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Meet Son Lux, Composers Of 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'
The soundtrack for the genre-bending film 'Everything Everywhere All At Once' sounds jagged, as if the listener is flipping through TV channels. Learn how composer trio Son Lux scored the film's intricate set of universes.
The acclaimed 2022 film Everything Everywhere All At Once is a knockout across all artistic mediums — from the convergence of a wide range of actors within the industry (Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis), to the Daniels’ (1. Kwan and 2. Scheinert) eclectic, yet grounded writing and directing, to the special effects production, and to its tightly-knitted soundtrack.
Lively in its multi-genre cross-contamination of science fiction, romance, comedy, action and drama, the film focuses on a day in the life of protagonist Evelyn Quan Wang’s (portrayed by Yeoh), where a dragged out IRS trip becomes a journey of saving the multiple universes from its great evil’s destruction. Able to tap into each universe, where Evelyn’s lives unfold, she channels her skills while minimally altering the destiny of the universe she herself occupies. The pressure cooker of her story is that one small or great move can amend her fate.
The multiple-universe nature of this film gestures to a large work’s smaller machinations: the cast, the script, the direction and, of course, the composition. Responsible for the soundtrack behind the film is one credit: Son Lux, a collective of multi-instrumentalist musicians Ian Chang, Rafiq Bhatia and Ryan Lott.
Throughout the first half of the movie, the score sounds jagged. Assigned by the Daniels to feel like different TV channels, Son Lux’s composition keeps the listener on their toes, flip flopping from solemn and orchestral, to an uptempo, almost The Matrix-like feel. As the film further blurs the different universes, the music for its respective TV "channels" blends, mutating from blocky patchwork and into a mosaic.
The complexity of the film, and the important role sound plays in Everything Everywhere's unfurling universe, requires musicians like those of Son Lux. Their score serves as the cinematic pulse of the story — and is present for 79 percent of the film's two hours and 20 minutes.
When speaking with GRAMMY.com, the three members of Son Lux were parked on the side of the road somewhere between San Francisco and Portland, huddled together in the back of their tour van to fit the Skype frame. They answered questions with nearly unsettling ease, given how thoughtful and whip-smart their insights were.
Who Are Son Lux? Introducing An Insightful Trio
Ian Chang is a Hong Kong native who first started his musical journey playing the piano. He describes his upbringing as a typical Chinese household, and says learning the piano was a "means of learning discipline." He switched to drums by age 9, and became serious in high school. He went on to pursue jazz studies at New York University. "That was where I met a lot of the people that I still collaborate with to this day," he tells GRAMMY.com.
Rafiq Bhatia's musicality began in a three-generation home, with his grandfather singing Muslim hymns to him. Bhatia is first-gen, and when his parents and grandparents briefly left to visit India, Bhatia occupied himself with zoology books, where he discovered the art of snake charming with a flute. As immigrant parents tend to be, Bhatia’s parents had planned on bringing back gifts to the U.S., to which he requested for his own personal flute.
Rather than a snake, Bhatia’s flute unveiled a legacy of musicians on his maternal side of the family; an aunt who is an incredible vocalist; a grandfather — whom Bhatia never met — who had been a violinist. "That wasn’t a job he could have ever had. He [played the violin] because he loved it," Bhatia recalls. "And so I decided I wanted to learn the violin."
After the violin came the guitar, specifically ignited by his discovery of Jimi Hendrix, and then a slew of jazz artists like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, which finally led to his mentors, Billy Hart and Vijay Iyer.
Ryan Lott, whose Southern family upbringing was more conservative, also picked up the piano at a young age as a matter of discipline. "Despite hating it for years upon years, upon years, I actually wound up falling in love with it the moment I realized I didn’t have to just recreate the music that was already made, and do [it] so poorly," he tells GRAMMY.com. At only 11 years old, Lott began studying music at a university, and continued studying European classical music along with composition and piano, for his collegiate degree.
Despite his heavy immersion, Lott credits his musical technicalities to be one half of his story as a musician. The experience of joining bands and learning from his peers who came from a jazz perspective was equally influential.
"[There is] a weird duality between a concert hall and a club. And that was kind of the foundation for Son Lux," Lott says. "When I first began [Son Lux] as a solo project, [I was] trying to reconcile with different kinds of seemingly unrelated or seemingly oppositional musical influences that had shaped me."
