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Q&A with Ryan Lott, Oscar-nominated composer and Jacobs School of Music alum

Jun 1, 2023

Ryan Lott. Photo by Sergei Sarakhanov Ryan Lott. Photo by Sergei Sarakhanov

Oscar-nominated Indiana University alumnus Ryan Lott returns to Bloomington in June to perform with his band Son Lux during the Granfalloon festival.

The composer, producer and performer, who graduated from the Jacobs School of Music in 2001 with a Bachelor of Music in composition, founded the band Son Lux in 2007 as a solo act and was later joined by bandmates Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang. Together, the trio created the Academy Award-nominated score for 2023 Best Picture winner “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Ahead of the Son Lux performance at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on June 9, Lott shares memories from his time as a student at IU and offers advice to students who wish to pursue a similar career path.

Question: You earned your Bachelor of Music in composition from Jacobs School of Music. In what ways did your time at Jacobs impact the formation of your musical style?

A band plays on a small stage. Ryan Lott plays with his band, Danagas, at a venue in Bloomington during the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of Ryan LottAnswer: The rigor and language of European classical music was an essential aspect of my education at IU. I’m thankful for the time I spent playing with a variety of musicians, some of whom were not from the music school.

I learned so much from writing and arranging for the band I had in Bloomington — Danagas — and performing in clubs like the Bluebird, Second Story, Kilroy’s, Mars and lots of house parties. Those guys are still friends of mine, and we continued to work together from time to time for many years.

The most important thing that happened to me while at music school was meeting my wife. Jennifer was in the ballet department, and she introduced me to dance. She’s the reason I started making music for movement, which was a formative practice early on that afforded me the opportunity to cultivate not only my musical voice, but my technical facility with respect to scoring. I still love to make music for dance and do it regularly (including for Jen!).

Q: You have collaborated with many amazing artistsDavid Byrne, Lorde, Sufjan Stevens, Kimbra, G-Eazy and Mitski, to name a few. What were some of those experiences like?

Ian Chang, Rafiq Bhatia and Ryan Lott of Son Lux with David Byrne and actress Stephanie Hsu at a cocktail party honoring Every... Ian Chang, Rafiq Bhatia and Ryan Lott of Son Lux with David Byrne and actress Stephanie Hsu at a cocktail party honoring “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images for Vanity Fair

A: Every musical collaboration is like its own universe to discover, whether it is a marquee name or lesser-known artist. Every partnership is an opportunity to learn something new about music.

Through collaborations, I’ve been lucky to learn from people across a broad spectrum of approaches and ideas, from Ghanaian xylophone master SK Kakraba to Randy Newman.

Q: Are there any artists you dream of collaborating with in the future?

A: I would love to collaborate with kd lang, Donald Glover, Thom Yorke and FlyLo. And who wouldn’t want to make something with Björk?

Q: Son Lux composed the score for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and you were nominated for Best Score and Best Song at the 2023 Academy Awards. You also composed the scores for films “Paper Towns,” “Mean Dreams,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and the video game “Tell Me Why.” What tips would you give students who dream of scoring for film, television or video games?

A: My advice on the surface is paradoxical. Composers for film, TV and video games must have their own distinct voice, while also being chameleonic. Finding this balance is critical. The music should be fully you, and fully supportive of the project and the director or creator’s vision for that project.

Q: You had the rare experience of being nominated for two Oscars and attending the Academy Awards. What was interesting or surprising about that experience for you?

A: It was an incredibly humbling experience to be surrounded by such talented artists and to celebrate the miracle of film. More than anything, I felt a collective gratitude. Musicians, directors, writers, actors, visual artists and more — movies have a place for all of us.

Q: What is on your go-to music playlist right now?

A: Toumani Diabate, billy woods, Moor Mother, Lucrecia Dalt, Daniela Lalita, Black Taffy, Toots & The Maytals.

Q: Do you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?

A: I’m finishing up another movie score right now. It’s very different from EEAAO, but another opportunity to collaborate with other artists. I’m also working on an experimental improvisation-based project that I’m hoping to release sometime early next year.

Author

IU Newsroom

Julia Hodson

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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