Son Lux Reveals How They Got 'Dream Collaborators' On ‘EEAAO’ Soundtrack
By Tony M. Centeno
March 6, 2023
Within a few short years, Son Lux accomplished what a lot of musicians only dream of.
Ian Chang, Rafiq Bhatia and the band's founder Ryan Lott were tapped to curate the soundtrack to A24's Everything Everywhere All at Once at a time when the world was being overrun by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the process, they were able to reach out to "dream collaborators" like David Byrne, Randy Newman, Mitski and Andre 3000. Before they were bound to the their homes during the lockdowns, the band was able to connect with the OutKast rapper for a rare in-person studio session.
"I was one of the dudes on the internet watching Instagram videos of [Andre 3000] playing his flute in front of Trader Joe's and at the airport," Lott explained. "I was like, man, what he's playing is incredible. Like this is dope. It's not just how cool is it that Andre 3000 plays flutes and that they look weird, but no, listen to what he's doing. And I was like, guys, what if -- I know it's a crazy idea -- but what if he'd be into playing flute on the score. So we put him on the list and honestly it was just a lot of serendipity and he was super into it right away. He was just a dream to work with just such a humble cat. He was totally in it to just make cool music and learn. We had a wonderful time with him, and that goes for everybody."
"His time definitely made the score better," Chang added.
Son Lux worked on the soundtrack for the Oscar-nominated film starring Michelle Yeoh and Key Huey Quan about a year and a half. They brought every aspect of the multi-dimensional world to life with their rare musical pieces from "Boxcutter" to all of the prominent fight songs like "Pinky Fight" and "Drummer Fight." The soundtrack was mostly made from the comfort of their homes across the country from Dallas, Texas to Brooklyn, N.Y. While Ian worked in Dallas and Rafiq worked out of Brooklyn, Lott ended up working out of Indianapolis after his five-day family vacation during the pandemic lasted longer than expected. Despite the hardships caused by the pandemic, the band had to link up with 3 Stacks in-person during an eye-opening studio session in April 2021.
"It was very inspiring to kind of see him in this zone because he's a master of those flutes now," Lott explained. "It's not even up for a debate. You never see people do s**t like that. That’s f**king amazing."
While the film overall leads with 11 nods including Best Picture, Son Lux is currently up for two Oscar nominations: Best Original Score and Best Original Song for "This Is A Life." Before they hit the stage with David Byrne and Stephanie Hsu at 95th Academy Awards on Sunday, March 12, we caught up with Son Lux's Ryan Lott and Ian Chang to talk about their thoughts on becoming first-time Oscar nominees, their unique collaborations for the soundtrack and more. Andre 3000 was also contacted for comment but he did not respond before publication.
Congratulations on the Oscar nominations. I know you've been nominated for other awards in the past, but what makes this one so special?
Ryan Lott: It's the biggest one (laughs)
Ian Chang: It's the one that you grew up watching. That’s like being able to be a part of that is something that's like, not attainable, you know?
RL: Yeah. And to find ourselves here having not followed the formulas at all.
IC: Yeah. That's the biggest thing too. Knowing that we got here, creating things like our way, or I guess in this case was a movie, just very much like in collaboration with [directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert aka "The Daniels"]. And we made it weird, you know. We weren't trying to get nominated for anything. We were just trying to make something different and meaningful.
Where were you guys when you found out about the domination?
IC: I think both Ryan and I were just waking up.
RL: Yeah. I mean, I set an alarm. It was like 5 a.m. when it was announced in L.A. 7 for Dallas. I didn't figure it out ahead of time, how I was gonna watch it. I knew that the movie was gonna get some and I figured like I’d wake up and find it on the news. I was excited, but I wasn't in a hurry because it's not like we were gonna be nominated.
IC: I didn't think we were gonna get it. So I was kind of just like, “Okay, I'll just have an alarm for when it happens."
RL: I missed the first one because my phone was on Do Not Disturb and I was like futzing around trying to find the news of the result. As soon as I found it, I looked at my phone. I realized I was still on Do Not Disturb and I had like 50 unread messages waiting for me.
RL: We're doubly surprised because there was no campaign in the traditional sense around the song or score. There were certainly focused efforts and we did what we can. I get emails every single day about screeners like “for your consideration” but A24 just doesn’t do that. They don’t put up billboards and things like that. There’s just a different approach and that’s been the spirit of the movie from the start.
You noted that the making of the film was a little bit unconventional. So how was the process of making this soundtrack?
