The score for any genre of film or television is important, but it’s perhaps never more important than in the world of horror. That’s certainly true for AppleTV+’s series Servant, from the minds of Tony Basgallop and M. Night Shyamalan.
In this moody, one-location thrill ride, the music plays such a major part in informing the audience of the character’s inner lives, and how we’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. This means composer Trevor Gureckis has an all-important job, one that he’s been tasked with since the very beginning of the series.
I spoke with the composer about how the sound has evolved in the series from the first season to the second, and what could be coming next as the finale leaves us on a major tease for Season 3.
Read my interview with Servant composer Trevor Gureckis below:
Mitchell Beaupre: The music for Servant is very interesting because it works as a sort of cacophony of different things being brought together, almost like a controlled chaos. Could you talk about that process and how you implement that to create the atmosphere for the series?
TG: Yeah, you know, Night is very detail-oriented with his work, as is obvious in every single shot. He strives to get everyone on his production to be really focused on details. One of his funny criticisms of anything that I will do is if there’s something that feels like I’m not developing the score he’ll call it out for not going in any direction. I totally get what he means, too, and so it makes things very hyper, very score-focused with a lot of different elements. That means that I’m always searching for interesting sounds and interesting combinations. These can be things where I just like one sound and then it’s just one little moment, or something grander. The orchestration is very much like everything else in this world, in terms of the themes. In terms of the big picture, we come up with concepts for different characters and what they’re going to represent.
MB: I love how the show so fluidly moves from one character’s perspective to another in each episode. Is that something that impacts your compositions? Is it a different process when you’re writing for a Leanne scene as opposed to, say, a Julian scene?
TG: Totally. The music editor is really great, and I’ve got different cue sheets that I work with that have a POV section on each sheet and we literally write down Julian or Leanne or whoever. It helps a lot. Night talks this way as well. He’ll direct for which pieces make sense with which characters. The music is really graded at directing where you’re focusing on. Even if there’s someone right in front of you, your focus might actually be directed at the person over there instead. There’s a way to kind of undercut what you might see on screen to make you think about someone else behind them, or something that they’re thinking about. There’s a lot of subtext in Servant that the music plays a role in highlighting.
MB: What were some of the things that you wanted to evolve or shift from the first season going into the second?
TG: I actually wrote the first episode without thinking too much about it. I just sort of thought alright, let’s just go. Then the music supervisor put a stop on that and told me that it sounds the same and she just wasn’t feeling it. I was probably at the moment thinking, “Why are you guys complaining? This isn’t too bad.” But it turned into a moment of just pausing and thinking about it before we got a move on with it. Everything comes in taking that step back. Music that’s coming off the picture, we’re looking at everything – the color, the still, figuring out the Servant sound for the Servant universe. So, I’m doing the weird things that we all would recognize as being part of that sound, but also adding in something new. Night wanted the season to be bigger and more substantial, so this year there’s bigger string sections, there’s some synth elements and heavier hits. It gets crazier as it goes along. I think Season 1 had a lot more intimate themes in it, and this season is a lot grander and aggressive and really going for it.
MB: Was there any episode that stood out to you this season that you particularly loved working on?
TG: I really liked episode 3. I think you’re really starting to see Dorothy change radically, and being able to play into that was really cool. Even though we’re only in episode 3, you can feel that the direction of the score was turning, like when she’s on the stairwell and falls and we bring in this heavy synth. That never would have happened in Season 1. Or in like, episode 7, you just think that if you put any of these cues in Season 1 you would have seemed like a crazy person. Episode 3 was definitely the turning point for a couple of the cues I connected with.
MB: It certainly feels like this season is amped up, and you feel that in a big way when we get to that final cut to the credits in the finale, which just gets the audience primed and ready for the next season.
TG: That took so many rewrites. We kept wanting more and more and more. We were working so hard. We were working through the holidays and everything just to rush It to get it to Apple. Because the schedule got pushed due to COVID, everyone was so on edge. Night was really just pushing it that this was like the beginning of the war. We are getting to a war here, and you have to really feel that. Then it’s like, wow what is Season 3 going to look like? I’m going to need a full orchestra!
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]