My short bio: I started out my music career as a member of the Grammy-nominated rock band, Tonic. Now, I am also a Television and Film composer, scoring music for shows such as FX’s award-winning “Fargo," Starz's “Power," Spike TV's “Tut," WGN's “Manhattan," and many more.

I am excited to be doing my first AMA here. Starting at 12pm PT, I look forward to answering your questions about my music or anything else. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be posting more announcements and updates regularly there.

My Proof: Tweet here


EDIT: Whew! Thanks for all the great questions reddit! Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook to get all the latest information from me. I hope to return here again soon.

Comments: 128 • Responses: 53  • Date: 

Popnfried9 karma

What is your favorite thing about working with Noah Hawley?

JeffRusso8 karma

Since he is a musician, the way we communicate is very easy. His ability to create characters that are really deep, makes the support that the music provides much more intense.

spicypepperoni9 karma

Have you been to Fargo, ND?

JeffRusso1 karma

Yes I have been.

2th9 karma

First off, greetings from myself and the rest of the mods over on /r/FargoTV. Thank you for posting in the sub and we hope you remain active. If there is anything we can ever do for you, please do not hesitate to ask!

Second, when you found out there would be "aliens" as a small theme in this season of Fargo, what were your first thoughts? And how the hell did you even think of using a cut of Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" at the end of episode 2? That was absolutely brilliant. Could you maybe give us some hints as to some other out-worldly albums that might appear in future episodes?

Edit: Do you believe in aliens?

JeffRusso5 karma

The idea for Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" was scripted. So Noah had the idea to use that piece.

The idea of aliens in the show was great. It proved a really great opportunity for me to sneak in some more synthetic character to the score. But the idea of putting that in...since it was such a thing in the 70's with crop circles, and then the ushering in of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" including it in this season was brilliant.

Regarding out-worldly albums....sorry no spoilers here!

And believing in aliens? Unequivocally yes.

dr_drangus7 karma

What is your favorite instrument to score with? Do elements of your music you created with Tonic ever seep into your composer scores for shows?

JeffRusso4 karma

-I don't have a favorite instrument to score with. I love all instruments equally. But, I do love cello, viola, anything with a string on it.

-Since I am also a songwriter, that side of me also permeates my score. I am not sure if music that I created for Tonic has ever seeped in, but the overall vibe does.

skaa_on_the_brain5 karma

What does your personal studio setup look like? And then the one you use for TV composing?

JeffRusso3 karma

Here is a link to photos of my studio on my facebook.

JeffRusso2 karma

My favorite character to score for in Fargo is Ed, Jesse Plemons' character. Deep, dark, but totally innocent. Here was an innocent bystander, pulled in by his wife. But really, all the characters are so wonderful, so its easy to write from them. Lou from the 1st season was also really fun.

ronesz2 karma

Is there a theme for Lou (like there was for Malvo)? I never realized. If so, is it the same now in the 2nd season?

JeffRusso3 karma

We didn't use any themes from season 1 again, except for the main theme. The main theme only changed for episode 1, for which we orchestrated it to be more like a Western.

Mantisbog4 karma

Oh shit!

Is there going to be a new Tonic album out soon?

JeffRusso5 karma

We are currently at work!

vinickforprez4 karma

Manhattan is about a fascinating time in American History. It serves to offer a captivating tale about the Wild West of Scientific development. What role, when you are deciding how to score the show, does the history behind the show play?

JeffRusso3 karma

Trying to find the sound for season 2 of this fantastic show was an interesting odyssey. We had season 1 to help guide. But, the tone of the show shifted as it became clear that the characters were on their way to blowing shit up. I don't know that the history of the show had any bearing on the sound....but it had bearing on how we were treating the mood of the show. And the mood was so dubious. We had to include that in the sound of the show.

cbersani4 karma

Do you find it difficult to create/maintain the appropriate tonal balance on a dark comedy as gruesome, yet hysterical as Fargo?

JeffRusso5 karma

In order to balance it, we try to never play music for funny. Occasionally, you want to give it a bit of levity. We never play music until we feel that we have emotionally earned it.

imagine_10_years4 karma

I saw on your wikipedia page that your wife is the lead vocalist for Veruca Salt! I love them how did you guys meet?

JeffRusso5 karma

We first met when our bands were playing together in 1997 at what became Nina's last show with the band for over 15 years.

Frajer4 karma

did you know If You Could Only See would be a hit?

JeffRusso4 karma

I knew that particular song would connect with people. You never know if a song is going to be a hit. But you can know if people can connect with a song, emotionally & melodically. And I always thought that one would.

GSdudeman4 karma

Hi Jeff, thanks for doing this AMA! As someone who is wanting break into the industry soon, what do you look for when you are hiring an assistant or intern?

