This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Did you have any idea when you started working on this that you’d be an Oscar nominee?
No. It was absolutely the furthest thing on my mind. I wondered if this movie would actually get made, let alone get this kind of acknowledgment. It’s one thing to like it; it’s another thing to get it. And the fact that so many folks are experiencing both…that’s the dream. That was the dream.
The score feels like it could become anything at any moment. How did you and the rest of Son Lux approach creating a different feel for each character and universe? How did you make this sound so varied yet of a piece?
Yeah, thank you. That’s a good question. Yes, we did this as a band. I’m here representing my brothers Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia and me. It was definitely a process of discovery. We didn’t stand out of the gate with much vision at all. That’s not true of the Daniels. I think they knew exactly what they wanted. They didn’t know what they wanted it to sound like, and that was our job. But they knew exactly what they wanted. As we explored, it was all about discovering what makes their heart leap, light up and get excited. And it’s just the process of discovering it bit by bit. The piece that was the most difficult was recognizing that we would both need to, as you said, make unique universes of sound and yet create a score that still feels of a piece in the way the film does.
Yeah, totally. And there is so much happening in any given minute of this film. And when you started working on this, did you know or did you get a sense that the directors, Daniels, knew what would be a musical cue versus what would be just sound?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, their approach was kind of everything everywhere, all at once.
In every scene, except for the start of the Rock’ss universe, there. Other than that one moment, there is music throughout the entire film—also sound design. The relationship between those two elements was one in which, again, it was up to the Daniels to tell us because we were mainly blind to the sound design that was developing. We were, in some ways, blind to what it was doing for a good chunk of the process. That said, just as Daniels did a bunch of the VFX themselves, they also did a bunch of the sound design themselves. So they really knew exactly what they needed from a sound design perspective, or when they didn’t, they always knew how to get it. But they couldn’t do the music themselves. So that was our unique part about it. This score and the film are so dense. It’s too thick. And that’s the idea. That is one of the ideas. This movie is too much to see; it’s too much to hear. It doesn’t demand repeated listening, but I think it doesn’t attempt to get it all across in a single viewing. That wasn’t the threshold for them. The threshold was way, way beyond that. So musically, that was true. And over-engineering everything is something you think can often be a negative, but they were so old about going super hard. Just go super hard and always know we can always peel it back where we need to, but because of the nature of the story, it was really important that everything was too much. That is part of the story– the important part, especially with the music. It feels like it’s too much, but in an exciting and interesting way, and you’re always listening.
When you got this gig and your brief from Daniels, how specific was that brief? Did they want music throughout this whole thing, or did they give you specific moments where they wanted music?
They knew there would be a ton of music, and just the idea of music would be a tricky puzzle to solve. They definitely didn’t realize how much music, nobody realized how much music this movie was going to demand. That was part of it. That was an aspect of making this movie, which everybody was open to figuring it out as we went along. And the original idea was they were fans of our music as a band and the music we made as individuals. So the idea was actually to draw from our existing geographies, if not primarily, certainly in large part. When the production was shut down a day before wrap because of the pandemic, the post-production schedule went up in smoke, the horizon line disappeared, and all things became possible. And what the film demanded as it came alive was the bespoke score through and through. We have specific moments where we’re weaving in a couple of our own Son Lux songs. There’s a Ryan Lot piece in there as well, but they have been reinvented from the ground up and are living a new life in the context of the score. So everything was entirely bespoke by the end of the day. It was over a hundred cues.
And that’s beautiful, too, that you have your pieces that have gone through the multiverse and come out the other side is something completely different. That feels very appropriate.
Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? It does something so conceptually pleasing about that.
This is something you wrote together with your bandmates. You are taking pieces from your individual catalogs from stuff you’ve done together. How did the process of writing the score as a group live up to or subvert your expectations about scoring a film together?
Oh wow! That’s a cool question. I don’t know what I would say to myself. I would like to write a letter to myself by September 2019, totally blindsided by this opportunity. And even when we got this opportunity, we had yet to learn what it was. We just knew we really liked hanging out with these guys on FaceTime. We were in New York at the time, Daniels were in LA, and we were in the studio making music. Laying the foundation, sonic foundations for what would become our triple record. “Tomorrows I, II, and III, which we somehow also made while making this score, should be its own story, I think. You know, that sometimes gets lost in all this is we were also making three records and this two-hour-long film score. It was so crazy. It was quite a lot. I don’t think there was a way to expect what would happen creatively. We were just along for the ride, but we had a certain expectation for how we’d work together. And that’s because we all live in different places in the country and have for a long time. Ian is in Dallas, Rafiq is in Brooklyn, where we started together as a band, and I’m in LA. I was in Indianapolis during the pandemic, but we’re used to working together over a long distance. That didn’t spook us at all. We were uniquely poised to do this.
