Interview: Turner and Hooch Composer Jeff Cardoni Discusses Disney+ Series

By | August 4, 2021

The new Disney+ series Turner and Hooch is currently streaming, and to commemorate the event we sat down with composer Jeff Cardoni to discuss his terrific score for the project. Check out the interview below!

“Uptight young Deputy Marshal Scott Turner’s life is turned upside down when he inherits Hooch, a slobbery mess of a dog,” explains the plot synopsis for Turner and Hooch, which is based on the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy of the same name. “His new pet is aggravating, but he turns out to be quite good at helping Scott catch criminals, find love, and maybe even solve the mystery of Scott’s Dad’s last case.”

Jeff Cardoni (Silicon Valley, The Kominsky Method) is the composer behind the upbeat music that accompanies the fun-loving dog Hooch and his owner on their many adventures. When it came to scoring the series, Jeff’s greatest challenge was shifting the tone of the score, as the mood can change on a dime throughout the series. There are real stakes in the action and chase scenes, but Hooch makes them light-hearted and comedic, so Jeff’s score had to be able to pivot to enhance both the funny and chaotic moments. The musical palette consists of rock band instruments with a full orchestra. Hooch’s theme is piano-driven and happens to be the first thing the composer wrote!

The next project on the slate for Cardoni is the Starz wrestling drama Heels, starring Stephen Amell, premiering on August 15.

Jeff Ames: Let’s talk about your work on Turner and Hooch – as someone who really loved the original film, I thought they did a great job balancing the old with the new.

That’s good to hear! Yeah, they had to thread the needle for people who like the movie with the new generation. I think they pulled it off.

It’s interesting how the basic Turner and Hooch storyline actually works really well as a weekly police procedural. I never imagined that before.

Yeah, it’s kind of cool. They keep that through-line going up until the very end of the season.

So, focusing a little on you, what drew you to the world of film and TV composing?

I started playing piano as a kid and then I picked up a guitar and spent my early 20s playing guitar in bands. We had a manager out here in LA who was a Music Supervisor at the time, and he introduced me to that world of film and TV composing that I didn’t really know existed. So, I decided to pivot from being in a band to that sort of work because that seemed to be where my interest lied. I moved our here, went to UCLA and took some classes — film scoring and all that — and just tried to figure it out.

You are a traditionalist in the sense that you prefer classical instruments as opposed to the modern electronic style, right?

I do use a lot of real instruments on my stuff. I’ve just always been attracted to that. Of course, that being said, my first major gig was CSI: Miami; and that was relatively electronic. I don’t think there’s anything I do that doesn’t have traditional instruments on it, because I just like the emotion of real instruments. I feel if everything is computer, everything is in a box and everything sounds the same. I like the imperfection of real instruments, especially when I play them terribly myself. (Laughs)

So, CSI: Miami was your first big gig. What was that experience like?

You know, I got out here in ’98 and kicked it around for a few years trying to make something happen. At that point in my life, in ’03, I was about two weeks from leaving town because it just wasn’t happening. While living in a seedy hotel down by the airport in L.A. and believe me it’s a place you don’t want to be, I got a chance to demo for CSI — the original composer, Graeme Revell, was leaving. I knew the music supervisor and he asked me to demo and I thought, “There’s no way in hell they’re going to go from Graeme Revell to me!” (Laughs)

Anyway, I got a chance to do a whole episode and I just got lucky, man. I was sitting in a Denny’s parking lot by a strip club by the airport and got the call saying that I got the gig. It was a life-changer, for sure!

Well, since that time you’ve been attached to a lot of big projects — The Defenders, Entourage, and a huge variety of shows.

Yeah, it’s a little all over the map! (Laughs) I never intended on doing comedy. It’s really weird that ever since Silicon Valley I get hired on some comedies. It’s kind of an unexpected turn for me, but, you know, you just kind of hang on for dear life and see where this thing takes you. I’m happy to be working.

Do you have a specific genre you enjoy working in?

I enjoy drama the most to be totally honest. I like when you get to play the emotional music and really lean into the drama. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to find that line of being emotional and making people feel without being melodramatic or sappy.

Did you have other composers or artists that you patterned your style after?

I’m sure, like 99% of other composers, I was a huge John Williams fan, along with Danny Elfman and Jerry Goldsmith. But I think Thomas Newman is when I really first noticed like you could be not just a traditional classic voice in music. There’s a movie called Less Than Zero in ’89 and Newman’s score just really stuck with me. It was a whole new direction you could take scoring. It was a little more modern and ambiguous, so he was an enormous influence on me.

