We recently had the great honour to chat with renowned composer and all round musician extraordinaire Jeff Russo. Most prominently known for his incredible work scoring the hit TV show Fargo, but also behind the scores for Hostages and The Unusuals, as well as being a founding member of rock band Tonic, Jeff spoke with us about how he approaches his work, his influences and the quirks of being a full time composer.
The first part of the interview is transcribed due to issues we had with recording equipment, but these were swiftly resolved and the rest of the interview is available for your listening pleasure at the bottom of the page.
Cultoid – Hey Jeff how are you doing?
Jeff– I’m good, nice to talk to you
Cultoid – Same here. Am I right in thinking you’re in the studio?
Jeff – Yeah, just taking it a bit easy this week. We just finished the last episode of Fargo.
Cultoid – And are you happy with how it’s gone? Did it finish on a high?
Jeff – Yeah it’s all gone great, I’m so happy with how it’s turned out.
Cultoid – Well first of all congratulations on Fargo. It’s been received so well in the UK and so much of that is to do with the way the opening theme grabbed the attention of the viewers.
Jeff – Thanks that’s great to hear, it’s good to know that a show which is so American in its story and setting can translate to a UK audience.
Cultoid – Can you tell us a bit about the process of writing Fargo, and is it the same for every project?
Jeff – For Fargo it’s been slightly different in that I wrote most of the music prior to seeing any footage. I spoke to Noah [Hawley – the show’s creator] and he told me the kind of vibe he was looking for. We talked about the story and the setting and I just went away and started writing on a guitar. And from that came the melody you hear which is the opening theme of the show.
Cultoid – It’s kind of difficult to picture that melody on a guitar, because hearing it now with strings it’s hard to imagine it any other way.
Jeff – That’s really interesting to me because I just see it as a solid simple melody that plays so well on a guitar. It’s still got that quality to it, but yeah I can see how you would come to get used to it on strings. When I go back to the first demos I recorded for the show it does sound totally different to how it ended up.
Cultoid – How did you go about choosing the instruments for the orchestral arrangement?
Jeff – I knew we wanted to have minimal percussion. And I wanted to be really selective about what percussion I actually used to give certain moments more emphasis. So you’ll hear at key moments the sleigh bells, or the timpani which adds a certain feeling. I always knew I wanted to use strings and so it was a case of picking the right instruments to convey the tone. In the movie they used a Hardanger Fiddle, and I didn’t want to use that exact same instrument as it has a very specific sound, so I went with a violin for that main melody. And then I needed a woodwind to play some melodies so I chose English Horn, which worked perfectly with the emotional content I was trying to support; so melancholic and mournful.
The rest of the interview is available in a handy listen along Soundcloud file below. Enjoy listening to the lilting accent of Jeff Russo and the awkward Yorkshire nasal voice that is me.
For more information about Jeff and to listen to some of his projects click here to visit his website.