Since the rebirth of GI Joe in animated form, two names have been virtually inseparable from Hasbro’s flagship property: ReelFX Creative Studios and Juniper Music . On the afternoon of Friday, February 11th I sat down with a very gracious Jon Slott (executive producer) and John Hunter (senior composer), the founders of Juniper Music, to discuss their studios involvement in the GI Joe mythos. Our hour and twenty minute discussion touched on the company’s creation, their musical backgrounds, Juniper’s partnership with Hasbro and ReelFX and the company’s future projects.
The founders of Juniper Music first met during their college days at the University of Berkley in California where both were attending. Mr. Hunter was pursing a major in film scoring while Mr. Slott was in the music production and engineering program. Their first meeting was brought about as a teaming for a class that tried to recreate the realities of collaboration in the music industry. The teaming was so good that it was a “natural progression” to work together again. After their graduation from Berkley and working solo in the marketplace, they eventually decided to further their collaboration and create their own company: Juniper.
Juniper, founded nearly 10 years ago, owes its name to the combined ethic heritage of it’s founders, one of whom is of Jewish heritage and the other Japanese heritage. With the company’s name decided upon, the next obstacle was location. The obvious choices for a musical production company were already saturated because they were just that: obvious. What Juniper needed was a city that was big, but not too big. They needed a city with connections, but not a city that was already populated by tons of businesses like the one that Jon Slott and John Hunter were about to form. Dallas, Texas became the choice location for the company to put down its roots.
Currently, Juniper Music employees six people, four of whom are active in the musical compositions that Juniper produces for the commercial market. While sometimes they hire freelance musicians, primarily for DJ and vocal roles, all of Juniper’s music is created in house from the piece’s composition to production.
Music: Commercial Style
During our interview, Mr. Slott and Mr. Hunter were kind enough to explain a little bit about the industry they operate in. Being a commercial music company that creates music for advertisements, cartoons and other media, Juniper operates on a simple premise: “do what ever is needed to get the job done”. The companies that contract Juniper have final say on the end product and are often involved during various stages of the project. This is understandable since companies want their products represented in the best way it can be and few things are more powerful than a musical score to help make a product memorable. To their credit, Juniper does a great job of satisfying their customers.
Depending on the format of the media they are scoring, Juniper uses a variety of methods to capture the spirit of the produce for the music they create. In the past, the company has based their music off of verbal descriptions of a scene, story boards or rough footage. Most often storyboards are used to pace the music since they represent the farthest stage of production the media is in at the time Juniper joins the creation process. During their involvement on GI Joe: Spy Troops, Juniper’s Jon Slott came up with the concept for “Eyes of the Hero” from a verbal description of the first two minutes of the feature.
Through The Eyes Of The Hero
When Juniper chose Dallas as their location, they had no idea what the future was going to bring them. They most certainly did not envision teaming up with nearby ReelFX Studios or becoming involved with the Dallas based advertising, ELP Uproar. These events did take place though and they lead Juniper to a relationship with Hasbro. That relationship lead them to A Real American Hero: GI Joe and a place in the greater GI Joe mythos.
Juniper had first began work for Hasbro producing music for commercials for Hasbro’s Zoids line as well as FurReal Friends, Super Soaker, Nerf and other lines. During this time, ReelFX was producing the first computer animated commercials for the newly re-launched GI Joe line. When the time came to add music, ReelFX turned to Juniper to add the final touch. Juniper and ReelFX already had a good working relationship and according to Jon Slott and John Hunter, both companies are quite friendly towards each other. With the commercial done, Juniper had taken their first step in a direction that would lead them to score two feature length GI Joe films.
As ReelFX continued work on the CGI commercials, the idea of a direct to DVD feature was conceived. Once again, Juniper was tapped to provide the score for GI Joe’s first mission onto the TV screen since the 90s. Working from a verbal description of the opening two minutes of GI Joe: Spy Troops from Brandon Oldenberg of ReelFX, Juniper’s John Hunter went with a heavy rock sound for “Eyes Of The Hero”, GI Joe’s very first full length theme song. Hasbro deferred a lot to Juniper on the creation of the theme song, but did make one request: to ring in a DJ to resample parts of the original GI Joe theme song from the 1980s Sunbow cartoons. Hasbro wanted to pay homage to GI Joe’s origins, thus Michael Bell’s character of “Duke” was sampled yelling the classic GI Joe battle cry of “Yo Joe!” to be dubbed in as Spy Troops opened.
