Cultured Focus Magazine Talks With Emmy Award-winning Composer Jeff Russo
Cultured Focus Magazine recently spoke with Emmy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated composer Jeff Russo about his new projects and what it takes to be a famous music composer. His upcoming projects include Peacock’s Mrs. Davis, starring Ely Henry, and HBO Max’s Love & Death, starring Elizabeth Olsen. Mrs. Davis premieres on April 20th, 2023 on Peacock. HBO Max’s Love & Death premieres on April 27th, 2023.
Russo is known for FX’s Fargo, for which he received an Emmy in 2017 as well as three additional nominations. He is also known for Legion, and Snowfall; Amazon Prime’s The Consultant; Paramount's Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Strange New World; CBS All Access’s Star Trek: Discovery, and Clarice; Showtime Networks’ The Man Who Fell to Earth; Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy; Starz’ Power Book II: Ghost; Apple TV's For All Mankind; Bartlett Sher’s Oslo, which he co-scored with Zoë Keating and for which he received an Emmy nomination; Paul Dektor’s American Dreamer; Sabrina Doyle’s Lorelei; Noah Hawley’s Lucy in the Sky; Craig Macneill’s Lizzie; Peter Berg’s action-thriller film, Mile 22; and many more.
Russo shared with Cultured Focus Magazine that there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. “It starts with reading the scripts and watching the episodes. After that, sitting down, writing down what I think the scene is and keeping episodes connected,” he said. “It begins with the idea as I am getting the narrative of each individual episode. It goes from writing it to orchestrating it to mixing it to recording it and then the final stage. It's a good amount of work for each one that can take 4-11 days.”
For Russo the inspiration starts with the script. “I take inspiration from the characters,” he said.
“The most important job of a composer is the ability to communicate. You have to be able to communicate with the filmmaker, understand what the filmmaker has told you to do and turn that into music and communicate it back via music. It's not about being the best composer. It is mainly being empathetic with the characters so you can connect emotionally with the characters in order to have the music be meaningful. To me that is the most important trait - the ability to communicate, well, easily and thoughtfully and quickly.”
Rejection, Russo says, is the biggest challenge for any artist. “As artists we are making art, music. When someone says no, it isn't really working, it’s hard to submerge the ego. Being able to know none of this is personal but it is 100 percent personal because it is subjective. Becoming painfully aware of that is I think something that happens,” he said.
The biggest reward for Russo is sitting back and watching his work come to live and knowing that it has come to fruition. “That doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes you work 6-10 months on something and it doesn't turn out quite the way you want to. That's a letdown. It's truly an incredible feeling when you sit back and watch what you have done and that is exactly what I want it to be. That is really the reward.”
In addition to composing music for film and television, Russo is a founding member, lead guitarist and co-songwriter of two-time Grammy nominated, multi-platinum selling rock band, Tonic. Their debut album, Lemon Parade, posted three singles in the U.S. Mainstream rock charts' Top 10 with “If You Could Only See” rocketing to number one. In 2003, the band received two Grammy nominations, one for “Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal” for “Take Me As I Am,” and one for “Best Rock Album.” Russo also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Music for Annapurna Interactive's video game, What Remains of Edith Finch.
“I haven't really been able to play a lot with the band recently. With the pandemics there were a lot less shows. We have made some new music in the last few years. I continue to show up when I can. It's my original baby and how I started my entire career in music. I still really enjoy playing,” said Russo.