How Growing Up in New England Made Seth MacFarlane Fall in Love with Music

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Seth MacFarlane

Photo by Winslow Townson

After helping the Boston Pops kick off their 2016 season, Seth MacFarlane will be shipping back up to the Bay State to perform with the orchestra at Tanglewood this weekend.

While comedy has traditionally been the Family Guy creator’s forte, music has also played a big role in his life. MacFarlane’s love for all things musical began with his parents, as his father met his mother while working as a folk singer in Massachusetts.

Growing up, his family would frequently drive up from Connecticut to visit relatives in Boston, which is where MacFarlane took a liking to classical music by watching Pops shows at Symphony Hall. His parents got him involved in musical theater productions at an early age as well, which is why he’s always had such a strong love for the stage.

“They just felt that music and singing was something that was a good thing for kid to have in his life,” MacFarlane said. “They, of course, did a lot of singing themselves recreationally. It was something in and around the house as long as I could remember.”

MacFarlane would eventually become a huge fan of ’40s jazz music after watching the Woody Allen movie Radio Days. The filmmaker and performer proceeded to fall in love with ’50s jazz, which he calls the “complete elevation of the art form.”

Since MacFarlane was also an admirer of film score composers like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, the music of Frank Sinatra naturally became a huge influence for him. The late Rat Pack member fused big band jazz sounds with classical orchestral styles, which is something that MacFarlane tries to emulate with his music.

“When you listen to a Sinatra ballad that was recorded during that time, it almost sounds like he’s singing to a film score that was written for his lyrics,” MacFarlane said. “It’s the only kind of popular music that you really can play with an orchestra that size and have it sound like it belongs with an orchestra that size.”

MacFarlane’s love of music nearly led to a career in the field as he was accepted into the Boston Conservatory of Music’s graduate program for musical theater.

Instead, he chose to move out to Los Angeles at the age of 21 in order to pursue a different path in Hollywood as a animator, but he’s never lost touch with his musical side. That’s why there seems to be so many song and dance numbers in his various projects like Family Guy or Ted.

MacFarlane believes that animation and filmmaking allow creators to tap into all of their influences, regardless of the genre or style.

“It really does combine all these different disciplines,” MacFarlane said. “The comedy has to be great in a movie like Ted and the music has to be great. For me, it’s just something that’s always existed in tandem as far back as I can remember.”

While MacFarlane has tested his singing chops as Stewie, Brian, and other characters over the years, he finally took a serious crack at music with his 2011 debut studio album Music Is Better Than Words, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

MacFarlane’s most recent album, No One Ever Tells You, scored a Grammy nomination as well, but he’s quick to point out that he’s not in it for the accolades. The animator turned musician is instead trying to “recapture a level of high musicality” that he feels has been lost by contemporary music.

“It’s really about getting it out there and getting it heard and maybe broadening the scope of what popular music is today than it is about winning awards,” MacFarlane said. “It’s always nice to have that shiny thing in your house, but it’s not what drives me.”

Seth MacFarlane performs with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood on Sunday, July 10. For more information, check out bso.org.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2016/07/07/seth-macfarlane-new-england-music/