IC: The process was a very COVID world process I guess I'll say first and foremost. The score was pretty much done in times of lockdown. What that meant was we would meet on Zoom once a week and every week we were kind of like delivering something for the Daniels to check out and a lot of the time Paul, the editor, would be on these calls as well. We kind of just like brick by brick put it together that way. It was a very interesting process because actually, in some ways, it was not as collaborative for the three of us in terms of like, when we're typically in a studio together for a couple weeks. So much magic happens in a short amount of time, but in other ways it was also deeply more collaborative for us than we ever have been as a band. Whereas all three of us were kind of like taking the lead on certain cues and there was just a lot more cross pollination in terms of people sending ideas around and kind of like getting other perspectives on it or other people to just like add a little sprinkle this or little sprinkle that. It was fun and definitely a sleep deprived period of, I think, our lives.
RL: The type of scoring we were doing… the approach we took was kind of out of fashion, which is that, it was very much beat for beat scoring, frame hitting frames left and right… really tightly scoring. Of course that was necessary. The film is intrinsically tight and constantly shifting. So it was necessary for the score to be that way, but it was also what the Daniels needed and of course what this film needed. Not only were we inspired by everything we're seeing, we were also very guided by the edit in a way where we sort of had our roadmaps that we had to follow. I will say that two things, the Daniels gave us so much freedom on how to drive on that road in every single case. I mean, if you think about this Ian, there were like almost no references for us for anything other than in some cases our own music, which only sort of vaguely worked.
IC: They had temp for everything, but they were never looking to us to kind of recreate the temp, which a lot of the times is what you end up doing as a composer when directors like fall in love with temp music. But for Daniels, that didn't happen very much. They were super down for any type of fresh perspective on stuff, but they were still very directive once we turned things in. So it was kind of like a beautiful combination.
So who came up with the idea to have Andre 3000 come through and play the flute?
RL: When the movie started to come together, the studio started to see rough cuts of it and people started to get really excited. I think A24 started to sense like what they had on their hands with something really special and began to think about ways in which they could invest more in the project. And one of them was essentially an offer to support some big dreams we might have with respect to getting certain people getting involved in adding finishing touches to the score here and there to enhance the culture around the movie as well. We put together a list of folks that we would just like absolutely love to work with just like dream collaborators. People completely out of our reach.
Is that where Randy Newman and David Byrne came in as well?
RL: Exactly. David Byrne, Andre 3000, Mitski. It was a wild assortment of folks, but people that we might have a chance, again, based on the strength of the film.
IC: It's true. Every single one of them wanted to be involved because they saw a rough cut and because they saw some potential.
RL: The only person that didn't work out and who was like totally was in but couldn't work for scheduling purposes was FlyLo
That's awesome. So he played the flute on at least five songs with the flute. How did they all come together?
RL: The way we worked with Andre was very similar to the way we work with other folks, which is that we often record raw materials and raw ideas. He did play along with some beats, some rhythmic framework stuff that Ian had established, but for the most part we did stuff like off picture and out of context. Because for us, we really liked this idea of harnessing an idea and finding a home for it. Usually that kind of surprise juxtaposition yields something surprising and surprise is like a big goal for our music. So we just basically did a massive sampling session with Andre and with others with strings and drummers. Ian played tons of different instruments. We also rented traditional Chinese instruments.
IC: This was the day before everything locked down in the pandemic. We had one studio session at Stone’s Throw Studios in L.A. We rented a bunch of these like tunable Chinese drums called "Paigu" and then one Taku which in Chinese means "one big drum" as well as a bunch of tune gongs. We did like a bunch of sampling for both where we did kind of like traditional sampling where we did what's called “One Shots” where you can take individual notes and then create things out of that later. But also we did a bunch of improvisations and phrases that came in super handy all over the score. The session with Andre was very similar. It was also at Stone’s Throw. What we ended up doing with the ingredients that we got from him… there are a few tracks where it's more overtly flute, but there are other moments in the score where it might just be like part of the atmosphere like tuned down. Something that wouldn't be recognizable as flute, but there was so much to kind of explore there with the sounds that he was making with the flute that we were able to get a lot of different things out of it.
So this session with Andre was actually in-person at Stone's Throw?
IC: That was like one of the only things that we did in person in the process of making the score.
You really got to see him in action playing the flute. What a moment.
RL: Yeah but he just wants to make good music. He showed up ready to work and we just had an incredible time just sharing ideas. It was just a flow. He's a flow state dude. He just got in the booth and we were just firing ideas as they came and responding to what he was playing and giving him little challenges and stuff.
Was there anything in particular that you guys like soaked up learned from him?
RL: I mean, so many things, but one kind of big thing that I'll say is here's someone who has basically conquered a world in music and has nothing to prove to anyone. He goes and spends years obsessively learning, positioning himself in a way where he's like suddenly like a toddler again at something. And then just obsessively kind of like getting into that. And it's like a different thing than what he is doing before. It's still music, but he is engaging in something new. It was just so inspiring to see someone like that who you could say like reached the top of his arena and go back through being like a child again with music and connecting in that way and finding a different craft.
This interview was condensed for clarity