Son Lux’s reconciliation of opposing musicalities, even as a solo act in 2008, is now the beating heart of a movie that relies on breaking the rules of seemingly infinite realities. The group's own reality and history are as fluid as the universes in Everything Everywhere: Son Lux released Bones, their first record as a trio, in 2015; "Your Day Will Come" appears on both Bones and the film’s soundtrack. In their recent record trilogy Tomorrows, a song titled "Unbind" is used for the film in a song called "Evelyn All At Once."
How Son Lux Developed The Score For Everything Everywhere All At Once
The script for Everything Everywhere was twice its final length when the Daniels initially solicited Son Lux in the fall of 2019, while the three were away in residency Tomorrows. The final version of the movie is already industrious with intention, and it is no surprise that Ryan Lott assumed that it would never get made. "I just never really see anything approaching this level of audacity from a creative standpoint," he says.
Having scored films previously, Lott's pessimism was rational. It was also something he learned to ease. "As soon as deeply creative ideas move forward to the suits, they usually get shot down," Lott continues. "In the process [of Everything Everywhere All At Once]; I put limitations on what's possible, where I shouldn't. And that was one of my big takeaways from this project: I had assumed too little of this life."
Chang and Bhatia giggle from the sides of the screen, because, of course, they are all just as charming and silly and earnest as everybody else attached to the film.
When describing the process of creating Everything Everywhere's astute soundtrack, Bhatia uses the analogy of a weaving loom. Its "vertical threads" stand for each universe, and the "horizontal threads" are the varying people and their relationships to each other throughout each respective universe.
The Daniels made weaving these threads easier for Son Lux, having developed specific ideas of certain universes. For example, the Daniels gave Deirdre Beaubeirdra (the IRS worker played by Jamie Lee Curtis) the theme of Claude Debussy’s "Clair de Lune," and fragments of the tune loom over Deirdre’s presence on screen in the various universes. In another universe, Yeoh’s Evelyn is a hibachi chef who settles her jealousy of her fellow chef by exposing the raccoon that hides under his chef hat, ultimately controlling his cooking skills. A homage to Disney’s Ratatouille, the Raccacoonie universe plays with a Randy Newman, toy-like ambiance.
One of many pie-in-the-sky moments for Son Lux, legend Randy Newman was given an early cut of the film. Newman’s wife hadn’t laughed as much as she did watching the film in all of the pandemic, thus he agreed to be a part of the soundtrack for the Raccacoonie universe. Ryan Lott wrote "Now We’re Cookin’" (in the style of Randy Newman) for Newman himself to sing, but the Daniels were fond of how it organically played as a duet between Lott and Newman and encouraged them to keep it as such.
The "horizontal threads" connecting various universes required simple, melodic themes that were beautiful and memorable enough to underscore a throughline between the different universes. Son Lux composed "fragments of melody that could still be contained and expressed in a relatively short amount of time," Rafiq Bhatia explains, citing the abstract relationship between Evelyn and her daughter Joy Wang (portrayed by Stephanie Hsu), which ebbs throughout the film's multiverse.
They also needed a healthy amount of versatility, where short and specific melodies could be "dressed up in the clothing of different universes," Bhatia says. "We tried to establish an immediate sound for as many of the universes as we could, so that just by its sound texture it felt like ‘Okay, now we're reinforcing [the fact] that we're in this universe now’."
In their early team explorations, Ryan Lott fixated on doing piano sketches first.
"I was focusing on the ultimate spirit of the movie, which is one that is tender, kind, full of empathy, and melancholy as well," he says. "Because I knew if things felt right with where we arrived, then we could reverse engineer [the rest of the score]. And I think we got lucky that it worked out, because there was no way to really map it all out — it’s too complex. It’s too much work."
Following A Theme, Son Lux Composed Everything Everywhere In Reverse
Son Lux commends the Daniels for their purposeful collaboration. Unlike the majority of movies, as Everything Everywhere All At Once progresses as a film, so did its score. There is a mentality of Son Lux’s approach to their composition and scoring: Take a singular chair and build the remainder of the house around it. For Rafiq Bhatia, the spark of a song could come from "the way that it sounded when the compression on one of the floor mics of the drum kit brought out the way Ian dropped his sticks in between the sections of the song. And the squeak of a hi-hat — we were like ‘let’s make a beat out of that!’"
These happy accidents charmingly usher the plot of the movie, where in one action Evelyn triggers a host of new possibilities, and the story builds off of that one drop in the ocean.
Even in works like Everything Everywhere All At Once, where attention to granular detail is imperative, the creative process was undoubtedly fun under the Daniels’ guidance. Lott notes that the trio "never saw them stressed out," despite impending deadlines.
