On the surface, there's not much of an intersection between the melodramatic YA sensibilities of Netflix's recent hit 13 Reasons Why and Showtime's ego-flaring high-finance drama Billions. The two series focus on wildly different stories that are explored through remarkably different variances in tone, and are geared toward audiences whose sensibilities may as well be on opposite sides of a wide gulf. Surprisingly, however, they do share one thing: a composer.
Eskmo – also known as producer and musician Brendan Angelides – has worked on the music side of both seasons of Billions and he also created the memorable score for 13 Reasons Why, giving the characters their own unique sounds to help distinguish their scenes and add another layer to their individual stories. It's a relatively new experience for the composer, who along with recording his own music and solo albums is also a founding member of Echo Society, a Los Angeles-based non-profit collective known for delivering one-night-only events that combine orchestral and electronic pieces along with visual art.
Billions season 1 was Angelides' entry into the world of composing music for a television series, and since then he's embraced the challenge of creating a distinct sound for episodic TV. Screen Rant recently had a chance to speak with Angelides about his work and how the characters, in particular, inspired him. When asked how he approached his work, Angelides said:
"For [13 Reasons Why] I had seen the pilot first, so I had seen that whole episode first and from there, I started writing ideas, just based around that, the first two things I had come up with, at least the bare bones of them, were what ended up calling the "Tapes Theme." So essentially, any time the tapes are around there is a little motif that comes in and out and then Hannah's theme, I started to sketch that out from when I saw the first pilot.
For Billions it was the same thing, I saw the pilot and then I had some ideas come out of that, that was a little bit of a different scenario, because I was already a huge fan of Paul Giamatti from before, so I had a sense of him and his broiling nature, his eyes and his whole Giamatti thing. I kind of had a sense of what I wanted to bring to him. This was a whole different thing, so it was really just based on the pilot and the writing. I'm a super visual person, so I also get really inspired if something is shot really well and if it has a certain quality. Even how something is acted can influence my process. I usually just riff off of the feelings I get from that stuff."
Angelides says that he welcomes the challenge of producing pieces of music that are intended to be part of something larger, which is a departure from his solo albums in which he is only creatively responsible for himself. That collective approach also helps him tackle the dramatically different tones of the two series; something Angelides says is also helped a great deal by the specificity of the actors – especially when it comes to the cast of Billions:
"A lot of the direction comes from the show. I have been doing my own albums and shows for so long, which can be very selfish, you essentially can do whatever you want, and I actually thrive on this other side to because I think, "How can I bring what I am good at in different ways to strengthen this project, to sort of tap into some strength that you might have and hope that it contributes to the thing overall?" For Billions we are much less focused on hyper distinct themes for the characters, it is more of a tonal, churning, undulating, subtle thing that comes out at certain moments and has this gravitas to it. It is also very electronic for the most part, the whole entire score. With 13 Reasons why, it is much more theme-based and I can get much softer and I can even get, for lack of a better word, twinklier, there is a higher register, higher emotive type of moments, some piano and strings in combination with the synth stuff, so even just in that, on paper, without even getting too much of the musical stuff."
At the end of the day, Angelides has to convey two radically different worlds and sensibilities, not only in terms of story but also in terms of the characters that inhabit those worlds. Approaching that means adopting a different mindset, and really trying to get to the heart of who these characters are. So far, it's an approach that's worked very well.
"It's a very different beast in terms of the world I'm navigating in there, so for me I just sort of switch the hat and put it on, I really just try to tap into Giamatti's fire and for Damian Lewis, I picture him as having a super calculating almost serpentine kind of robot energy. And Chuck, Paul Giamatti, he is very loose, his emotions are loose, he's sort of all over the place, he's churning, it almost feels like a chugging, loose cello kind of thing. 13 Reasons Why was very much more… each tape is going to have its own distinct thing and I want to convey something very strong musically for each tape and try to focus on each character really having their own distinct sound as much as I could. It was really a huge challenge and at the same time it was really awesome, like how can I make Bryce's sound completely different that Tyler's, and that different from Hannah's? I wanted to convey a different thing for each of them, it was a whole different mindset."
You can listen to Eskmo's score from 13 Reasons Why on Spotify here.
13 Reasons Why season 1 is available in its entirety on Netflix. Seasons 1and 2 of Billions are available on the Showtime app and on demand.
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