Meet Son Lux, Composers Of 'Everything Everywhere All At Once'

2022-05-28 12:01:14 By : Ms. Nicole Liu

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The soundtrack for the genre-bending film 'Everything Everywhere All At Once' sounds jagged, as if the listener is flipping through TV channels. Learn how composer trio Son Lux scored the film's intricate set of universes.

The acclaimed 2022 film Everything Everywhere All At Once is a knockout across all artistic mediums — from the convergence of a wide range of actors within the industry (Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis), to the Daniels’ (1. Kwan and 2. Scheinert) eclectic, yet grounded writing and directing, to the special effects production, and to its tightly-knitted soundtrack.

Lively in its multi-genre cross-contamination of science fiction, romance, comedy, action and drama, the film focuses on a a day in the life of protagonist Evelyn Quan Wang’s (portrayed by Yeoh), where a dragged out IRS trip becomes a journey of saving the multiple universes from its great evil’s destruction. Able to tap into each universe, where Evelyn’s lives unfold, she channels her skills while minimally altering the destiny of the universe she herself occupies. The pressure cooker of her story is that one small or great move can amend her fate.

The multiple-universe nature of this film gestures to a large work’s smaller machinations: the cast, the script, the direction and, of course, the composition. Responsible for the soundtrack behind the film is one credit: Son Lux, a collective of multi-instrumentalist musicians Ian Chang, Rafiq Bhatia and Ryan Lott.

Throughout the first half of the movie, the score sounds jagged. Assigned by the Daniels to feel like different TV channels, Son Lux’s composition keeps the listener on their toes, flip flopping from solemn and orchestral, to an uptempo, almost The Matrix -like feel. As the film further blurs the different universes, the music for its respective TV "channels" blends, mutating from blocky patchwork and into a mosaic.

The complexity of the film, and the important role sound plays in Everything Everywhere 's unfurling universe, requires musicians like those of Son Lux. Their score serves as the cinematic pulse of the story — and is present for 79 percent of the film's two hours and 20 minutes.

When speaking with, the three members of Son Lux were parked on the side of the road somewhere between San Francisco and Portland, huddled together in the back of their tour van to fit the Skype frame. They answered questions with nearly unsettling ease, given how thoughtful and whip-smart their insights were.

Who Are Son Lux? Introducing An Insightful Trio

Ian Chang is a Hong Kong native who first started his musical journey playing the piano. He describes his upbringing as a typical Chinese household, and says learning the piano was a "means of learning discipline." He switched to drums by age 9, and became serious in high school. He went on to pursue jazz studies at New York University. "That was where I met a lot of the people that I still collaborate with to this day," he tells

Rafiq Bhatia's musicality began in a three-generation home, with his grandfather singing Muslim hymns to him. Bhatia is first-gen, and when his parents and grandparents briefly left to visit India, Bhatia occupied himself with zoology books, where he discovered the art of snake charming with a flute. As immigrant parents tend to be, Bhatia’s parents had planned on bringing back gifts to the U.S., to which he requested for his own personal flute.

Rather than a snake, Bhatia’s flute unveiled a legacy of musicians on his maternal side of the family; an aunt who is an incredible vocalist; a grandfather — whom Bhatia never met — who had been a violinist. "That wasn’t a job he could have ever had. He [played the violin] because he loved it," Bhatia recalls. "And so I decided I wanted to learn the violin."

After the violin came the guitar, specifically ignited by his discovery of Jimi Hendrix, and then a slew of jazz artists like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Miles Davis, which finally led to his mentors, Billy Hart and Vijay Iyer.

Ryan Lott, whose Southern family upbringing was more conservative, also picked up the piano at a young age as a matter of discipline. "Despite hating it for years upon years, upon years, I actually wound up falling in love with it the moment I realized I didn’t have to just recreate the music that was already made, and do [it] so poorly," he tells At only 11 years old, Lott began studying music at a university, and continued studying European classical music along with composition and piano, for his collegiate degree.

Despite his heavy immersion, Lott credits his musical technicalities to be one half of his story as a musician. The experience of joining bands and learning from his peers who came from a jazz perspective was equally influential.

"[There is] a weird duality between a concert hall and a club. And that was kind of the foundation for Son Lux," Lott says. "When I first began [Son Lux] as a solo project, [I was] trying to reconcile with different kinds of seemingly unrelated or seemingly oppositional musical influences that had shaped me."

