INTERVIEW: Composers Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka Make Amazon’s GOLIATH Sound Big

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GOLIATH is an Amazon series starring Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) as a formerly brilliant lawyer turned alcoholic after he blames himself for a case that ended in tragedy. Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka added the sonic layers that elevate the show’s drama.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Billy McBride, a former lawyer living in an extended stay hotel. McBride founded a successful law firm and was one of the best lawyers in town. However, McBride helped a murderer walk free. Unfortunately, that murderer went on to kill more people, and the tragedy sent McBride into a downward spiral that included a lot of alcohol. Soon to start its fourth season (and final), Goliath’s an evolving dark drama that’s sure to stun viewers as it comes to an end.

PopAxiom spoke with Jon and Jason about their journey to create music for film and television and arriving at Goliath season four.

When did music come into their lives?

Jon: Music has always been a part of my life. It’s hard to find my way back to the origin. I was the kid who played the piano. I went along with it because people applauded. Scoring to picture was not where I originally thought I was headed. I was in high school and bands thinking I would go on tour and be an artist. But I fell in love with theatre and, in college, wrote a bunch of musicals. I was working in the theatre for a bit, and I think I had that lightning bolt moment that I should probably do this with moving pictures.

Jason: I grew up pretty remotely in Montana. There was always music in my house growing up. My family would sing and perform in church. We had a piano, an organ, a drum set, some keyboards, and a multi-track recorder. So I always knew I wanted to create music and tracks. When I got to college, we had a music technology program. I had a little exposure scoring to picture.

How did they become composers for film and television?

Jon: Initially, that was working on commercials, but then a friend who was in graduate school at NYU and making his student film asked me to help him out. I thought, ‘this is great, so I went to LA to do a year at USC in film scoring. By the time I finished that year, I was already immersed in the world out there.

A friend of mine from the theatre, Shaun Cassidy, was out here producing, and the minute he could, he got me a gig on the show Roar with Heath Ledger.

Jason was a part of my early commercial music house years.

Jason: I was able to do a concert that was part of the university fund-raising efforts involving producer David Foster. That inspired me. He said, ‘You need to move down to LA and immerse yourself in the business.’ So after college, I moved to LA, started networking, and hanging out at the record plant. I did a little bit of everything. Through that period, I met Jon. Through the Jingle House that he set up, I got opportunities scoring to picture with a few commercials. That started our working relationship.

I loved the idea of telling a story through music. So my trajectory changed from the record side of things to scoring to picture. It started with these projects with Jon.

How did their working relationship evolve?

Jon: Initially, with the commercial stuff and spillover work, but then we got into a groove. We were in the same space in Santa Monica, and it just worked. We’ve worked together longer than some marriages. We’ve got good chemistry and different strengths as well.

Jason: We compliment each other. We have similar sensibilities.

Jon: I think we also inspire each other. On Goliath, one of the first things I think of when I come up with something that I like is how Jason will use the theme.

Jason: We also don’t have egos when it comes to the work together. It’s very collaborative. When you’re working under deadlines, it’s nice to have someone to bounce things off of that does sort of know what you do. You have that in the back of your head. I know what his sensibilities are; if I get stuck, there’s a sort of a safety net.

Jon: After COVID, though, it got a little strange. We were in the same space for a long, long time. Our studios were down the hall from each other.

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How did they connect with Goliath?

Jon: Larry Trilling, who became the showrunner, was an executive producer and a director of many episodes. By the third season, he was directing every episode. We worked on Invasion with him, and he was an EP on Parenthood. He brought us in to score the pilot, which they were re-doing after scrapping the original version.

What was the problem with the original pilot?

Jon: I think the problem was that the world of Billy and the world of Cooperman in the first season were starkly different. It was very black and white, and it felt like two shows. It wasn’t holding together. That was my take. We came in and worked to connect those worlds.

Jason: We were fortunate to earn a degree of trust fairly quickly. It was nice to get to a point where we could dig in and do what your instincts tell you. With Goliath, that seems to be the sentiment at the beginning of the season. This show, the musical vocabulary, the sounds, the changing locations, and new characters, it’s constantly changing things up. We were excited to get in there and add new elements. The new season, in particular with the Chinatown-noir feel. It helps to do a job when you have that sort of trust.

How did they earn that trust to evolve Goliath’s score?

Jon: In some ways, the key is like a lot of things, it’s that first week where we’re in meetings, or on the phone, your first reaction to the first thing they expose you to tells them if you understand their vision. In this case, they were sort of figuring out the show. We were able to say, ‘here’s how the music can supply connective tissue and provide something that you can’t accomplish visually.’ It’s always the coolest choice for a score to find what it can do that the picture can’t.

Where will season four take viewers?

Jason: In season four, we get into Billy’s psychology, and he goes into the wormhole of his recollections with his father, an emotionally abusive man. Billy’s struggling with pain and that psychic distress. He goes back to that relationship in his head.

Jon: Season four is like watching classic noir like Rear Window, Vertigo, and High Noon. So, the season’s seen through the prism of his fragmented memory of those moments. He transforms them into his storyline for season four.

After season three, he’s struggling with dependency while also going up against Big Pharma.

One of the big things that the score could do for season four was play off the visuals we see that are sometimes shot-for-shot homages of these movies that we know. So, the score is classic noir. We get to kind of put on a costume. It’s sort of Halloween for a composer.

Jason: We don’t always have the luxury of being featured, but this was an opportunity to do that. I know Billy Bob had thoughts and ideas that we considered and were inspired by when we worked on season four.

Jon: He directed the first episode. While he was cutting it, he had some exciting ideas. Billy [the character] lives in an apartment in Chinatown, and the set looks so much like Rear Window. So, there’s this whole community of people, and there’s a woman incessantly practicing trombone with a piece by Tchaikovsky called “None But the Lonely Heart.” It becomes this haunting thing that’s always there. He’s going in and out of these hallucinations that bring us into his recollections. Is this real or a hallucination? We hear snippets of this melody.

So, we take this source music, and it becomes a part of his unconscious. He’s heard it so much that it becomes this sort of romantic theme that supports Billy’s vision of himself as the classic film noir cynical hero.

Jason: It’s a rare opportunity for us to write big in places and let it go dramatically in ways that you wouldn’t be able to get away with in other projects. But you could here with the vernacular and the style of storytelling.

Jon: Also, part of our process in building these sounds and establishing this vocabulary involves messing with things. Taking instruments played unconventionally and turning them on their side, reversing things, pitching, and effecting them to create something completely different. This score is orchestral and noir, but there are elements underneath that are more twisted. That’s been a lot of fun.

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What composers live in Jon and Jason’s creative DNA?

Jason: Jon and I admire some of the same people. Some of our writing is undoubtedly inspired by people like Thomas Newman and Carter Burwell.

Jon: Trent Reznor too. If we’re connecting things to season four of Goliath, the show has that dark, twisted, Trent Reznor-y vibe as an element. Whereas season three was probably more Thomas Newman or Carter Burwell. But season four is classic noir; Bernard Hermann and Alex North. I’m a huge Jerry Goldsmith fan. Basic Instinct is a gorgeous film noir kind of score.

Is Goliath on your watch list? Watch it now on Amazon!

Thanks to Jon Ehrlich and Jason Derlatka, and Rhapsody PR
for making this interview possible.

Find more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!

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.