Carlos Rafael Rivera (‘Godless’ composer) chats honoring western scores ‘without borrowing from them’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Musician Carlos Rafael Rivera first heard about “Godless” from Scott Frank in 2003, when the writer-director was a guitar student of his. “I had no idea I’d ever be working with him as a composer,” Rivera admits, since at that time he’d never written a movie score in his life. The two eventually collaborated on Frank’s film “A Walk Among the Tombstones” (2014), Rivera’s first credit as a composer, which was “an education.” Now he’s in the Emmy race for “Godless,” which is only his second score, and his first for TV. Watch our exclusive video interview with Rivera above.

SEE Merritt Wever (‘Godless’) on female-centric western: In a traditional western, ‘there probably wouldn’t have been a part for me’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

This Netflix limited series tells the story of Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), who is on the run from a violent outlaw gang leader (Jeff Daniels). He takes refuge in the town of La Belle, New Mexico, which after a mining accident is populated almost entirely by women, including a ranch owner (Michelle Dockery) and the mayor’s tough-as-nails widow (Merritt Wever).

Rivera started working on the score immediately after reading the script, though at that point it was intended to be a feature film, not a seven-and-a-half-hour TV opus. “I wanted to get something that was simple,” he explains. “We were looking for something that would be iconic, something that would be singable.” He also wanted to recall some of the classic western scores by composers like Ennio Morricone or Elmer Bernstein. “What I wanted to do was try to find something that would actually honor it, but not necessarily borrow from it.” And he made sure to avoid harmonica because “it would immediately bring a lot of baggage with it.”

SEE Scott Frank (‘Godless’ showrunner): ‘Feminist western’ was originally about fathers and sons [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Working in movies “was like a fantasy for me,” Rivera says. “I grew up in Central America, and I thought composers for film were born on a separate island, completely different from human beings.” He got his start writing classical music for the performing arts and taught at USC before getting a mentorship through the school with Randy Newman. “It gave me the opportunity to see how things were” and to “see the process of working and collaborating with other people.” Perhaps most importantly, “by the time I got the opportunity to score, I had been mentored in the ways of not getting fired” — a crucial skill in this business, and any other business.

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