Son Lux’s reconciliation of opposing musicalities, even as a solo act in 2008, is now the beating heart of a movie that relies on breaking the rules of seemingly infinite realities. The group's own reality and history are as fluid as the universes in Everything Everywhere : Son Lux released Bones , their first record as a trio, in 2015; "Your Day Will Come" appears on both Bones and the film’s soundtrack. In their recent record trilogy Tomorrows , a song titled "Unbind" is used for the film in a song called "Evelyn All At Once."

How Son Lux Developed The Score For Everything Everywhere All At Once

The script for Everything Everywhere was twice its final length when the Daniels initially solicited Son Lux in the fall of 2019, while the three were away in residency Tomorrows . The final version of the movie is already industrious with intention, and it is no surprise that Ryan Lott assumed that it would never get made. "I just never really see anything approaching this level of audacity from a creative standpoint," he says.

Having scored films previously, Lott's pessimism was rational. It was also something he learned to ease. "As soon as deeply creative ideas move forward to the suits, they usually get shot down," Lott continues. "In the process [of Everything Everywhere All At Once] ; I put limitations on what's possible, where I shouldn't. And that was one of my big takeaways from this project: I had assumed too little of this life."

Chang and Bhatia giggle from the sides of the screen, because, of course, they are all just as charming and silly and earnest as everybody else attached to the film.

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When describing the process of creating Everything Everywhere 's astute soundtrack, Bhatia uses the analogy of a weaving loom. Its "vertical threads" stand for each universe, and the "horizontal threads" are the varying people and their relationships to each other throughout each respective universe.

The Daniels made weaving these threads easier for Son Lux, having developed specific ideas of certain universes. For example, the Daniels gave Deirdre Beaubeirdra (the IRS worker played by Jamie Lee Curtis) the theme of Claude Debussy’s " Clair de Lune ," and fragments of the tune loom over Deirdre’s presence on screen in the various universes. In another universe, Yeoh’s Evelyn is a hibachi chef who settles her jealousy of her fellow chef by exposing the raccoon that hides under his chef hat, ultimately controlling his cooking skills. A homage to Disney’s Ratatouille, the Raccacoonie universe plays with a Randy Newman, toy-like ambiance.

One of many pie-in-the-sky moments for Son Lux, legend Randy Newman was given an early cut of the film. Newman’s wife hadn’t laughed as much as she did watching the film in all of the pandemic, thus he agreed to be a part of the soundtrack for the Raccacoonie universe. Ryan Lott wrote "Now We’re Cookin’" (in the style of Randy Newman) for Newman himself to sing, but the Daniels were fond of how it organically played as a duet between Lott and Newman and encouraged them to keep it as such.

The "horizontal threads" connecting various universes required simple, melodic themes that were beautiful and memorable enough to underscore a throughline between the different universes. Son Lux composed "fragments of melody that could still be contained and expressed in a relatively short amount of time," Rafiq Bhatia explains, citing the abstract relationship between Evelyn and her daughter Joy Wang (portrayed by Stephanie Hsu), which ebbs throughout the film's multiverse.

They also needed a healthy amount of versatility, where short and specific melodies could be "dressed up in the clothing of different universes," Bhatia says. "We tried to establish an immediate sound for as many of the universes as we could, so that just by its sound texture it felt like ‘Okay, now we're reinforcing [the fact] that we're in this universe now’."

In their early team explorations, Ryan Lott fixated on doing piano sketches first.

"I was focusing on the ultimate spirit of the movie, which is one that is tender, kind, full of empathy, and melancholy as well," he says. "Because I knew if things felt right with where we arrived , then we could reverse engineer [the rest of the score]. And I think we got lucky that it worked out, because there was no way to really map it all out — it’s too complex. It’s too much work."

Following A Theme,  Son Lux Composed Everything Everywhere In Reverse

Son Lux commends the Daniels for their purposeful collaboration. Unlike the majority of movies, as Everything Everywhere All At Once progresses as a film, so did its score. There is a mentality of Son Lux’s approach to their composition and scoring: Take a singular chair and build the remainder of the house around it. For Rafiq Bhatia, the spark of a song could come from "the way that it sounded when the compression on one of the floor mics of the drum kit brought out the way Ian dropped his sticks in between the sections of the song. And the squeak of a hi-hat — we were like ‘let’s make a beat out of that!’"

These happy accidents charmingly usher the plot of the movie, where in one action Evelyn triggers a host of new possibilities, and the story builds off of that one drop in the ocean.

