We get an interview with the song producer behind Netflix’s recent teen drama series Daybreak where Bryce Jacobs discusses producing the memorable melodies heard in the Netflix Original series.
Netflix’s recently released series Daybreak follows 17-year-old Canadian high school outcast Josh Wheeler searching for his missing British girlfriend Sam Dean in post-apocalyptic Glendale, California. Joined by a ragtag group of misfits including a pyromaniac 10-year-old Angelica and Josh’s former high school bully Wesley, now turned pacifist samurai, Josh tries to stay alive amongst the horde of Mad Max-style gangs (evil jocks, cheerleaders turned Amazon warriors), zombie-like creatures called Ghoulies, and everything else this brave new world throws at him.
The series has been labeled Mad Max meets Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with the show’s killer music being called a “stand out” by both critics and fans. Bryce Jacobs is the song producer behind these memorable tunes. Jacobs is no stranger to the music world, he has contributed music to Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, NBC’s Chicago Fire, Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger and many more recognizable titles. Jacobs discusses Daybreak in greater detail below.
What is the secret to your involvement with Daybreak?
Andrea Von Foerster was my friend and coworker who worked as Daybreak's Music Supervisor. Andrea called me and said that Daybreak needed a music producer to produce the songs on screen. These songs are essential to the story because they're performed live and include specific cast members. I have many roles in the music world as a composer, musician, and producer, and I loved the opportunity to be part of this unique series.
Daybreak's official title was Song Producer. What does that mean?
This was certainly a challenging task. There are also American Idol and American Ninja moments, where various characters take to the stage to sing their hearts out for their lives. If they’re good, they live – if not, a trapdoor opens and they have to battle the “Ghoulies”. If they escape the Ghoulies, then they’re killed anyway. So in this dystopian future, it’s as if one band has survived, and the main characters perform with them in this gladiatorial type context where they either get the thumbs up or the thumbs down. It was necessary to craft and create a sound that reflected the current world in which they live.
It was said that you intentionally tapped into the type of tools that Daybreak's characters could use. Could you discuss these details?
First, I needed to portray the music that would be played on stage by each member of the band. There were two guitarists and one bass player. The drummer was also present. These instruments themselves had to sound a little rough around the edges – so nothing suave, sophisticated or smooth about them. Behind the scenes, however, I was providing support for the line-up with my sonic adventures via various instruments. The sound would be boosted by a wall made of different guitars. But you wouldn't know that the wall was there as two guitarists. To add atmosphere, I added a pedal steel for a little cinematic edge, but it wasn't obvious. I blended a Mini Moog with the bass guitar to thicken up the low end… which at times allowed the bass guitar to go a little rawer and support the guitars with extra grittiness. There’s even Guitar Viol that is hidden in the guitar textures for an extra layer of rawness. This is all to compliment the uniqueness and rusticity of their world, but still retain the fullness that you'd expect from a show this epic.
The song choices were quite contrasting; from 80’s Pop to 90’s Grunge; syrupy love songs to post New Wave crooning type tracks. By giving the band its own personality, they could “own” the songs as opposed to just playing them as straight-up covers. Many of these challenges can be solved by the band. A band with its own personality, color, and texture will not be bound to the style of any song. Think of Tool as Carole King, Sinatra or Beatles. Their sound has perceivably nothing to do with the genres these artists worked in, yet Tool could really own the personality of any version they invested in – even if they tapped into their own influences such as King Crimson, it would still be in the firm universe of Tool.
What makes Daybreak different than your other projects like Cloak and Dagger or 12 Monkeys?
With epic score type music, the instrument/ensemble palette is larger. The 12 Monkeys had full orchestra, as well as synths as percussion and guitars. It is easier to reach the world of record producers if there are fewer instruments. If you have three instruments that are used to play a piece, those instruments must be chosen carefully and considered to create a unique soundscape that conveys emotion. It is amazing to me how John Williams can transport you through orchestras on epic adventures, while destroying you with just a single instrument.
Cloak and Dagger was an enjoyable experience for me. Not only was I part of the scoring team, but I also had a song called “Voices in the Water” licensed for a very poignant moment in one of the episodes. That one was very interesting.
Was there a song you wanted for Daybreak that didn’t make it in the final cut?
I think all the songs that were discussed at the outset were included in the final product (thanks to Andrea’s expertise at securing seemingly impossible licenses!). I could have obviously kept going and going – I really love producing and spend a lot of time in that world outside of this particular show. Songwriting is a major part of my work. I also do cinematic remakes of tracks. It’s all about storytelling for me and I find starting with the lyrics is paramount.
If you’re inviting people into a story or emotion as opposed to just telling it, then I find it becomes something more engaging, more enticing, and hopefully invites a listener to let their own imagination grow out of what a song has suggested. It's a great idea to be invited into a story, rather than being part of the beginning, middle, and end.
Because you are able to see a part of a larger world, it can spark imagination. My favorite composer is Debussy and my favorite orchestral piece is “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”. Debussy's world is vibrant and ever-evolving. It makes you daydream with him, not watching him drift off to his own thoughts.
Your first Netflix streaming series. Was your music approach different from other non-streaming shows?
The best thing about streaming is the ability to do all episodes simultaneously and release the entire season. This gives you a more unified approach, and you are less likely to lose sight of the vision you've worked hard on. There is SO much content in the streaming world, so you’re not really tied to a given M.O. You don't have to watch the same show every time. This means you can invest in a wider range of rides and will likely attract a committed audience.
Which was the best part of working on this show?
There are so many! It was great to work with actors. I enjoyed going off-camera with the producers and seeing what would emerge. I also loved the feeling of playing each instrument in the same way as the other members. Some tracks had me singing lead vocals, while others required backing vocals. In recent years, I’ve been drawn further into the music-producing world. My experiences as both a composer and musician as well as my time as an orchestrator, as well as being part of many bands all combine when I wear my producer hat. Just another blessing of what I’m fortunate enough to do for a living!
You can learn more about Bryce at https://www.brycejacobs.com/.