Interview: Ryan Miller of Guster
Tue, 24 Sep 2013 12:58:53
Guster singer Ryan Miller is a man of many talents. In addition to his "day job", he's also emerging as one of the most intriguing film composers in the movie world right now. You can hear that loud and clear on the entrancing and engaging score for Lake Bell's In a World…. Miller employed a splash of African and world music influences and architected a musical backdrop that perfectly complements the movie's emotional arc and narrative. It's subtlely powerful and elegantly constructed.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Ryan Miller of Guster talks scoring In a World… and so much more.
How did you approach the score for In a World…?
We definitely worked on it for a while in terms of trying to figure out what the language of the movie was and what the character of the score was going to be versus what Lake had in mind. She's a total fan of music so she had a lot of opinions, and they were great. When I listen to the score outside the context of the film, I think, "Oh yeah, this is all in there!" It's interesting like that.
Do the characters or the story exert a bigger impact on your musical choices? Is it a combination of the two?
Any good score has a beginning, middle, and an end like the narrative does. Hopefully, it will support what's happening on screen without calling too much attention to itself. The big decisions you make early on are like, "What's the palette? What's the instrumentation? What's the feeling we want to get from it?" Early on, Lake mentioned that she was really into the Broken Flowers soundtrack, which has a lot of African jazz-based stuff. Mulatu is an African jazz guy who loomed large over our early discussion. We made a decision not to put any sort of conventional drum kit on there and use more percussion-based instruments. Even though it's not a world music movie at all, it seemed to be a little less conventional and have more personality. Somehow, we ended up fleshing it out in an interesting way. I don't know how though [Laughs]. It just seemed to work.
What resonated with you about the film?
I thought it was a nice story. I get a little lost in there. I see a very early cut of the movie. You can see what it's going to be, but it's not there yet. It requires some imagination from a guy coming outside of film. Seeing the final film at Sundance, what I connected with most was how real the moments are. There are real characters in there. It felt authentic in a lot of places. These were people I knew and liked so there was an accessibility to the movie that I wanted to include in the score. There are a couple of cues in there that are way over the top by design. For the rest of it, you want it to be like this working man. I mean Lake's wearing overall the whole time. There's something to that. It's not a workman-like score, but it's more like, "Here's a little bit of melody or a little bit of groove". The music isn't this gigantic thing riding at the forefront of the film.
How different is scoring from songwriting? You're writing to pre-existing material with a film. Does that make things easier or more difficult?
It's very different. They are two completely different exercises. You're using a lot of the same tools in terms of arrangement and melody. Beyond that, there aren't a lot of similarities. When I'm writing a song like we're working on the next Guster record downstairs now, it's completely different because it's about the song and our ideas. I can be the ultimate arbiter and judge of what is good. In a film situation, not only are you serving the director who's alright because it's her or his film, but you're also serving a movie. Being a songwriter and a lead singer of a band is a pretty narcissistic enterprise versus being a composer. It's not completely ego-less because you have to enter your ego into what you're making, but you really refer to the director and film at all times. You're a craftsman. It's a completely different role to play. However, as I get on and learn as a musician, I find a lot of inspiration in limitation. If someone says to me, "Hey, this is the scene. She's a bit mad, and then she gets sad. Right around here, she has to do this", I find that almost more inspiring creatively than saying, "Hey, go write a great song". Putting a box around something can really limit the amount of variables and help you excel creatively from the emotional fundamentals of a piece of music, which I really enjoy. I like them both. In order for me to be a happy creative person, I need to have both in my life, which is what I'm setup for these days, which is fantastic.
Grab Ryan's score for In a World... at iTunes