Son Lux – Rafiq Bhatia, Ian Chang, Ryan Lott – photo by Anna Powell Denton
You can listen to the full interview here:
Everything Everywhere All at Once is not an easy film to describe – directed by “Daniels” (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) it’s part intimate family drama, part science fiction and martial arts action movie, quirky and emotionally touching. And the nominee for Best Original Score for the film is also surprising: rather than a single composer, it’s the band Son Lux. Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang constructed a soundtrack that is as idiosyncratic and all-encompassing as the movie. Ryan Lott spoke with KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen about their nomination, for both score and the song “This is a Life”.
“Having spent so much of my time with this movie, it occupies such a big part of my heart. And the fact that I was able to do it with my best friends, Rafiq and Ian, we were able to make this happen together and be part of a larger family – the Everything Everywhere All at Once family – is truly incredible. I feel like we just lucked out in every single way.”
Ryan Lott says he and his band members had a chance to be an integral part of the film much earlier than one would normally.
“We were invited into the creative process before it was even cast. As composers, usually you come in very late in the game, you’re part of the post-production process and we were involved in the pre-production. (And also production and post-production.) So, we were able to put our fingerprints on this thing early on and help design the world of sound, musically speaking, that would support this crazy ‘Verse Jumping’ experience.
Characters in the film are able to jump from one universe to an infinite number of other ones, which has the effect of turning a scene of a routine audit at an IRS office into an action-adventure fight scene, or a chance to see the world where people have hotdogs instead of fingers on their hands.
“It goes in so many directions and doesn’t compromise in any of them. So when we started working, there was a good chunk of time where I was like, ‘Man, I’m not sure they hired the right people. We’re a self-serious band or we were until this movie, what they heard in our music and they put it to us this way out of the gate. It was that in us they heard many universes of potential.”
The band (at least initially) didn’t have much experience with absurdist and surreal humor, but that turned out not to matter.
“The task at hand with respect to those moments in those scenes was actually to cancel it out, to play against it, which made it funnier. So we were still able to absolutely be our self-serious selves against those moments, and it all worked so well. To be handed a project where you can be as a chameleonic musician as many colors as you want to be, as many shades and textures of your reptilian skin. I mean, what an incredible gift… They chose to give us so much freedom and then let themselves consider it before bringing judgment to it. They were super careful not to let their expectations be the litmus test for what was effective and what wasn’t. That requires an incredible generosity of spirit and a type of patience… And in response to their direction, we were never just following orders. We were always participating and putting our lives into it.”
The music of Debussy has a through-line in the film, in a way that Lott says he at first couldn’t imagine.
“The idea was that one of the primary antagonists in the film, [IRS Agent] Deirdre [played by Jamie Lee Curtis], that her theme could be Clair de Lune, which I realize now is a perfect idea. But when they first expressed it to us, I was like, ‘That’s definitely not going to work. You take the most pastoral, melancholic, romantic piece of music that most people will recognize, and you use it to underscore a villain across multiple universes?’ This was early in the discussions with them, where I didn’t quite understand how genius they were and how exceptionally unexpected their ideas were. And that was kind of the point. It turned out to be the most fun challenge to take the most iconic parts of this piece of music and contextualize it, begin to employ it in a very different context than solo piano. We hear it in full orchestral blast, we hear it in weeping solo violin… I even made a choral arrangement… But then what the choir singing is “I love you, I love you, I love you.” It’s during this crazy section in slow motion. Deirdre is leaping down flights of stairs in slow motion in a knee kick position heading toward Michelle [Yeoh]’s character, Evelyn. And Evelyn is trying to Verse Jump by professing her earnest love for Deirdre. And that whole sentence makes no sense at all, if you haven’t seen the movie.”
When it opened the SXSW film festival in 2022, Lott says they knew it would resonate with an audience.
“I’m looking around and I’m hearing the laughing and the weeping and sniffles and all the collective sighs and the collective breath, held breath, the way it played in that room. It was the first time I really saw the film, you know, watching it thousands of times. I started to let myself let my guard down and I started to let myself enjoy it. We were getting messages from fans saying, I haven’t talked to my mother in five years. I’m calling her tomorrow. It’s working. It’s doing in other people what it was doing in us. It was all worth it.”