A Chat With 'Legion', 'Star Trek' Composer Jeff Russo at #WonderCon

Jeff Russo is a prolific composer.  I can say this because his current slate of shows across traditional television and streaming services is impressive- Altered Carbon and Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix, Legion and Fargo on FX, Lucifer on FOX, CounterpartBullPowers– you get the idea.

Jeff Russo
Editorial credit: Eugene Powers / Shutterstock.com

At WonderCon 2018, Jeff spoke about his influences, keeping his series(eseses) in their own universes, and how the Legion score is it's own character (because seriously, it is).

Speaking about Star Trek: Discovery and borrowing pre existing Trek tunes Jeff said:

"I wouldn't say I borrowed anything really, other than the 'Courage' fanfare at the end of the titles, and a bit in Episode 15. Other than that, it's really just tone, that franchise sound. And the orchestra made it big and swelling and swashbuckling, so I did try to evoke those same feelings without borrowing.

It's really the most complicated part of writing a score for something like Star Trek, wanting to write your own thing, but having it feel familiar at the same time. It's a fine line to walk. If you get too close, you're a copycat, but if you go too far in the other direction, you're not Star Trek anymore. So trying to find that thread….it's hitting a target in the dark, pinning the tail on the donkey, in the dark-"

"In space", I interjected.

"Yes, in a vacuum in space," he responded, while laughing at my silly joke.  I appreciated the brevity, it had been a very long weekend.

When asked about whether or not he was a Trek fan before joining the series on CBS ALL ACCESS:

"I dunno, was Jerry Goldsmith a Trek fan? [I laughed, because I knew the point he was making, because almost every tv composer of an age feels similarly about Goldsmith] I grew up loving Star Trek, my entrypoint was Next Generation, because I was a late teen then.  And that's really where it started for me, and i went backwards and watched allt he movies after that.  I don't know that I'd go so far as to call me a Trekkie, or a Trekkor, but I'm a huge fan of the franchise. I've seen every show other than Enterprise, I lost my way during Voyager [It's ok Jeff, so did they], they could have continued to make Next Gen movies, and I would have been very happy.  Picard was my guy.

It's that thing where people complain that our show isn't like the others, but none of them were, really. It's an extension of Roddenberry's original vision, we have to tell our own stories in our own way, all within the content of what that idea was. That's the thing I love the most about the franchise, because it grows as the stories are being told."

I asked about a dream project, if there was anything Jeff could do, that one special thing on the horizon, what would it be?

"You know, my answer would have been Star Trek. And here i am, talking to you about that. And then with Legion, I didn't know what to expect on that. I've worked with Noah Hawley on all his other projects up to now. He told me about it and I was super excited, and he started talking to me about the music, and that made me even more excited.

The music I write for Legion is a direct extension of what I love to do the most, the type of music I love to do the most. The merging of the orchestral electronic and yet somehow pop feeler music. We talked about Pink Floyd, which is one of my favorite bands of all time, and they're a touchstone for me in that score.

I'm interested in what they're going to do with Watchmen. They're making a show out of Watchmen, and I had a conversation- conversations, with the guy who's making it. I don't know if he knows what he's doing for music on that, but I'm hoping maybe he's listening/reading/watching this. It seems like that is really going to be amazing. I mean, I was not terribly satisfied with the film, and I think a lot of people feel the same way.  I saw the movie, and I wanted a little more. Everybody does the best they can."

On similarities in his existing projects-

Fargo and Star Trek share a lot more than Legion does, whereas I use an orchestra for those things. Fargo is much more dramatic and emotional than Star Trek, but I do tend to write emotional music.

Legion is it's own thing, I do things on it that I wouldn't dream of doing on anything else. There's an a-tonal orchestral element to it, really weird stuff that I wouldn't do on anything else. But I think my approach in general on any project is the same.

Things shift in season 2, I can't say how, but there is a significant change. A lot of themes from season 1 will appear in season 2, the David and Syd theme appears in different forms, but the melodic theme is there. We're making this one long movie- as we're telling the story the music and narrative start to change, it still feels familiar. When you hear that theme, you know the thing makes sense.

We do a lot of cool shit this year."

Legion returns to FX on Tuesday April 3rd.

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About Mary Anne Butler

Bleeding Cool News Editor Mary Anne Butler (Mab, for short) has been part of the fast-paced world of journalism since she was 15, getting her start in album reviews and live concert coverage for a nationally published (print) music magazine. She eventually transitioned to online media, writing for such sites as UGO/IGN, ComicsOnline, Geek Magazine, Ace of Geeks, Aggressive Comix (where she is still Editor-in-Chief), and most recently Bleeding Cool. 

Over the past 10 years, she’s built a presence at conventions across the globe as a cosplayer (occasionally), photographer (constantly), panelist and moderator (mostly), and reporter (always). 

 Interviews, reviews, observations, breaking news, and objective reporting are the name of the game for the founder of Harkonnen Knife Fight, a Dune-themed band with an international presence. 

 Though she be but little, she is fierce. #MabTheProfessional
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