How 'PowerPuff Girls' Led Kevin Smith to Composer James L. Venable

Kevin Smith
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Kevin Smith attends the Saban Films' "Jay & Silent Bob Reboot" Los Angeles Premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre on Oct. 14, 2019 in Hollywood, Calif. 

As Jay and Silent Bob Reboot hits theaters, one thing is clear: Kevin Smith is nothing if not loyal. 

In the 25 years since he made his cinematic debut with Clerks, he’s ensured the school buddies who helped bring that fateful day at the Leonardo, NJ Quick Stop to the screen are still working with him to this day -- guys like Bryan Johnson and Walter Flanagan of Comic Book Men fame as well as Jeff Anderson, who played epic slacker antihero Randal Graves in the Clerks saga (which is now heading into its third and final chapter). Even the strong bonds of friendship he’s established with modern Hollywood royalty like BattFleck and Matt Damon, coming up with them as part of the Miramax Class of 94-95, is a testament to the kind of steady rock Kevin Smith is to the people in his life.

For animation nerds, the name James L. Venable is synonymous with modern cartoon music, having scored classics like PowerPuff Girls, Samurai Jack and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. He has also been Smith’s very own Lalo Schifrin (or, in Kevin’s case, John Williams) since Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001; he would go on to work with the director on Jersey Girl, Clerks II, Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie.

Now that Smith is settling back into the filmmaking life after largely focusing on his podcasting empire SModcast, having Venable score Reboot was immediately in the cards, with the composer helping Smith create the mood for what is essentially the Avengers: Endgame of the View Askewniverse given the ridiculous number of surprise appearances from across the scope of his career. Cameos aside, Reboot is an otherwise incredibly heartwarming narrative about the fragile beauty of fatherhood -- essentially, he made the raunchy comedy version of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” in that uncanny Kevin Smith way.

Billboard chatted Smith about his longtime relationship with Venable and which of his soundtracks he still listens to in the car.

Given your longstanding rapport with him, it was basically a no-brainer to bring James L. Venable back on board for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot?

Very much so; going into Reboot, I knew I needed Jim back. I was testing the movie with his score from Strike Back. So, if anything, the only problem with that was making the movie all that much more like Strike Back (laughs), and I called him back in to do a new score. 

How did he get on your radar?

We fell in love with him, me and (longtime partner) Scott Mosier (aka “Snowball” from Clerks), because we are both big fans of PowerPuff Girls. He did the score and it was fucking amazing. So we met with him to do the Clerks cartoon. And then, like a year later, we were working on Strike Back and I really liked his sound so much. But, he never did a feature film before. So Scott and I were like, “Hey Jim, do you think you can handle this?” And he was like, “Oh yeah, totally.” He had never done it before, and he would tell us that. It was completely unfamiliar territory for him. But he crushed it. He employed an orchestra, the last time we had a full orchestra for something.

And overall he’s been with you ever since.

Yeah. I think the first time I didn’t use him for something was for Red State, because I didn’t have a composer or music at all for that movie. Also, Warner Bros. wouldn’t let me use him for Cop Out -- they went with their guy Harold Faltermeyer. But I fell in love with the score he did for Strike Back so much I wound up having him do Jersey Girl, Clerks II, Zack and Miri…we reunited with him for Jay & Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie. But when it finally came time for Reboot, I reached out to him immediately and told him “We’re back at it!”

What was Jim’s approach to the music for Reboot?

When Jim did Reboot, he did everything on a synthesizer. We were all like, “Where’d you get this big orchestra?” And he’d say, “It’s all on the machine now, boys.” But it’s incredible, man. The Strike Back score doesn’t really have a ton of emotion to it. But this Reboot score has so much f--king emotion. And there’s this theme for Jay and the daughter that just breaks me up every time. I sent Jim a picture of me crying while listening to it on cue (laughs). I was so blown away. I told him, “Jim, this is everything. It makes their story so much more heartbreaking and sh-t.”

So it seems like James L. Venable is very much the John Williams of the Kevin Smith multiverse...

Absolutely. He’s been my secret weapon for years now, man. He’s so good natured, and he’s always been a one man band of sorts. But he’s talented beyond f--k. He does animation like crazy because that’s what he came up in, and he’s incredibly skilled at it. But he could do anything. In Jersey Girl, he did a very stripped down, threadbare piano-and-guitar type score, so it was like the opposite of Strike Back. But you gotta understand just how much I love that Strike Back score. It’s like 18 years later and I still listen to it in the car. But I think he absolutely beat it with the music he created for Reboot. It’s the best score he’s done yet.