Even in works like Everything Everywhere All At Once , where attention to granular detail is imperative, the creative process was undoubtedly fun under the Daniels’ guidance. Lott notes that the trio "never saw them stressed out," despite impending deadlines.

"The deadline for this movie got extended multiple times already," Ian Chang explains. "But when it came down to it, there had to be an end. Especially with movie making, every extension is a larger investment of money. [But yes, this was] the type of movie that everyone could have worked on forever."

Their last musical cue (similar to a "scene") was of Evelyn’s husband Waymond Wang, portrayed by famous 1980s child actor Ke Huy Quan, and the flashbacks of his life. Fitting, per the world’s timing and irony, that a crucial scene towards the end of the movie was just as crucial to Son Lux’s final completion.

"The performances were perfect, the writing was perfect, the editing was perfect. Everything about it was so gripping and emotional," Bhatia says. "[Prior to the music], Daniel Kwan [actually had] found himself tearing up when editing this part, and he had never had that experience before [when] working on something himself. And we all felt the need for that part to speak [musically]."

After putting in their last section into the movie, their Lyfts showed up, and they left for the airport. It’s not often moments under pressure are released in such mundane, ordinary ways, like walking away and taking a cab. Reflecting on Son Lux’s relationship to pressure, time crunches and intimidating assignments, Lott mentions his saxophonist friend, Steve Temme.

"[Pressure] was something he meditated on a lot because it was the pressure [he exerted] with his body through his instrument that created sound and created music. Nothing could happen without pressure. And seeing pressure through a positive lens, it gave birth to new things and new sounds and new life," Lott says. "I very often think about that analogy when I'm under pressure creatively, and I see it as an opportunity to bring something to life that wouldn't otherwise exist."

Next to Lott, Bhatia and Chang nod and mmm in unison.

"And in service of a project like this," Lott continues, "I did find wells within me that I truly didn't anticipate — some more absurd than others." 

There is a scene wherein Son Lux needed to compose five minutes of orchestral music. Although intimidated, Lott wrote the music within 36 hours — which, according to Bhatia, somehow managed to sound scaringly perfect. "That was one moment where I truly was led by the gift of the scene and found the kind of resonance I needed with the pressure of the task, and… it just happened."

"I mean, I had to put in the work," he clarifies. "Just like I had to breathe in deeply and exert my breath through the horn. But I [also] think so many of the things were there [already] ready for [us]...Daniels had led, and the actors, everything, the editor, everything, was there before [us] ready to go."

When the movie first came out, Rafiq Bhatia mentioned that the opportunity for Son Lux to score Everything Everywhere All At Once was both a once in a lifetime opportunity and also one of hopefully many more movies to score. Given the film’s box office knockout, it is no doubt Son Lux will be optioned to score more cinematic projects. 

Composition specificities aside, Son Lux views the magic of cinema to be a singular art form, where their presence is more felt rather than poured focus into. It might be against the spirit of the movie’s various disciplines and moving parts, but for Son Lux, to see the "big picture" is already to see its composites.

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Photos courtesy of the artist except: OHYUNG by Acudus Aranyian; Wallice by Skylar Steinberg; Kainalu by Julianna Photography

Awareness about the marginalization of Asian American and Pacific Islanders has helped improve their representation in music. Artists like Raveena and Olivia Rodrigo are changing the image of the pop star, but there are still more stones to throw.

Throughout our history of loving music, Asian Americans have had to scroll through downloads, playlists, articles and liner notes, and accept that a lot of it isn’t written with us in mind. In the United States, the pop or rock star archetype is often white and blond, a rumpled Brooklynite. It doesn’t leave much room for dark skin and hair smoothed with oil , hands folding dough for dinner  — or much else that we know intimately.

In recent years, an increased awareness about the unique marginalization Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) face has helped slowly change their underrepresentation in music. Now, AAPI artists like Raveena , Japanese Breakfast and Olivia Rodrigo sprout national recognition with their artistry, diversifying popular music and putting a crack in the long held picture of a white pop star. But there are still more stones to throw.

U.S. popular music needs to embrace the full spectrum of AAPI artists  — across genres, lyrical content, skin color and heritage — and refrain from exoticizing and fetishizing the few Asian artists promoted to the main stage. Nor should AAPI artists be forced into constricting narratives about their immigrant parents or being bullied as children. Instead, they must be allowed to experiment, create and fail with as much grace and energy as white artists. 

