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Tuned In Tuesday: Composer Jeff Russo Talks Starz’s Power [INTERVIEW + “Whoever He Is” Preview] 

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We talked to Jeff Russo last month about his (phenomenal) work on FX’s Fargo and during that conversation we learned we was also the composer for the new Starz series Power. We talked to Jeff exclusively about how he became involved with this show, his inspiration for the music and 50 Cent.

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TV GOODNESS: How did you hear about Power and what made you want to become involved?

Jeff Russo: “Now that was an interesting thing. I actually just got a call from my agent, who said, ‘There’s this show Power. They’re looking at a few composers.’ I happened to be one of them. ‘They’ll send you some picture, will you write a demo?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ I looked at some of the clips online, I read what it was about. It seemed interesting to me and I had at that moment- you know, sometimes you get inspired by little, little things. So I read the logline and I’m from New York City, which is where this takes place. I was inspired to come up with a vibe I would say, more than write a melodic piece. I just had a sound in my head that I thought would be good for this particular character. Part of the premise of the show – the main character Ghost – he walks the line between being a legitimate club owner and being this drug kingpin and his struggle in being on both sides of that and wanting to be good, but then thrown back into the dark side of his life – sort of a duality.  I was inspired by that, to try and bridge that expanse between his lives. So I wrote a demo for it and they sent it in and usually as a composer you write a demo and then you sort of forget about it. It goes into the ether and sometimes you hear and sometimes you don’t. You just sort of forget about it. Then one week later I get a call saying, ‘You’re hired.’ Wow. It was one of those things where the turnaround was really fast because they had gotten so far down the line in production and hadn’t made any choices with regard to music. So it was one of those things where it was like, ‘Ok you’re hired. Here are the first 3 episodes. Go.’ It was just one of those things where it happened so fast, it was like my head was spinning.”

TV GOODNESS: What inspired you to create the sound for this show?

Jeff: “I had a tone conversation call with the two main executive producers David Knoller and Courtney Agboh and we talked about what it was they were trying to achieve with score. Now score in this show is quite different than Fargo in terms of what its main job is. In Power, it was really and it is really just to lend a voice to the vibe that we’re trying to create. I mean, it’s a dark sort of brooding show where this character, Ghost, has two very, very different sides and he rides this line between basically good and evil, trying to be good but keeps getting pulled back into the evil. And how can we truly just support that without pushing too hard? In Power, we really mean for the score to be pretty subtle. We talked a lot about the sounds of the city, metals hitting together and the sound of- you know when you’re walking in the city it has a hum to it. In trying to create that I came up with a couple of different synthetic pads that have that vibe and then I used the muted trumpet to give voice to Ghost’s struggle and those are really the characters of the show. The city is a character. There are all these characters in the show like the drugs lords, the drug kingpins, then there’s the guys from the club and it really has a very diverse set of characters so in order to unify that I needed to give voice to the environment. And we talked a lot about that. That’s really how we came to what the show was gonna sound like.”

TV GOODNESS: Were you also involved in picking the music that plays at Ghost’s club?

Jeff: “All of the music that isn’t a song, all the music that isn’t club music, dance music, song music, was done by me. All of the songs are picked really by the producers after going through the different options from the music supervisors. In this show, I’m not really a part of picking that. I’m really tasked with creating the vibe of the show as opposed to creating the vibe of the club and the sort of hip hop elements. We also have 50 Cent who obviously- he’s a master. I just as soon let the people who really know what they’re doing with that do that. I’m very much into that music and steeped in the music and occasionally they’ve asked me to write pieces that would be reminiscent of that so there are a few pieces that are dub-step, hip hop infused that are score, that I wrote. But 99.9% of the time it’s songs picked by the producers and the music supervisors.

TV GOODNESS: 50 Cent is one of the producers, right?

Jeff: “He is. He’s one of the executive producers and has written and performed the main title.”

TV GOODNESS: Does he have any input into the musical choices on the show?

Jeff: “I haven’t had any direct contact with him. I’m not sure how far up the ladder it goes when I deliver the score. I usually just deal with one or two executive producers who are making creative decisions with regards to music and notes and stuff. So I’m not sure if he’s even listening but there is that injected into the score. Because his vibe has been injected into the show, part of my job is to cover that in the score. So I do and hopefully that is working for them.”

TV GOODNESS: When you’re scoring are there times when a particular instrument or beat comes to mind for a particular character?

Jeff: “Well, I try to use a thematic element for that. So, it was the reason I chose a muted trumpet for Ghost’s walking the line and there were a few beats that I created that I return to after he has either a revelation or he’s struggling or he is about to do something that he is on the fence about. So, yeah, I would say that I don’t know that it inspires that, but I try to create something that will support those moments.”

TV GOODNESS: For the series, did you find that it was easy to find the sound or were there any challenges or surprises throughout the process?

Jeff: “I don’t want to say it was easy to do because it’s not, but it came surprisingly naturally. As the season progressed and the themes started to recur, there was this Ghost and Angela theme that I wrote for episode 2. They meet in front of a library. Do you know the scene I’m talking about?”

TV GOODNESS: I do.

Jeff: “So before we were done with episode 1, one of the editors had said, ‘I can’t really figure out what to do here,’ and it was that scene and that’s when I wrote their theme. Interestingly, I got to write it for a future episode, but then use it in an earlier episode so things like that happen all the time. I’m not quite sure that answers your question.”

TV GOODNESS: It does. I think that’s it for me. I’m really enjoying the music.

Jeff: I really appreciate that. That’s so nice to hear. Too many times you write music for a television show and it really doesn’t go very much noticed and that’s part of the thing, to be invisible and sort of just be the heartbeat. People don’t always notice their heartbeat, you know. And in this show, I feel like that’s a big part of what I do. I try to just really underscore the tension and the struggle and the broodingness that Ghost has and that can go unnoticed. But obviously in Fargo, it’s a totally different altogether.”

TV GOODNESS: Also, I think people tend to notice the music when it’s really bad. So maybe in a way, it’s a huge compliment that people don’t necessarily notice the music. Who knows?

Jeff: It’s a fine line, right? If you’re noticing it, it’s really bad or really good. It’s interesting. I talk a lot about the music for 24, which is- there’s so much music that you then almost don’t notice it. And that takes a lot of work and I think Sean Callery is one of my favorite composers. He’s so great and he’s so great at that. There’s forty minutes of music and you just don’t really notice it until he wants you to and then you notice it, but you didn’t notice that is was going for the last twenty minutes. It’s very interesting. It’s a thing.”

Edited for space and content.

Power airs Saturdays at 9/8c on Starz.

“Whoever He Is” Synopsis:

Ghost and Tommy respond to the anonymous attacks on the drug business, Ghost’s wife Tasha laments his new club career, Ghost rekindles his relationship with Angela, and Angela’s work as a US Attorney has her pursuing Ghost’s distributor Lobos – with neither Ghost nor Angela knowing the truth about one another.

VIDEO

PHOTOS

All photos courtesy of Starz.

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