"The deadline for this movie got extended multiple times already," Ian Chang explains. "But when it came down to it, there had to be an end. Especially with movie making, every extension is a larger investment of money. [But yes, this was] the type of movie that everyone could have worked on forever."
Their last musical cue (similar to a "scene") was of Evelyn’s husband Waymond Wang, portrayed by famous 1980s child actor Ke Huy Quan, and the flashbacks of his life. Fitting, per the world’s timing and irony, that a crucial scene towards the end of the movie was just as crucial to Son Lux’s final completion.
"The performances were perfect, the writing was perfect, the editing was perfect. Everything about it was so gripping and emotional," Bhatia says. "[Prior to the music], Daniel Kwan [actually had] found himself tearing up when editing this part, and he had never had that experience before [when] working on something himself. And we all felt the need for that part to speak [musically]."
After putting in their last section into the movie, their Lyfts showed up, and they left for the airport. It’s not often moments under pressure are released in such mundane, ordinary ways, like walking away and taking a cab. Reflecting on Son Lux’s relationship to pressure, time crunches and intimidating assignments, Lott mentions his saxophonist friend, Steve Temme.
"[Pressure] was something he meditated on a lot because it was the pressure [he exerted] with his body through his instrument that created sound and created music. Nothing could happen without pressure. And seeing pressure through a positive lens, it gave birth to new things and new sounds and new life," Lott says. "I very often think about that analogy when I'm under pressure creatively, and I see it as an opportunity to bring something to life that wouldn't otherwise exist."
Next to Lott, Bhatia and Chang nod and mmm in unison.
"And in service of a project like this," Lott continues, "I did find wells within me that I truly didn't anticipate — some more absurd than others."
There is a scene wherein Son Lux needed to compose five minutes of orchestral music. Although intimidated, Lott wrote the music within 36 hours — which, according to Bhatia, somehow managed to sound scaringly perfect. "That was one moment where I truly was led by the gift of the scene and found the kind of resonance I needed with the pressure of the task, and… it just happened."
"I mean, I had to put in the work," he clarifies. "Just like I had to breathe in deeply and exert my breath through the horn. But I [also] think so many of the things were there [already] ready for [us]...Daniels had led, and the actors, everything, the editor, everything, was there before [us] ready to go."
When the movie first came out, Rafiq Bhatia mentioned that the opportunity for Son Lux to score Everything Everywhere All At Once was both a once in a lifetime opportunity and also one of hopefully many more movies to score. Given the film’s box office knockout, it is no doubt Son Lux will be optioned to score more cinematic projects.
Composition specificities aside, Son Lux views the magic of cinema to be a singular art form, where their presence is more felt rather than poured focus into. It might be against the spirit of the movie’s various disciplines and moving parts, but for Son Lux, to see the "big picture" is already to see its composites.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Michito Goto
Global Spin: Japanese Rock Band MAN WITH A MISSION Tear Up The Stage With An Electric Performance Of "Fly Again"
The half-man, half-wolf Japanese metal band MAN WITH A MISSION throw down on stage in this live performance of "Fly Again," a track from their 2011 self-titled album.
Japanese rockers MAN WITH A MISSION don't reveal their aesthetic in dribs and drabs; within mere seconds, you know what they're all about. And that's getting hyped — in the wolfiest of ways.*
Donning their signature canine headgear, the heavy Japanese collective gets throngs of disciples turnt up as they absolutely lay into a rendition of "Fly Again." The feeling is so new/ Believe in what you do," goes one verse. "Don't you ever be afraid in losing/ That's the clue." A wolf's creed indeed!
In this episode of Global Spin, raise a glass to AAPI month with this hair-raising live performance by a group at the vanguard of Japanese heaviness. And if you'd like to join the thrilled masses in this video, MAN WITH A MISSION are in the midst of a North American tour.
Enjoy MAN WITH A MISSION's electrifying performance of "Fly Again" above, and check back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Global Spin.
pHOTOS: RYAN LIMAFP via Getty Images,David Talukdar/NurPhoto via Getty Images, Prabhas Roy/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, SUJIT JAISWALAFP via Getty Images
5 Bollywood Stars To Discover: Shreya Ghoshal, Badshah & Others
A new generation of Bollywood singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music, embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream.
For many decades, the lush soundscapes of Indian film music were dominated by a select group of singing legends: from Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle to Hemant Kumar, Mukesh and Mohammed Rafi. A change of the guard was inevitable, and it began during the last years of the 20th century.
