Sound Q&A: Putting the Rawk in Rolling Rock

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Rolling Rock and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners could've used any musical genre to accompany their newest Old Latrobe mascot, the Beer Ape. Hip-hop, funk, polka - all perfectly capable of providing an ample soundtrack for any beer-promoting primate. But in the end, it was some old-fashioned, hair farmin' arena rock that captured their hearts. Apart from the commercials, the tune is also available on the Rolling Rock website as a downloadable ring tone. Composer Steven Emerson of Ever Music Group talks about writing the Beer Ape anthem, the finer points of Ratt, and something called "mental crop rotation."

How did the beer ape "sound" come about?
Steve Emerson: The producer James Horner approached me - our daughters go to the same school. He knew I composed music, though it's very different from this track - I perform and write a lot of jazz. He gave me the one-page summary that described it as: ape parachutes into boring backyard party, throws some Rolling Rock around and everyone gets excited. And they knew they wanted an '80s hair band feel to it. They wanted us to write a whole song, as opposed to a short bit just for the commercial, so we ended up writing two songs. My partner on the song, Jon Evans. who's an engineer and producer, and I took the elements of the script and got some lyric ideas.

What bands or songs inspired you?
Once we were in the studio we went to iTunes, where they have a whole hair metal page. Unfortunately, we were both already very familiar with bad '80s music. But we listened to a bunch of Ratt, Winger and Whitesnake - it wasn't a specific song we were looking for, but they all got us in the right mood. Oh, there was also some Def Leppard and a bunch of cowbell, of course. So we just dove into it and spent a day on each song. It was such a hilarious process. My first band in high school - I played drums - we played Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that kind of stuff, so it was a great time. Jon's played bass with Tori Amos for years, on her albums and tours, and I'm a songwriter and jazz musician, so it's funny that this kind of songwriting came so naturally. We spent most of the time cracking up, so it was a lot of fun. Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame, would write in his particular style and then paint or compose music, which he called "mental crop rotation," and I think that really works. You need to step out of what you usually do from time to time, and this project was definitely that.

What band defines that era for you?
I'd say Ratt. They took themselves so seriously. They had some success with a few songs, like "Round and Round" but still. It's amazing to go back to that time and hear just how much some of those bands really sucked. They may have had one or two hits, but any further listening and it's surprisingly bad. (JB)
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