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S. Carey, Dylan Jennings & Joe Rainey Interview: America the Beautiful

America the Beautiful, now streaming on Disney+, has arrived just in time for July 4 celebrations. Or, alternately, as a reminder of the precious position of the nation and the world at large is humanity does not do its utmost to protect the creatures and environments around the globe. Either way, the latest National Geographic docuseries from the award-winning producers of Planet Earth and the Disneynature films is made up of 6 episodes that explore a different one of the continent’s varied habitats.

Michael B. Jordan narrates America the Beautiful and takes audiences through a tour of its impressive diversity, which is an element of the series that’s equally incorporated into its music. The inspiring score from composer Joseph Trapanese (Spiderhead & The Witcher) came about through collaborations with Native musicians as well as artists from all kinds of genres and locations in the United States. S. Carey is a musician from Milwaukee as well as the drummer and supporting vocalist of indie folk band Bon Iver, while Joe Rainey is an Ojibwe Pow Wow singer and his creative partner Dylan Jennings is Native drum maker and singer as well.


Related: Disney Nature Films Sure To Increase Your Love Of The Planet

Screen Rant spoke to Carey, Jennings and Rainey about their respective experiences collaborating on music for America the Beautiful, the importance of including Native voices when sharing the country’s history, and how them themselves contribute to the process of conservation. Watch the full interviews below, and read some of their wonderful responses:

Screen Rant: What is the process of writing for a project like this? What is the back and forth between you, Dylan and Joe – as well composer Joseph Trapanese?

S. Carey: It was very, very collaborative between everyone. But between composer Joe and I, back and forth, he was the go-between between the producers. We have all these ideas, and then it has to shrink down into a minute-and-a-half song. That was challenging but exciting. Joe brought so much life to the song and dynamics; everything that a great score composer would do, he did. As well as just being this even-keel, beautiful human.

Then we brought on Dylan [Jennings] and Joe Rainey further along in the process as the final lift to the end, and they brought so much instantly. What they do is so powerful and beautiful; truly inspiring and amazing to watch. Because I worked for a while on this, I would call, simple song. And then these guys, in the matter of seconds or minutes, just bring it to this next level that I couldn’t even really imagine.

One thing I found really fascinating about America the Beautiful is how it incorporates Native voices in so many different ways, which is something you don’t see enough of. What does it mean to get to be part of opening that door? How early on were there discussions about bringing in indigenous voices?

S. Carey: It feels incredibly inspiring and important to me. And I’ve been able to get to know Joe and Dylan over the last few years, especially as we’ve been working on more and more music together. It’s just truly special, and I feel so grateful in many ways, and there’s just so much to learn from them every time. Every time they talk, especially about their heritage and culture and their music, I’m just learning so much and am just so amazed. So, it’s very special to me.

Part of it was that when Joe Trapanese first reached out, I sent him a demo that I’d been working on with Joe and Dylan as just like, “Hey, this might not be what you’re looking for. But I think it might really fit the nature of the project and the collaboration.” And I don’t know if that got the ball rolling with the NatGeo. Team. I’m sure they were already thinking about that, but it kind of seemed like a very natural thing to do.


What was your start in music? What did music mean to you early on, and when did you know that you wanted to work with drums?

Dylan Jennings: First, I have to back up and say that in many of our indigenous communities, music is such an important way of expressing and an important way of our life way in general. In the communities that I come from, we have songs for nearly everything in life. When newborn babies are born, we have songs to sing to them; we’ve got songs for courting and for relationships, sounds for honoring individuals, social songs, songs for sending people off – all these different things.

As a young person, I wanted to be involved in that in a big way, and I wanted to do everything I could to help learn our music and take on those roles and responsibilities in our community.

When you are adding to the track, what is that process like for you? How do you know what you want to bring to it?

Dylan Jennings: Our music, especially talking about Pow Wow singing and a lot of the vocables that we have in a lot of our different styles of songs, is unlike other types of singing. But it’s also very expressive.

For me, it was really helpful to hear some instrumentation, and to just sit there. I literally just sat there outside in a peaceful place in our yard, and just visualized what I was seeing as this music is starting to climax and get to this point. There’s a part in the song where it feels like you’re just taking off on a cliff and spreading your wings, and just looking down on everything that’s so beautiful and important to us.

From there, that’s when we’re able to just put whatever types of vocables that were feeling at that moment in that time and in that space, and just soar with it.

What does it mean for you to be part of a process of opening the door to really showing indigenous ways of life?

Joe Rainey: It’s important for me to be a part of that just as a young Native person. I think there’s men and women that need to be highlighted in lots of fields; that could really bring light to what our viewpoints are in certain areas of concentration. You think about what Dylan has done with the Wisconsin DNR and things like that, where people are actually doing things to change your perspective of our neighbors, and people who might not think about different communities and what they do year-round. That is always taking care of the earth.

I think America the Beautiful is only going to highlight a lot of what is out there, and a lot of what we see. We want to take care of this place as long as we can, and being stewards of it is only the beginning.

What is the most challenging part of creating music for you?

Joe Rainey: I think I’ve been more comfortable with doing things on my own right now. But anytime that we are in person in the studio, or being able to use a better microphone or recording a better space, I think that’s a little bit easier for me to work in that environment.

When I’m at home, I can’t get it as quiet as I want with kids and things going on in the background. I think the challenge of recording together is always a great tool when you’re creating music.

Conservation is really the goal of a documentary like America the Beautiful. Do you have any advice for viewers who wants to help but don’t really know where to begin?

Joe Rainey: I think you should definitely learn from what scientists, environmental workers or professionals are telling you. They are coming up with these helpful ways for you to even just go garden something in your backyard. Just learn how to self sustain, obviously. Dylan is a great self-sustainer. He has a mini-farm on his property, and he has a lot of working things on his properties. And it’s not much, but he’s doing his part.

I think everyone should at least try not to litter as much. Just take care of your surroundings, and your home fires, as we say. Be more concerned about environmental issues, especially if they’re local. If they don’t pertain to your living area, it doesn’t mean that [it’s not] affecting you. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not going to affect you in some way.


America the Beautiful: NatGeo for Disney+

Never-before-seen stories of heroic animals — endearing, majestic and downright bizarre — play out against a breathtaking backdrop of America’s most iconic landscapes. Aerial cameras take viewers on a thrilling journey from the ice caps to the desert, from sea to shining sea. From grizzlies hunting caribou in the Alaskan mountains to prairie dogs battling a tornado, find out what it takes to be an American hero.

Check out our other interview with America the Beautiful‘s producers Vanessa Berlowitz & Mark Linfield, composer Joseph Trapanese, and cinematographer Greg Wilson. You can also watch our previous interview with Joseph Trapanese for Spiderhead.

More: 10 Best Nature Documentaries, According To Reddit

America the Beautiful will be streaming July 4 on Disney+.

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