Recently, I had an opportunity to ask the talented David Heatly about his work on OTIS DOODA: STRANGE BUT TRUE by Ellen Potter.
David, I have heard of authors and illustrators who listen to music while they work (write or draw). Lots of authors create playlists for their books. In your case you took it one step further and developed your own soundtrack for Otis Dooda. In listening to the soundtrack, it matches the book perfectly. Is this the first time you have created an actual soundtrack for a book? What was the process like?
Thanks for the compliment about the book and soundtrack matching perfectly. I've spent over a year now with Otis and his family and friends, drawing them all a hundred times each. I think the music comes from that same inspirational well that helped me decide what everything looks like in Dooda-land. When I was done illustrating Strange But True, it felt hard to just let the whole thing go. Ellen and I were brainstorming some ideas for marketing the book, including doing an animated book trailer. It hit me that it would be fun to write a theme song for the book to be used in the trailer. I've written songs since I was a teenager, but in the last few years, I've had new songs coming out of my ears. They come to me when I wake up from a dream or in the middle of the day. I have to have my phone nearby so I can hum the melodies I'm hearing into my "voice memo" app. It's usually a piece of the chorus or verse that's the starting point. Then I write out in my lyric book what I have and I start trying to piece the rest of it together—like doing a crossword puzzle. With Otis it was similar. Once I had the idea of a theme song, a few different versions of it started arriving in my head and haunting me. The second idea I had is ultimately the one that became the real song (attaching two of the original voice memos). Once I had all the lyrics written, I "demoed" the song in my own art studio with a minimal set up: 1 semi-professional mic and two pieces of semi-professional recording software. It came out great and Ellen loved it! Her agent (now my agent too) Alice Tasman also loved it. Even better, their KIDS loved it! And my own two kids who were following every step of the illustration process wanted to hear it over and over again. I was onto something here.
I wanted to write more songs. Years ago, I had thought about doing a soundtrack to a book I did for adults, but only got as far as making a 6-song EP. This time I looked at the table of contents of the book and could see immediately there were 15 other songs I could write. Just while jotting down the titles, I started hearing some melodies and chorus ideas for several of them. I have to say, I've never had a musical project come through me so quickly and I think it's a testament to how strong the story and characters are and what a fantastic writer Ellen is. Within a couple months, I had written and recorded all 16 songs of the soundtrack. (For comparison sake, another album I finished recently with 13 songs on it took about 2 years!) I really had a blast doing it—staying up late in my studio til 3 in the morning, shouting like a crazy person about Potted Plant Guy or Peaches the farting pony. I really stretched myself musically and tried to do as many different styles as I could. I also wanted the right emotional balance on the album: some joyful songs, some irreverent and silly, some creepy and some sad. The song "Up In Cat's Room" has a special place in my heart. It really captures the longing I was feeling as the illustration job on book 1 was wrapping up and before I was contracted for Otis 2. I've actually gotten teary listening back to it a few times. I sing "I wanna stay a while up in Cat's Room. Don't make me go home just yet.... please let me stay!" The kid in me just loves living in this world that Ellen has created and I don't want it to end. I hope we continue the series and I get to write even more songs for these characters. Now it's up to the kids and their parents... In other words, "Buy the book or the subway zombies will get you!!!" :)
To purchase a copy of the Otis Dooda Soundtrack, click here.
Check out this great video of David and Ellen talking about Otis Dooda.
Thanks David for stopping by. Check out Part II of the Otis Dooda Blog Tour, and find out about some of Ellen Potter and her son, Ian's favorite books.
Thanks to Ellen, I am giving away a signed copy of Otis Dooda: Strange But True. Open to those with a US mailing address.
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