JeffRusso3 karma

You have to have something you can bring to a studio, prior knowledge is always great. There has to be a creative synergy with the person you are working for. When I interview a potential assistant, intern, or whoever it is....there has to be a creative synergy.

Godde923 karma

Thanks for doing this; I love Fargo and your score is a huge part of what makes it such a special show! When you were approached for this job was there anything that particularly peaked your interest and made you want to jump on board?

JeffRusso3 karma

I had worked with Noah on his previous projects. When Noah talked to me about making Fargo as a televsion show....I immediately wanted to sign up. I loved the movie and I was immediately excited about the tone and the possibilities with the score.

throwjack3 karma

What animal do you think would be the best composer?

JeffRusso3 karma

A Robin.

irregularcog3 karma

Is there any big difference in composing for television and film other than the quantity? Do you try to go harder and more intense for film?

JeffRusso2 karma

With television today, with this cable mentality, the only difference is the schedule. The bar of quality is the same, if not higher, because of the perceived differences between film & TV. You have to be better at TV, because people will automatically think its not going to be as good because of TV.

bettywhitestillives3 karma

Are you a procrastinator? How do you budget your time working on multiple shows at a time?

JeffRusso3 karma

1st part - Yes. Creative budgeting of time is very difficult. You try to write when the news hits you. Just make sure you know when your deadlines are. Deadlines are a great way to stop being a procrastinator. I think I work best with deadlines and under pressure.

ice_steel_pets3 karma

I’ve only watched season 2 of Fargo and so far it’s amazing! How do you feel about the fact that seasons 1 and 2 are disjointed? Does that make your job harder or more interesting?

JeffRusso2 karma

In general, that makes it more interesting. What we are trying to accomplish is making a 10 hour movie. The stories do not always have to interconnect, but they do.

Theandric3 karma

Who are some of your film score heroes?

JeffRusso4 karma

Bernard Hermann, John Williams, Ennio Moriccone

back3rman3 karma

Hey Jeff! I'm a big fan of your scoring work and of course Tonic! Are you and the rest of Tonic currently working on another album and tour? Any chance of of making it back to Calgary, Alberta? The last time you were here was with Stir in 1999!

JeffRusso4 karma

  1. Yes, we are currently working on something special for the 20th anniversary of Lemon Parade.
  2. Unknown about Calgary, and yes the Tonic/Stir tour was very fun!

fitzthegreat3 karma

Jeff, Hope you are well! I'm loving Fargo season 2 already.

-I'm sure it's hard to narrow down, but do you have a favorite scene that you've done from this second season? -How do you think this season's mood and composition varies from the first?

Thanks for being awesome!

JeffRusso6 karma

  1. Yes, but I do not want to spoil it for anyone, because my favorite scene has not aired yet. My two favorite scenes are in episodes 8 and 9.
  2. The mood hasn't really shifted that much, in terms of the overall tone. But, compositionally and tonally, we have added that 70's feeling to this season. There's a bit of a harsher tone, and there's a bit of a more angry tone to the music.

ronesz3 karma

Hey, Jeff. Thanks for doing this AMA.

  1. How are you today?
  2. What were the main sources of inspiration for the music of Fargo season 2?
  3. Is it really Noah and you singing 'Go to Sleep Little Baby' at the end of episode 1?

JeffRusso5 karma

  1. Fine
  2. When people ask what the inspiration for a particular season is, its the story. The characters and the story are always the inspiration. We did move back to the 70's, and that inspired the sound of the score, as well as the actual sound of the recording. It did have an impact on making choices, such as adding synthesizer and Prog-rock elements to some cues.
  3. Yes

JetRobin3 karma

What's your favorite project from the early years of your career?

JeffRusso3 karma

Since the entire beginning of my career was spent on tour with my band, I would say Tonic.

this_ones_mostly_goo2 karma

How did you get into creating music for shows professionally? Also, do you find it difficult establishing a vocabulary with directors (like, they want the music to be "warm" or "soft" and that ends up meaning something totally different that what you thought they meant), or do directors, in your experience, know how to describe things in a useful way?

JeffRusso1 karma

It differs with every filmmaker. Some have a musical vocabulary, and some don't. The job of a composer is mainly to translate the filmmaker's musical vision. Some don't have a musical vision....and in that case you need to be a bit of a mind reader.

TheBeautifulWorld2 karma

Hi Jeff,

I loved Tonic, loved the album Lemon Parade. I was wondering, are any of the songs on that album personal to you? I remember looking up the meaning for If you could only see some time ago, but I don't think it was you who had the story of the song.

Also, any especially cool or fun stories that stand out to you from your time with the band?

Are you still in touch with everyone from the band? Any plan for new material?

JeffRusso1 karma

All of the songs are personal to me, the lyrics are written by Emerson, but that does not mean they are not personal to me...because they are. There are too many fun stories to tell with only 2 minutes left in the AMA. But, we are going this weekend to Tampa to play, so check out the Tonic website for more details.

afreedbe2 karma

If you could rework the music of one tv show/movie which one would you choose?

