The multiverse to end all multiverses, this summer’s biggest indie hit Everything Everywhere All at Once, lives up to its title in every possible way with the experimental band Son Lux, the trio of Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia, and Ian Chang, scoring almost a hundred original music cues and two hours of original music for the film.
“They needed music that is going to channel-switch like nuts. But it also has to feel emotional, and it has to go all the way there. When it’s action, it has to go all the way there. Same with homage,” says the founder of the band Ryan Lott.
The Gotham Awards 2022 best feature winner stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis, Stephanie Hsu and features Ke Huy Quan’s Hollywood big screen return, and is the brainchild of writer/director duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as the Daniels (Swiss Army Man).
The movie’s original soundtrack, which consists of a whopping 49 tracks, also features collaborations with Mitski, David Byrne, Randy Newman, and Moses Sumney, among others.
“When I started Son Lux, a big part of it was reconciling really different versions of myself. I wanted to create and hear music that reconciled very different ways of thinking about music, from European classical music to hip-hop. From day one, it’s been about a multiverse,” adds Lott.
A woman lost in her own life, the film’s plot revolves around Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang and her family as she discovers the multiverse and all its endless possibilities, suddenly seeing all the different lives she could have led instead.
Son Lux is known for designing sounds and working with people who are willing to ‘abuse’ their instruments or combine things with their instruments. For example, the band used the “bromeophone” on this score which is a custom instrument made from PVC pipes connected together with a bass clarinet mouthpiece. Much like the film switches between doing taxes, kung-fu fights, and heartfelt speeches, the note from the Daniels was that the music is going to have to go all over the place, too.
Ryan Lott and Rafiq Bhatia spoke to Awards Focus about being in awe of Michelle Yeoh, how Daniel Kwan ended up playing trumpet on the score and the one scene that kept them up months after they had finished working on the film.
Awards Focus: Could you talk about the very beginning of this movie for you? What were your first thoughts after reading the script? That must’ve been a wild ride.
Ryan Lott: The Daniels contacted us and invited us to be a part of the project even before they knew for sure it was going to happen. Our manager said the Daniels made Swiss Army Man, asking us if we ever saw that movie. I hadn’t seen it and I went and read a synopsis of it and thought, “Are they sure they have the right band?” My first gut reaction was that this is pretty weird, and these guys are goofy as hell and our music isn’t exactly goofy.
Ian and Rafiq loved the script, but I couldn’t follow it. I had to make sure that my file wasn’t corrupted or somehow the pages got all turned around, I thought “What is this even about?”
AF: The very first assignment you got was writing music and lyrics for the Hot Dog musical. You even got to be on set as they were filming it. What was that experience like?
Lott: Yes, and it’s not common for composers to be on set. It’s very rare. Usually, composers are not even considered until the editing process. It was a privilege to be on set. Hot Dog musical was the funniest way to start writing this score, to write a piece of music that was in every single possible way the exact opposite of everything that we normally do as a band.
Rafiq Bhatia: As far as that day is concerned, I don’t think I’ll ever forget watching Michelle Yeoh act. They were filming the scene where she’s a movie star and walking up the stairs on the red carpet. It occupies maybe like 1.3 seconds in the movie, and they shot it a few times. I remember just watching her do performance after performance of this scene and just being blown away by how specifically she was able to communicate all of those different things. I just kept thinking to myself, “She has been preparing for this her whole life. She is so overqualified for everything that she’s ever been asked to do.“ I was just in complete awe of her, and it’s been so cool to see how much recognition and shine she’s getting this year.
AF: Is it true Daniel Kwan sent you his Spotify Wrapped list and that actually led to a collaboration with Mitski?
Lott: Yeah, he sent us his Spotify Wrapped list with a little emoji. They were listening to a lot of our music, not just Son Lux but also our individual works. The name that was on that list besides us was Mitski and that’s just because Kwan is a superfan. It was that correspondence over text that sparked the idea of inviting her to be a part of the end credits song “This Is a Life”.
AF: How did Daniel Kwan end up playing trumpet on the score?
Lott: Daniel Kwan actually did a few cues himself on this film, mostly with raw materials that we had already designed. In one cue he did, he took one of the very first pieces of music that we created as just a very simple sketch for theme ideas. It was just a simple piano idea for a theme and Kwan time stretched it. It’s the cue that follows the beautiful scene in silence with the rocks. The movie eases back out of that in the most beautiful way, careens into this place of silence but then slowly, patiently blooms out of it. It’s the music we sort of made but really it was Kwan who made it by time stretching it. I thought it was such a cool idea to stop everything, to slow everything down.
For “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, the iconic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey that this movie recreates in a very different way, the music is slightly less well done. The gag is that the music and the performance is terrible. So, the way it was done, Kwan pulled out an old trumpet he hadn’t touched in years from his closet and just made it happen.
AF: Was there a scene that especially stood out to you, something that brought tears even after you had worked on it multiple times?
Bhatia: There’s this moment where some of the different universes are coming together and Evelyn is starting to see her husband Waymond in a different light. Seeing how his optimism is a way to move forward, it’s another way to fight. And there’s a moment in that universe where they’re both really successful, she’s a movie star and he’s a businessman and they’re out in this alleyway. He goes, “You know in another life, I would have loved to just be doing laundry and taxes with you”.
The incredible performances in that moment, that part is very hard for me to watch and not break into tears. That happened with no music in there, it was not a result of the music that it works that way and in fact the whole time that I was working on music for that part I was just like, “Okay, don’t mess this up, don’t mess this up.” It’s so good without anything. A really important moment. It’s about how you can animate that and give rise to that blooming feeling inside of her with sound.
And it was also a moment that had been similar for Daniel Kwan when he was cutting it. Apparently, he was in tears in that moment and that’s one of the only times that’s ever happened to him or maybe it was the only time that had ever happened to him. He was similarly very intent on getting that part right. Between the two of us and all of our perfectionism, there were dozens of provisions of that cue.
We made a final revision at the very end of the entire process and put it in the movie and then Ryan and I got in a cab and went to the airport. It was the last thing that happened, us changing that part for the millionth time again. I remember going through months after that and waking up in the middle of the night going, “Oh, man, I hope that part is going to be OK.” By the end of it I didn’t have any perspective anymore.
AF: This is such a challenging and groundbreaking project professionally. But I am curious if and in what way did the film affect you personally?
Bhatia: The short answer is, “Yes, absolutely.” I think all three of us would say that it changed us personally and probably in a multitude of ways. But one thing personally for me that doesn’t have very much to do with having worked on it but has to do with it existing. I know that Ian feels that very strongly, too.
My family is South Asian, Ian grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the States during high school. There weren’t many movies with people who looked anything like us in Hollywood. More to the point, there is no movie that has captured that multi-generational immigrant feeling in a way that remotely began to approach what it actually feels like. For me growing up here in the States and having parents that came from another set of traditions and culture, it was all constantly running up against each other.
It has always felt like films that tried to convey that feeling were just reductive, and this movie does the opposite of that where it explodes it outward into something that on paper is ridiculous but in your emotional experience of it is actually the closest thing to what it really feels like that I’ve ever experienced.