Interview with The Ice Road Composer Max Aruj

Supe Troop’s Rachel Hughes spoke with The Ice Road composer Max Aruj about scoring The Ice Road, using fundamentals, ‘taking a stance’ with music, and, of course, soup!

Max Aruj, composer of The Ice Road

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

Max Aruj (MA): I started playing jazz and classical piano when I was six. I played in bands and chamber ensembles in middle school and then started writing music in high school. I then scored a film my friends and I were in entitled Black Martini; my character’s name was Maxwell, naturally… I then majored in Music Composition at USC. During my time there, I got an internship working at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control. I met Lorne Balfe shortly thereafter, and then worked for him for nearly 10 years, up until the end of last year, all the while starting to do my own projects as well.

ST: You’ve worked on a lot of different genres – horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, documentary, etc. Do you find creating score for each project to be vastly different or more similar? Has anything surprised you about the differences or similarities between quite dissimilar genres?

MA: They are all different, yes, but, after years of experience, you start to see patterns in each genre. No matter what, your music needs to ‘take a stance.’ That can mean writing a memorable melody that encapsulates the emotional arc. That can mean perfectly timing stops and starts during a comedic witty banter scene. It can also mean creating sounds that put you in a time and place. Ideally all of the above and more! But I feel there needs to be a target you’re aiming at in order to create something that both supports the genre and plays as a standalone piece of music.

ST: Is there one cue in The Ice Road that you particularly enjoyed creating?

MA: “22) He’s Back” Balls to the wall action. Climax of the action of the movie. Recorded live orchestra playing the main theme, fff!

ST: The landscape of ice in The Ice Road is a character (and villain) itself, and your score wonderfully captures the beauty, danger, and stillness of that landscape while also amplifying all of the action throughout the film. How did you go about achieving that all-encompassing score? Was that something discussed early on or something that happened more naturally as you worked with picture?

MA: Jonathan Hensleigh was a total pro. He directed the movie and wrote the script. He has a deep understanding of story/character. We approached the score by building the foundational themes first: Main theme, Varnay theme, Brothers theme. Constructing a sonic world for the ice was next, followed by creating a world for the miners underground. We look at the story, building an arc with each scene, and accompany each story line until its completion. Fundamentals all the way!

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

MA: You have to power through and keep trying things. You may write what you think is the perfect version, and then you play it to the team, and it is clear that it is not the right version. Try and find things they like, and dislike, and try variations. Try starting the cue earlier or later. There is never one single way to solve the scene. It takes patience.

ST: What’s your favorite instrument?

MA: I have never been able to answer this question my whole life!

ST: What is an example of where you think another composer nailed a project or particular scene?

MA: A recent one I watched and loved was The Inside Man (1999), with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. Crowe has the suspicion he is being followed. While at the golf range, a man in a suit is hitting near him. It is only through a series of subtle exchanges and looks that we realize his suspicion is correct. This scene doesn’t even lead to a direct confrontation, but it is the music that is so beautifully unusual, and haunting, that we know Crow’s character’s worst nightmare is coming true: he was warned he was inviting trouble and now he’s got it!

ST: What non-score music are you listening to right now?

MA: Vicente Fernández, ranchera music.

ST: What projects do you have coming up that you are excited about?

MA: Actually releasing on the same day is Lansky, a crime drama starring Harvey Keitel!

ST: What is your favorite kind of soup?

MA: Lobster bisque.

Thanks, Max! Sounds like we need a double feature of The Ice Road and Lanksy this Friday, June 25th! Catch The Ice Road on Netflix and don’t forget to pick up both soundtrack albums (score) The Ice Road (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) and (songs) The Ice Road (Music From and Inspired By the Netflix Film) wherever you get your favorite music (available for pre-order now; will be released on June 25th).

Click on the tags below for more! And if you’re in the mood for more composer interviews, you can find some great ones here.