FX Networks’ Legion has been one of the most unique spectacles on television this year. The show’s score has played a crucial role in immersing viewers into this mad world. Ahead of the season finale on Wednesday, March 29th, I had the opportunity to speak to the show’s composer, Jeff Russo. Writer/producer of the show, Noah Hawley, has a special partnership with Russo. The two also collaborated on all three seasons of Fargo.
What is the process like when working with Noah?
When working with Noah, it’s different from any other project I do. We sit down very early in the process, right around the time he finishes the first script. We discuss music and I go off and start writing themes, ideas, geographical locations, and feelings for the whole piece. That continues to develop throughout the entire series. I start to look at picture when it’s ready, begin to edit pieces, and rewriting to picture. The process starts very early, Noah believes the music is a crucial part of the story telling. It plays a very important role early on. His writing is super visual and evocative, it’s easier for me because it points me in the right direction.
What kind of preparation did you go through for Legion?
In preparation, we didn’t really talk about the comic books, he had asked me to read a book called Hallucinations. There was a chapter on auditory hallucinations and how people can actually hallucinate sound. As well as visual hallucinations, how it feels and what it sounds like when someone has a hallucination. We talked a lot about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, how it’s the sound of schizophrenia for the 1970’s. I actually went out and found a late 1960’s synthesizer, the same kind they used on the album. We were interested in going that deep with it. Noah said he wanted that sound to very much be apart of this world. That being one of my favorite albums of all-time, it was all very exciting to me.
Legion has a very diverse spectrum of emotion and theme. One of the stronger aspects as the series unfolds is that of horror. What is your background in the horror genre?
It’s funny, I have no background in horror. I’ve seen my fair share of horror movies but nothing was a touchstone for me as far as horror movie music. I went on instinct on what sounds would be eerie, creepy, or scary. We would much rather not use music to scare people. We would rather use it to make people uncomfortable in a horror-type setting. In this particular instance, it’s much more effective to make someone feel uncomfortable. If the picture doesn’t scare them, we’ve already failed.
Noah and yourself seem to have a collaborative chemistry similar to what you find between band members.
Absolutely, Noah was also a musician in a band during college. We share a love for the same type of music. We definitely have a musical forehand, that has become very handy over time. He can look at me and say “You know that one thing you did that one time? Try that.” And I’ll know exactly what he means, that kind of shorthand.
I like the notion that you guys are a package deal.
I’d like to think that, but you never know as people grow and change. Up to now, I’ve done pretty much every project he’s done. I very much feel like we’re a band, so to speak.
Were there any scenes, during production, that stand out as particularly fun?
Having to put together a version of Bolero by Maurice Ravel was fun. Writing the themes for this was great, I got to merge a lot of the orchestral with the synthetic. That was a lot of fun for me. I did something in Episode 8 that hasn’t really been done in television. Without giving it away, the whole show begins with an instrument that you will have not heard on TV.
How does the creative process change from Legion to Fargo?
They’re like two different animals altogether. Two different musical approaches, styles, and two totally different narratives. It’s like washing myself clean, like a pallet cleanser. It was difficult to jump back and forth when writing both at the same time. Sometimes it’s nice to do that and provide yourself with a clean pallet. However, with Legion and Fargo, they’re so diametrically opposed that it was like doing a 180. I find myself writing something for Fargo that would’ve worked for Legion, and have to scrap it.
Is there a genre that you haven’t been able to touch on yet in your career that you would like to?
Now that the superhero/sci-fi thing has come to fruition with Legion, and I feel really good about it. I’ve always wanted to make a true Western. I’ve yet to be asked to do one.
The second season of Legion was announced, Jeff says they’re already starting to talk about it. He’s finishing up the first couple episodes of Fargo season three right now. That premieres April 19 on FX. As soon as he wraps up on Fargo, they’ll start diving into Legion season two.
He’s currently working on a show for Netflix called Altered Carbon, based on a series of books by Richard Morgan. Jeff is also working on a show for Starz called Counterpart starring JK Simmons. As well as a movie called Lizzie, A psychological thriller based on the infamous 1892 murders of the Borden family.
If you aren’t already watching Legion, do yourself a favor and dive in. Don’t let superhero fatigue keep you from this one, it’s worlds away from CW or Netflix shows.
What’s your favorite episode from season one? Which moments did the music grab you the most? Let us know in the comments below!