By Walter Carter
It takes a special talent, and sometimes even a special
instrument, to create the sounds that enhance the action on a TV screen -
such as Paris Hilton falling off a horse and landing on her rear end. For
that particular scene in the opening episode of the second season of
"The Simple Life" (June 16),
score composer Roger Neill found just the right sound in his
had an Airscreamer handy because an
Airstream trailer is featured on
the show this season, and Epi sent the show's producers a guitar, which looks
like the famous recreational trailer. Neill snagged the guitar after seeing
it in the show's production office.
"It functions perfectly well as a guitar," he said. "It
took me a while to figure out that you have to pull on the wheel of the Airstream
to get it to change pickups. The pickups sound great. It's a really good,
high-powered sound. The neck is nice. It has a nice look to it."
To get the right sound for Paris hitting the ground was
not as easy as it might seem, Neill explained. "It's tricky. You want it
to be sort of funny, but Paris Hilton did fall off a horse and get hurt."
He came up with a guitar chord that goes out of tune all of a sudden, and
he also did a second part in open tuning using a slide.
guitar is Neill's main instrument in creating the score. "Unlike most of
my work," he explains, "we do nothing that uses samplers. I do it in my own
studio with Jeff Edwards, (Pictured left with Roger.) who's credited on the
show for 'additional music,' and between the two of us we play everything.
It's usually conventional country-rock and bluegrass instruments - guitars,
Dobro, banjo. Sometimes we'll grab off-the-wall things like spoons, fiddle
- which can only play one note - odd percussion instruments." (For the
gear-heads, Neill plugs his guitar into a Langevin mic preamp, to a Line
6 Pod Pro and then straight into his computer.)
Neill is probably the only professional guitarist, spoonist
and one-note fiddle player with a Ph.D. His formal training began at age
10 in San Diego, when he started playing the flute. "The moment I picked
up the instrument I showed I could play music," he said. "I started writing
pretty quickly, and my folks got me into piano." The universal motivation
for playing guitar kicked in a few years later. "Around seventh grade, I
realized that playing flute and piano was not going to cut it with the girls,
so I started playing guitar seriously in bands. I was always the guy playing
keyboards and guitar."
He continued to play classical music, too, and he auditioned
for the music school at the University of Southern California on the flute,
his major to composition. He also picked up some experience in film scoring
from working with students at USC's film school. After graduation he took
temporary jobs for six months at Fox and Paramount movie studios, where he
hung around composers and scoring sessions, but when the opportunity came
to study music at Harvard, it was an offer he couldn't pass up.
On the way to a doctorate, he won a Pete Carpenter Fellowship,
named after the late Hollywood composer best known for co-writing the themes
to "The Rockford Files" and "The A-Team." The fellowship brought young composers
to Los Angeles, and by the time Neill returned to Harvard to finish his degree,
he was sure he'd rather write music than talk about it. He wrote a few letters
and got an invitation to work for Carpenter's writing partner Mike Post.
Two weeks after arriving in L.A. in 1992, he was working on the score of
the "Silk Stockings" series.
The producers of "The Simple Life" knew of Neill's
guitar-based work on "King of the Hill" and thought he would be the right
composer for their show. As Neill recalled, "They just said, 'We're in Arkansas.
Can you write banjo music?" I said, 'Sure.' I made a number of demo pieces
that were more like signature pieces for the show."
For the second season, Neill created most of the music
ahead of time and filled in the ”cues” for unforeseen events after
filming. That has left him time to work on a variety of other projects, including
the score for the film Friday Night Lights (starring Billy Bob Thornton),
a new commercial for Lifesavers and The Beastly Bombing of the Brooklyn
Bridge, a “politically scandalous” piece of musical theater
written in the 1890s comic operetta style of Gilbert & Sullivan (Pirates
As for the Epi Airscreamer, "Presently it's just on display
in a prominent place in my studio," Neill said, just waiting for Paris' next
Be sure to watch the first episode of the new season of
"The Simple Life-2" on June 16th on FOX TV. Not only will you get to follow
celebutantes and best friends Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as they pack
up their Louis Vuitton bags for the ultimate cross country road trip but
you also might get to see them with the new Epiphone Airscreamer electric
The lovely Paris with
Nicole autographs a few
The girls pose with Aiscreamers.
For your chance to win