you can visit Mark's web site for additional information.

Editor's Note: Hangzhou is actually the location of the 2016 G20 Summit, not G8. This year's G8 Summit is in Japan.


Steven: Hi, I’m Steven Reich here at the Poke Press Studios in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m on the phone with Mark Chait, who co-wrote “The Power of One” song from the second Pokémon movie. But Mark, before we get into that, why don’t you start at the beginning? How did you get involved in doing music?

Mark: I grew up in South Africa as a child prodigy of music. I actually have a Masters of piano performance and violin. So, I was an early start at music. And classical music, I actually represented my country at 15 years old. So, I traveled the world as a classical musician. So, I was a very early starter.

Steven: So, that was your education in music. How did you get involved in the music business itself?

Mark: Well, I actually went to Columbia University for 5 years. And when I was in New York, I started playing around with film music. And I had met a lot of people in the industry who forwarded my music to Los Angeles where I met a lot of film producers who saw that I had a talent for doing film scores. So, that’s how everything started. And that was Steven Segal, the actor, who actually gave me a big piece of music to write for a film that he ended up not doing. Basically, that’s how I ended up having a big large orchestra score that ended up in my first film, which was 1992 in a small short film for Sony Pictures that had Brad Pitt staring in it. It was a very interesting way of entering the film business.

Steven: What were some other pieces you worked on during the 90s?

Mark: I wrote a lot of film score music in the style of Ennio Morricone, because the first film that I did that actually went to the Oscars for Best Live Action Short, was a film that Morricone was going to do. He told Sony Pictures and the studios that they would have to wait 9 months. So, the director wanted somebody that could do him. When I first started, a lot of the film music that I wrote for the various films that I did work on in the 90s, were of that genre-the very melodious, similar orchestration pieces. And I also wrote a lot of piano and violin, but they weren’t published at that point. So, I just mainly did my work for film score music. And this is way before I started doing songs for films.

Steven: What eventually led to you doing vocal songs? How did that get started?

Mark: It was a lot of interest from record producers, actually. Like David Foster and Charlie Midnight, who said that my music has a very good song quality and we should try and put vocals to them and see how I am writing songs. I wasn’t sure that that was the way I wanted to do it. But I, nevertheless, tried it. And I have a good talent for summing up a feature film in 4 minutes in a song. I originally started working with Randy Goodrum who wrote a lot of hits in the 90s as well. He took me under his wing like a lot of other film composers did as well.

Steven: Nice. So, let’s move on to “The Power of One”. Do you know, how did you get chosen to work on this project?

Mark: I had met the head of music at Warner Brothers at the time. He still is, actually. And a very nice man who was a fan of my music. And he said, “We’re doing this Pokémon, do you want to have a look at the film and see if you can come up with an idea?” And I did. And then, I invited Merv Warren to join me in co-writing the song. Basically, that’s how it got started.

Steven: What was the writing process like? Did it come together quickly? Did it take a lot of time? How did that come about?

Mark: The first draft came about pretty quickly, like they always do. If you’re a musician and an artist, you understand. These things come quickly. And then, there was a lot of time involved in changing things and producers involved. The lyrics, I would say, was much harder than the music. The music took about 2 weeks to come together. But then, we had to actually find the correct lyrics that matched the movie. That was about a 3 week to a month process. It was a very pain staking process to get that correct. I loved working with Merv Warren. He’s a fantastic songwriter. We really enjoyed the process. I think that’s the key to writing a hit song.

Steven: Definitely made quite an impact.  Very memorable. Are there any particular lyrics that you’re particularly proud of, or have an interesting story behind them?

Mark: Well, the obvious one is the one that everyone talked about with Herman Cain. It inspired a lot of people in avenues that I never thought was even possible. The opening four lines, I think, are the ones that are mostly used, even to this day. “Life can be a challenge/Life can seem impossible/It’s never easy/when so much is on the line.” I think those lines pretty much say a lot.

Steven: Absolutely. Anyone can relate to that. We’ve all had times in our lives that are like that. You did mention, of course, Herman Cain. For those who aren’t aware, about 4 years ago, he was a politician running for US President. He sort of misattributed your song. He thought it was from the Summer Olympics and didn’t realize it was actually a Donna Summer song. First of all, how did you find out that that happened, and what was your reaction there?

Mark: It was very easy to find out, because it was all over the press all over the world. To be honest, it was at the Olympics, but it wasn’t part of the Olympics. NBC would cover the Americans during the Summer Olympics and at the end of every day, they would have the outtakes of all the events that occurred during the Olympic games. And, the song was perfect for covering that. The song was used many times by NBC to cover the Summer Olympics. It wasn’t the official song of the Olympic Games, but the confusion was pretty easy to make.

Steven: Was it funny when it happened? Did it make you feel like you had created something that was really memorable?

Mark: As any artist would tell you, any artist would be delighted that anyone would be talking about their work. Negative or positive, that’s not for me to say. But the fact that it inspired a conversation on the level for the Presidency of the United States, it tickled me pink. It really created a very warm feeling in me that somebody would use something that we created to further their career and use it as an example of, I think, the courage within themselves. So, any time anyone uses a song, it’s always wonderful. I had a similar experience with Hillary Clinton when she was at a dinner in New York for the Democrats. They chose my song, “The Power of One” and I got to perform it actually, with a wonderful singer from Broadway, Lillias White. And the same thing, it sparked a whole conversation. At the end of the performance, Hillary Clinton walked on stage, smiled, grabbed my arm and said, “Mark’s already summed up my entire speech in that song. So, any time anyone uses a song for that purpose, that you create as an artist, it’s a wonderful thing.

Steven: Just to clarify, that thing with Hillary Clinton, was that before or after the Herman Cain thing?

