Let’s Talk About “Everything Everywhere All At Once”: An Interview with Son Lux

Chris Daly connects with Son Lux, the collective behind one of the year's best soundtracks to one of the year's best movies.
By    January 25, 2023

Photo via Lisa Wassmann/MERU

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Chris Daly is still waiting on his POW Starter jacket and coffee mug after 11 years of holding it down on this very site.

Warning: Light Spoilers for “Everything Everywhere All At Once” Ahead

With the recent announcement of the 2022 Oscar nominations, specifically the Best Original Score and Best Original Song categories, further proof of Passion of the Weiss’ staff commitment to bringing you the good stuff for your earholes before the poser kids find it down the road was established. In honor of the honor of simply being nominated, here, once again, is Chris Daly’s interview with Son Lux on their soundtrack for “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

One could be forgiven for lacking familiarity with the work of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert before now. The Daniels, as the co-writing/directing duo is known, previously had only their debut film, “Swiss Army Man,” and a handful of short films, commercials and music videos to their collective name. While the story of a flatulent corpse and a guy stranded on an island appealed to some, it’s fair to say the movie never was intended for a large audience, even if the aforementioned farting dead body was played by none other than Harry Potter himself.

However, with the release of Everything Everywhere All At Once Yet, the Dawn of the Era of Daniels is upon us. Starring Michelle Yeoh in one of her finest roles to date (though “Silver Hawk” will always be a personal fave) and the Hollywood big screen return of Ke Huy Quan, aka Data aka Short Round, while featuring a spectacularly frumpy Jaime Lee Curtis and a career-launching turn by Stephanie Hsu, the plot revolves around Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang finding herself as she learns that she is the possible key to saving the multiverse. On top of that, you’ve got kick-ass kung-fu, mind-bending philosophy and, spoiler alert, the greatest butt plug scene ever committed to film (with all due respect to the adult film industry). While it’s a tad early to start throwing around “Best Picture of the Year” accolades, it’s easily the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in 2022. Or more accurately, have already seen three times this year.

No movie can be considered “great” without an equally stellar soundtrack, and EEAAO does not disappoint in this department, either. As the digital conversation below proves, the Daniels’ vision included a particular audio roadmap. Turning to Son Lux, the trio of Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang, the Daniels sought and found musical partners with a shared, many worlds mentality. While largely instrumental, the soundtrack is anything but one dimensional, alternating between spacey synth workouts and Chinese opera to Disney-esque show tunes and haunting chants. SL talks about how they got involved, their musical scoring process, working with big names as well as up-and-coming artists and the thought process behind scoring that one anal intruder scene.

The following was answered collectively by the band:

How did you get involved in “Everything Everywhere All At Once” in the first place? Did you know someone in the Music Department? Did one of you babysit for the Yeohs? What’s the scoop?

Son Lux: Daniels reached out to us because they heard a multitude of multiverses in the music we make as a band and on our solo projects, as well. We were fortunate enough to be engaged early on in the process, which ended up being a very long but rewarding collaboration. Had we known the amount of work it would entail, our past selves probably would have shuddered in fear at the perceived impossibility of the task, but our current selves are profoundly changed for the better as a result of seeing it through.

I’ve noticed that for a lot of musical scores, the artists will utilize one instrument or theme for each character. Did you do anything like that here? (To my ears, there were obvious tonal differences when characters were in different places, either in their own minds or throughout the multiverse, but I was hoping you could elaborate. In one scene, it’s sparse synths, in another, you’ve got a Disney musical on your hands. What dictated your direction?)

Son Lux: A huge challenge of this film is that there are so many versions even of individual characters, jumping through numerous universes. We had to find a way to balance that tension—to both bring cohesion AND further fracture things in the right places. For establishing the identity of each universe, we largely went with using sonic texture and color to do the talking, because the characters move between verses so quickly that each one needed to be immediately recognizable. On the other hand, we looked for simple melodies to represent different character relationships throughout the film, which could then be imbued with the sonic personality of any given universe. Since we build many of our virtual instruments from a wide array of sources, we were able to reconfigure, juxtapose and rearrange these to meet the needs of each of the 100+ cues.

What was the process like for your scoring? Were you on-set a lot? Did you preview dailies? Or did you get involved once the movie was more or less done?

