Silas Hite is the spirited Emmy winning musical mind who has contributed his talents to Chef's Table, Blue Mountain State, Catfish: The TV Show, Eureka, Shaggy & Scooby Doo Get A Clue, and many other coveted projects. Building upon a dynamic musical childhood, he entered the professional music landscape through an apprenticeship with his uncles, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, founding members of iconic new wave, synth pop band, Devo. Silas has actively worked as a freelance composer ever since. In addition to his work in film and television, he has released a significant body of work with his bands, Satin Cowboy & The Seven Deadly Sins and Hellbeast of the Night. In our engaging discussion, Silas speaks on the tradition of music in his family and notes the importance of strong professional relationships.
Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first know that music was what you wanted to do in your life?
When I was eleven, I told my parents that I wanted to start playing drums. I started by taking lessons from an old jazz drummer, Mel Zelnick, who used to play with Benny Goodman. In high school, I started teaching myself guitar and bass because I wanted to expand. I didn't feel like I could express myself fully on only the drum set. I wanted to write songs. I think it was during that time it started to feel like maybe music was the path for me. Also, my uncles are in a band called Devo. Music has always been part of my family and it felt like something that was achievable, even though it could be a hard road. It's something that I always thought about and I'm a creative person, so it just made sense to me.
Can you elaborate on what it was like to work with your uncles, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh at Mutato Muzika? Did their work with Devo have an influence on you?
I think when I was younger, it was, in the sense that they combined music and art into one thing and that really appealed to me. It's a commonplace idea now, but back the,n Devo were pioneers, combining art and music. They were really pushing the envelope, creating music videos before there was really a platform for them to even be seen. Musically, working with them at Mutato was a big influence as well, learning how to score and playing with synthesizers. Mark has an amazing collection of vintage synths from the early Devo days.
How long did you work there?
About seven years. I started there as an intern and worked my way into the art side of things. Basically, I was in the art department for a while, helping Mark with all his art projects, printing and keeping track of the pieces. He was doing lots of art shows at the time. I enjoyed that, but I quickly worked into the role of composer and was an in-house composer for most of my time there, scoring TV shows, movies, video games, commercials and other things. After about seven years, I left to do the same thing on my own as a freelance composer.
In your work as a composer for film, television, advertising, and video games, who have been your most significant influences? What is your favorite medium to compose in and why?
You know, my uncle was a huge influence working with him for so long, but I think I bring my own sort of flavor to it. Jon Brion is a big influence, Jonny Greenwood. Morricone is another. Although I don't get many Spaghetti Western-type projects, I really enjoy writing in that style! Or even a Country or Americana-type thing. I'm working on something today in that vein for a video game. That's really fun. I kind of grab influence from all over, even very modern pop songs. I don't even have to like the song, but I can be influenced by the production or the interesting sounds that they're bringing in.
Congratulations on your work for Netflix’s critically acclaimed food-focused docuseries, Chef’s Table. What led you to the project?
A friend of mine who's a very talented director and producer brought me in. Brian McGinn. I worked with him on some of his earlier projects. Our first was a great little documentary, The Record Breaker. It’s a film about the man with the most world records in The Guinness Book of World Records. We enjoyed working together, so we moved on from there to other things. I worked with him on Funny or Die projects, some things for Google, and then he started on Chef's Table. He recommended me for that.
So, it was really just having a good relationship with a director and us wanting to continue working together. I've been fortunate to have relationships where I found, if you prove yourself, if you’re easy to work with and reliable, people will call you back. It's one of the tips that I give younger composers. You have to be really good at what you do, but you also have to be reliable, and also - fun to work with! If you're all three of those things, often you'll have repeat clients.
How does each chef influence the tone and mood of the piece?
It is a huge influence. For example, in the first season, Ben Shewry is from New Zealand and now works in Melbourne, Australia. He is all about using native Australian ingredients in his cuisine so we wanted to play with sounds that suggested that geographical area. For the latest season, Chef's Table Pastry, Christina Tosi has this sense of wonder to her and so, I kind of stuck with the Chef's Table musical palette, but also introduced a sense of wonder and joy that she so clearly has when you see her on the screen.
You recently scored the trailer for Ocean’s 8, which has become the most successful film of the franchise. Were there any particular buzzwords or references that guided your musical approach?
Yes. That particular trailer actually was kind of a behind the scenes story of the necklace that's stolen is the movie. It was a collaboration with Warner Brothers and Cartier. My musical references were the other Ocean's 8 trailers that were out, which were remixes of “Hit The Road Jack” and “These Boots Were Made For Walking”. But because of the Cartier influence, they wanted a little bit more elegance in the music for this trailer. So, I tried a couple of different things. I tried some string things, which were a little bit too stuffy, I tried some jazz things and that sort of worked, so we stuck with using horns, but in a high-energy remix way, like the other trailers. And so it's kind of a blend of this upbeat, jazzy thing and some guitars that reference the other trailers. I did take into consideration David Holmes' scores for the other Ocean's films because I feel like his scores are synonymous with heist soundtracks now.
