Born in Morocco, and raised in Belgium, Youssef Guezoum is the most successful Moroccan film composer in Hollywood. We had the chance to talk to chat with Youssef, and you can read our interview further down.
Youssef, or as he’s more familiarly known, Joe, has made a name for himself underscoring and composing many different theme tunes for a wide range of TV shows, working for NFL-CBS Sport, Paramount Pictures, Immediate Music, Universal Music, and Lion’s Gate – just to name a few.
Joe was born in Marrakesh, Morocco, and started playing guitar at the age of 10. After he finished high school, he moved to Canada, where he studied sound engineering at Vancouver Film School. From there he relocated to Brussels, Belgium, for further study, this time classical music, at the Académie G. H. Luytgaerens de Jette. Joe also pursued his master’s degree with the famous film score composer, Hummie Mann, best known for his scores for the Mel Brooks films, ‘Robin Hood: Men In Tights’ and ‘Dracula: Dead And Loving It’. He first started film scoring in 2009, when he collaborated with Belgian director Noureddine Zerrad, and composed music for the short film, ‘Tension’. The following year, Joe worked on the music for the film, ‘Soldiers’, which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Claudia Bassols. In 2012 Joe worked with the Moroccan film director Hicham Hajji, on his Arabic film, ‘Chaala’. The next year he worked on the film ‘War Game’, directed by Guillaume Didier.
With such incredible accomplishments under his belt, both academically and career-wise, there was really only one place left for Joe to go: he moved to Los Angeles in 2013.
Jean-Claude Van Damme sought out his assistance once again, this time to score ‘Full Love’, which was written and directed by the Belgian action superstar himself. Further to this, Joe has also forged a close working relationship with the legendary Israeli singer, musician, and composer, Noam Kaniel, and since 2017, he has been co-composing with Kaniel on the Power Rangers series of TV shows, including 5 episodes of ‘Power Rangers Ninja Steel’, and 17 episodes of ‘Power Rangers Hyperforce’. He is currently working on the latest series, ‘Power Rangers Beast Morphers’, which is set for release this year.
Joe, who not only plays guitar but also bass and piano, draws inspiration for his music from elements of middle eastern music, including the Gnawa music of his Moroccan homeland. Gnawa music is a particularly Moroccan style of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms. Nowadays Gnawa has spread throughout many other countries in Africa and Europe, in particular France.
Listening to his music, Joe’s style feels very orchestral, and there appears to be inspiration from John Williams, particularly in his composition for the original motion picture soundtrack of ‘Gassiaux’:
Contrast this with his piece, ‘Why You Laugh’, composed for the Gordon Ramsay TV series, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’, which is more upbeat and contemporary, guitar-led with jazz elements, and still some clearly middle-eastern touches:
Joe collaborated with Tunisian director, Moslah Kraiem on the film, ‘Beb El Fella – Le Cinemonde‘. The film, which was the directorial debut for Kraiem, was shot entirely in the Medina of Tunis, and tells the story of a young woman who is murdered by a serial killer, but the crime remained an unsolved mystery for the police. Eventually a journalist sets out to solve it, and a story unravels of death, love, and cinema. The film took 17 years to finally find its way to the big screen due to censorship. Joe’s soundtrack conveys the feeling of hopelessness, the sadness, and most of all, the beautiful landscape of Tunisia. We are brought to mind the music of Gabriel Yared, with his soundtrack for ‘The English Patient‘; the main title track for ‘Le Cinemonde’ (listen below) is a beautiful orchestral piece, with the addition of simple piano and dramatic strings:
The end title composition for the Jean-Claude Van Damme film, ‘Full Love’, is high energy, orchestral, and clearly written for an action film, with a high tempo elements embedded in an otherwise steady rhythm. We’re reminded of James Bond action music, and also, as with Gassiaux, there’s hints of inspiration from John Williams, and other action composers, like John Williams (compare Zimmer’s piece, ‘Why Do We Fall‘):
We spent a lot of yesterday listening to Joe’s music, and so we decided we should like to get to know him a bit better. We’re sure you’ll agree there’s a lot to be learned from his experience, and that you’ll find Joe as fascinating as we have.
Hi Joe! You’re now in Los Angeles, with a studio in Burbank – but you were born in Morocco, and have studied in Canada and Belgium. Connect the dots for us: how did you end up there?
My dream began at a very young age while I was still living in Marrakesh (Morocco). I received my first guitar at the age of 10, so after a few years of practicing, I started playing as a bassist at 17 years old, in neighbourhood bands doing concerts or events.
One day I was watching a Hollywood movie whose score was composed by the legend John Williams – it was like I was suddenly infected by some virus – it was at that point I decided then to become a film music composer.
I went to Vancouver, Canada, to study, and after completing my degrees in sound design and mixing for motion pictures, I returned to Belgium to continue my courses in orchestration (Classical Music). at the music academy in Jette (Brussels).
After a great experience in Europe working in the movie industry, I was lucky to meet with my agent, “George C”, who helped me settle in Los Angeles.
I have always said that I have to work hard and wait for opportunities.
After my return from Canada I was finishing my classes in classical music and solfege, and I founded a production company specializing in music motion picture in a small studio in the centre of Brussels. We went from small free projects, to documentaries, then on to international feature films! I was so lucky!
Do you feel your studies have helped you get to where you are today, or do you believe you would have made it anyway?
In my career I have always done things to a professional standard, I am a little bit of a perfectionist – but to become a film composer you have to go through stages. With my studies I had the opportunity to experience the technology of Music by computer so I highly recommended it.
