Jason LaRocca: Music engineer for Morbius, Bad Boys talks sound design

Jason LaRocca
Former The Briggs guitarist Jason LaRocca is now working as a sound engineer on major movies. Pic credit: Gary Copeland.

Jason LaRocca, a former guitarist for the punk rock band The Briggs, is now a sound engineer. He has worked on major projects such as Aquaman, Godzilla, Once Upon a Time, and many others including Fortnight and Bad Boys for Life.

Who is Jason LaRocca?

In addition to sound engineering, LaRocca has played guitar on movies such as Warrior, The Mechanic, Homefront, and The Crazies.

Sound engineers such as LaRocca are responsible for ensuring that every instrument in the score of a movie is mixed down to perfection, that all sound is equalized perfectly, and that the final version of the score fits in lockstep with the tone and style of a movie or show.

The process is tedious, it’s taxing, and it’s something that isn’t widely understood. If it isn’t done correctly, the sound of the movie suffers greatly.

LaRocca had some time this past week to talk with us about his work on Bad Boys for Life, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and he also gave us some insider information about the upcoming Sony/Marvel movie, Morbius, starring Jared Leto.

Jason LaRocca interview 

Jason LaRocca

Monsters & Critics: The music in Bad Boys was incredible. I was just blown away by the mixture of styles: you’ve got hip hop, pop, you’ve got Latin, electronic, and you’ve got classic, orchestral music. And it’s all very, very good.

When you sit in the theater and hear it through an amazing sound system, it’s a real treat. I saw it twice in theaters. What an incredible soundtrack! What was it like for you working on Bad Boys?

Jason LaRocca: Well, I think you’re exactly right. It was a really cool balance of music. The songs are a lot of fun. They really help keep everyone amped up and keep the film driving forward.

There’s a lot of just great, killer, modern stuff and some great classic stuff too. And, of course, they use “the song” that everybody knows: Bad Boys. I love how it segues in and out. And then you’ve got the score that goes right into a hip hop track and then this awesome Latin track.

To me what’s great is that the energy of it never really goes away. Maybe I love this just because I’m a music fan, but I love the fact that the music never really does stop in the film.

It’s always exciting, and it has a lot of different colors to it. Even when it’s laid back a little bit and taking a back seat, there’s still something — there’s a motor always going throughout it.

Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the film, he loves to hear the theme. He loves to hear the drive of that melody come through. I loved that they pushed that in certain moments, just making the whole thing really congruent.

The movie never really felt too serious and “thrillery” to me; it was always upbeat action, you know what I mean? I love that because I just don’t feel like there’s enough movies made like that, where the whole thing’s just a joyride.

M&C: Yeah. It was incredible. And you’re right; the music was extremely bold. You all were definitely willing to take risks to drive the movie forward. I love how you used the word “motor” to describe it. That’s very accurate.

In my review of the movie, I mentioned that the humor was amazing, but the whole movie didn’t ride on the humor, nor did it ride completely on the plot. It could have stood alone as a comedy, and it could have stood alone as an action movie — say if it were like a Fast and Furious movie or something like that.

Both things were there and present, and I was not expecting that. I wasn’t expecting to go in there and watch an amazing plot, and also to be laughing throughout the entire movie. They pulled that combination off as good as I’ve ever seen it done.

To me, there was also a realistic feel to it. I know that sounds weird, but the banter between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence throughout the movie seemed to accurately reflect what you might expect from these two guys who had been working together for that long.

Jason LaRocca: Exactly. I think that’s what resonates in the film. I think that’s why people liked it so much and why it did so well, is because it just feels like these two guys really love being in these characters again and being a team again.

That completely comes across on the screen. These guys are not just phoning it in and they’re having a ton of fun. That’s exactly how everyone feels when they leave the film.

M&C: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence — by themselves, they’re amazing. But you combine them, it doesn’t really get better than that.

Jason LaRocca: Yeah. I actually thought Martin Lawrence, especially, seriously kicked butt on the film.

M&C: He was so funny.

Jason LaRocca: He was so seriously funny. I thought he was absolutely in his element. I thought it was really hilarious and I thought he did a fabulous job. It was great.

M&C: Yes. It was classic Martin Lawrence. 

Jason LaRocca: Totally. Exactly.

M&C: We haven’t seen a lot of him lately. It was so exciting to see him back on screen. 

Jason LaRocca: That scene with the rubber bullet is so funny.

M&C: Oh man, and the camera angle of that shot, too.

Jason LaRocca: Yeah. Oh my Gosh!

M&C: Amazing!

Jason LaRocca: So good.

M&C: So tell me a little bit about the process of mixing the music. Were you watching the movie as you were tracking the music with it?

Jason LaRocca:  Yeah. Oh, for sure. I watched all of it. A lot of these things get intertwined with the music, and then the dialogue, and then the score. So watching that altogether was a big part of making the balance right. It was all about the integration of how it all works together. I was always working with everything else.

M&C: Okay. Got it. So you mixed all the music throughout the whole movie, from start to finish, is that correct?

Jason LaRocca: Yeah.