The goal of diversity initiatives and representation isn’t to create novelty, but remove it completely. Non-white artists shouldn’t be an exception to the rule, but part of it. For Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, which takes place in May each year, has put together a list of emerging AAPI artists you should know.Though AAPI representation in music is just the smallest slice of racial equity , it’s still a slice. With this list of emerging AAPI artists, which is by no means exhaustive, you can help level music’s playing field as long as you’re willing to listen. 

The Korean-Canadian indie rocker Luna Li is all about controlled energy. Her debut album Duality , released March 4, is weaved together with the same delicate intricacy you typically reserve for tying flower crowns. But instead of flowers, the album is frosted with twinkling high hats and crystal, crying strings.

Li’s skill at creating quietly vibrating songs, like her breakout single "Afterglow," released in 2020, or the instrumental, buzzy "harp jam" from her 2021 jams EP makes sense. She’s a multi-hyphenate producer, composer and player of piano, guitar, and harp — among other things — and her skill floats effortlessly into each warbling press of the keyboard, as well as breathy acknowledgements of her loneliness and love.

Headlines about 23-year-old Wallice usually call out two things: she’s a jazz school dropout and she makes killer indie pop . A New York Times profile notes that Wallice (who identifies as half-Japanese, half-white) first burst onto the scene in 2020, when her song "Punching Bag" landed on Spotify’s teen-movie-friendly " Lorem " playlist. But when you listen to the song, don’t expect to hear much music school influence (Wallice was only there for a year, after all), just enjoy the swing of her voice, her self-conscious melancholy as she identifies as "emotionally available in my dreams."

In the two years since her Spotify coronation, Wallice has been busy getting bigger. She has been consistently releasing sassy, pulsing singles on Dirty Hit, the London-based label home to alt-pop favorites like The 1975 and Rina Sawayama, and will release a concept EP called 90’s American Superstar on May 6.

Four of slick-as-a-lollipop R&B band Weston Estate ’s five members are South Asian (vocalist Marco Luka is Cuban-American), and happily brand themselves as "ya aunty ’s favorite boyband."

"Straight-edged middle aged women getting lit to our music is our aesthetic," they snark in a press release . They may joke, but South Asian commenters on the Weston Estate TikTok note how they "love the brown boy representation" — and no aspiring aunty could be fully immune to this brown boyband’s charms. 

Like the world learned with Brockhampton and BTS , boybands haven’t been composed of homogeneous swaths of white denim since the early 2000s. Instead, they’ve evolved to reflect the diversity and sensitivity of the modern American man. The gentle mourning found on Weston Estate’s recently-released EP, Maggie Valley , represents the advent of the earnest boyband. 

As a whole, Weston Estate’s success solidifies that South Asians should no longer accept acting as supporting role fodder ; it’s time for us to lead.

The Japanese and Hawaiian Trent Prall, who makes wooly psychedelic funk as Kainalu, wasn’t always confident about his race. " I moved to the Midwest as a teenager and began being bullied because [of] my race shortly after," Prall recalled in an interview with the Aussie World . He resented his ethnic background for a while, but Kainalu (the Hawaiian word for ocean wave) as part of his "journey of self-acceptance."

"I think that drives the music for me," he said.

You hear his confidence bloom in the music. Prall’s 2019 album Lotus Gate and his just-released single " Revelator " seem to drip with sunshine and orange juice. Whenever keyboards stomp, low and insistently, or stray bass notes dip in and out like lingering pool flies, Kainalu’s voice cuts through it; he seems to stand tall, like the director of his own dream. 

Robert Ouyang Rusli has been creating inhaling, exhaling experimental music as OHYUNG since 2018. OHYUNG feels like a boundless project — Rusli tips their hand into every jar. In 2021, OHYUNG had a music residency at Pioneer Works , a New York non-profit and cultural center. Previously, OHYUNG made unreal, unrelenting experimental rap on albums like the 2018 debut Untitled (Chinese Man with a Flame) and 2020’s PROTECTOR . Rusli also composes music for film under their given name. In other words, if you’re looking for fire, you found it.

Their newest album imagine naked! , which was released on April 22, is a wordless swear to what makes OHYUNG so intoxicating. The entire album was written and recorded in about three days, but its crackling repetitions and fishbone-light melodies will needle something eternal in the pit of your stomach. It could be your curiosity, or perhaps your pure awe, unleashed.

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