Monkeys Fighting Robots

Composer Brandon Roberts makes music for a wide range of projects that include films like Logan and A Quiet Place, as well as TV Shows such as Battlestar Galactica and Divergence but his work on Unbroken: Path to Redemption takes composing scores to some explosive new places.

Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with Brandon about making music for a million-and-one thing and sonic experimentation.

Getting Started

Brandon is a busy man “ There are not enough hours in the day.” A look through his filmography will take some time.

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Streaming services are generating a lot of new things to watch, so people like Brandon are in demand “We’re in the golden age of content … it’s a pretty neat time.”

What else does this Golden Age provide? “So many producers and directors are open to new blood, new talent. When I first started out, it was much more about keeping to the top 10 or 20 guys. That permeated to people like screenwriters and directors. Now, they’re just like ‘hey, if I like the sound of the person they’re in.’”

About Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Brandon’s latest project is Unbroken: Path to Redemption “It follows Louis Zamperini’s life after returning from World War II and having to deal with PTSD … using alcohol.” Zamperini is played by Samuel Hunt (Empire).

If you think that being a film composer is just about playing musical instruments then you’d be wrong “I purchased Japanese artillery shells from WWII. They’re brass, so they resonate, so I did all sorts of stuff to them and sampled it. I created this whole sonic palette that’s supposed to be the subconscious of everything his soldier is going through. It created this harkening back to what he experienced in WWII.” Don’t worry, I asked, and the shells were not live and never fired, though how much fun would that be?

Why such great detail? “I know no one will consciously understand that I used artillery shells, but they will know that something special is happening here.”

Shhh … A Quiet Place

Composers see the movies we love without sound or with temporary music. So, did Brandon see a cut of A Quiet Place without a score? “I did, generally there’s a temp score, but in the case of A Quiet Place, music was used in such a unique and sparing way that the temp score didn’t really matter. It was more to start a discussion. Marco Beltrami completely reimagined the idea of how the music was going to work …”

A Quiet Place presented something special, even before the music “Ironically, the movie worked with no music at all and that’s always a really good sign. Then it was a question of pulling back music in places where most movies would have music. [John] Krasinski and Beltrami had a ton of conversations about where to pull the music out and where to put it in.”

Neo-Western Acid Jazz

Brandon’s worked on several comic book properties like The Wolverine and Fantastic Four “I wasn’t a huge comic book fan growing up … it just never came into my orbit.” Brandon also helped make Logan into the phenomenal film it is. “Right off the bat, Mangold wanted to try something different. So, we tried some stuff, it was a pretty wild period of experimentation.”

How does he describe Logan’s sound? “It’s neo-western acid jazz is what it really is.”

The kind of music wasn’t the only thing the film’s score focused on “Mangold wanted the music to sound raw and in your face. He wanted it recorded that way too, a sort of 70s sounding thing. The engineer had to figure out how to make that happen.”

Logan is considered a class above most comic book movies “The film was pushing the envelope in terms of reinventing a comic book action film musically.”

For Brandon, the film had something special “I tend to gravitate to more grounded stories. That’s one thing Logan had going for it compared to a lot of movies in the genre.”

logan-composer-film-brandon roberts

Wrapping Up

Showbiz never stops “Marco, and I just scored a film called Underwater. It all takes place on the ocean floor. We did some really neat experiments with vocals.”

Brandon’s also busy with a new TV project “… I’m working on … a TV pilot called Motherland. I’m experimenting with military throat microphones which are basically this neck strap that records the vibrations from your throat as opposed to the movement of the air. So I’ve been doing some weird things, recording people’s voices and putting it through walkie-talkies. I got dropped into the world of military paraphernalia.”

Because it’s my article, I got to ask Brandon a little bit about his work on Pushing Daisies, a long defunct show that I will never stop loving “It was a great show.” About Jim Dooley, the main composer of Pushing Daisies “He gave it everything he had. He earned that Emmy.”

One last thing, Who do you love to listen to? “I really like Mica Levi … her score in Jackie is unbelievable. That was not an easy movie to score and the way she scored it was genius. Ben Frost’s score for Dark [Netflix] blew me away. Those are two that made me jump on the computer and buy their music and figure out what the heck they’re doing.”

Thanks to Brandon Roberts and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.

Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.