Thrillist: I read that Ari Aster approached you to work on the score because he'd been listening to your music while he wrote the screenplay. What made you decide to take on the project?
Colin Stetson: It's impossible to hear Ari out, and to hear him talk about his ideas, and not be sold. He's very convincing. He knows exactly what he wants. The script was what sealed the deal for me right away. So that was years ago, I think it might've been at least three years ago that he contacted me, right as he was finishing writing the first draft of the script. I read that, and we just kind of verbally agreed that it sounded like a good thing. I figured he'd keep me informed as to when things were coming along.
And so, as they do in the film world, there were revisions, and then there was also trying to get funding and all that fun stuff. He'd check in every six months or so and tell me where things were at with the project. When -- I guess it was last year, or the end of 2016 when things really started heating up for him -- the funding had come in, casting was underway, and then he sent me the revised version of the script. I just started writing the score to the script in, I want to say, either December of 2016 or January 2017.
Did you write only to the script, or had you seen any early versions of the film to guide you?
Stetson: I wrote a great many of the main themes and tonic elements in those early months before they'd even started with principal photography. It was about as good as the process can go, because so much of the time you're brought in at the very last minute, and the editors and the directors have been sitting with other music, random music from all sorts of things temped into all the different scenes, and you've got to try to find a cohesive structure and character for the score, but at the same time knowing that you've got a number of people who have all gotten very accustomed to hearing a theme to play out a certain way.
So that can be incredibly frustrating at times, when you're playing against people's ingrained associations. We didn't really have that here. It was refreshing working with [Aster] in this regard, where even where there was something temped that wasn't what I had originally written for the film, I could replace it with things that accomplished similar goals yet in completely different ways, and he was right on board.
So how exactly does that process compare, workflow-wise, to working on your solo projects, or even with other musicians but on a purely musical project?
Stetson: Every relationship, every interaction is completely different. That's the long and the short of it, kind of. When I'm doing a score, generically speaking, I approach a score the same way conceptually as I approach doing arrangements with tracking horns for a songwriter on a particular song. So you talk to them. You see what's on their mind, if they have specific thoughts to what it needs. You listen to the song, you figure out what exactly you think that it needs, and then figure out what is the leanest, most direct approach to accomplishing that goal, giving the song what it needs, but not bloating it or having too much ego involved.
That's mainly how I try with the scores as well: Just identify what is the thrust of it, what's the structure, what's the best way to accomplish the goal of it all. Establish what the instrumentation is going to be, how you're going to find the sounds. Of course, a lot of those things will continue to unfold and develop through experimentation and trial and error.