Jon Slott remarked that “Hasbro was great to work with” and that the company wanted to keep the music to the “spirit of the property”. Hasbro was equally impressed with Juniper’s work. The first day the mp3 of “Eyes of the Hero” was available for download on GIJoe.com (http://www.gijoe.com), fans throughout the world brought the server down within the first 4 hours.
Standing On The Glory Unseen
With the success of GI Joe: Spy Troops, Hasbro had it’s flagship line back in the media spotlight. To follow up on the success of their first direct to DVD movie it was decided that the new yearly theme would have it’s own movie as well. What started off as GI Joe: Evilution became Valor vs Venom, and it’s theme song told the story of soldiers who do their job to save people they’ll never know.
“Glory Unseen”, GI Joe’s second full length theme song, sprung from a free association meeting with Billy Lagor, current brand manager of GI Joe who at the time was the 3 3/3” line manager. Talking with Jon Slott and John Hunter Billy Lagor laid out some of his own ideas and mentioned concepts that guided the song such as “glory unseen”, “I could never betray you” and more. Before the music could be written though, a decision had to be made. Would this new song follow “Eyes of the Hero” as a heavy rock song or would it take another direction? The decision was split between heavy rock and a rock ballad. Billy Lagor was the person who tilted the decision toward the rock ballad that “Glory Unseen” became, wanting to give the film an epic and inspirational quality. Juniper’s Nick Seeley took the task of writing “Glory Unseen” and turned out a song that not only pleased GI Joe fans, but a song that many soldiers fighting in Iraq and abroad found inspiration as well.
As stated earlier, most of the time Juniper gets involved with the scoring of the feature at the point in production where only story boards exist. Story boards, graphical break-downs of each scene and the action in it, are what were primarily used to guide Juniper in their scoring of Valor vs Venom. There was a twist though. Thanks to Juniper’s relationship with ReelFX, Juniper occasionally provided ReelFX with the music score so that CGI scenes could be tweaked to compliment the music. Duke’s fight with Wild Weasel and Storm Shadow’s and Snake Eye’s face off are prime examples of how well this technique works.
Heading Onto The Future
Juniper’s latest addition to it’s place in the GI Joe mythos was their music for GI Joe: Ninja Battles. Ninja Battles proved a bit different from Juniper’s other forays into GI Joe. While the end of the direct to DVD mini feature did feature the pulse pounding rhythm that ReelFX has become known for in the GI Joe community, Juniper also provided very Eastern style melodies through the production. As of this writing, Ninja Battles may prove Juniper’s last entry into the annals of GI Joe. They have not been contacted to score this summer’s feature, GI Joe: Robot Rebellion. Juniper though has just recently completed scoring a new direct to DVD feature for GI Joe’s cousin, Action Man.
Action Man: The Ultimate X proved to be very different from GI Joe. Where GI Joe had a distinctly American feel to it’s lyrics and music, Action Man’s theme will be more “European”. The direct to DVD installment of Action Man’s battle against Dr. X was animated by ReelFX and will be released in the United Kingdom this Spring through Paramount Home Entertainment. It may also see release in Canada later in 2005.
Outside of the Hasbro licenses, Juniper is preparing to make the move to the big screen, a project headed by John Slott the company’s executive producer. The company has invested in special audio equipment that they hope will open new doors to them in motion pictures and broadcast media.
Juniper Music, located in Dallas Texas, currently works with companies such as Hasbro, McDonalds, Showtime, CBS Sports and numerous others. To view samples of their work, check out their website at http://www.junipermusic.com. On behalf of myself and JoeBattleLines.com I extend my thanks to Jon Slott and John Hunter for a wonderful and informative interview.