M&C: Okay. Wow. Mixing is tough; I don’t think a lot of people understand it. The fact that you have to literally take every single instrument, every element, and perfect it individually, and then put it together so it works not only with itself but with the movie as well — it takes a special type of ear. It’s a very niche skill. How did you develop that skillset?

Jason LaRocca: When I was mixing stuff for myself [in The Briggs], I was my hardest critic. When I was making my own music, I always wanted it to sound like my favorite songs. I think when you’re starting out, that’s the greatest drive to work from; you want it to sound like something that you love, right?

Whatever your favorite record is, or whatever your favorite sound is. But it doesn’t sound like that at first. Well, how do you make it sound like that? I would just stay up late at night and I would mix something for hours.

I would go listen to it in the car and I would go listen to it on my parents’ radio and stuff. It still doesn’t sound right. Just that back and forth and just being as critical as you need to be to yourself to get good at something. And once you, yourself, go, wow, I’m really impressed by this; this is making me feel something — then you know it’s good.

If you have that ability to know that something really hit you emotionally, then you know when you’ve gotten somewhere with what you’re doing technically. That’s how I got through that, by really trying to understand how I emotionally respond to what it is I’m doing.

If I’m not responding to it, then I know I’m not doing a good enough job and have to keep working at it.

M&C: Amazing. There was something very special about the Bad Boys music. There’s a connection between rock and hip hop and rap, and it’s that all of those genres are rhythmically driven.

If there’s one thing that rockers such as yourself are especially good at, it’s creating that bold beat. And that was so present in Bad Boys. When a scene would hit, and that 808 would drop, it was perfect.

It wasn’t overkill — it was always just that perfect little punch that it needed that just left you completely engaged. You just had that cool feeling of, “I’m watching something sick.” I don’t know how to really explain it other than that. 

Jason LaRocca: Yeah, exactly. Also, getting live musicians to play for the soundtrack was a big part of the energy, too. We got Sheila E to play a bunch of percussion solos and rhythm beds and things like that.

Those things really come across to where it’s not just a sample or a loop; it’s like we’ve got the cats playing on this. We’ve got some real blood and guts playing. We had 88 string players, a 22-player brass section, and a full gospel choir. We had some big numbers in there to propel this thing forward and give it the size and energy that it needed.

The electronic stuff plays an important part too because it gives it that great flavor of not just sounding like classical stuff. Because, like you’re saying, it’s more about the hard-hitting beat. Having that other stuff on top just adds color and size and all that.

M&C: Let’s get into Morbius a little bit here if you don’t mind. What’s that looking like for you as far as your involvement?

Jason LaRocca: I’m going to be pretty involved in that. The composer is a great friend of mine and he’s really talented. His name is Jon Ekstrand; he’s a Swedish composer. We’ve done a couple movies together. And the director of Morbius is also a dear friend of the composer.

They’ve known each other for a really long time — since they were kids. They have a really close connection. Being on projects with them is really, really fun because they are really, really great with each other; their dynamic is really cool.

The energy is really special because it’s not ever tense. It doesn’t ever feel like, “Oh, the director’s here — everybody watch out,” kind of thing. They really get along and they feed off each other’s energy on these things.

I’m pretty excited to be just a part of another film with them, and especially this one because I know everyone’s pretty excited about this film.

M&C: This is going to be a big one. You can just feel it. 

Jason LaRocca: Yeah. It’s going to be a really big film. Jared Leto’s performance, from what I hear — it’s pretty spectacular. I love Marvel films and I love it when they’re dark. To me, it’s everything that’s great in one film.

I’m going to definitely give it my all as far as my involvement. Jon is really great because he always looks to me for production ideas and ways to record live instruments and ways to do creative things. He’s really great with sound design because design is one of his major backgrounds.

He already is incredibly super talented with sound design, with electronics, synthesizers, and things like that. So then I just try and take what I know he knows and expects on an orchestric level and try and help give him every idea possible from what I know as far as what we can get out of an orchestra and live musicians and that sort of thing.

I do weird things with him that not the average person would try so that we can really create something special and perhaps a little intense — things to make you wonder, what was the source of some of these sounds? And, how did they make those sounds? That’s my hope, is to just make people go, “Wow okay, what is this?”

I haven’t heard any of Jon’s stuff for Morbius yet. He’s going to send it to me this week. I’m looking forward to hearing it and starting to collaborate with him in probably the next month. I’m going to have to do some homework to figure out what kind of new thing I’m going to come up with that no one’s really tried yet.

M&C: Is that something you try to do? Throw something unique into all of your movies?

Jason LaRocca: I do, yeah. I try and do some things that, at least, I’ve never tried before and that I think certain other people haven’t tried before either. Some of these things take late nights thinking and trying things in the studio — then failing at it and realizing that those ideas are dumb and trying different ones.

It’s a little bit of trial and error for me because I think certain ideas sound really great. Then I realize that they’re just dumb and don’t work at all. Certain things get crossed off the list quickly. I have to figure out what kind of new and exciting thing I could come up with that will lend itself to this film.

Bad Boys for Life is in theaters now. (If you haven’t seen it, go check it out! It’s selling tons of tickets for a reason.) Morbius is currently set for release on July 31, 2020.

Keep up with all the latest from Jason LaRocca on his website

Follow him on Instagram @jason_larocca.

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