Exclusive With Jeff Russo on “Discovery” Soundtrack and Future Releases

Exclusive With Jeff Russo on "Discovery" Soundtrack and Future Releases

Presales of “Star Trek: Discovery” soundtrack start today

As announced recently by CBS, Emmy Award winning composer Jeff Russo’s Star Trek Discovery soundtrack is set for release on December 15th worldwide. Distributed by Lakeshore Records, the series theme music and score carries on a 51-year tradition of orchestral compositions in Star Trek.

The soundtrack will also be available on CD and vinyl in early 2018, after season one wraps up.

We interview Jeff Russo about the soundtrack and Chapter 2 music

We caught up with Russo to discuss today’s presale release of the Star Trek Discovery soundtrack.  The compilation includes music from episodes 1-9 of the hit series on CBS All Access (USA), Space (Canada), and Netflix (rest of world).

Star Trek Discovery music composer Jeff Russo. (Courtesy of CW3PR)
Star Trek Discovery music composer Jeff Russo. (Courtesy of CW3PR)

NCC-1031.COM: Presales for the Star Trek Discovery soundtrack start [today]. It’ll be available digitally on December 15th. CD and vinyl will follow in early 2018. Are you excited?

Jeff Russo: Um, yeah!  I would say very excited, super thrilled.  I don’t even know how to explain how it feels to have this sort of dream come true.

There’s 21 pieces in it – that I know – but what can you tell us about this release?

The decision was to sort of pick a wide range of music from the first 9 episodes, and then to, at some point in the future, release music from episodes 10-15.  I think that it’s wide-ranging enough to really give an idea as to what the musical landscape of what the show is, and what I wanted to bring to the project in terms of trying to tell the story with the music. There are a bunch of emotional themes. There’s some action stuff. There’s the main theme. There’s an extended version of the main theme which is my original recording of it. What we actually used and cut from for the end credits. I think it’s just a wide sampling of it.  It really does give you an idea as to what the music for the show is, and where I think we’re going. You can feel the way the score develops in the track listing.

I’m looking forward to that extended theme that you mentioned.

There’s a lot of history behind Star Trek obviously. There’s over a dozen movies, there’s 6 television series before Discovery. Because of that, did the music require a different approach than you’d usually take?

Well I think that the approach that I took, just from a general standpoint, is really a personal thing.  It’s the way I like to approach any project, which is from an emotional standpoint, and how to help tell the story from it’s core – from it’s emotion core. I really believe that music is the heart of any narrative. It can be a really big part of it or a really small part of it.  But I think that’s how you end up exposing the feelings and the emotions of what’s happening on screen. So from that perspective I think that I did what I would normally do, which is try to tell a story from as truthful of an emotional place as I can.

On that topic, there’s a lot of Star Trek fans that see the music as more than just mood-setting, but as a character in itself. Do you agree that music can be personified, and if so what kind of character would you say that Discovery‘s music would be like?

Well I do agree with that. I agree with that in terms of projects that that applies to. I think that in Star Trek in general the music is a really important part of the way the story is told. I think that it has varied from project to project – from The Original Series, to Next Generation, to Voyager, to Deep Space Nine, and the movies.  I think every different story telling ideal has changed.  It’s been different for each one of those individually.  But in general I think that Star Trek does have the music play a very big role in it being a character in the show. I think that in our show, the character that it plays is the heart and sole of the show.  It happens to underscore our main character and the way she sort of goes through her life and experiences. The experiences she has on board the Discovery.  Its the companion to our main character.

Russo feels series-lead Michael Burnham's outlook of the world is hopeful, and believes that's mirrored in Discovery's music.
Russo feels series-lead Michael Burnham’s outlook of the world is hopeful, and believes that’s mirrored in Discovery’s music.

That main character is obviously a very different approach to any previous Star Trek.  On that, the showrunners have also said that Discovery is, I guess, a much more edgy and darker sort of Star Trek. I know you’ve done work on Fargo and The Night Of – I’d consider both of those to be a little bit darker than a typical Star Trek is. Star Trek is known for being very optimistic and about optimism, so was it difficult to sort of find that balance between dark and the optimism in the music?

Well, I think that where the optimism comes in for us is in not wearing it on its sleeve. And that I think is the difference here.  You know Star Trek has been known to be outwardly optimistic in a grandiose sort of way.  I think we have a more subtle version of that.  And I think that’s also evidenced in the music.  What I always try to do in music in order to get to where that is, is to play from a hopeful emotional perspective. And I think in general, the way Burnham looks at the world is hopeful. It’s just not as globally over the top hopeful as Star Trek has been in the past, and I think that I mirror that in the music.

Star Trek has definitely been over the top in that regard…

I don’t mean that in a bad way.  I mean that in just a very matter of fact way.  I was listening to scores from The Original Series and watching it and you can just tell it’s like it wanted to be this big version of that.  The storytelling was over the top.  We may be slightly darker in the concept of the storytelling, but we are certainly hopeful, I think, although in a much more subtle way.

