Film and TV critic Clint Worthington (Consequence, RogerEbert.com, The Spool) talks to a new composer every episode about the origins, challenges, and joys of their latest musical scores.
James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Night After Night, All the Light We Cannot See)
This week's guest is an Emmy winner, a Grammy winner, and a nine-time Oscar nominee, whose scores have graced the big and small screens since the 1980s. James Newton Howard is the voice of many of your favorite scores, from co-scoring the Dark Knight Trilogy with Hans Zimmer to his Oscar-nominated score for Paul Greengrass' News of the World. Now, he's back with several new projects, some of which hearken back to music he has written in the past.
Howard's latest solo album, Night After Night, is a beautiful look back at his eight-film partnership with filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, recontextualizing some of his most intriguing melodies from that longtime collaboration into piano-driven suites performed by virtuoso musicians, including concert pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
On the small screen, Howard recently completed a lush, yearning score for Netflix's new miniseries All the Light We Cannot See, based on the acclaimed novel by Anthony Doerr and directed by Shawn Levy. Plus, after nearly a decade away from Panem, Howard resumes his collaboration with director Francis Lawrence for the Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Now, Howard is here on the pod to talk about all of these projects and more.
You can find James Newton Howard at his official website here.
Night After Night is currently available on vinyl or your preferred streaming service, courtesy of Sony Masterworks. Same with All the Light You Cannot See, courtesy of Netflix Music, and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, care of Sony Music.
Marius de Vries, Karl Saint Lucy (Dicks: The Musical)
Sometimes, the dumbest things are the most delightful -- and that's certainly the case with A24's riotous new musical, Dicks: The Musical. A tongue-in-cheek (and other places) song-and-dance comedy, Dicks: The Musical started out as an hourlong show at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, written by and starring Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson who play two definitely identical twins who find each other and decide to get their estranged parents back together, Parent Trap-style. Problem is, their parents are even crazier than they are, leading to a cavalcade of numbers about incest, sociopathy, not having a pussy, and spit-feeding ham to two tiny animatronic freaks called the Sewer Boys.
The duo responsible for such disgusting earworms are songwriters Karl Saint Lucy (who wrote for the original UCB show) and Grammy-winning music producer Marius de Vries of La La Land and Moulin Rouge! fame. Together, they expanded songs from the musical, made new ones out of whole cloth, and leveraged a bevy of musical influences to build the sprightly, surprising songbook featured in the film. And this week, we speak to the pair about their collaboration, the long road to release, and finding the funny in the filthy.
You can find Marius de Vries and Karl Saint Lucy at their respective official websites.
Dicks: The Musical is currently in theaters. You can also listen to the soundtrack on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of A24 Music.
Yair Elazar Glotman (Reptile)
This week, we speak to composer Yair Elazar Glotman about his score for the latest prestige thriller from Netflix, Reptile, a stylish neo-noir starring Benicio Del Toro as a mercurial detective looking into the murder of a real estate agent. Everyone's a suspect, from the victim's boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) to the creepy guy down the street (played by Michael Pitt), even to some of Del Toro's fellow officers (incluidng Ato Essandoh, Domenick Lombardozzi and Eric Bogosian).
It's the directorial debut of music video director Grant Singer, who fills each corner of the frame with cold, calculating and precise compositions, painting an isolated, alien world of hidden motivations and untold terrors hiding within the mundane. Singer's work in Reptile closely mirrors the work of David Fincher, and it's an intriguing experience to behold -- not least because of Glotman's dissonant, visceral, textural score. Building eerie combinations of altered string compositions and textured syths, Glotman's work fills in the empty spaces left by Reptile's sparse, opaque script, echoing through the vast voids of understanding the central mystery leaves its viewers.
Now, I'm pleased to have Glotman on the podcast to talk about how he got started in music and composing, his work with Singer on Reptile, and his fascination with pulling apart the sound of things to see what he can find.
You can find Yair Elazar Glotman at his official website here.
Reptile is currently streaming on Netflix. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Netflix Music.
