The Sound of Everything: In Conversation with Son Lux

Posted in The Weekly on February 28, 2023
Photo: Anna Powell Denton

Son Lux, the New York-based experimental post-rock trio of BMI songwriters Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang, already had a good thing going for themselves. Dedicated to exploring and redefining the ways in which music is sonically assembled and executed, this forward-thinking, electronic band had already released eight critically acclaimed studio albums, several singles and EPs, amassing a loyal following, along the way, of their bold, unconventional music. Lott had also composed a well-received score to the 2014 cinematic project, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Then, in the late 2010’s, the band met The Daniels, the director/screenwriter team of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert.

Intrigued by Son Lux’s approach, the Daniels recruited the three-piece to compose music for an ambitious new sci-fi film they were writing and directing called Everything Everywhere All at Once. The trio spent the next few years writing and recording music for the motion picture, finding themselves working with a host of notable songwriters during the process, including Mitski, David Byrne and Randy Newman, among others.

After years of complex work, the film was officially released in March of 2022 and instantly made an indelible impression with its dazzling narrative, sumptuous visual effects and strikingly original musical score, courtesy of Son Lux. Here in 2023, both the film and its score are up for potential Oscars. The band has been nominated for the Best Original Score award and Ryan Lott has also been nominated for Best Song for “This is A Life,” which is also from the film.

BMI caught up with the members of Son Lux to ask how they’re feeling leading up to the 2023 Academy Awards. Here’s what they had to say.

How did you get involved with Everything Everywhere All at Once?

Ian Chang:The Daniels reached out to us very early on with a script before the movie was even cast.  Believe it or not, the script is even wilder and longer than the movie is now!  I was such a fan of their work already but became an even bigger fan after reading the script, so it was a no-brainer.

What directive were you given by the directing team (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)?

Ian Chang: One of the main overarching directives came in two parts: to come up with distinct and instantly recognizable sonic environments for different universes, and to use melodic themes as a tool to allow us to weave these universes together.

How would you describe your creative process?

Rafiq Bhatia: It’s honestly difficult to pin down because the three of us work in different ways and inspiration comes from many sources for all of us. But we do have a tendency to engineer things outward from something very specific, rather than working top down from a preconceived idea or blueprint and forcing the particulars to conform to that. Because of this, a small kernel of sound or rhythmic information that feels ephemeral and particular can inspire fundamental things about the architecture of a cue or a song, creating results that would be unlikely otherwise.

Prior to this project, had you any aspirations to get into film composing?

Ryan Lott: I had scored a handful of features before this, and also assisted and performed on film scores by a friend of mine, Nathan Johnson. But this was our first time scoring as a band, and to be honest it wasn’t an explicit goal of ours before this project came up. Working on this film was like receiving one gift after another, month after month. Among the greatest of those was the thrill of scoring something together—an experience we had not sought out, but one we’ll continue to pursue.

You work on the score with an array of artists, including Mitski, David Byrne, Randy Newman and others. How did you convince Andre 3000 (formerly of OutKast) to play the flute?

Ryan Lott: We had big dreams about getting a broad spectrum of musicians involved in the score, from friends of ours with whom we often work, to heroes of ours and of the Daniels. We had an enormous belief in this movie, and we knew that if we could just get those harder-to-reach folks to *see* it, they’d want to get involved. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

As an experimental post-rock trio, did you ever imagine that you’d one day be nominated for an Oscar?

Ian Chang: I don’t think any of us ever imagined being nominated for an Oscar, let alone two! I recently found out that we’re the first band to be nominated for best score since the Beatles, so there is really very little precedent for it. It’s really such an unexpected honor.

You are in a unique position having come from an artist project/band and also scoring films.  What is that journey like between the two dynamics?

Rafiq Bhatia: With film—and especially with a film like Everything Everywhere All At Once—there’s so much to draw inspiration from, and things like structure, pacing, intensity etc are often clear outgrowths of picture as opposed to being things we have to carefully consider. On the other hand, we also love making music without any external context and making each decision fully in service of sound. One thing that’s been interesting about scoring is that our music is very clearly inspired by sound design, but when you are working on a film there’s usually a sound design team on the project in parallel. So, we have to be especially careful to leave space for both things and try to anticipate each other’s moves. At its best there’s a beautiful synergy that occurs, and it’s really powerful and visceral to feel it in the context of a theater.

What’s your best advice for aspiring music creators that has helped you in your career?

Rafiq Bhatia: In my late teens, I had the opportunity to hear one of my heroes, the guitarist Bill Frisell, for the first time. As he was leaving the stage, I stopped him and asked if he might have any advice for a young musician like me. He smiled and leaned in close like he was going to tell me a big secret, and he said, “Just lock yourself in a room, man. And just play. Play for hours!” That sounds so simple, but when you’re young, there are so many people who claim to have the answers, whether it’s schools trying to teach them to you in a degree program or companies trying to sell you things you “must have.” But there really is no substitute for putting in the time yourself, for considering each aspect of the way you make your work. It’s critical if you want to imbue the music you make with personality, with honesty, and with intention.

What’s next for Son Lux?

Ian Chang: We have a couple of European tours this year, one from March 17-21, and another from June 14-21. We’re also performing at one of our favorite music festivals, Big Ears in Knoxville at the end of March. In addition to that, we’re always creating, and we’re keeping things open for more scoring opportunities!

What role has BMI played in your journey, thus far?

Ryan Lott: BMI and their team have been such great champions and supporters of Son Lux for many years. They have invested in our career and show up at gigs, help facilitate connections, and continue to be great partners.


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