As the film industry in India became more globalized and diversified, and reality shows opened up doors for young performers, it was only natural that talented playback singers — the actual performers recording vocals that are later mimed by the actors — would appear in all corners of the vast country.
The Bollywood standards that captivated the imagination of millions from the ‘50s to the ‘90s are still timeless. But a new generation of singers and composers are bringing a fresh approach to the music known as filmi — embedding their creations with influences from hip-hop and electronica, and fusing Indian folk and classical traditions with the pop mainstream.
Here are five young stars of Bollywood music who are ready to be discovered by the rest of the world.
One listen to “Kesariya,” the lilting ballad from the 2022 fantasy blockbuster Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva is enough to understand why 36-year-old singer and composer Arijit Singh has been the most streamed Indian artist on Spotify for the past three consecutive years. Singh’s velvety inflections demonstrate the influence of mainstream pop, while remaining faithful to the film masters that he grew up listening to — particularly golden era maestro Kishore Kumar.
Born in West Bengal, Singh was raised in a musical family. Everybody sang around him in childhood, and he was also exposed to both Western and Bengali classical music. Singh has been criticized for lending his voice to too many Bollywood productions, but a prolific output has defined playback singers since the very beginning of India’s movie industry. His association with composer Pritam is already legendary. This year, the team delivered an instant classic: the atmospheric “O Bedardeya,” from the romantic comedy Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar.
This 34-year-old vocalist from the northern city of Rishikesh (also where the Beatles studied meditation with the Maharishi in 1967) wasn’t alone on her path to Bollywood stardom. Neha is the youngest sister of playback singers Tony and Sonu Kakkar, and the entire family initially moved to Delhi in order to further their musical careers. At 16, Neha was a contestant in the second season of the reality show "Indian Idol," but was eliminated early — she would return to the show as judge, and gain notoriety for her empathetic reactions to the performances of aspiring stars.
In 2014, she collaborated with famed music director Amir Trivedi on the rambunctious “London Thumkada,” which accompanies an unforgettable wedding scene in the award-winning film Queen, about a young woman’s path to personal freedom. Since then, the self-taught Kakkar has recorded a number of soulful duets for Bollywood productions. In 2020, the groovy “Dil Ko Karaar Aaya” became one of her biggest hits.
It makes sense that the integration of hip-hop into the Indian music mainstream would generate some controversy, and the wild success of rapper and film producer Banshah has polarized critics.
Born in Delhi, Badshah studied civil engineering before turning into music full time. In 2020, his smash duet “Genda Phool” (Marigold Flower) with playback singer Payal Dev was met with hostility by the Indian press because it openly lifted lines from a classic Bengali folk tune. Badshah’s musical ambition, knack for bouncy beats and clever rhymes has transcended his critics. He continues to enrich filmi music with rap and novel ideas: Check out the darkly hued, sinuous melodic lines of “Bad Boy,” which he contributed to Saaho, the second highest grossing Bollywood film of 2019.
Growing up in Panipat, a city north of Delhi, Asees Kaur obsessively studied cassette tapes of Gurbani — the compositions of Sikh Gurus. It is not surprising that the 34-year-old playback singer’s best Bollywood moments are infused with a subtle spiritual vibe, a benign tranquility.
Her first big hit was “Bolna,” a duet from the 2016 family drama Kapoor & Sons. She recorded her vocals separately, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the finished product also involved the voice of Anijit Singh. Kaur’s popularity skyrocketed in 2021 with “Raaraan Lambiyan,” the moving opening track to the Shershaah soundtrack — a stirring war biopic.
At 39, Shreya Ghoshal is already a legend among contemporary playback singers — her prodigious output and notorious versatility providing a link to the golden era of Indian cinema. Tonally, Ghoshal also evokes the spell of singing icon Lata Mangeshkar, one of her greatest influences.
Classically trained in Hindustani music, Ghoshal was a teenager when she won the reality show "Sa Re Ga Ma," attracting the attention of the film industry. Her auspicious debut as playback singer happened on the 2002 romantic drama Devdas, one of the quintessential Indian films of the past three decades. Mimed by actress Aishwarya Rai, the song “Silsila Ye Chahat Ka” made for a spectacular dancing sequence with lavish wardrobe and sets. Ghoshal's honeyed soprano has served her well, with a gallery of hits that includes recent tracks such as the gorgeous “Pal,” a duet with Arijit Singh from the 2018 film Jalebi.