Jeff Russo is one of the most talented musicians and composers working in the industry today. His list of credits in the last 9 years is loaded with successful TV series and movies. In the last 2 years alone his has composed for the series Bull, Legion, Counterpart, Star Trek: Discovery, Lucifer, and his Emmy winning work in Fargo. It was an honor chatting with him one afternoon in his office while he was taking a break.
Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always saw yourself doing as a career?
I was born and raised in New York City. As far as I can remember, I loved music and it became apparent to me that this was something I always wanted to do – to be a musician. From middle school on I was always playing in bands. It’s something I was better at than other things. I was better at music than math or science for example. And I loved it too! It was obvious very early on that this was what I was going to do.
Are you from a family of creative people and musicians?
My dad was in fashion. He died when I was very young so I’m not all that familiar with what exactly he did. My mom was a homemaker. Not a huge fan of music, but very supportive in my passion for it.
So you’re in high school – where did you think you were headed as a musician?
I always wanted to be in a Rock Band. Rock and Roll was my drive! I was in a band for 25 years. Only 9-10 years ago did I change careers and think about composing.
What was your first composing job? And how did you get the job?
In 2006, my band took a break from playing and I had to figure what I had to do with my life. A good friend of mine, Wendy Milette, was working on a couple of television shows and asked me to come by. I watched what they did for a bit, and then they asked me to come to work. Watching what they did got me intrigued and eventually they asked me to write music cues for them and from there I was hooked. I worked for them for about a year and a half and eventually I got hired as a composer for my first job which was a TV show called THE UNUSUALS. Then things took off from there.
Noah Hawley was the showrunner of that show, and also the showrunner/creator of the TV series FARGO. So you guys have a relationship?
Yes. Great one. He called me up in 2013 and said he’s doing a series based on the FARGO movie and told me I’m on board. Then we got to work.
How did you prepare for doing that show? Did you go back and watch the original film?
I didn’t see a need to. I just read the scripts and looked at the emotional places in the script. Saw that the same tone was involved.
You were nominated for an Emmy for best music composition for the first two years, and eventually won the Emmy last year for your work in season 3. What is the Emmy winning experience like?
It’s a feeling is disbelief. The Emmy sits on the shelf in my office and it’s a crazy reminder. The feeling going up there and accepting the award is hard to describe. That moment – incredible. People will now say to you, “You’re an Emmy winner”. People have that in their minds from now on. My peers acknowledged me. It’s an honor.
What are you currently working on right now as we speak?
Season #2 of LEGION. And a Mark Wahlberg films coming out this summer (MILE 22, directed by Peter Berg). It’s been a lot of fun working on that film.
Besides the films you’ve work on, watch move have you watched the most time in your life?
Empire Strikes Back. I’ve seen it over 40 times.
Is there a type of project that you would like to work on that you haven’t yet?
I’d like to work on a Western.
What advice do you have for people who would like to work as a composer some day in the industry?
Most important thing is for someone to create their own voice. We are all unique and original in our own way so we all have a voice. Find it. It’s the only way to move forward.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.