John Costello, III
John Costello, III writes so much music that’s used for TV and film, sometimes he doesn’t even know a song he’s written has been used in a show or movie until he’s watching it. The 50-year-old Scottsdale resident has written more than 1,000 songs and has released 10 albums, and as co-owner, co-founder and president of local label Fervor Records and music licensing company Wild Whirled Music, the songwriter and producer is responsible for creating soundtracks for everything from popular sitcoms to groundbreaking movies.
A collection of some of his remixed tracks, appropriately titled The Remixes, comes out Tuesday, April 29, and you can hear his music in the trailer for upcoming film Walk of Shame. He also has three songs featured in the upcoming Philip Seymour Hoffman film, God’s Pocket.
Get to know the musician, who talks about how local musicians can get involved with the label, better below, and keep reading to see a video of Costello name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
My parents moved out here when I was in 7th grade. My grandparents were retiring, so I got transplanted. I left Chicago kicking and screaming, because I thought it was so incredible, but I’m happy my family moved out here. I had some health issues as a little kid, asthma and allergies, so Chicago was a really bad place to live. I went to Paradise Valley High School, and ASU for a short time.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in music?
My mom had me in front of the piano when I was a baby, and I would sit there and try to play. My mom was a teacher who was into the fine arts, so she had me take piano lessons starting at 5 years old.
I started taking drum lessons in high school because I thought it would be cooler to be a drummer. My drum teacher out here was the head of the Professional Musicians of Arizona and told me I should probably go back to keyboards because they’re in higher demand, and the keyboard player usually ends up being the band leader.
How has your music career evolved?
I had been in bands since high school, and in 1987, my band The Connection auditioned for the United States Department of Defense. We traveled overseas, and I’ve done 11 tours overseas in support of the USO (United Service Organizations.)
I first started seriously songwriting when I met my business partner (and Wild Whirled Music/Fervor Records co-owner/co-founder) David Hilker in 1987. We were both in local bands playing a club circuit – I was a keyboard player/singer, and he was a saxophone player/singer. We started writing our own songs, but we wanted to have a business, so we created a recording studio.
When we weren’t recording other people, we started recording our own songs, and started having enough songs to pitch them to film and TV. In 2002, we created Wild Whirled Music with our partner, Jeff Freundlich. Now, I write 200-250 songs a year.
A lot of times, I’ll be watching TV and think, “That song sounds really familiar” – and it’s one I wrote. That happened recently when I was watching The Sopranos.
What’s your typical week like?
I fire up my computer and see what inspires me to work. If I’m not really inspired to write, there are still a lot of things to do in the studio, such as file management and sound creation.
When I’m writing, I’ll get a drum loop started and have an idea for a song and just start going with it.
What are your favorite genres to write?
Electronic music, hip-hop and orchestral music. With hip-hop and electronic music, there are very few musical bounds – you can do whatever you want. I love orchestral music that blends electronic and hip-hop elements, too.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Whenever I am asked to write a certain thing, it doesn’t seem to get used as much compared to when I already have written a full song. Our music isn’t just made up of cues – they’re full-blown songs, and the music supervisors we place music with like that because the songs are easier to use.
Where do you get inspiration from?
My relationships with people inspire me the most, including what I do with my business partners, David and Jeff.
What’s happening with music inspires me. Sometimes you hear a modern song and think, “Wow, that’s really killer. How did those artists make those drum parts, or make it sound so perfect?”
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you stay so prolific?
I don’t get writer’s block, but I might get tired or frustrated. There are so many different ways to write a song, we can make things that sound really fun.
If I get writer’s block, I write a different style. If I was writing techno or trance tunes, I’d switch to a more chill song or jazz style. Very seldom do I get writer’s block, though. If I do, I might take my camera to the McDowell Mountains and photograph birds, plants or other wildlife. Photography is my hobby, and it inspires me to be creative in my songwriting, as well.
Also, once I get a track back with vocals, the song becomes even stronger, so I might re-work it once I hear that version.
What are your current projects?
Some time in the near future, I will work on my own vocal record, which will be a lot of fun. I have a smooth dubstep that just came out on iTunes called Dim the Lights, which is a hard-hitting electronic album.
On April 29, I have a release of remixes coming out, called The Remixes. This project is a group of songs I had written with other artists. It’s a really smart thing if you’re in music publishing, if you’re the original artist, to re-work your songs, so you can provide different versions to music supervisors. One of the songs from The Remixes album was used in the movie August: Osage County.
I also had a song featured recently in (sitcom) Super Fun Night, where the writers re-wrote the lyrics for (star) Rebel Wilson to actually rap during the show. That’s a big inspiration – finding out all the projects in which my music is featured. That’s a huge motivator to kick-start writing more music.
You love writing electronic music, and it’s really surging in popularity. What do you attribute to that?
I attribute the popularity of electronic music to its vibe – there are a lot of things you can do with it.
Also, music goes in cycles. In the ‘80s, electronic music was really popular. Then, all of a sudden, it got to a point where you were uncool if you used a keyboard or a synthesizer in a song, and it turned to grunge rock for 10 years. Then, somebody played a piano in a grunge rock song, and keyboards were fashionable again.
There is so much you can do with electronic production, and it has such a hip sound with a diverse palette. You can create any kind of mood you want.
Electronic music lends itself to computers and software, although I think that’s a problem. People think just because you have a laptop, you can make music that sounds like the latest Britney Spears or Lady Gaga song. When you really see the teams of people who work on those songs, it’s not as easy to do as you might think.
Why would you encourage people to check out your music?
I think it’s very unique, fun music, and it is all based in Arizona. The majority of artists I work with live and work here, and came up through the ranks and work really hard for the music they do.
The original songs on The Remixes album have been used a lot in film and TV, so it’s great to work on that music again. It supports local artists and our label, and gives those artists the opportunity to do more music and be surprised when their music comes up in TV and film, as well.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into songwriting or producing?
I’d recommend concentrating on your strengths. If you want to be a keyboard player or singer, you’d better be a really, really good musician. Sometimes, people want to wear a lot of different hats, but try to be good at one thing and really focus on that. If you’re a musician, really know your craft. If you want to be a writer, engineer or mixer, learn that specific thing, then try to apply yourself.
Build a team of smart, hard-working people – I think that’s the most important thing, is you can’t go it alone. The most success I’ve had is because of the relationships I’ve had since high school and earlier bands – I’ve stuck with those people a long period of time.
How would you say Fervor Records and Wild Whirled Music contribute to the Arizona music scene?
Arizona music is really exploding right now. For Fervor, it is a fantastic way to give local artists opportunities they wouldn’t have had if they had tried to do it on their own. Our team records the artist, creates music videos, and gives musicians the chance to become successful, which is very important.
There is a lot competition in the music business. What makes Wild Whirled and Fervor so valuable is that if the artist’s music is chosen for film or television, it has the potential to yield a revenue stream.
For local artists who’d want to get involved with you, what advice do you have?
Learn more about Wild Whirled Music and Fervor Records co-owner and musician Jeff Freundlich here on Phoenix People.