Well I certainly think that’s coming through in the music we’ve heard to now.

Star Trek Discovery musical composer Jeff Russo says the series is certainly hopeful, although in a much more subtle way. (Justine Ungaro)
Star Trek Discovery musical composer Jeff Russo says the series is certainly hopeful, although in a much more subtle way. (Justine Ungaro)

So, usually it’s considered to be the job of the composer to somewhat win over the listener I guess. But listening can also be active, rather than just a passive process. Two questions with that context.
1. Do you see a role for the viewer or listener in musical communication process?
2. Does that role change if you’re trying to relay something very specific in your music?

Music is subjective, so no matter what there’s an active role.  The viewer is going to react to music one way or the other or not, but it is subjective.  And that subjectivity can be “I don’t feel anything” or “I feel X” or “I feel Y”.  I do not subscribe to the notion of trying to actually tell the story with music.  I try to help convey a story with music. I don’t need to tell someone that the scene that they’re watching is funny.  If the scene is funny people will laugh, and if the scene isn’t funny music isn’t going to change that. So I don’t ever like to tell the story on the nose with music, I like to help the story along.  That’s where the music can tell a story. It’s just not my style of music writing.

Right.

In that way I do depend on the listener to have an opinion. I do depend on the listener to have an active role in what’s going on with music versus what’s going on on-screen. It’s definitely a dance between the music and the listener and the viewer. You’re not just a listener, you’re a listener and a viewer, and it’s all sort of combined into one package. You have to have a role in that in my opinion.

On Alexander Courage’s original theme. Is there anything in it, beyond the obvious, that you took inspiration from?

Umm, no. I’d say the main part of that was the ability for that particular fanfare to evoke as much nostalgia as it does with the show because its such an iconic melody, it’s such an iconic theme.  For me the idea was I wanted to nod to The Original and that was the quickest, most direct way to do it, and most effective way to do it. In terms of trying to take inspiration from other works of Mr. Courage from The Original Series, I haven’t really paid much attention to his work in the score, which, you know, he didn’t score every one of those episodes. My understanding is only scored a few. I didn’t really have to go back and look at that.

You know I have a deep memory of watching that show and remember what it was.  But I did review the Mudd episode from The Original Series so I might have pulled something from it for our episode 7 – with our Mudd episode.  In the end it didn’t end up working for us because I didn’t feel like there was enough of a through-line between the way that performance was and the way our show portrayed that same character. So I had to just come up with something new.

They’re played very differently from The Original Series to the new one.

Yup

Cover of the Star Trek Discovery soundtrack
Cover of the Star Trek Discovery soundtrack

You spoke earlier about the fact this covers the first 9 episodes, and that 10 and future episodes may also… is there going to be a soundtrack release for Chapter 2 season 1 do you think?

Apparently.  You know, it’s something I’ve been talking about with producers and with the record label and studio.  The idea is there will be a vinyl release in the new year, after episodes 10-15 air, and that vinyl release will include collections from chapter 1 and selections from chapter 2. There will most likely be, and I don’t know this for sure, there will most likely be a digital volume 2 which will just include music from episodes 10 through 15.

Great! One last question for you – a bit of a more general question.  When did you start start composing and who were some of the people that inspired you?

I’ve been writing music and writing songs for a really long time. I didn’t start composing music for media until 2008. So about 9, what is that 11 years ago.. is that 11 years ago?

Nine.

I don’t know I’m not very good at math. 8 years ago, 9 years ago…

You’ve been working on Star Trek – it’s in the future so you have a reason…

Right. I’d been doing a little bit of that before – maybe 2006/2007 is when I really started doing that. I didn’t really start writing orchestral compositions in this way until 2011/2012 when I first started writing for Fargo season 1. So maybe 6 years.

But the idea being that I’ve been a huge fan of this type of music for a really really long time, with some of my favourite composers writing some of my favourite scores. There’s the very obvious like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, and these icon composers. I’m also really interested in stuff like Gustavo Santaolalla, who probably wrote my favourite score of all time – Brokeback Mountain – and that may have something to do with the fact that I’m a guitar player at heart. So I really loved that score because it mixes this beautiful guitar melody with this big lush orchestral arrangement. It was something that I was always drawn to but not something I ever did in practice until the last 10 years.

I thank you so much for your time and doing this interview with us

Oh my pleasure

Watch Jeff Russo talking about his main title musical theme from Star Trek Discovery.

The soundtrack for Star Trek Discovery is up for presale starting today and will be available digitally on December 15th 2017.

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About Cassius Adams

Cassius Adams is the creator of ncc-1031.com and is a content contributor. He has been a Star Trek fan for nearly three decades. Cassius discovered his passion for the franchise early into TNG's run, and nourished that passion throughout DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, and the movies. Cassius can be reached by emailing cass@ncc-1031.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @supercass