It is the only trailer for the film, as far as I know, that has a composer score, rather than just cutting in pre-existing music. So, I was honored to work on it.
I understand that you were recently in Ohio to film a music video for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Can you tell us how this opportunity came about?
Sure. It’s an art project for the Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art. Front Art organized this festival with the major art museums of Northeast Ohio, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and other institutions for a massive Triennial this summer. My partner in crime, Jonn Herschend, was selected to be a part of the Triennial and he asked me if I wanted to collaborate in writing a theme song for the Cleveland and Akron area. Basically, the idea was, I would write the song and he would make a video for it. Of course, it wasn’t quite that cut and dry, we helped each other out, but he’s a director and I am a composer, so we played to our strengths. We also went to great lengths to include people from that area. I recorded local musicians in a studio in Cleveland and we collected lyric ideas from the citizens of the area.
I went back to Ohio to play our song live at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the video premiere on the 15th of July. The video is in its own exhibit and plays on repeat at the Rock Hall for the duration of the Triennial, which lasts through September.
Has this been something that you've done before or is this the first time that you've been part of a music video meets installation project?
In college, I did a lot of that sort of thing, but in my professional career, I have been more focused on scoring films, television, commercials, etc. However, once Jonn and I started starting collaborating, it has evolved into less traditional projects. Our first project together was a film commission from the San Francisco MoMA, which he created and I scored. That was fairly straightforward, but in 2014 he was asked to be part of the Whitney Biennial and we collaborated on a scored PowerPoint presentation video piece. Very strange, but very fun. He once asked me to write a theme song for a train station in Denmark. *laughs* He’s always coming up with unique and fun projects for us! I’ve been lucky to keep one foot in the art world, which is really nice because that's a part of my past and I'm very much into it.
Tell us about the creative impulse behind your latest project, Vol. 1: Sounds for a Dinner Party. What inspired you to craft an album for dinner parties?
It was actually my wife's idea. We both have a love of putting on a record, like a physical vinyl album. She thought it would be cool if we had my music on vinyl so that we could put in on while we were doing things around the house. It got her thinking, and she asked me "Why don't you create a soundtrack for an actual live event rather than a film or TV show? Why don't you set the mood for people's lives?" Sounds for a Dinner Party would be the first volume and then, time permitting, there will be other volumes. We've talked about Sounds for a Pool Party, Sounds for a Cocktail Party, and even Sounds for Halloween Party. So we'll see. So far, I’ve released Sounds for a Dinner Party digitally and the vinyl will be released in mid-August. I’ve got a lot of pre-orders and if all goes well, I will continue with this concept and continue to make more albums.
As a musician, you have contributed to many other albums featuring independent artists in a multitude of genres. What have been your most creatively fulfilling collaborations to date? Are there any particular genres you feel most comfortable writing in?
At the moment, I would say my Americana project, The Satin Cowboy & The Seven Deadly Sins has been the most fulfilling because it's basically just me playing most of the instruments and then I ask friends and family to join in and contribute. My father is playing guitar on one of the tracks, I took lyrics that my grandfather had written and turned that into a song on the first album. I’ve had two friends, in particular, Patrick Whitehorn and Shawn Kelley who have really helped with the artwork and photography respectively. And so it's really about getting friends involved and having fun. I'm not worried about selling records but more about making fun music where I can express myself, and that’s kind of what that music is supposed to be all about.
I did have a band with my wife called Hellbeast of The Night and, despite the evil-sounding name, it wasn't that evil. It was more just rock, in the vein of The White Stripes or The Black Keys with a Queens of the Stone Age influence. That was a lot of fun too, to make music with my wife, Lisa. She will be playing bass and singing at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with me. She's from Akron and played in a band out there for many years.
I also wanted to discuss your work as an artist. How long have you been drawing? Would you say that you have an equal sense of passion and love for art as you do for music?
Oh, my whole life. I can’t say equal. Honestly, music takes up almost all of my time because fortunately, I have so many projects and great clients. Music really gets 90% of my time, if not more. But I do love art and I think sometimes if I can create some visual art it unlocks a different part of my brain.
On a final note, what advice would you give to up and coming musicians and other artists, who are looking to develop their artistry and navigate the business of composing?
Remember that your job as a composer is to write music for someone else's project. It's not about you, or your music, it's about helping tell their story, and so, you must remove your ego. A lot of composers fall short because they are very precious and protective of their music and don’t want to make revisions or changes, but that's not what it's about. The job is about helping someone else tell their story through music. If you just want to make music for yourself, just go and make music for your yourself. I do both and it helps me achieve some creative balance in my life.