Tree Adams transitioned from singer-guitarist in a jam band to prolific composer of film and TV scores. Since 2017, he’s scored TV’s NCIS: New Orleans. The Los Angeles-based Adams recently spent a month in New Orleans while he crafted music for the popular crime series’ sixth season.
Adams’ 66 film and TV credits include Showtime’s Californication, TNT’s Legends and, his other current project, the CW’s post-apocalypse drama, The 100. NCIS: New Orleans’ new season debuts September 24.
Born in Berkeley, California, Adams grew up mostly in New York City. As his first name, Tree, suggests, his parents were hippies. The composer’s drummer father, Gary “Chicken” Hirsh, worked with Country Joe and the Fish, folk-blues star Lightnin’ Hopkins and the blues duo Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Adams’ musical family also includes his ragtime pianist mother; a grandmother who taught piano; and grandfather who played violin.
NCIS: New Orleans and The 100 are very different genres of TV series. What sort of music works for The 100?
Epic, orchestral, contemporary soundscape stuff. And the show is super-dramatic. It’s Mad Max meets The Hunger Games in Middle-earth.
And what works for NCIS: New Orleans?
It’s a question of how much spice to put in the gumbo. For the action sequences and police procedurals, I use pulsing intervals. And then we imbue that with sounds that reflect certain characters. Dwayne Pride [Scott Bakula] has a horn theme. And I like a combination of horns with the clarinet. It’s different from a slinky Hollywood horn section. We’ve got more grit in New Orleans.
Why did you move from your jam band, the Hatters, to writing music for film and TV?
It was a lucky, horizontal move. The record business was hitting serious bumps in the road. Part of it, too—I was getting burned out from traveling 300 days a year. And I wanted to have kids and a family. I thought if I do the composing thing, maybe I can make a living without being on the road.
You don’t usually spend time on location. Why do you make an exception for NCIS: New Orleans?
It’s useful to come to New Orleans because the city is almost a character on the show. It’s important to immerse myself in the culture, the food and the music here.
You formed a New Orleans band, the NOLA Dag Squad, featuring local musicians, including singer-percussionist Omari Neville and trumpeter Mark Braud.
It’s an all-star group. That’s part of what I’m trying to do in New Orleans. Not just to record here, but to perform alongside all these cats. I love sampling the different sides of the music here. This city and its music are a national treasure.