Dascha Dauenhauer (Golda)
Historical biopics of famous leaders are a very familiar genre at this point: Great Men (or in this case, Women) of history navigating war or struggle or controversy with the stiff-upper-lip resolve history has granted to them. Guy Nattiv's Golda is certainly no exception, though it innovates not just with its presentation, but with its subject: Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, played under heavy prosthetics by Helen Mirren. More than that, it's not a tale of victory, but of defeat -- a Pyrrhic victory that nonetheless shakes the public's confidence in the film's chain-smoking leader, and damns her to the annals of infamy.
The film covers the three-week period of the Yom Kippur War, in which Egyptian and Syrian forces, among others, launched a concerted attack on Israel during the holy day of Yom Kippur. The attack led to tremendous losses, and kicked off a standoff that would rope in both the US and the Soviet Union before it was done.
Nattiv's approach to the material is stark and haunting, keeping close to Mirren's wearied, resolved take on Meir through claustrophobic, smoke-filled rooms. And aiding that sense of mystique is Golda's score, courtesy of Russian composer Dascha Dauenhauer, utilizing discordant violins and detuned cowbells to build a bleak, atmospheric sound for Golda's race against time.
We're thrilled to have Dauenhauer on the podcast to talk about her early days as a composer, her boundless sense of experimentation, and the many themes and unusual sounds of her score for Golda.
You can find Dascha Dauenhauer at her official website here.
Golda is currently playing in select theaters. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of MNRK Music Group.
John Powell (Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie)
Composer John Powell has been composing film scores since 1997; whether it's How to Train Your Dragon, The Bourne Identity, or Solo: A Star Wars Story, you've likely heard and loved at least one of his scores. He earned an Academy Award nomination in 2010 for the epic, uplifting sweep of How to Train Your Dragon, and has three Grammy nominations for his scores to Happy Feet, Ferdinand, and Solo.
But now, the veteran composer has an Emmy nomination under his belt, for a decidedly different project than he's used to: Documentary. For Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, Davis Guggenheim's Apple TV+ original exploring the actor's rise to Hollywood fame and subsequent struggle with Parkinson's, Powell spent a whopping five months working on a score that balanced Fox's unique struggles while emphasizing the joy and energy that animates the actor's decades-long career.
Powell was also kind enough to join us to talk for a bit about the arduous process of building the score, how scoring for documentary requires an entirely different musical vocabulary, and how Guggenheim pulled him through his toughest moments as a composer.
You can find John Powell at his official website here.
Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is currently streaming on Apple TV+. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Lakeshore Records.
Tune-Yards (I'm a Virgo)
Ever since his 2018 feature debut Sorry to Bother You, Oakland-based musician Boots Riley (of The Coup) has built a reputation as one of our most imaginative, socially-minded filmmakers, combining abject surrealism with biting commentary on the complex interweavings of race and capitalism in American life. (With a healthy dose of absurd comedy, of course.)
His followup is the seven-episode Amazon series I'm a Virgo, starring Jharrel Jerome as a 13-foot-tall Black man named Cootie, hidden away since birth by his overprotective parents in Oakland. But when he escapes and finally sees the real world for what it is, he's both amazed and aghast at the joys and horrors it contains. Sure, he finally gets to try fast-food burgers, and falls in love with a charming woman named Flora (Olivia Washington) who has her own sort of superpower. But he also faces the increased commodification of his size and self by a world that views him as an object... or, in the case of real-life superhero The Hero (Walton Goggins), a "thug" that needs to be taken out.
Aiding Riley's beautifully maximalist project is indie duo Tune-Yards, aka Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner, who adapt their signature frenetic hooks, and limber vocalizations to a soundscape as riveting as it is unconventional. And now, Garbus and Brenner join me on the show to talk about working with Boots' exacting creative vision, adapting to the world of composing, and what it's like for musicians out there in a world where unionization is on the minds of everyone in the wake of the SAG and WGA strikes.
You can find Tune-Yards at their official website here.
I'm a Virgo is currently streaming on Prime Video. You can also listen to the score on your preferred music streaming service courtesy of Lakeshore Records.
Entertaining and illuminating interview podcast. The Spool is fast becoming one of my favorite destinations.