Mark Isham Interview: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ composer
Emmy-winning composer Mark Isham infused a pop sensibility into his score for the Hulu limited series “Little Fires Everywhere,” which stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Composing the score with Florence + the Machine’s Isabella Summers, the pair blended their individual backgrounds to create something fresh. “There’s a lot of intricate string writing which is part of my background but there’s a very pop sensibility to the whole thing at the same time which she brought to it and then of course just fabulous drums and percussion,” Isham says in an exclusive new webchat with Gold Derby. “A great song, a great pop moment, is a very simple idea.” Watch the video interview above.
Starting with the main theme music, Isham wanted to create a sense of building momentum, not unlike how the series proceeds. “We knew the story had to be told in a big way, that it wanted to build, that it wanted to pull you in and we spent a lot of time working that out and thrashing out the different ideas from our different backgrounds and I think we came up with something that really does entice you and pull you into this really rather remarkable story,” Isham says, of the title theme. For the rest of the score, Isham and Summers utilized a repetitiveness that builds and builds, not unlike the work of Philip Glass. “He brought this sense of repetition, the sense of pop music’s repetition of taking very simple ideas and building on them, so that is definitely a corollary to what we were doing here,” Isham explains.
One of the repeating motifs we hear on “Little Fires Everywhere” comes in the very first scene where Witherspoon’s character, Elena, gazes upon her burning house. The cue appears again in various forms throughout the season, once with a gospel flavor, another inspired by hip-hop. “There’s a motif that comes in there very abstract and very simple but that becomes one of the three big motifs for the show and it appears in a number of different ways.”
Isham is no stranger to the world of scoring, having received an Oscar nomination for his work on “A River Runs Through It” (1992) and an Emmy for “EZ Streets” in 1997. The composer looks back fondly on his one trip to the Oscars, especially because of the company he kept. “I must admit, it was a pretty meaningful experience. I was sitting in a row with John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams and I was the kid,” he laughs. “They’re such elegant gentleman and I felt so honored just to be there. That was probably my most favorite memory.”