Interview with composer Ben Lovett of The Night House

The Night House composer Ben Lovett
The Night House composer Ben Lovett

Taylor C. Rowley, who music supervised The Night House for us, spoke with Ben Lovett about his work scoring this film and others, plus, of course, soup!

Supe Troop (ST): How did you get into film scoring?

Ben Lovett (BL): I was tricked. I was a student at the University of Georgia in 1997 and met a group of kids who had all banded together to make a movie. Some were actors who could borrow costumes from the theatre department, some were Journalism students who could check out Betamax cameras on the weekend; it was a tribe of creative weirdos hell bent on making something they could all be part of, and there was a magnetic energy to it. Problem was, I didn’t know the first thing about scoring a movie. But that didn’t matter because the director said, “Well we don’t know anything about making one, so you’re gonna have to come up with a better excuse than that.” It’s now about 23 years later and I still haven’t thought of one, so I just keep doing it.

ST: Is there a particular score or individual composer’s work that inspired you to be a film composer?

BL: No. I never set out to be one, it just happened. Looking back though, I do realize how attuned I was to the music in movies growing up. I guess I just thought everybody did. I think as a kid it was probably Star WarsE.T.Back to the FuturePee Wee’s Big Adventure — all the really seminal stuff from that era where the music is such a massive part of the experience. In college I came upon Peter Gabriel’s score for The Last Temptation of Christ and that had a profound and lasting effect on me. I still listen to that.

I think another turning point was probably discovering guys like Clint Mansell and Cliff Martinez and Jon Brion — guys [that] came in from more of a “writing songs and making records” background, because that’s what I was doing a lot of coming up. That might have been when it occurred to me, that obvious thing of, “Oh I can just do what I do, however I do it, and as long as the director likes it, and it helps tell the story, it’s film music.”

ST: What do you look for when you are spotting a film?

BL: Usually places where we can take music out. It’s a common symptom of the production process on most movies that too much music gets stuffed into a film during editorial phase. There are some very simple reasons for why this occurs so frequently, but, to stick to the question, I’m often looking for where the film feels like it needs to breathe. I’m of course referring to when there’s temp score already on a cut. When there’s not, I’m tying to get a general feel for the rhythm of how it moves, what sort of aesthetic properties feel really defined or pronounced in how it was shot, and what can I infer from those things to inform a musical path. But in either case, I’m just looking for the story.

ST: What was your favorite scene in The Night House to score?

BL: It’s got to be the Bathroom. I had that scene circled in the script before they’d even shot it and knew it was going to be a pivotal moment in the movie emotionally. It had to work. Musically I came at that scene from a completely different angle than what was initially conceived or suggested, and I had to fight for it a little in the early going, but sometimes you have to do that when you really feel like it’s the right path. Composers are storytellers, and the score is the emotional language of the film, so your perspective on these things count. Ultimately everyone came around to embrace the same perspective on where the emotional center of the scene was and I ran with it.

ST: When scenes give you trouble, what are some of the things you do to make them work?

BL: The ones where the director says, “We could never really find anything that worked here.”  Because usually that’s evidence the root of the problem is probably elsewhere. Generally speaking when they don’t know what they want, it can be tricky. Someone not exactly knowing how to describe what they want is different — part of the job is interpreting the vision of creative people from different disciplines and turning that into music. It’s much more challenging to figure that out when it seems like they’re just not sure. But that’s also part of the job, and the only way forward is to trust your instincts or your influences and just do what you think is cool.

ST: What do you like about film scoring that is different than your other work?

BL: Film scoring is about storytelling, more than it’s about composition. It’s also a unique type of collaboration that extends beyond the immediate collaboration with the director. Because the music is often one of the last things to go into a film, I typically have the benefit of a lot of other people’s hard work to help guide me and provide inspiration. I write songs, and I produce other artists, and those have unique characteristics to how collaboration ensues. But the old “it takes a village” thing is so completely true on movies, and that sense of shared ownership you get with a group of people on a film is really unique and special.

ST: What projects do you have in the future that you are excited about?

BL: I’ve got five finished films that are all set to come out over the next several months, so that should be a fun ride because they’re all quite different. One, of course, is The Night House, which sounds very modern; one is called Broadcast Signal Intrusion, which has a very noir-influenced sound and features a lot of trumpet and piano; another one is called The Old Ways that is built around traditional folk instrumentation from the Veracruz region of Mexico. Lots of fun soundtrack releases ahead, for sure.

ST: What would be your dream project to score?

BL: Well I have not done a movie set in space, yet. So that’s probably an ingredient.  I also love all those BBC nature documentaries. And the best projects are often the ones where you’re working with good friends. Since you said “dream project” and dreams have their own reality, I guess the answer would be some kind of existential art movie, about animals, but set in space, directed by a close friend, and narrated by David Attenborough. They wouldn’t even have to pay me, I’d start tomorrow.

ST: What music are you listening to right now?

BL: Mostly just a bunch of old records from the 40s and 50s. Howlin’ Wolf. Hank Williams. Billie Holiday. Miles Davis. Pet Sounds is sort of always in rotation. The biggest downside to making music for a living is you tend to mostly just hear the stuff you’re working on, so, when I come home, I usually throw on old vinyl or something that’s completely different than anything I’ve been working on. One exception lately has been the record Blake Mills & Pino Palladino just put out called Notes With Attachments, which is pretty outstanding.

ST: What is your favorite kind of soup?

BL: I don’t think I have a favorite, but I definitely skew more on the broth side of things. I had never had Italian Wedding Soup until like a year ago, so I’ve been into that one lately. So if you know any Italians getting married soon, I’d be happy to crash it and eat all their soup.

Click on the tags below for more, and check out The Night House starting this Friday, August 20th! Want to read more of our interviews with composers? All here for you!