Supernatural has one of the most enduring legacies on television, and it's thanks in large part to its epic score. When the show ended in 2020 after 15 seasons, the legacy survives in the new show The Winchesters, which is a prequel that centers on Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean's (Jensen Ackles) parents, Mary (Meg Donnelly) and John Winchester (Drake Rodger). Composer Philip White spoke to Bleeding Cool about how he got his start on the franchise and how The Winchesters differs from its predecessor as John, Mary, and company battle the looming threat of the Akrida.
Entering a New Era of 'Supernatural'
Bleeding Cool: How did you get started working in the 'Supernatural' franchise?
White: I was lucky to start working for Chris Lennertz in November 2005, when he started work on 'Supernatural.' He was one of two composers with Jay Gruska. I started assisting Chris helping him with programming. Little by little, I started writing a few cues, he gave me a little bit more, and then his career started taking off. It had been for a while, and he gave me more composing responsibilities, which was wonderful. I had the great fortune to stay on the show for its entire existence pretty much until it ended mid-Covid in 2020. 'Supernatural' is very much in my bones.
When you signed on for 'The Winchesters,' did you want to distinguish the prequel from the original series or did you maintain a similar voice as the original series?
That's a good question. We talked about that a lot with the producers Robbie Thompson, the executive producer, and the showrunner. We felt, on the one hand, it is a story about Sam and Dean's parents as Sam and Dean are the main characters in 'Supernatural.' 'The Winchesters' is about their parents and how they met and takes place in 1972. On the one hand, we wanted to differentiate a little bit in terms of the time when these two shows take place. By the same token, they are still fighting the same kinds of evil supernatural forces.
There are musical throughlines in 'The Winchesters,' which are taken from the "mothership," as we call 'Supernatural' mostly as it applies to all the horror and terror moments. Whenever there's anything scary, we hearken back to a lot of the instrumentation that we used on 'Supernatural,' and it works very effectively because it's part of the same DNA, and it works well. The answer to your question is a little bit of both. We did want to differentiate, and we also wanted to still keep some of the same musical threads from 'Supernatural.'
John and Mary have already established characters as recurring characters on 'Supernatural.' How do you resolve their themes in 'The Winchesters?' Is it something that's evolving?
Something that we didn't do is use melodic themes per se, with a few exceptions for the boys. In some comedic moments, we had a rock theme we used. There were a couple, but for the most part, it was more about using certain kinds of instrumentation, providing that throughline through 'Supernatural.' There wasn't a specific theme for the parents in 'Supernatural,' but rather for 'Winchesters.' Jay Gruska is the co-composer with me on the series as well. It's fabulous to have him on because he has 15 years under his belt for 'Supernatural' too. For 'Winchesters,' we are exploring more melodic ideas for the actual parents. We both have one we use somewhat interchangeably. The main difference is that there'll be some more melodic ideas on the new show.
How do you compare working in the 'Supernatural' universe compared to less cathartic projects like 'Fraggle Rock?'
It's all tremendous fun no matter the project because whether I'm writing something comedic or dramatic, the demands need to be met somehow, and figuring out how to meet them. We had to pivot between many different styles on both 'Supernatural' and 'Winchesters,' which is always great and requires a bit of head-scratching at first, like, "How am I going to do that?" "How should this work best?" or "What would make this funny?" In terms of creating the composition, the process is fairly similar, even if you're writing different themes and using different instrumentation. Finding how to elevate the story is always our main task.
What were your biggest influences, and how did they inspire your style?
There are so many. I grew up in love with the movies of [Steven] Spielberg and his collaboration with [John] Williams throughout the years with 'Jaws,' 'Raiders [of the Lost Ark],' 'E.T.,' and [George Lucas'] 'Star Wars.' That was certainly formative as I was growing up later on, as I began to study music, a lot of classical heavyweights like [Ludwig van] Beethoven and [Gustav] Mahler. I'm a huge musical theater fan, so: Leonard Bernstein and 'Sondheim.' 'Sweeney Todd' and 'West Side Story' are gems of American musical theater, which had a huge influence on me and, later on, Tom Newman. My first instrument was the guitar. Brazilian Sergio Assad is such a brilliant guitarist and another big influence on me. I was introduced to a few other Latin American composers.
The Winchesters airs Tuesdays on The CW.