Interview: ‘Travelers’ Composer Adam Lastiwka Talks Soundtrack, Favorite Instrument and More!
We got the amazing opportunity to interview Adam Lastiwka, composer for the wildly popular Netflix series Travelers. He’s incredibly talented, and has also composed music for Jade Fever, Interrupt This Program, and Yukon Gold. The soundtrack for Travelers Season 2 just released in December, and you can purchase that on Amazon. It’s also available for purchase on ITunes, and available to stream on Spotify.
See Adam’s interview with us below!
Nerds and Beyond: When it comes to a show like Travelers, do you create the music just by reading the script, or do you look at scenes and then create from there? Tell us a little bit about your process.
Adam Lastiwka: I‘m very much what you’d call a “craft” composer, in that I truly believe in a purpose-built score that is as married to picture as it can be. That being said, “Travelers” was very unique because I got to start developing a palette of sounds and themes of just script inspired concepts before they had finished writing everything and we got to apply a bit of serendipity, where I presented Brad Wright (the show’s creator) with maybe 30 or 40 cues (yeah, I write a lot) and he would say, “I like this track for this scene, or this will be a good show theme, develop this one more, pull this one back etc.” Then certain scenes which he had in mind could be cut to the music. I will usually go into those pieces of music and re-build them and stylize more to picture, but it was interesting to see how that could work. That was only part of the time though; my favorite thing is to really dig into an episode and musically outline the narrative to make it as immersive for the viewer as I can.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the most difficult track to create for Travelers?
Adam Lastiwka: There isn’t a single cue that stands out beyond any others for me as far as being challenging, but usually each episode has a big energy arc scene that can span 3-8 minutes, which is a lot of heavy lifting for a single cue, so there is a lot of planning ahead of time in order to make that work. The action scenes are always challenging because there is a lot of sound fx and dialog the music has to make room for, all while building up tension and pushing things along.
My favourite approach to a scene this year (to avoid spoilers) is season 3 episode 8, from about 39:30 minutes onwards. The mechanics of the score are interesting on this. As a somewhat general rule you don’t want to “telegraph” something by explicitly foreshadowing the outcome, but sometimes you can play it counterintuitively. This scene is structured in a way that on first viewing you would want to go dry with the music, and then a big moment on (in this case) David with some huge, impactful, emotional build. But I chose to do something “inappropriate” and totally telegraph it to the point of obnoxiousness. The music is tense and building when nothing is really happening, which is almost annoying and could “pull you out” as a viewer. As the volume increases it even steps on her dialog a bit (a big no-no) but the purpose was to create a literally heart-stopping moment, and demonstrate the impact that effectively-composed “silence” can have. There was no other way to approach that scene that would create this effect, so it took breaking some hard-and-fast rules to make it work.
Nerds and Beyond: When you did the Instagram takeover last year, you had a lot of different instruments and sound equipment. What is your favorite instrument to play?
Adam Lastiwka: I love the exploration process and overcoming the barriers of learning new instruments in order to find your voice on it. I think every musician has a “voice” and when they reach a certain degree of comprehension on any instrument that voice will come through very distinctly. I think, for my personal composition process, the instruments themselves are as much a part of finding a compositional voice as anything else. My favorite instrument is probably cello or guitar. I’m still very much learning cello but I find myself really easily lost in it when I sit down to play. It’s much more challenging and frustrating to record though.
I think overall though, the most important skill a modern TV composer can have is production. You can say a lot with just sound, something I think John Cage would always get at, especially in his book “Silence”. I think his brain would explode if he heard some of the sound design capacity we have today. Electronic music is a great expression of this, as the musical elements can be fairly minimal but the sonorous effect of the sounds themselves can have a huge emotional impact. But in order to harness all this effectively, you really need to know how to “play” your studio and be really proficient at all the technical elements of recording and engineering, mixing and sound design. So when I sit down at my desk, it’s kind of like every part of my brain has to be firing in order to bring it all together, and production skills and experience is what facilitates that. To me, it feels akin to playing an instrument in a real flow state.
Nerds and Beyond: You’ve done the soundtrack for all three seasons of Travelers and also have multiple albums out, including your most recent “Clouds”. Do you have a favorite song?
Adam Lastiwka: I think my favorite track on that album is “Wind”. I started the idea by wanting to create an arrangement strictly from wind instruments, which was fun but it didn’t really stand out as a full track so I started adding field recordings and layered in sound design elements that gave it a lot of weird energy. My favorite part is the processed saxophone solo in the middle. I pitched it down an octave with Soundtoys Alter Boy and distorted it, then did some really strange pitch manipulation after the fact. The whole album was done as a sort of respite from software instruments and digital sounds, which you have to use often in TV due to time constraints, but I made the whole creative aspect of the album absent of that, which was incredibly hard as one person in a small studio. I also enjoy the track “Clouds”, which was based around a poem my girlfriend was reading for a project. I sampled and did some very weird pitch and time manipulation in order to create what became this really abstract and alien sounding hook that I based the track around. I think I played about thirty or so different instruments on the whole thing, which was a bit of a feat for me.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s your favorite TV score and favorite movie score?
Adam Lastiwka: My favorite movie score is probably The Bourne Ultimatum by John Powell. It’s really effective in context and one of the rare scores I’ll listen to for fun outside of the film. For TV, I really enjoy the functional craft scores that Sean Callery does, as well as the super vibey scores for True Detective by T. Bone Burnett. They elicit something of a Harry Partch vibe that I really enjoy.
Nerds and Beyond: What would your road trip soundtrack sound like?
Adam Lastiwka: I usually like to do audiobooks for road trips. But for music what I like to do is find the compiled lists of standout albums that the music journalists put out and make playlists of them and put it on shuffle. It’s always great music regardless of the genre, and it really opens your ear to new production styles. There is more excellent music out there than any other time in history, but the problem is curation and trying to find a way through all the noise. So a big thanks to the music journalists taking the bullet for everyone and seeking the signal.
Nerds and Beyond: Finally, which character from Travelers is your favorite to score?
Adam Lastiwka: That’s a hard question! I had an easier time finding distinct themes for some characters than I did others for sure, but it was just based on the immediacy of what depth the plot reveals for them. Sometimes a character doesn’t do anything that provokes something unique until two seasons. I think I wrote some of my most moving stuff for Mac and Aleksander in season three, episode three.
Thank you to Adam for doing this interview! The soundtrack for Travelers Season 2 just released in December, and you can purchase that on Amazon. It’s also available for purchase on ITunes, and available to stream on Spotify.