Jeff Russo Q&A: ‘Fargo’ composer
“Writing the music for ‘Fargo’ has been really the highlight of everything I’ve done for film and/or television,” admitted Grammy-nominated Jeff Russo during our recent webcam chat (watch below) with regard to his acclaimed score for the FX anthology series that incorporates both classical and rock elements.
Compared to the action score that he also did this season for CBS’s thriller “Hostages,” “the music really does make more of a statement,” Russo explained. “We use so much less music on ‘Fargo’ than really on any other show that I’ve ever done and that, to me, makes the impact of the music way greater.”
Although he “loved” scoring “Hostages,” Russo was only given about four days to write music for episodes of that show, so he explained that “that means your first idea is the idea” and he rarely had the opportunity to tweak his initial compositions.
However, on “Fargo,” Russo had access to scripts in advance and was able to begin writing early. Showrunner Noah Hawley encouraged Russo to view “Fargo” as a giant movie that could be viewed in a single sitting, so Russo made sure to create big musical themes that would provide a circularity to the season and familiarity to episodes within it. He also set out to subtly modify his motifs and cues across the season to account for evolving characters and dynamics.
“Fargo” is inspired by the Coen brothers film of the same name, but Russo did not take much inspiration from Carter Burwell’s original score, as he set out to forge a unique musical identity that merely drew “from the vibe of the film” to induce similar feelings in his audience as those felt when watching the original film, but with a brand new cast of characters and musical themes.
Although “Fargo” is expected to return for a second season and “Hostages” was intended to have just one, both of Russo’s scores are competing in Outstanding Music Composition for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special (Original Dramatic Score). Russo has volunteered to judge another music category and is spending nine-and-a-half hours this weekend viewing submitted episodes. His newest show “Power” premiered last week on Starz.