Son Lux talk multiverse and music in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Experimental band Son Lux is made up of three members – Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang. Daniels, the directorial duo behind Everything Everywhere All At Once, were inspired by the music of Son Lux, both as a group and as individuals, and reached out to them to score in the early stages of pre-production, allowing the band into the movie-making process to be a formative influence on the film. In a two-hour movie, there is an hour and fifty minutes of music – it could almost be described as a musical.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is an A24 movie starring Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr, and Stephanie Hsu. It features a middle aged woman having a tax crisis which is inconveniently interrupted by her need to save the multiverse from implosion.
Son Lux met with us to discuss the band’s collaborative process with the Daniels, how the
multiverse inspired the eclectic music, and the experience of working with David Byrne, Mitski, and Randy Newman.
JumpCut Online: Can you firstly talk me through how the collaboration with the Daniels came about and what the process was like?
Ian Chang: Daniels reached out to us in 2019, much earlier in the process than is typical for engaging film composers. Nothing was shot yet, and the actors weren’t cast, but they had a script that they had been working on for three years or so. Believe it or not, the script at that point was about twice as long as what the movie ended up being, with even more universes in it. We were all equal parts in awe, moved and baffled by the script, not understanding how it could ever be turned into a real film, but the one thing that was clear is that it was special, and unlike anything else.
The first year of the process was sporadic exploration. At the time we were recording a lot of improvisations (both of ourselves and collaborators) and snippets of ideas for our 3 volume album Tomorrows. This was convenient, because we would keep our ears open for anything that felt like it could be an interesting sound or idea for the score.
2020 was when the process really got rolling. In addition to doing a dedicated recording session with traditional Chinese drums 排鼓, and a variety of different gongs, we got our first assignment from Daniels. We were tasked with writing a love song in the style of an old Broadway musical, with a version of it that would exist in a universe where people have hot dogs for fingers. They needed this song for what would be their final day of shooting before COVID shut everything down.
Once COVID hit, we all went back to our respective homes in our respective cities (Ryan moved to Indianapolis, Rafiq in Brooklyn, and myself in Dallas). We put together a big folder of music that Daniels could use in the process of constructing an edit with amazing editor Paul Rogers. This folder was a mix of some new ideas, sketches, instrument design elements and music from our catalogue as a band as well as each of our solo projects. Once they got a rough edit together, then we were off to the races.
There’s 110 minutes of original music in this score, so it was quite the undertaking. We split the cues up based on each of our strengths, while also collaborating with each other on the respective cues that we were working on. We would meet once a week over Zoom with Daniels, to share what we were working on and get feedback. Not only were they incredibly insightful and specific in their notes, they even ended up putting together the music for a couple of the cues! I could go on and on about different aspects of the process, but this was essentially how we worked until we finished the score in summer of 2021.
Did you think about creating different soundscapes for different universes, or did you think about it in terms of different themes for the characters? Or both?
IC: From the get go, we knew that we would have to tap into different sounds and genres for different universes. There are so many fast cuts between universes in this film, that we really had to make each major one immediately sonically identifiable as its own world so that we could move between them like switching channels on the radio. One of the major ways we were able to weave these eclectic sound worlds together was by using recurring themes. While some of the characters have distinct themes (Waymond and Jobu Tupaki), most of the major melodies aren’t necessarily character specific, and have more to do with themes in the movie like family, love or action.
One of my favourite sections (as it is for many) is the Wong Kar-Wai inspired scenes at the premiere, so I want to ask you about the track ‘Rendezvous at the Premiere’ – how did you evoke the required mood and romance musically?
Ryan Lott: Daniels and the editor Paul Rogers were great at choosing temp music. On this scene, they were using a famous piece of music that just worked perfectly. It’s often tricky to beat a well-temped cue, let alone one that is immediately recognisable. But I got lucky and found a solution everyone was happy with, and it was actually one of the very first cues I worked on… if not the first?
It was a litmus test for how well the Waymond/Family theme I had just written would work in application. One of the things I do in this cue is infuse a secondary piano part into the mix, like a little vine that tangles around the main part at times. This idea was inspired by Evelyn’s perception of Waymond here, where two versions of him are tangling together in her mind and heart.
‘Come Recover’ is the longest track and has an eclectic quality that is indicative of the soundtrack as a whole – how did you incorporate so many different instruments and elements to create the sound you wanted?
Rafiq Bhatia: In our early conversations with Daniels, it became clear that the reason they’d sought out Son Lux to score this film was due to our interest in reconciling seemingly disparate musical elements in our music – a fascination that pervades our work as a band and each of our individual solo projects. It became clear that they were hoping we could bring that same principle to bear in helping them establish distinct, seemingly unrelated sonic identities for each universe and then eventually bring elements of all of them together.
We love to use the particular aspects of sound itself as the basis for a musical idea, and to work with sound in a sculptural sort of way. We often start with something very particular and work outward from that into the more general structure around it – almost like if an architect started by designing a chair and then building the house around it. Working this way often leads us towards unlikely and particular sonic results.
How did the collaboration with Mitski and David Byrne for ‘This is a Life’ come about?
RB: At some point early last year, Daniels showed an in-progress cut of the film to the folks at A24, and they got very excited about it. As a result, they offered us their support in expanding the circle of collaborators working with us on the score and special bonus tracks. We had always dreamed of being able to create an end credits song for the film, and who better to tap for the task of finding beauty amidst a multiverse of chaos than David Byrne?
We managed to get a copy of the film for David to view and he was really moved by it, and graciously agreed to join us. So, Ryan set forth writing one song with the idea of having David write something like a counter-song around it – the concept was for it to almost feel like two different songs from totally different universes dancing around each other and embracing at key moments. It was incredibly inspiring to work with him and experience his level of seriousness and studiousness as a songwriter up close.
Around the same time, we had learned that Mitski was one of [co-director] Daniel Kwan’s favourite artists, and we excitedly reached out to her about singing Ryan’s original melody. She murdered it!
How did you explain the concept of the ‘Now We’re Cookin’ scene to Randy Newman, and did he get it straight away?
RL: Working with Randy was a riot. That dude is so sharp and funny. He had seen a rough cut of the movie already, so we didn’t need to explain anything. I had a simple piano part prepared for him to sing to, and once I found the best key for him to do it in, he nailed it. There’s a really funny reprise of the song in the movie where Randy/Raccacoonie can be heard mournfully singing the song in the distance as Chef Chad is weeping on the curb. Listen out for it next time you watch it. It’s so damn funny. I get to treasure the memory of Randy Newman giddily and weepily singing a song I wrote in the style of Randy Newman. Life in this universe is too strange, I love it.
Everything Everywhere All At Once is now in cinemas, and everyone should go and see it as it may well be the best film of the year, and the music by Son Lux is incredible! You can check out more of Son Lux and their music here.