Who are your inspirations in life? What about in music? Do you feel a kinship with particular composers and have taken influence from their work? Who do you most admire?
John Williams and Alan Silvestri are for me the masters in the film music industry, because I grew up with their scores in my head and their ways of writing music is unique!!!
Talk us through film scoring. What is the process? Presumably you look at footage and get a vibe of how it should sound from that, but have you ever come unstuck and not been able to compose suitable music?
That’s a pretty huge question! It can vary, but usually a film composer is hired late in the process, after many other people have been involved in the film for a very long time, so usually there are ideas about the music in place before the composer arrives on the scene. Of course, these ideas can affect what composer gets the job in the first place. S,o if by asking how you even start, you’re asking how you get the musical ideas, usually the basic direction is given to you when you start the job, and it’s all about finding inspiration from the film from there.
It’s a collaborative process. A film composer isn’t really creating their own music, but rather the film’s music, the director’s music, the studio’s music, or whatever. It’s very different from making an album where the music is clearly YOURS.
The traditional process is – the composer is given the edit of the film. In the old days, this would have been a final, locked cut, but now with digital editing, films are constantly changing. Most films are also edited with temp music these days; prior film scores, or other music used for timing and mood. If at all possible, I like my first viewing of a film to be without temp music, so that I can come to a project fresh rather than being too influenced by that. But you take what you can get.
Traditionally, the next step would be the spotting session, though temp music these days can make this step less necessary. A spotting session involves the director, composer, music editor, maybe editor, maybe certain produces, going through the film bit by bit in detail, talking about what music is needed, what purpose it will serve, etc. The music editor, or composer if there is no music editor, will keep detailed notes which then go into a master list of the music that needs to be done. There are of course other meetings and means of communication over time, but the spotting session would be the main opportunity to talk function and style of the music.
Then the composer heads off and gets to work in his own studio. This used to mean lots of sketching at the piano, but now means doing pretty fully produced music in a home studio. With lower budgets, this would be all the composer himself. On bigger films, there can be huge teams involved. The composer, a team of synth programmers, a team of engineers, a team of additional composers who flesh out the ideas of the leader, and a team of orchestrators who translates ideas to notation for the whole orchestra (if there is one used in the score). The composer or team will make mockups, versions of the score with electronic instruments imitating orchestra or other needed instruments, to show to the director and/or producers for approval. This can be in person or via internet.
What’s been your absolute highlight as a composer so far? The best job you’ve done, most exciting person you’ve worked with?
I’ve worked in Hollywood with a many award-winning producers and composers, and all of them have been special and amazing collaborations for me. It’s always a pleasure to have a huge experience with them; it’s an honour.
You’ve worked on a lot of films and tv shows, including several series of Power Rangers, and CSI: Miami. You’ve also scored the feature film ‘Full Love’, which was written and directed by Jean-Claude Van Damme. How did that come about, and do you sometimes pinch yourself when you think how far you’ve come?
Yes every project I have, I adapt to the situation and also to my client, their budget, and timing, and I give my best 200%…but with Jean-Claude Van Damme…it’s different: with him I feel that I composed for his films because I really feel it inside, and also it gave me time to inspire and see things in his way.
You’ve also got a close working relationship with Israeli composer Noam Kaniel. How did you meet?
Noam Kaniel is not a client or friend but he is like my brother. He hired me as co-composer for ‘Power Rangers – Ninja Steel’ and since then we have had a wonderful relationship, and i’m still enjoying scoring the next season of ‘Power Rangers – Beast Morphers’, which will be coming out this year, 2019.
When you’re composing for something like ‘Power Rangers’, which has a very recognisable theme, how are you able to work that into your compositions so they still sound like the brand, but also sound like your work?
First of all – It’s an incredible honour to be a part of the Saban Entertainement Universe…I have so many people to thank for helping me on this journey but first and foremost, my incredible buddy and the legend Noam Kaniel for believing in me from day one.
I was directed by him all the season and following his notes regarding orchestration, and how to be able to write with same way but with your own touch, and that is what I did.
If someone wanted to get into film and tv scoring, what advice would you give them?
Oh! Great question!
Being a film composer, the best advice I ever heard was probably from Hans Zimmer who said,
“It’s all very well writing music, and it’s all very well being good at writing music, but the real secret is you’ve got to know why you’re writing it and what it’s for.”
Is it different working in Los Angeles to working in Europe? If so, in what way?
Working In LA is better than Europe. It’s the best place to be if you work in film industry.
There are more chance to get a project, and also more chances of meeting face to face, to be able to convince your client in your studio.
Do you have a favourite recording software package, and if so what is it and why?
I use many kinds of music software, but my favourite one is Logic Pro X. I’ve stuck with it now for more than 8 years…Pro Tools is best for mixing.
What’s next on the horizon for you? More film work? More TV? Something completely different?
I have some movie projects coming soon this year, and I will conduct one piece with an orchestra in Prague. I’m also finishing a mix on my music trailer album for tv and film, so a lot of things coming, just stay tuned!
What question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but nobody ever does?
Did your parents support you in becoming who you are now?
No unfortunately, I grew up and lived without my parents beside me, it’s a long story. But I got a lot of support from my wife and friends, and so I can say that I got my life balance.
You can find out more about the incredible and fascinating Joe Guezoum on his official website, IMDb, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to him on YouTube, and stream and download his music on SoundCloud, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and Deezer.
Watch out for ‘Full Love’, with Youssef Guezoum’s incredible soundtrack: