Advertisement

How Only Murders in the Building’s Music Supervisors Perfected the Needle Drop

Music supervisors Bruce Gilbert and Lauren Mikus reveal what it takes to put together a successful soundtrack

only murders music supervisor interview
Illustration by Steven Fiche
Advertisement
Advertisement

    It’s hard to think of an element of filmmaking that is as simultaneously critical and hidden as music. It is the unassuming link that binds a film together from moment to moment; it is the final piece of the puzzle that makes the whole experience that much more cohesive; more emotional; more impactful. So what is the key to curating the perfect soundtrack or score? Patience? Determination? For music supervising power-duo Bruce Gilbert and Lauren Mikus, the secret to success is enjoying the work, and having the most fun as possible.

    In fact, Mikus describes the perfect project as, simply: “a fun conversation,” and the approach seems to work for them: The two have overseen, both individually and as a team, music featured in an impressive catalog of films and TV shows, including, but certainly not limited to, Orange is the New Black, The Tree of Life, and Glow.

    Lately, Mikus and Gilbert have tag-teamed managing music for Hulu’s cult-favorite caper Only Murders in the Building, Apple TV’s delightfully bizarre new anthology series Roar, and, of course, the breathtaking and beloved film Everything Everywhere All At Once.

    Advertisement

    A lot of Mikus and Gilbert’s job includes finding a way to build a cohesive and singular world through music. After all, a score or a soundtrack is a film or TV show’s “connective tissue,” says Mikus.

    When discussing the upcoming second season of Only Murders in the Building, Gilbert emphasizes that some projects require a lot of variety, and his and Mikus’ job includes making sure that the necessary sense of cohesion is still present. “The music on [Only Murders] is everything from The Ramones to the most high-end Broadway musical to some poppier moments for Selena’s character,” he explains. He adds that because the characters are “so different from one another, we can get away with a big, brassy jazz piece here, and a gritty rock-and-roll piece here, or a cooler song here.”

    If that job sounds particularly eclectic, well that’s exactly the word Gilbert would use to describe it. “For supervisors,” he says, “It’s a truly eclectic soundtrack. We get to have a lot of fun finding that stuff. Some stuff is really unexpected, and then there’s others that I think speak more to the pedigree of the show, because it feels like a show that’s so well-crafted. And the performances are so good. The directing is so good. The writing is so good. All we have to do is keep up.”

    Advertisement

    Luckily, “keeping up” is Gilbert and Mikus’ forte, whether they’re tasked with piecing together hidden gems and hits for a diverse soundtrack that properly reflects a tonally diverse show like Only Murders, or supervising a totally original score with little to no pre-recorded songs included. When it comes to the latter category, Gilbert and Mikus just so happened to recently oversee one of the greatest original scores of the past decade: the one performed by Son Lux in the Daniels’ stunning feature film Everything Everywhere All At Once.

    The film, which follows a middle-aged woman named Evelyn’s (Michelle Yeoh) impromptu journey through the multiverse, has become a remarkable box office success this spring. Gilbert admittedly wasn’t expecting such an enthusiastic reaction to the film — though he always believed that it deserved one.

    “The excitement around this movie has been kind of surprising,” he says. “The popularity of the film is what everyone wishes for when they work on a project, but how people have responded to every tiny detail has definitely found its way into the music in a way that we don’t normally expect or anticipate when we work on a film.”

    Advertisement

    Gilbert adds that the film could have easily taken a wrong turn in the music department. “It’s this roller coaster ride that could have been all over the place musically,” he explains. “I think the score had to carry these really intense action sequences, and also super emotional moments toward the end, where you’re like, ‘I was on the stoner ride of the year, and now I’m crying.’”

    So, we’ve got musical expertise and unique sonic visions coming at us from all different directions. What else we can attribute to Everything’s musical success? Mikus argues that, when it comes down to it, a lot of what worked can be blamed on a sense of fun that the Daniels cultivated on set. “In terms of our song selection,” she recalls, “they kind of just wanted everyone to have the most fun. That’s what’s so great about working with them, and it shows in the film.”

    For Gilbert and Mikus, a vital part of this playful atmosphere included hiding little references and easter eggs in the soundtrack and score. One example from Everything Everywhere is a nod to Nine Days’ 2000 hit song “Absolutely (Story of a Girl).” Gilbert discusses the citation, explaining that it “initially was a scripted lyric to a song, but no one really knew that there was necessarily an opportunity to reach out to the band that made that song.” The lyric comes during an early monologue from Evelyn, where she explains that her world hasn’t felt quite right lately.

    Advertisement

    “[Nine Days’] John [Hampson] was in a position to approve making adjustments to the lyrics and the recording and tweaking the lyrics to those scenes,” recalls Gilbert. So, Gilbert and Mikus proceeded to work with Hampson to re-record multiple different versions of his 2000s hit and place them in different verses. “I don’t even know how many people were aware of it,” said Gilbert, “but in subsequent viewings, people have definitely noticed it and are tickled by it.”

    Every project is unique: Whereas Everything Everywhere All At Once poses the challenge of carrying its viewer through the multiverse without overwhelming the senses, other shows that Gilbert and Mikus faced a very different challenge with Apple TV+’s surreal, feminist anthology Roar.

    Gilbert explained that working on an anthology series is a truly unique experience. And in the case of Roar, “It’s not just standalone episodes like a Black Mirror type of thing, where there is a lot of connectivity between the worlds, every episode is entirely different. We were reimagining each world — there’s a Western, there is stuff in the present day, there’s stuff in the uncertain future.”

    Advertisement

    When it comes to Gilbert and Mikus’s futures, though, they’re anything but uncertain. On the horizon is the FXX animated series Little Demon, and they’re also hard at work on another Apple TV+ project called Hello Tomorrow!, that Gilbert says is “turning out to be super fun.”

    Directed by Jonathan Entwistle, Hello Tomorrow! stars Billy Crudup, Haneefah Wood, Nicholas Podany, Dagmara Domińczyk, and Alison Pill, and focuses on salespeople in the near future who sell time-shares on the moon. It is slated to premiere on Apple TV later this year. “There’s a ton of music in that show — it’s sort of a retro take on a semi-distant future, and we’re utilizing a lot of music from yesteryear to have that weird uncanny perception of what we used to think about the future, which is super fun because we don’t have to imagine what futuristic music is,” Gilbert says.

    “We basically plopped down in our old memory of what the future was gonna feel like, using songs from the 50s. It’s a combination of stuff that feels retro and analog synth stuff, because there was a time where that’s what we thought the future was going to sound like. In a way, it still feels old-fashioned, even though it’s kinda futuristic.”

    Advertisement

    And while no one knows exactly what the future is going to hold, Gilbert and Mikus are sure to keep finding a way to innovate their field, and make it fun for everyone involved. Including themselves. For, in Gilbert’s words, some of the best moments are the times when a music supervisor can include something that’s “almost just a fun little thing you do for yourself as a wink. And then, when people pay so much attention to a film like [Everything Everywhere], it finds its way to the surface.”

Personalized Stories

Around The Web

Advertisement