Tonic’s Jeff Russo on Scoring ‘American Gothic,’ ‘Fargo’ & Marvel’s ‘Legion,’ Plus the 20th Anniversary of ‘Lemon Parade’
Jeff Russo, the composer for new CBS series, “American Gothic.” / JUSTINE UNGARO
It’s nearly impossible to turn on the TV and not hear music by Jeff Russo. The Fargocomposer, who is also a guitarist with the Grammy-nominated band Tonic, scores a staggering six television series either currently airing or in production.
His newest, American Gothic, co-produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, debuts Wednesday on CBS. The 13-episode drama, starring Virginia Madsen, Juliet Rylance and Justin Chatwin, revolves around a prominent Boston family whose patriarch may be involved in an series of unsolved murders.
“It’s just super thrilling to have the word ‘Amblin’ associated with anything I’m working on,” Russo, 46, says. “I’m thrilled to be under the same fold as someone as great as Steven Spielberg and John Williams, who is probably my favorite composer of all time.”
In addition to Season 3 of FX’s Fargo, for which he earned an Emmy nod for best original dramatic score in 2014, Russo is also working on Fargo producer Noah Hawley’s new Marvel series Legion, the third season of Starz’s 50 Cent-produced drama Power, upcoming HBO limited series The Night Of, and ABC’s Kevin Williamson-helmed 2017 show Time After Time.
Russo talked to Billboard about each series, as well as the 20th anniversary of Tonic’s debut album, 1996’s Lemon Parade, best known for the Mainstream Rock Songs chart-topper “If You Could Only See.”
American Gothic, CBS (June 22)
“We do the show with a small orchestra, about 16 strings and five woodwinds, but it is understated. The idea was we didn’t want to be heavy-handed with the music because when you do that, all of a sudden, you’re melodrama. This show is left of center — like the grandson who’s a little weird — and that was part of the choice to lean toward the oddity of it. We’re trying to give the show a more cinematic and cable feel. A lot of times on network television, you have wall-to-wall music and shows tend to lean on music to help build the narrative, whereas in movies and cable, we have a way of allowing the dialogue to do what it’s going to do, allowing the emotion to land and then play. We’re trying to score it less and let the score be more meaningful. We’re definitely not playing the emotion or the drama on the nose.”
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