With “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (which A24 expands in IMAX theaters on Friday), a maximalist movie met its match with a maximalist score. The result was a musical explosion that enhanced the Daniels’ wild brand of multiverse action-adventure. And the scoring experience benefited Son Lux, the LA-based experimental post-rock band composed of keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Lott, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, and drummer Ian Chang.
Directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert had been fans of Son Lux and sought them out precisely because of their ability to reconcile different musical elements and ideas into a cohesive whole — a microcosm of the movie. “Both of them had observations throughout this process, both in a big picture sense and also in terms of small details, that ended up being pretty foundational to the score,” Bhatia told IndieWire. “That was exceptional in allowing us to see this [movie] clearly and also how the intimate details of very small moments connected to that bigger picture. At first, it was gonna feel like the viewer is flipping channels, where each universe has its own distinct sound that’s seemingly unrelated to all the other ones.”
The trick was not getting swallowed up by all of the universes, where stressed-out laundromat owner Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) battles her angry daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), aka Jobu Tupaki. “We didn’t necessarily have to wrap our heads around the whole thing because we were directed very well by two individuals, who, in another universe, could themselves be incredible music producers,” Lott said.
“What we chose to do was employ certain melodies as scenes for specific relationships,” Lott said. “There’s the primary Evelyn/Joy relationship and there’s a melodic theme for that… and sometimes it’s tender and beautiful in a solo piano, and sometimes it’s more aggressive when they’re fighting. ‘It All Just Goes Away’ is their melody in the heat of battle. There’s also the family theme, ‘Wong Family Portrait,’ and ‘The Alphaverse’ theme, which is where you find an homage to ‘The Matrix’ score [by Don Davis] through the orchestra writing.”
The Wachowskis’ cyberpunk blockbuster was one of two musical touchstones the Daniels supplied to Son Lux, the other being Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story.” Newman himself makes a surprise appearance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as part of a different Pixar riff: He voices the animatronic raccoon character Raccoonouille.
“They sent a rough cut to Randy Newman and he watched it with his whole family, and said his wife hadn’t laughed that much during the whole pandemic,” Lott said. “On the strength of the film, he said yes to voicing the raccoon and a couple phrases of a song, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I just write a whole song?’ So I got to write a song for Randy Newman in the style of Randy Newman, and that version appears on the soundtrack.”
Another suggestion by the directors was to use Claude Debussy’s iconic “Clair de Lune” as the theme for the uptight IRS agent, Deirdre, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. “We knew that there was gonna be that scene later in the film [with Evelyn], where that piece is so recognizable, but there’s so much leading up to that moment, where we were able to take that innocuous sweet melody and dress it up, and tell the story of this character in different ways [including the playful hot dog fingers] with a consistent melodic theme,” said Bhatia.
The nearly two-hour, 49-track score (compiled in the soundtrack release from A24 Music) also features guest appearances by Mitski and David Byrne (in the duet “This Is a Life”), a flute-playing André 3000, Moses Sumney, and yMusic. Overall, it was a freewheeling, collaborative process between Son Lux and Daniels that began before shooting. The trio sent the filmmakers musical ideas and other sonic materials, customizing instruments they built virtually through sampling, mixing, and remixing, with many of the universes in mind. As the movie came together in the edit, though, they were inspired by the eclectic visuals for additional sounds and textures, including an entire day spent in the studio experimenting with Chinese drums and tuned gongs that formed the percussive signature for some of the fight sequences.
One of the biggest challenges was scoring back to back fights, which Daniels described as “proof of the premise,” in reference to the lobby shootout in “The Matrix” when Neo (Keanu Reeves) goes through the metal detector, opens up his jacket, and displays his superpower. “It was interesting to figure out a way to make a 15-minute sequence not feel monotonous and also to keep the momentum up,” said Chang. “That’s this movie’s version of that, and Evelyn’s killing the whole thing. For the plug fight we wanted to be bizarre, uncomfortable, what sounds like shattered upright bass. The way it’s inserted into this movie feels like out of nowhere yet also feels totally right.”
The members of Son Lux admit that they pushed themselves with “Everything Everywhere All at Once;” they even recorded the last album in their “Tomorrows” trilogy while scoring the film, which provided some connective tissue. “Because of the pandemic and the protracted schedule, we wound up making a more thoroughly customized, and, in my opinion, a more unique score than would have been possible [otherwise],” Lott said. “We also employed the full orchestra on this score more than what we’ve done historically, and the melding of those two is at the core of this score: reconciling the unknown and the familiar, which I believe the film is really doing on a number of levels.”
“This Is a Life”:
“Now We’re Cookin’”: