Chance Thomas is a composer who has worked in film, television and video games, including when he transported readers to Middle-earth in the game Lord of the Rings Online. He is a Tolkien enthusiast and was happy to do an interview with TheOneRing. We sat down, broke bread and talked Tolkien.
Thomas was involved in several editions of LOTRO including, “Riders of Rohan,” “Mines of Moria,” Shadows of Angmar,” and “Mordor.” I watched recently as fans geeked out at the chance to meet the man who provided the music for the game they loved so dearly.
He has a long list of credits including other Peter Jackson games and an Academy Award winning short film “The ChubbChubbs!”
TORn: Where did your own love of music spring?
Chance Thomas: When I was a child, my mother was always singing in our home. She took me to the symphony, we listened to records and sang along with the radio. Great music was always around and it always lit me up.
As I grew older, good friends would often introduce me to cool new bands and recording artists. We would get together just to share new songs we liked with each other. I also started playing in orchestras and rock bands and wrote songs and made recordings. After college, my wife and I entertained together on cruise ships and wrote pop songs.
Really, I have loved music for as long as I can remember.
TORn: Where did your involvement with Tolkien come from?
CT: I read the Hobbit as a tween, but didn’t tackle The Lord of the Rings until I was in my 30s. When I did finally read the trilogy, it was like an eruption of joy and discovery inside of me.
Oh, how I loved it! The world, the characters, the fantasy, the pacing, the descriptions … and the music! Everywhere across the world there was mention of music. Songs, instruments, voices; it was wonderful. As a result, I began to codify all of the references in the book and their inferences about music into a document, “The Tolkien Music Style Guide.” The intent was to keep me authoritatively focused as I composed, so that the music I wrote would resonate with the source material, as if drawn from some sub-dimensional embedding of music in the very literature itself.
TORn: As a composer, do you get a lot of emotional feedback on your work? Do you hear from people?
What a great question. (Thanks Chance!)
Media composers like me generally get very little feedback on the work we do. But that’s not uncommon in the professional world. For example, a plumber who lays pipes and fittings in a new home will likely never get feedback from the people who buy the home unless there’s a problem.
It’s hard for me to imagine a homeowner tracking down a plumber, calling him up, and saying, “Hey man! I just want you to know how much we’re enjoying the water pressure in our shower. It’s amazing!”
Likewise, most of the people who hear my music are busy playing the game or watching the TV show, or going through the VR experience. They’re gleefully consuming the entertainment, enjoying it as a total experience. It’s not often that people will go to the extra effort of tracking a composer down to give feedback on the music.
Having said all that, the one notable exception comes from “The Lord of the Rings Online.”
Players of this game have been unusually active in finding me online and sharing their enthusiasm for the music I’ve written for them. It has been incredibly gratifying, as you can imagine, to have people find me and share how much the music has meant to them over the years.
And actually, now that I think of it, “DOTA 2” players have been great that way too.
TORn: Who are some of your music heroes and also heroes in your more specific field of soundtracks?
CT: Kansas, Boston, Elton John, Billy Joel, Toto, James Newton Howard, John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman, Loreena McKennitt, Earth, Wind and Fire, Quincy Jones, many more.
TORn: For those of us who can’t compose music, how does it feel to complete a piece of music ?
It’s surprisingly dynamic, really. You can feel an incredible rush of adrenaline and satisfaction at times. You can also feel complete contempt, disgust, and self-loathing. And the pendulum can swing from one extreme to the other fast enough to make your head spin. I had that kind of reaction when I wrote the theme for Rohan. Still do. Sometimes I think it’s a really great tune. Other times I think… meh.
I’m not saying that composers are neurotic, but we can tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with our own creations. Sometimes that pendulum can even swing all the way across an entire score. I never was really sure how I felt about my first DOTA 2 score.
TORn: Are there certain pieces you find that you love more than others? You have compared them to children in previous conversations.
CT: I write a ton of action music. Creating action tracks can be super fun. It’s loud, it’s bombastic, its aggressive. It gets the adrenaline going. But more often than not, if I’m just in a listening mood, I prefer the more thematic pieces, the thoughtful tracks, the music with some emotional movement in it. Here are a couple of examples from that part of my composing style.
First the thematic afterture I recently composed for Warhammer:
And here is an older one, the tragic hero theme I composed for King Kong:
TORn: Can you watch films or the like and not focus on the soundtrack?
Absolutely. I’ve always been drawn deeply into films. Sometimes my wife laughs when I’m watching a movie because I may physically duck and dodge during fight scenes. In the process of being entertained, I typically consume the music as part of the overall experience. But when the music is meant to stand out and be featured, I dial in to that too.
TORn: What types of projects do you hope to do down the road?
CT: As a fan and as an artist, I adore deeply developed fictional worlds. I love working in them, creating music so that people who love those worlds can be drawn in ever more deeply.
I’ve been privileged to compose music for many such worlds, including The Lord of the Rings, James Cameron’s Avatar, Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, Marvel, King Kong and many more.
Down the road, I hope to continue to contribute to these kinds of fantasy worlds, at higher and higher levels, with broader and broader reach. Composing for the Avatar film sequels or the LOTR television series would definitely be at the top of my list
Larry, thanks for the interview. It’s always a pleasure. May the road go ever on and on!