Not too long ago, Chance Thomas was just a performer in a cover band on a cruise ship. Now he’s an Academy Award-winning composer. If you’ve played Avatar (the video game), Lord of the Rings Online, Quest for Glory V, King Kong, or X-Men, or if you’ve seen the animated short film The ChubbChubbs, you’re probably very familiar with his music. Chance Thomas is a highly skilled and highly popular composer for video games, film, commercials, and television. His projects have won major awards, such as Oscars and Emmys, and was one of the very first people advocating full orchestral soundtracks to video games. Chance has had a long and powerful history in the entertainment industry, and he’s taken a little time out of his busy schedule to give Linescratchers an interview.
Tell us a little about how you began playing and writing music.
A: When I was young, I took turns learning the violin, piano, cello and drums. I eventually gave up on the string instruments, but stuck with piano and drums. I started writing love songs when I was about twelve years old – the voice of experience, for sure. 🙂 As I got into high school, I formed a rock band and started writing more progressive songs and instrumental pieces. During college I recorded an album of pop tunes under the mentoring of my University recording professor Jim Anglesey and got my first real taste of extended studio production. I was hooked. I opened a music production company called byChance Productions and started hustling whatever work I could get – industrial videos, jingles, independent films, whatever – anything so I could write and produce more music.
What bands or artists inspired you as you got older?
Tchaikovsky, Kansas, John Williams, Loreena McKennitt, Mozart, Boston, James Newton Howard, Sam Cardon, Elton John, Handel, James Horner, Styx, Billy Joel, Yes, Danny Elfman, Michael Giacchino….
You have mentioned that you have worked various musical jobs, such as singing on a cruise ship and playing at restaurants. I’m sure it goes without saying that you like composing for video games better than cruise gigs?
A: I love people, so when I was entertaining, I always enjoyed the experience of getting to know our audiences after a live performance. What I wasn’t so crazy about was the sound of my own singing voice during those live performance days! Which leads me to what I love about working in the studio. Nothing thrills me more than a well produced, polished recording of a gloriously written piece of music. My whole life I’ve been moved by such works. The first time I heard Handel’s Messiah, James Newton Howard’s Fugitive score, John Williams’ Phantom Menace score, Sam Cardon’s Third Spring and on and on – these moments of recorded musical magic have thrilled me to the core. And so I enjoy writing, recording and producing music in pursuit of creating new moments like these, and yes, I find it very fulfilling.
You mentioned in the Deseret News that you have made a decision not to violate or compromise your values in the music industry. In what ways are values compromised in the film and video game industry?
A: There was an ancient king who had something to say about there being divers ways and means, so many that he couldn’t number them, right? But to bring the discussion to a couple of concrete points, let’s start with Sundays. I’ve made it a habit not to work on Sundays. This is a day to recharge, a day to connect with my children and my wife, and most importantly, a day to renew my spiritual commitments. We have lots of crunch time in the game industry, and I may have to work 100 hours some weeks. But I will squeeze those hours in between Monday morning and Saturday night.
As another example, I don’t work on games that target an M rating, or films that target an R rating. I certainly respect what other people do, but this is just what I’m comfortable with.
In what other ways does your faith influence the music you write or the work that you do?
A: I believe in approaching the creation of a piece of music spiritually. I like to envision the world where the story or scene is taking place, then plant myself firmly in that scene with my imagination and open up my feelings, to sense the emotions of that moment. As I imagine myself there in that scene, musical ideas tend to flow in a way that is symbiotic to the scene. This results in music that is very visual, for lack of a better word. Meaning that frequently, when people listen to one of my scores, they can almost see the scene taking place in their mind’s eye. So my basic approach to composition comes from a very spiritual place. I also turn to our Creator for direction and inspiration all the time. And I believe that anything good that I’ve ever produced ultimately comes as a result of that inspiration. So yes, my faith definitely plays a role in my work.
Have you played any of the video games you’ve written music for?
Ever since video games have been invented, the music has been getting more complex and symphonic. Were you inspired by any other video game composers?
A: Ahh, you could benefit from a bit of research. If you dig around, you’ll find that I was one of the earliest proponents of symphonic scores for games and have been a vocal evangelist for this my entire career in gaming. Quest for Glory V had one of the first scores in gaming history to utilize a live orchestra. My friend Tommy Tallarico has been an even more ardent advocate. I remember when he and I did a panel at the Game Developer’s Conference back in 1998 or so promoting the dramatic and qualitative benefits of using a live orchestra for your game score. It wasn’t hard to convince developers and publishers of the bang they would get. But getting them to swallow the buck part has taken some time. Even now, hiring a live orchestra is still too expensive for all but the biggest games’ audio budgets.
What dreams or goals do you have for the future of your music?
A: Oh wow, where do I start? Still so many goals to accomplish, so many dreams to pursue. Many years ago I sat in Graumann’s Chinese Theater on the opening night of Men in Black II. Before the feature started, they showed a short film called The ChubbChubbs, which featured an original score that I composed and remakes of some classic R&B songs that I arranged and produced. To hear my work in surround at such a huge theater, with the images on such a huge screen, sitting together with such a huge audience was simply, well…… HUGE! Such a tremendous experience. I’d like to have that experience again, but with an entire score for a full feature length film.
What else? I’d like to see the Grammy Awards make a separate category for game music. I’d like to see one of my friends in the game business write a #1 hit single. I’d like to build a new studio. I’d like to teach more University Master Classes. I hope to keep composing and working with fabulous musicians and engineers for many years to come.
And on a more personal note, I’d like to stay married to my wife! I had lunch today with a fellow composer who shares my faith. He pointed out that we were two of only a handful of composers we knew who were still married to their first wife. I couldn’t believe it at first. But as I thought about it, I realized he was right. I don’t want that to happen to us.
How can interested listeners support you and your music? Where can we go to hear more?
A: Right now anyone can visit the HUGEsound.com website and click on “LISTEN” to pull up our music player loaded with dozens of music clips arranged by genre – Action, Thematic, Fantasy, etc. But coolest of all, there is a SPOTLIGHT section on the music player which includes several full length tracks. Right now we’re featuring some of the Lord of the Rings Online: Mines of Moria score.
Also, if you do a search on iTunes for “Chance Thomas”, you can find some of my early work available there for purchase, including the soundtrack from Quest for Glory V, the soundtrack from Left Behind: Eternal Forces, and my Giacchino tribute for Best of the Best: A Tribute to Game Music, Medal of Honor Improvisation.