Did you find that you’re working together on this didn’t differ so much from how you would work on just an album of new Son Lux music?
I mean, it didn’t, and it did. One of the great gifts of this movie was that it did present us with challenges that we would not have presented ourselves of our own volition, you know, and in so doing, we experienced a kind of self, revelation, both as a band and as individuals, and discovered so many more pieces of ourselves than we otherwise would have. So, all of the challenges we faced with these puzzles and tasks were beyond something we would’ve imposed on ourselves or presented ourselves with. And so, in that way, it was different than making a record. Making a record is just like, “yeah, let’s just do whatever we want.” Whatever we’re feeling, whatever we’re passionate about. And there are conceptual guideposts and, and there’s always rules and things like that, but writing a courtship song, for a universe where people have hotdogs for fingers, is just never going to be part of the equation when it comes to the writing a Son Lux record.
Haha, I imagine it would not be in the equation for most records.
Well, the bittersweet thing is that it’ll never be a part of anything we ever do again. The zany reaches of this film, coupled with the heart on your sleeve, tear your heart out, kind of emotional, melancholic stuff, coupled with the zany, wild action sequences and the violence and aggression combined with the mystical ambient swarms of sound–This movie, like so many movies, so many stories, presented so many challenges and so many opportunities to be all of the versions of ourselves that we knew about and also didn’t know existed. No other project is ever going to do that, you know? That’s the bittersweet thing. And I’m trying to recognize and be present and recognize that in this moment, this is not the first of others or many. This is, in its own way, its own thing and will never happen again.
“Clair de lune” is such an important musical interlude in this film. Was that part of the script? Did you take inspiration from that in writing the rest of the music?
Yeah, that’s a great question. The inclusion of “Clair de lune,” which is a very recognizable classical piece, so beautiful, romantic, and pastoral, the idea to use it as the theme for one of the film’s primary antagonists was one of those Daniel’s brand ideas that was so counterintuitive that it was just perfect, and yes, it was their idea. And they knew it was going to work. They had the whole arc of the story and the Deidre character in mind. And so they knew they were reverse engineering it and seeing it from different angles. But when they presented the idea to us, I think it was maybe even our very first creative call; I know in the back of my head I was like, “ah, that’s not gonna work.” And then, of course, it worked and presented some of the most fun challenges for us. How can we integrate “Clair de lune” in various ways? There are a bunch of ways we do it. When Jamie Lee Curtis’s character is on screen or heavily involved in a scene, there are all sorts of ways where we sneak it in different instruments, tempos, and different registers and some fun. It was a lot of fun.
I wanted to ask you some fun questions for the end here. The first is of all the many different universes you had to score for this film; which one would you most like to live in?
They’re also impractical. Do they have a Trader Joe’s? Who knows? Some of them can be pretty interesting. It’s a fun question. I’m going to give you a serious answer. There is something about the rock universe that we’re all supposed to recognize that we need to be there, at least for a moment. To be stuck there? No, but there is something about the kind of unending horizon, the timelessness, and the state of existing without expectation and…just be a rock. That said, I think that what Evelyn says, and again, this is a serious answer, I believe, is the heart of the movie and the heart of a song, “This Is A Life,” which we wrote for the end credits. If we are given a choice to live here with each other, how do we do that? And my choice is right here, right now, talking to you about this movie. Now granted, it’s easy for me to say that because I have an Academy Award nomination, but it’s legit. That is true, and that’s how we made this movie. We all made this movie and were in it completely, even when it made no sense, even when it meant making no money and getting no sleep. It was worth it.
Final question: Which character in the film do you identify with the most? And did that change at all while working on this film?
It changed. I relate to all of them in a way. Our job as composers was to do that also. So I can’t decouple. We really had to get in there and feel each of these characters so deeply to do them justice. This doesn’t answer your question directly, but I remember for the first time crying on this job. I never cried because it was too hard. But I cried all the time cause it was too good. That section I was responsible for spearheading was always called “Waymond’s Speech: Part One.” It’s the part where Waymond says, “can’t we all just stop fighting? I’m so confused. I don’t even know what’s going on.” And he helped me feel so deeply what Waymond was feeling. And this happened again and again while working on the movie, but that was the first time I cried. I felt like I was him. Like I’d gone on this journey with him so deeply, and I love Key so much too, man. That dude is the best, and he populates so much of my memory as a kid experiencing movies, especially “The Goonies.” That was my favorite movie growing up. The one that I would go back to repeatedly. We were hanging out yesterday at the Oscar nominee’s luncheon. We just kept running into him; there’s always so much brightness, life, and joy in his eyes. These actors don’t recognize or realize what it feels like for us because we spend so much time with them, and they don’t spend any time with us. Still, it’s not totally true now, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” is such a family that everybody is always talking and hanging out with each other. And because of the award season, it keeps giving us opportunities to see each other again.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” is nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Score.