Composer Fil Eisler on making music for ‘Empire’ (Podcast)

“Obviously, a lot of this show is sort of predicated on the songs,” admits composer Fil Eisler during our chat (listen below) about his work on “Empire.” This hit FOX freshman series chronicles the Shakespearian struggles of a music mogul (Terrence Howard) to choose a successor from his three sons while dealing with his ex-wife (Taraji P. Henson). With a great deal of the show’s success due to its hip-hop infused soundtrack, how did Eisler, whose previous credits include “Shameless” and “Revenge,” make his own work stand out?

He reveals how co-creator and executive producer Lee Daniels approached the score. “(He) had a very strong idea of what the score should be,” he says, “and that was really a sort of juxtaposition to the songs. He wanted to have something that was almost operatic and sort of played more like a movie than a TV show. So that’s why we went with this sort of orchestral approach and really tried to stay as far away from the songs as possible because they do that job perfectly well already.”

As he explains, “Stylistically, Lee wanted to go with this orchestral thing…so there was never a sort of conversation about what’s it going to be stylistically, it was more a case of finding the right melodies and the right themes.” To find those melodies, Eisler turned his attentions towards the shows main characters, saying, “I try to get into the heads of these characters a little bit, and where…they might be coming from, because it’s really important with the music that you’re not just thinking aesthetically and just thinking about slapping music up against the picture because then it starts to feel like wallpaper. The thing I like about the show is we’re sort of careful about not bringing in music unless it’s really warranted, and for that to work you need to have the right themes and you need to have something that sort of speaks to the characters properly.”

Once Daniels heard those themes, Eisler reveals, “As he is with most things, he was adamant, ‘this is it.’ It’s great to have somebody at the helm who’s that clear about his vision and about what he wants the show to be.”

Of course, as Eisler explains, nothing is really set in stone, especially when it comes to art. “You do discover new things. Despite the fact that we started out very deliberately keeping away from the hip-hop element, as things have gone on I’ve found hip-hop beats creeping into my music in places where I wouldn’t have thought they’d have worked before, and it’s worked really well. I think every show that’s worth its salt grows as it goes along.”

Eisler is  is hoping to reap his first Emmy nomination this year. Check out our full interview below for more on how he crafted the intricate themes for “Empire.” 

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