TV Goodness Q&A: Music Composer Greg Edmonson Talks Firefly Series and Soundtrack
Next year marks the 15th anniversary of Joss Whedon’s epic sci-fi series, Firefly. The popularity of the short-lived FOX series is the stuff of legend. It only lasted a season on air but the show gained massive cult hit status thanks to people discovering it on DVD, attending Browncoat events, the Serenity movie, and following the amazing cast once the social mediaÂ worldÂ really took off.
What’s infectious about the Firefly universe has to be the fact that those involved behind the scenes and in front of the camera are still so passionate about the show all these years later. For example, when Nathan Fillion’s Castle was on, he engineered some reunions with fellow alums Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres, and Jewel Staite.
I recently interviewed the music composer for the series, Greg Edmonson. I could have talked to him forever because he was so positive about the series and his experience despite the many obstacles the show had to face back when it originally aired.
He had quite the task creating music for this space Western. FireflyÂ was an eclectic, unique series that’s both comedy and drama and featured characters that were so different from each other. Even with such a complicated show to score, Edmonson says it’s the most fun he’s ever had and it’s a gig that’s defined his career.
Starting today, the Firefly soundtrack will once again be available for the masses. It’ll be pressed on vinyl for the very first time. For those of us still crushed by the show’s cancellation way back when, it’s yet another way to relive the drama, the characters, and the action. According to a press release, in addition to the show’s fabulous score:
The exclusive package features an original rendering of the ship Serenity on the front and back covers of this double LP gatefold jacketed set.
In a recent phoner with Edmonson, he talked about his massive love for Firefly, some of the strugglesÂ he faced when creating music for the series as well as working with Whedon. The conversation flowed after telling him I had just re-watched the two-hour pilot.
Greg Edmonson: Okay. Let me start yakking. They spent ten million on that pilot. When I saw it I said, I am working for ten years on this thing. There is no way this thing doesnâ€™t run for ten years, because I knew what Joss [Whedon] had done, and he knew what he had done, which is to create a show with nine main characters with wildly divergent pasts so that you could go on and on and on without repeating the same storyline. They could interweave, they could do all these different things, you just didnâ€™t have to go with the same storyline over and over like so many shows have to.
And Fox would not show that pilot. They refused to show it. They wouldnâ€™t show it, and they told him, they said, ‘Go write something else,’ and he said, ‘Well, I have nine characters to introduce,’ and Fox had been running promos all summer about the girl in a box and all these things, and then they just abandoned the whole thing before the show ever aired.
So they had to write another episode, a one-hour episode, and there was no way that you could introduce the nine characters, and there was no way you could tell the story of why were these people together, where did they come from, why are they all on the same journey at this point? So, I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know, but I loved that pilot and I remember watching it just going, This is so, I see what he has done. It is so good. He did an impeccable job of casting. I cannot even possibly imagine anybody else in any of those roles, and I loved every moment of it, for 15 episodes.
TV Goodness: So how closely, because Joss Whedon is pretty much involved, I feel like, in every aspect of a project, so how closely did you guys work together in creating the sound?
Edmonson: Well, both closely and then also not so, and actually he was an absolute joy to work with and he was brilliant because he understood that what he had created was a post apocalyptic world where all the cultures were thrown together, and you especially see that in the pilot. So you had all the cultures thrown together, so really any sound that was justified by the picture could make complete sense, it just depended on what you were saying. Even when you think of this in terms ofâ€¦let me pick an idea here, weapons. He came up with something, a story that was a little bit like the early days of America where your circumstances greatly determined what your life was like, so if you were a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt, then it was a completely different thing than if you were staking a claim in Missouri, just two different worlds.
And so in Jossâ€™s world, that way you could have laser guns, which he did, or you could have six-shooters, which he did, and it all made sense depending on where you were and what you were saying.
So, musically it was very much the same thing, and most of the time in television especially, people say, ‘Letâ€™s do something that hadnâ€™t been done before,’ and really what they ultimately mean is letâ€™s do the exact same thing that we hear every week but maybe in a different key. Joss actually meant itâ€¦
Jossâ€™s vision for the music was it could be anything that the picture justifies, and he was a joy to work with. He was so easy to work with, and they were all fighting so hard to keep the show on the air, as was I, that at some point the music was not so much the focus any more, it was just like what is it that Fox wants so that we can keep doing this? And Fox always hated what they called the Western aspect of the show, but it really wasnâ€™t a Western.
TV Goodness: To me it was kind of a space Western, but it was so much more than that. It was also a comedy, a drama, there was a lot of action, there was a Chinese or Asian influence to it as well. It was an interesting mix of so many different types of elements and genres.
Edmonson: I canâ€™t even say it better than you just said it. Thatâ€™s exactly what it was. I mean, the Chinese thing was funny because Joss was going, thereâ€™s certain words you canâ€™t say on TV but if I say them in Chinese nobody will even know what they mean and Iâ€™ll get away with it, and he did. And then they made their own cursing. It was just so clever. It was just so fun. Well, hopefully youâ€™re picking up how much I loved that show. We had very little time to do the score because schedule-wise they had really not left time to record live instruments, and I did use live instruments. I mean, the guitar is all live, the woodwinds are for the most part live, the percussion, the violin/fiddle. That was all live, but they did not leave room to do it so it turned into where you had to kind of do the score in about four days. Itâ€™s beyond ridiculous.
TV Goodness:Â Wow. I write for TV Goodness and we have interviewed a lot of TV composers, and usually everybodyâ€™s talking about how little time you get, but nobodyâ€™s ever said four days.
Edmonson: Yeah. Thatâ€™s kind of what it turned into. Even a half-hour show, I did some show called King of the Hill. It was only a 30-minute show and I had ten days, and I didnâ€™t have to do all the recording myself. So this one was just ridiculous, but I will say this. I would get up in the morning at like two in the morning and I would come down here, and it was a good time to work because at two in the morning the phone doesnâ€™t ring, and every time I turned on my monitor and looked at those actors on the screen, I said, ‘I am so lucky to be working on this show and I could not love it anymore.’ When it was gone, I knew that it was not replaceable. I knew that I would move on to another gig, yeah, yeah, yeah, but it was not going to be that show.
TV Goodness: So what was your favorite cue to create?
Edmonson: The one that has the most meaning to me is one (I did) on an episode that didnâ€™t air. Thereâ€™s a show called “The Message” and we already knew that the show was gone at this point. This was a funeral and at the end of the funeral we had all of the main characters on screen and it was snowing. Iâ€™m trying to think if I can describe this. Anyway, the music for that was me saying goodbye to my friends, to the show. So even though it was written for a character in that show, it was not written about that character. It was written forâ€¦
TV Goodness: Everybody.
Edmonson:Â I think you understand what Iâ€™m saying. I was saying goodbye to this irreplaceable show. Thatâ€™s the queue that moves me the most. But I loved doing the whole thing. It was all so much fun and it was all different. When they were still doing the Western thing they were kind of going, â€œOkay, weâ€™re doing a Western thing,â€ but when we saw a covered wagon and I played it with a sitar, and Iâ€™m just going, â€œWho would ever let anybody do that?â€ It was fun because they didnâ€™t want it to be a Western.
When we got to the space shots, this was Jossâ€™s vision. When we got to the space shots where you always hear Star TrekÂ french horns, ba ba ba ba, yeah. We did that with fiddle and dobro. Thatâ€™s what made it so fun. It was just all not the things that you exactly expected to hear.
TV Goodness:Â Well, what was the most unique direction that you receivedÂ from Joss?
Edmonson:Â Boy, I donâ€™t know the answer to that. I donâ€™t know exactly how to answer that except that again, he just said listen, in this post-apocalyptic world, all the cultures have been thrown together so you can do anything. I began a style on that that I have followed through with ever since then, which is using ethnic instruments, but not so much as ethnic music. You just try to use the ethnic instrument a little bit to say this is an exotic thing weâ€™re doing. So youâ€™re not trying to sound authentically anything, youâ€™re just saying, letâ€™s use those instruments, and I did learn pretty quickly that especially with ethnic stringed instruments, you get so much bang for the buck when you actually see them on screen because, if you donâ€™t, they mostly sound pretty similar. But I loved using, and by the way, all the players who played on that had so much fun trying different things. It was just a time of experimentation.
TV Goodness:Â That must have beenÂ creatively freeing for you…
Edmonson:Â Yeah. Itâ€™s fantastic, and Joss gave you the complete freedom and he didnâ€™t go pick the cuesÂ apart. When I first got the gig, Iâ€™d never worked with him before, and he said, ‘This gig is going to be hard fun,’ and I thought, ‘Uh oh. Iâ€™m not sure what that means but it sounds kind of dangerous.’ It was not hard fun, it was just fun, the hard part was the schedule. It was mostly just fun.
Again, I absolutely loved it, and it charted, forget the pun, my course for the next ten years because as I ventured into the world of video games from Firefly, but doing (the video game series) Uncharted,Â I took exactly everything that I had started doing on Firefly and did it again except now I had a lot more time and I had a big orchestra for a week, not for three hours, and you had all the resources that had Firefly just been a series of films, those are the resources that you would have had. So I learned so much from that gig and it became an important juncture of stuff in my life.
TV Goodness:Â Well, next year is the 15th anniversary of when Firefly premiered, but it sounds like for everybody involved, it was such a big influence on their careers. I mean, why do you think this is a show people still talk about to this day with such fondness and worship and love?
Edmonson:Â The actors loved it, the actors loved their characters. They were so well written. They were just so well-drawn. Joss created a world. Itâ€™s weird and strange how this one still lives because most TV shows, as you know, you watch them, you like them, and then when they go away you go oh, I really love that show. Well, next, and you just move on. This one is still alive.
Now this is a weird story. This is just an aside for me. I actually spoke at a high school a couple of weeks ago, and they had me up there and then they had a famous actress, a famous photographer, a famous sculptor, and when they opened it up for question and answer, at a high school, all the kids wanted to talk about was Firefly. And Iâ€™m kind of going, ‘How did they even know about Firefly? That was so long ago.’ People are still discovering that show.
Maybe it has something to do with Jossâ€™s stature in the industry, and people certainly love what he does. Also, again, he created what he knew was the perfect TV show. He specifically did it to be perfect, and it was perfect.
TV Goodness:Â Talk about the soundtrack. What makes it special?
Edmonson:Â Itâ€™s special in so many ways to me. Again, this is where I made a stylistic change, but thatâ€™s about me and I donâ€™t think the soundtrack is about me. I think the soundtrack is about the fact that when people listen to it, they get to relive moments in the show that had meaning to them.
So the fact that I am allowed by people to be a part of something that has meaning in their life, gives meaning to mine. I absolutely love that. I absolutely adore the fact that peopleâ€¦there are no better fans in the whole world than sci-fi fans and gamer fans. Both of them are so supportive, and there are no words for how good Firefly fans are. They are so supportive, they are so wonderful. They will give you the shirt off their back, they will do anything. They have been so wonderful, and that was my introduction to that world in that way, and so Iâ€™m just honored. I think you understand what Iâ€™m saying. Iâ€™m honored to have been part of the fabric of the storytelling, of a story that has meaning to others, and a story that still lives, and a story that people are still just discovering even now, which is astonishing to me.
Thatâ€™s why it has meaning to me. Was it fun to do? Totally fun to do. We absolutely loved doing it. Was it fun to record? Yeah. The players would come over, we would have fun, it was great, it would go on the air and we would go, ‘That was so much fun. We got to do something different.’ So there was a great deal of joy in making the music, but the deeper meaning was the thing Iâ€™m telling you.
The FireflyÂ Official TV soundtrack — complete with LP — can be found here.
Interview edited for space and content.
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