Industry Interview: The Composers Behind American Gods
PremiumBeat sat down with the composers for American Gods to discuss their process and working with the show.
The untempered and gritty scores from American Gods’ composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans nurture a certain work ethic, demonstrating their long-term success in the industry. Here are their thoughts on process.
PremiumBeat: Marriages are difficult enough, often relying on physical intimacy to keep the bond going. How have you both managed to keep a professional relationship fresh, vibrant, and creatively stimulating, for over two decades?
Danny and Saunder: We got really lucky, in the fact that, we both have such similar taste and style in music, and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses deeply. We are also able to keep our egos in check, and remain pretty open-minded when it comes to the process. We have a great relationship outside of music, as well. We treat each other very much like family. Creatively, we both make an effort to push ourselves into unknown territory, as much as possible, and often, we feed off each other’s energy. Having two brains, when working on films, is super helpful to keep things from getting stagnant or stale.
PB: Do you have a mode of working together or does each project create new paths into your world of composing?
D&S: Generally, we don’t sit down and write together. Instead, we pass stuff back and forth. Often, one of us will “spearhead” a project — whoever is most inspired at that particular moment. But, most of the time, it will flip flop back and forth between us. There’s no real recipe, and we don’t usually do a ton of discussion before. We just sort of dive in and see where the music takes us!
PB: So much of your work, in film and television, explores the darker side of humanity (Ozark, The Gift, Fear the Walking Dead). Is this by happenstance or is there a plan? Would you have any interest in working on a romantic comedy, or does the grit of the material provide the flint to your creative spark?
D&S: We actually did a romantic comedy a few years ago called 5 to 7 . But it gets pretty sad, in the end, which was our favorite part to score! Yes, in general, we gravitate towards darker material. We’re just more inspired by those emotions and tonalities. Although, we are happy to stretch our music muscles a bit into lighter territory, from time to time! We recently did an episode of Chef’s Table Pastry — the “Corrado Assenza” episode, which was some pretty upbeat Sicilian-inspired music.
PB: How big a role does technology play in your composing? Is it a true mixture of live recordings and synthesized music? Does your own musical backgrounds (playing in bands) figure into wanting to get actual hands on instruments, rather than using digital tools at your disposal?
D&S: We are adamant about using real instruments, whenever we can, from the earliest stages of writing, to the end. Between the two of us, we play a multitude of different instruments. What we don’t play, we hire or we just learn the basics ourselves. When we use synths, they are usually analog, with lots of unknown knobs to turn, and beautiful mistakes to be made. We prefer that unpredictable approach over canned presets and plugins. We also make our own sample instruments, especially when we have some particular sounds that are integral to a TV series, or the like. For instance, in Ozark, we made extensive samples of all sorts of junk percussion, some of which were metal pipes and things which would be too difficult to keep coming back to record. Sampling multiple hits and velocities gave us a super playable “kit”.
PB: For Season Two’s score of American Gods, rumor has it, your muse was America itself, rooted in multiculturalism. How did that inspiration manifest in the choices you made when approaching the sound?
D&S: Well, yeah, the show is such a wonderful metaphor for America. These old gods who have migrated to the states, some by choice and some not. In the end, they have all been “Americanized”, to an extent! They drive big American cars, motorcycles, and work in all walks of life. We wanted to comment on their ethnic backgrounds, while distilling it all into a cohesive score. Which, as we all know, is kind of what America is — ideally. We wove epic choirs, Middle Eastern instruments, African percussion, psychedelic EDM, Classical strings, and much more, into some of the vernacular of American music — blues, rock, jazz, and folk — and painted it all with a raw grittiness. It was such a fun score to work on, there really weren’t many rules we needed to adhere to!
PB: Finally, it’s interesting, with all your success, to see recent credits of working on short films, which clearly must be labor of love endeavors. What draws you to these projects?
D&S: Yeah, we try and pick projects that move us, regardless of their size or profile. A lot of factors inspire us — from the opportunity to write really unique music, or the challenge of writing something outside our comfort zone, to the relevance and importance of the subject matter.
Cover image via Starz!
Looking for more industry interviews? Check these out.
- Industry Interview: Behind the Lens with Filmmaker Carolina Costa
- The Costume Design Behind Star Trek, House of Cards, and Greek Wedding
- Round Table: Three Film Composers Converge on Sundance
- Tom Cross on Editing First Man and Working with IMAX Footage
- Interview: Composer Dan Marocco of Brooklyn Nine-Nine