I’m also a guitar player and I think I spent the first ten years of doing this hiding the fact I was a guitar player because it wasn’t cool to be a guy from a band in the early 2000s. So, I wasted a lot of time trying to do my bad version of John Williams or Hans Zimmer. Slowly, I brought a lot more guitar into my stuff.

I think at a certain point when you do this, you realize you have a certain way to approach something. When I first started, the thought of getting a film without any temp music or direction was utterly terrifying, because you don’t really know who you are yet. At a certain point I just realized — really, in the last five years — I know, when I get sent something, what I would do. All you can do is your version of what you think it should be. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least you have a style. When I start on something, I know that it’s me. I stopped trying to be someone else. I’ve had a lot of projects over the last several years with no temp music or no direction and it’s been kind of cool.

Young Sheldon had no idea what they wanted, so I did what I thought was going to work and it just worked out. Same with The Kominsky Method, Chuck [Lorre] had no idea what he was looking for, so it just led to a lot of trial and error. Where we ended up is pure, it’s what I thought worked. It’s gratifying when you finally get to the solution and it’s not some emulation of something else.

Is it difficult with TV shows balancing older material with newer material? Because I’d imagine you can’t start from scratch on each episode, but you don’t want the material to grow stale, either.

I’m unique in the fact that I write every note myself. (Laughs) I don’t have ghostwriters, so, I don’t know any other way. I get the episode and I start at the beginning. I don’t know any other way to do it. Like, I have mixers and others who help with the technical stuff. There are melodies in Turner and Hooch, and they’re reused for themes a lot, but every cue is pretty much written new. That’s just my process, I know it’s not everyone’s process, but it’s what I’ve gotten used to. I just like when you start at the beginning and you get to the end and you put all the cues up on iTunes and it’s like a journey, it’s like a book. There’s something gratifying to me about that. And if some of the chapters were written by some else, I don’t think it would be as gratifying for me.

So, how did you land Turner and Hooch?

I got a call from Jason Harkins. We had worked together about ten years ago together and in that time, I had done music for Fox called Firehouse Dog, so he called me. I hadn’t worked with Matt Nix before, so I had to do a ton of demos. I honestly thought it went away and I got a call saying, “Hey, I heard you were working on Turner and Hooch,” and I was like, “I didn’t know I was working on Turner and Hooch!” (Laughs) So, that was nice surprise during COVID. It was fun working with Matt, and McG definitely has, especially on the pilot, he’s got that big studio action thing down. So, it was fun to try to rise to the occasion with him.

Yeah, that was one of the surprises from the pilot was seeing McG’s name on there as the director.

Yeah, then the action scenes make a lot more sense. I mean, the car flipping … that’s not easy! It’s really cool.

What was your approach to the show?

Well, the hardest thing was all the stakes were played real. All the action was played like a studio action movie, but then you’d cut to a dog in the middle of that action. So, kind of threading the needle from making it seem real and not a cartoon, but also addressing that one of the main characters is a dog – that was the needle that was hardest to figure out. I don’t personally like to score the comedy on some of that stuff and would maybe leave it dry, but it being Disney, they had some thoughts on how they wanted to handle that. In the end, it was handled with a lot of music. We had a tune for the dog that doesn’t show up in the pilot — the theme song isn’t in the pilot — ironically enough, but it appears all over the place for Hooch. And then there’s also a theme for his dad — that underlying search that goes on all season for his dad.

Is there a specific cue you’re excited for audiences to hear?

Well, the second episode is a play on Die Hard and it’s really cool how they did it. I was ten minutes in before I realized, oh, this is Die Hard! He’s guarding a little girl at the hotel and he cuts his foot on a piece of glass, so he takes off his shirt and is in a tank top; and then this terrorist guy comes into the hotel and I’m like, “Oh my God, they’re doing Die Hard!” It’s pretty cool. So, the whole episode is Hooch in Die Hard. So, there’s a ton of music there and there was some discussion about referencing Michael Kamen. In the end we didn’t, but I still managed to sneak in a little bit of orchestration that I thought was reminiscent of his work. So, that was fun.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk to us about?

I do! I’ve got an upcoming wrestling drama on Starz called Heels that comes out August 15. That is one of my most proud moments of music. It’s all guitar and piano. Speaking of drama that I like to do; I feel like the show is the show I’ve wanted to do for 15 years. It’s so good! If there’s a style of music I like to write it’s Heels.

I had a year to do it and we did a lot of it away from the picture because they were shooting and then it got stopped due to COVID. It just felt very pure and artistic because it was all done away, and it just worked.

For the theme song on that show, I got to collaborate with a band called Band of Horses. It’s really cool! It’s an awesome show. If you like Friday Night Lights or movies like The Wrestler, it’s just straight drama with lots of heart. The pilot of that show is the best pilot I’ve ever seen. It’s really great!