Son Lux: We actually got involved back in 2019, long before anything was shot. At the time of our first convo with Daniels, we were actually in the middle of a studio residency in New York working on our triple album, Tomorrows. Inspired by those conversations, and an early draft of the script Daniels’ supplied us with, we kept coming across ingredients during our studio sessions that would be useful for the film. Prior to the start of shooting, we ended up sending a giant Dropbox repository of those ideas, as well as instrumental versions of all of the Son Lux records and all of our individual solo projects. We also had to work up some cues in advance that would be sung on screen, like the hot dog hands musical.

Thankfully, Daniels and co. managed to get through filming almost entirely by the day that quarantine hit and the studios all shut down—in fact, I believe they worked through the previous night and wrapped early that Saturday morning. It was shortly after that that the edit started coming together, and we were on working to picture almost immediately thereafter, starting well in advance of a locked cut and working until the reels were being printed on the mix stage. Daniels were extraordinarily helpful and engaged throughout, offering great ideas and advice along the way.

Where did you draw inspiration for this? Songs like “Opera Fight” seem kind of obvious (spoiler: Yeoh is a singer in that scene), but I’ve got to know—from what well did you draw for “Plug Fight?”

Son Lux: [Laughs] Great question. When scoring a fight scene that involves butt plugs, it might seem like the obvious choice would be to make something sound silly or funny, but Daniels directed us to essentially ignore the hilarity of it and to approach the music earnestly as a high-stakes badass fight scene. So while the music for this cue isn’t necessarily humorous, I did want to nod to the absurdity of the scene by making it feel bizarre and even a bit uncomfortable while still maintaining its intended function and intensity. I landed on using processed scratchy bowed upright bass phrases (sampled from bassist Logan Cole) and repitched samples of me playing phrases on 排鼓 (pitched Chinese drums) to set the tone for this “Plug Fight”.

While this obviously isn’t the first time that you all have worked with big names (that Easy remix w/ Lorde remains a favored jam of mine), I think it’s fair to say that the scope of artists on this soundtrack dwarfs any of your previous projects. What was it like working with the likes of David Byrne, André 3000 and Randy Newman, among others? (Apologies if this is in the linear notes, but who handled the lyrics for their tracks? I’m particularly interested in “Now We’re Cookin’,” as that has such an obvious Newman feel, I wanted to tip my hat if you nailed that one yourselves.)

Son Lux: What a rare task to write a song for Randy Newman to sing in the style of Randy Newman! As amazing as it was to get to work with so many bigger name collaborators on this score, we also have to point out how fulfilling it was to create again with some of our long-term collaborators such as Hanna Benn, Nina Moffitt, Chris Pattishall, Hajnal Pivnick, Rob Moose and others. There’s nothing like working with some of these larger than life figures—heroes and inspirations in many cases—to put into perspective how lucky we are to have the musical and creative family that we do.

How did creating a soundtrack differ from making a “regular” album? Did you feel more beholden to someone else’s vision, was this a collaborative process or did they leave you to work your collective magic?

Son Lux: Tomorrows, our three volume album released immediately preceding this score, wasn’t exactly a “regular” album, whatever that might be. We wanted to create a journey with that record, and the process of opening up the album experience to something more contemplative and expansive and interwoven was an incredible experience to draw upon as we started working on this score. Daniels are amazing directors in that they inspire you with their incredible depth and breadth of vision, but invite you to find the best versions of yourself to manifest in the context of that vision.

Will soundtracking/scoring become a permanent new direction for the band, or was this more of a one-off thing? What was your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

Son Lux: While this was the first score as a band, Ryan has done scoring work for film in the past. But it definitely feels like a start of a new chapter for the three of us as a collaborative scoring team. Our favorite part was the ability to draw upon each of our own unique strengths to create a sum greater than its parts. Not sure there was a least favorite part other than having to do most of this work remotely due to the pandemic.

In a similar vein, what’s next for Son Lux?

Son Lux: We are headed out on a big US tour, likely on it when this interview runs, and then headed to some summer festival dates in Europe and then a European club tour in early 2023. We each have individual projects we are working on that should be releasing over the next couple of years.

Anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to add to the conversation?

Son Lux: Go see the film in the biggest theater with the best sound system you can!

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