Nerds and Beyond got the chance to sit down and speak with Marlon Espino, a composer whose credits include the likes of Moana, Planes, August Rush, The Lion King (2019), and Inheritance. We got to chat with Marlon about his work on his latest project, Every Breath You Take.
Every Breath You Take is a psychological thriller that follows psychiatrist Philip Clark (Casey Affleck), whose career is jeopardized when a patient of his involved in a controversial case study takes her own life following a tragedy in his own personal life. When he invites his patient’s surviving brother James (Sam Claflin) into his home to meet his wife, Grace (Michelle Monaghan), and daughter, Lucy (India Eisley), his life and family are suddenly thrown into turmoil, and Dr. Clark becomes fixated on finding and taking down the mysterious force that is tearing his family apart.
Without further ado, lets jump into our conversation with Marlon!
*This interview has been edited for clarity*
Nerds and Beyond: With credits like Moana and Planes, some of your best known work is in the animated-film industry, where songs are for the most part lighthearted. Did you find it difficult to transition into the darker territory of dramatic thrillers like Inheritance and Every Breath You Take, and how did you have to adapt your process and mindset when you shifted into a different genre of film?
Marlon Espino: Hi! Thanks so much for having me. This is such a great question. To transition between genres, it really has taken three things.
First, having a great collaborative team. The working environment with Vaughn Stein is inspiring, encouraging, thought-provoking, and moving. Vaughn is a captivating storyteller, and the greatest to work with. Also, my partnership with Mark Mancina, who has done it all! Watching and working with Mark on everything from Broadway musicals, action, animation, comedies, to video games and more has given me a trained foundation of flexibility. I’ve refined my capability to give each project its own attention, without carrying the process, the emotion from the prior film, which brings me to the next means of adapting to each genre.
I treat each project uniquely; the excitement from working collaboratively with artists, yielding a chance to explore new directions and new sounds, inspiring an audience to feel new emotions, or surprising the listener with something they haven’t heard before keeps me motivated and engaged in each unique project.
Lastly, my own personal musical background. I grew up in a musical family that was heavily influenced by Latin sounds. I played many different instruments in different capacities in my life. Approaching music for each film (or project) has come naturally, and in a way has been something I’ve done my whole life.
Nerds and Beyond: In tracks like “Betrayal,” you do a great job of gradually building tension as the song crescendos to its main peak. However, the culmination of the entire score seems to lie in “Discovery and Death,” which is also significantly longer than the other pieces and has a much more sinister tone. What do you believe makes this song the score’s pièce de résistance?
Marlon Espino: Another great question! The film does a great job of keeping you engaged while slowly unraveling. A nice slow burn. I tried to develop the themes and build on them just as the character development happened throughout the story. I went through the script and found the two moments where I felt the characters began and ended their journey. I wrote the end of the journey first and then worked backward so that it felt like the music was growing with each character. Earlier in the film, Vaughn and I wanted to explore themes of grief and tragedy. Once we were deep in the film around the “Discovery and Death” cue you mention, we were in full thriller territory. The music shifted from less subtle to sinister with the goal of trying to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
Nerds and Beyond: The soundtrack for Every Breath You Take has an underlying ethereal quality in each and every song. How do you feel that the contrast between the drawn out deeper tones and lighter notes from instruments such as the flute work together to build a beautifully suspenseful sound for the movie?
Marlon Espino: Thank you for the kind words. There is a real atmospheric quality to the score. I wanted to be very careful not to lean on synths and electronic elements, which are the go-to when creating those types of sonic landscapes. I would process organic instruments such as cellos, vocals, woodwinds, and guitars to create drones and textures. So that made it much easier to blend with flutes and other more traditional instruments. All the textures and drones that would normally be electronic are being played by musicians, giving it a feel that, for me, is really special. I think it really helped keep the score organic and intimate, yet ethereal.
Nerds and Beyond: Which item on this track was your favorite to compose and why?
Marlon Espino: Grace’s theme. Grace’s character, played by Michelle Monaghan, who gave an amazing performance, is at the center of the story. She is the grieving mother of a family in crisis and is trying to navigate through grief and tragedy. Personally, I experienced loss within my own family recently. While I am sure almost everyone can relate to the difficulties we have all faced in the past year or so, I felt a connection with Grace and her heartache. Writing Grace’s theme felt genuine, authentic, and real.
Nerds and Beyond: What was your favorite part about working on the score for Every Breath You Take?
Marlon Espino: My absolute favorite part of the process was developing the “sound” of the score. It was an opportunity to experiment with concepts until something stood out, unifying the picture, emotion, and story. Again, working closely on a collaborative team with such a talented force like Vaughn Stein is always inspiring, and producer Richard Barton Lewis, who has a wealth of experience, pushed the evolution of the score from our early ideas to its current state, which I am really thrilled with.
Nerds and Beyond: What elements in your everyday life and the world around you inspire and inform your music?
Marlon Espino: In the everyday! Sharing in the excitement of life with my family gives me a continual supply of inspiration. While, grief, tragedy, and loss (like the family in the film Every Breath You Take) are universal, savoring the everyday moments together (where most of our lives are lived) is where I take inspiration from the most.
Nerds and Beyond: Who do you believe has been your most influential mentor or role model, both in the music industry and in your personal life?
Marlon Espino: Again, the master, Mark Mancina. I’ve gotten to work closely with Mark for almost 15 years now. My partnership with him has given me a unique perspective, experience, and instinct on music within the industry.
Nerds and Beyond: Is there any particular project or even genre that you’ve always dreamed of working on?
Marlon Espino: Funnily, the thriller genre is a favorite of mine! Really, any project that can grab and surprise an audience! Thrillers (and exciting stories in general) lend creative freedom, and that’s where the excitement happens!
Nerds and Beyond: Growing up in such a musical family, with your grandmother playing piano and your father playing the sax and keyboard, must have undoubtedly influenced your love of music from a young age. Do you feel like any other significant factors, such as geographic location, have impacted your perception and interactions with music, and if so, how?
Marlon Espino: Absolutely! Geographic location is a big one, it gave me my voice. Having grown up in a small town in West Texas, I’ve found it has directly influenced my instrumentation, and how I play. I have a special connection with the sounds of West Texas, both explicit and implicit sounds. There is beauty in strong cultural connection and family, and for me, music is a part of that beauty.
Nerds and Beyond: And finally, I heard that you and your wife welcomed a new daughter into your life in 2018, congratulations! How do you feel that the concept of family, especially becoming a father, has influenced the way you perceive music as a whole?
Marlon Espino: Family is the greatest gift. It has definitely changed my perspective. Well, maybe not “changed” it, but more enriched my perception of music. I get to experience life through the eyes of my daughter and share in the excitement of living life with her. There is more depth to my life, and depth to my music.
A big thank you to Mr. Marlon Espino for taking the time to speak with us! You can check out the score for Every Breath You Take along with the movie itself now in select theaters and Premium VOD.