Mark: That was before. It was before, yes.

Steven: That is absolutely fascinating. I love hearing that type of story. You’ve really shed a lot of light. We knew a fair bit about it, but you’ve really put in some interesting details. Really glad to have that.

Steven: Alright. Well, since you did that song, you’ve had quite a long career after that. In fact, currently, you’re actually working in China. How did that come about?

Mark: Well, 3-and-a-half years ago, I was invited to score a live-you can call it a musical, but it was actually the largest multimedia event in the world. It was called Illusions [and was] just outside of Shanghai. And they had 5 composers who failed at doing the task, because the whole show was told through music. There wasn’t any language. It was a very big task. They had 5 Chinese composers who wrote Chinese music. And what they really needed was Lord of the Rings 400-piece orchestra and choir kind of thing. They had invested an enormous amount of money-much more than we would ever spend in this country-to create a show that would be on the world stage with actors from all over the world. And when they came to Los Angeles to find composers, I met the chairman and he fell in love with my film score and music. Because, it was kind of what they were looking for. It was very epic. A lot of my film scores have that epic sound with full orchestration, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Choir. And that’s what ended up happening. This show took a year and a half to build. The CGI film took four years to make. This was basically a show on an enormous stage that was built for us with 180 degree screens, 8 stories high. And in front of it, were 60 actors. Some of them being Cirque du Soleil and part of the New York Ballet. And that put me on the map in China. Since I successfully completed the mission of doing a musical of such stature, I was approached by a wonderful organization where they have a collection of masters from around the world in their field, and they are partners to help better and further the creation and the understanding of Chinese composers.

Steven: What else do you like about China, besides getting an opportunity to work on music there? What’s the country like for those of us who haven’t been there?

Mark: It’s mostly surprising for everybody who’s never been there. I’ve been there for 4 years. But it’s not that I’m there full time. I’m still based in California, in Los Angeles. And I have a studio in both Los Angeles and Shanghai. What we love about China is that they are open to experimenting. The process was much more different than it is here. Here, we spend years and years planning things. There, they spend a couple of months planning things and than put it into action and see how it turns out. And for any artist, I think it’s a wonderful thing to be in the sand pits of experimentation. There are amazing people that I have become connected with in the film industry-actually, in all industries-who are all part of the same consortium that we are. It’s actually called DeTao, which means “The Way”. It’s almost like an enormous think tank of world leaders coming together that creates something new. I think it’s wonderful. The other thing that I’m going to say will surprise most people. Living in Shanghai is like living Paris or New York on steroids. It is nothing really Chinese about it, although it is China. And it was actually the area that I live in is called the Former French Concession, and it was built by the French. So, in essence, living in Shanghai is much more enjoyable in many ways than living in other parts of the world.

Steven: That’s really neat. What’s some of the other stuff you’ve worked on recently in either place?

Mark: Many things. One of the things I got to really explore is that I am a concert pianist. And I just have a new sponsorship by Bösendorfer. One of the things we’re doing is we’re doing piano performances around Asia, which is usually accompanied by the films I have scored. And it makes for an interesting new platform of performance. So, we’re doing that. I’m also writing, getting involved with films and television series in China. That’s an exciting thing. And the great thing about working in China is not only am I scoring for film, I’m scoring for provinces and scoring for cities. I was asked by the mayor of Shanghai to write the soundtrack for Shanghai. That’s been a year long project. I just recently scored the Zhejiang province, which is a very wealthy province in China. The capital of it is called Hangzhou, and it’s on a beautiful lake. The G8 Summit [Editor's Note: Actually the G20 summit] is going to be there. So, the government officials came to me and they asked our studio in China, called Studio Chait, to come up with the DNA, the brand of music, that depicts what they are and how they’re represented to the world. This is a very large project because it involves many people and statistics and research. So, scoring locations and cities and provinces is sort of like scoring the Olympic Games for me.

Steven: In what way?

Mark: Because it’s scoring the emotion that comes out of an event. How do you feel when you go to Shanghai? What is the essence of the Zhejiang province? And because I’m good at encapsulating a 4 minute song to tell you the emotion of a one and a half hour film, it’s a good strand of DNA that goes through everything that is associated with it. In essence, it’s what we call music branding.

Steven: Neat. And you mentioned you have a studio-type establishment that you do work from. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that? And it has website, doesn’t it?

Mark: Yes, it does. Actually, if you go to my website, which is, there is a link to the Chinese studio as well. The easiest way to see what’s going on in China is to Google my name, Mark Chait, then put the word China in. Then, all the Chinese websites come up in respect to what we're doing in China. It’s really fascinating. Our organization is called DeTao, which means ‘The Way’. We have a staff, we have full scoring facilities, and we just did our official launch-opening up the studio-at end of July 2015. It’s almost like a full music studio/film scoring/sound design studio, and we are a full music solutions studio. So, if someone wanted to do a film and they want to have music and sound effects and sound design and all of the above, we fulfill those needs. That’s kind of the way of the future.

Steven: Fantastic. I really love that. Do you have any social media accounts you want to plug here? Why don’t you do that?

Mark: The social media accounts that we have are on something that I’m not sure your listeners can get onto. It’s called WeChat. It’s the Facebook of China, but it’s actually got every application combined. Most of our social media is on that. But also, I’m going to start adding things to YouTube. The best way for my social media is through my website, which is

Steven: Sounds good. Been great having you on. We’ve learned some fantastic things. Not just about Pokémon, but also about how the world of music is evolving. Thank you very much, Mark.

Mark: You’re very welcome.

Steven: This has been Steven Reich from the Poke Press studios in Madison, Wisconsin, on the phone with Mark Chait, co-writer of “The Power of One” song from the second Pokémon movie.

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