Interview with ‘Sustos Ocultos de Frankelda (Frankelda’s Book of Spooks)’ composer Kevin Smithers

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Sustos Ocultos De Frankelda (Frankelda’s Book of Spooks) is the upcoming HBO stop-motion animation series from the Mexican production company, Cinema Fantasma. The series features a different spooky story each episode as Frankelda narrates them. Kevin Smithers took on the role as composer and songwriter to develop each episode’s musical journey. Frankelda was produced with a 100% Mexican crew. He is also working on Cinema Fantasma’s first feature film, La Balada del Fenix (The Ballad of the Phoenix), as the composer and songwriter. Read on to learn about all of the talent on the composition for the series, Kevin’s favorite episode and his influences.

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Tell us a bit about yourself. What was your first job in composing and how did you decide to pursue your craft professionally?

Kevin Smithers: My name is Kevin Smithers and I’m a Mexican film, TV, and video game composer based in Los Angeles. I originally studied guitar performance, but I’ve always been incredibly passionate about film. While studying in London, I started paying more attention to the wonderful work that a lot of film composers were doing at the time. It took me a few years, but I finally understood that I could do both music and film at the same time!

If I had to pinpoint a single moment that made me decide to do this, I’d probably say it was the first time I watched “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Elmer Bernstein’s score in this film made such a huge impression on me, it truly pushed me to do what I do today.

Who are some of your favorite long term collaborators?

KS: One person I keep coming back to is my amazing mixing engineer Steve Kempster. He believed in me when I was first starting in the industry and has remained my go-to guy since then.

Every project brings new opportunities to work with new people. In the show I just finished (Frankelda’s Book of Spooks) I was introduced to a lot of wonderful musicians that I’m planning on coming back to for future projects. One of them was Ernesto Mendoza Polanco, a phenomenal theremin player. I never had the chance to record live theremin before, and working with Ernesto really opened my eyes to all the possibilities of the instrument.

What episode was the most fun to work on for Sustos Ocultos De Frankelda (Frankelda’s Book of Spooks)?

KS: Every episode of the show was so much fun to work on. The episode where we encounter the “El Coco” monster is a very musical one, and it really resonated with me on a personal level. Though I don’t want to give away too much of the story, I will say our main character is a musician herself, which meant we had to find original ways to organically shift between her performances and score.

The episode also contains the very first song I wrote for the show, a key element that establishes the style of the music for the rest of the season. Another episode that comes to mind is the season finale, because I got to bring back all the themes I had written on previous episodes. It was very fun to see how we could use music and themes to help develop the twists and turns of Frankelda’s story.

What gear do you tend to use, especially in the production of Sustos Ocultos De Frankelda?

KS: Other than my standard studio setup, I didn’t turn to a lot of outboard gear to produce the music for this show. It’s a very organic and acoustic-sounding score. The real stars of the score are the musicians that performed on it more so than any specific piece of gear. The score wouldn’t be the same without the talent of Fernando Arroyo García-Lascurain, who played some beautiful violin lines, Emily Rosenberg’s haunting singing, and all the amazing singers that performed on each song like Lourdes Ambriz and Anahí Allué (among many others).

Who are some of your influences?

KS: When I first started getting into music I was certainly more interested in the rock side of things. As years went by my musical taste evolved, leaning more towards jazz and eventually classical/orchestral music. Because of that, I’ve been influenced by so many people of many different styles including Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) and Brian May (Queen), who are still hugely inspirational to me. My music nowadays might not reflect their style directly, but I’ve always been impressed by their uniqueness and inimitability. You can put on a record of either of them and the second you heard their guitar come on, you just knew who it was. I try to apply that to my music and develop a sound that’s characteristic and unique.

On the orchestral side of things, I was always drawn to Gustavo Mahler. I love the way his music can take you on a long journey with his symphonies, much like a good film score can.

What is your dream project? Dream collaborators?

KS: I have to say, I’ve had a lot of amazing collaborators in my career. Working with Vonno and Roy Ambriz on Frankelda’s Book of Spooks has been such an honor. I’ve been working a lot with stop-motion lately, and I’d really love to collaborate with the team at Laika one day. Although most of my recent work has lived in the world of animation, I certainly don’t think of myself as an animation-only composer. I’ve been blown away by Denis Villeneuve’s work since I watched “Prisoners” and “Enemy”, it would be so much fun to get to work with him.

I’d also love to collaborate with other Mexican filmmakers that have influenced my work immensely through the years like Carlos López Estrada, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón.

Where can we find you on social media?

KS: You can find me on Instagram as @kevinsmithersmusic or on my website www.kevinsmithers.com.

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