JeffRusso3 karma

That's not a question that is really answerable. Art and music are so subjective. What is not right to me, could be right to someone else. If it ends up in the show, the filmmaker has obviously said that it is working. So I'm not sure that I would ever rework other people's work.

TheTwigMaster1 karma

When you sit down to start writing a piece, do you first write a melody/harmony at piano, or do you figure out which instrumental voices create the texture you're looking for and craft the music from there?

JeffRusso3 karma

Its different for every cue. Sometimes I'll just do a pass of the cue, sometimes its a note and sometimes its a melody. It differs every time.

Ontru1 karma

What are your go-to-plug-ins, VST's, and software?

JeffRusso1 karma

Eventide Anthology is really great for effects. I love the orchestral tools Berlin Strings.

tom-mato1 karma

What is your usual process for creating audio content for tv, films etc?

JeffRusso2 karma

Usually it starts with reading a script, and then watching the scenes and discussing with the filmmakers and where the music should be, as well as the tone. In television, unlike film, its usually your first idea that makes it to the screen.

Gigazaur1 karma

Do you think being in a band makes composing for a TV show easier or harder?

JeffRusso2 karma

It didn't make it easier or harder, it just gave me a different set of tools to start the job with.

GB19921 karma

If you could use three adjectives to describe your personal composition style what would they be?

JeffRusso2 karma

Emotional, moody, and melodic.

kickiniting1 karma

What are the top three favorite songs you are currently listening to? :)

JeffRusso3 karma

I have been listening to Ryan Adams new album a lot recently.

theresnomeinteam1 karma

I'm curious.. Did you ever imagine you’d go from being in a rock band to composing for an Emmy winning series like Fargo?

JeffRusso2 karma

The short answer is no....but I have always loved film & orchestral music. I thought about it for a long time. I didn't think it was possible, but here I am.

sixkillstreak1 karma

How much creative freedom do you have when developing a theme for a TV show?

JeffRusso2 karma

It depends on the show and the movie. Sometimes they give me a lot of freedom. I'm still writing in the confines of the show.

throwjack1 karma

Who is your favorite character to score for in Fargo? What about in all of your projects?

JeffRusso1 karma

My favorite character to score for in Fargo is Ed, Jesse Plemons' character. Deep, dark, but totally innocent. Here was an innocent bystander, pulled in by his wife. But really, all the characters are so wonderful, so its easy to write from them. Lou from the 1st season was also really fun.

rychefiji11 karma

Which score do you wish you had written?

JeffRusso5 karma

This is not the first time I have been asked this....and it is a difficult question to answer. If I had written my favorite scores, they wouldn't have been my favorite. There isn't a score that I wish that I had wrote, the fact that they were written by someone else is what makes them what they are.

rychefiji12 karma

Thanks for the response. OK fair enough. What is your favorite score that you didn't write?

JeffRusso3 karma

Right now, its a score for the movie "The Kite Runner" which was scored by Alberto Iglesias. My favorite score changes day to day, just like my favorite song.

zfineman1 karma

Hi Jeff! Love Fargo. What's it like to compose for television? Is it a fast paced environment?

JeffRusso2 karma

It is interesting. It is much different than anything I have done in the past. Having to write music on a deadline is different. It makes you reach for things that you may have not normally reached for. It is a fast paced environment....sometimes. Other times its "hurry up and wait"

Tandyman50001 karma

Hi Jeff, excited about this AMA! Can you give us a brief summary of equipment you use regularly?

JeffRusso2 karma

I compose using Pro Tools & Vienna Ensemble. For other gear, it ranges with many other things. In every score, I like to make sure I employ at least something live. For Fargo, I use an orchestra, but in some cases you don't have a lot of time. So I will put in a guitar part, or a hand clap. Something to give the music life.

ChuckEye1 karma

Jeff! You were in perhaps the best movie released in 2001. I am talking about, of course, Hollywood Palms.

Any fun stories from the set? How did you get involved in that project? Would you be willing to reprise your role in "Hollywood Palms II: Stinker Boogaloo"?

JeffRusso3 karma

That was so much fun to do. I never expected to be in a movie, but I was asked to go in and read for the director and writer and they cast me. There was one scene where I got into a fight with one of the other characters...and we were rolling around on the floor...and I think I may have broken one of his ribs. But, it was all in the name of fun! And of course, I would reprise it in "Hollywood Palms II: Stinker Boogaloo."

ephalants1 karma

Do you have any advice for anyone that is trying to get into composing for TV and film?

JeffRusso2 karma

This question gets asked to me a lot as well. The short answer is, keep writing whatever you write. Always expand your palette. Write things that you wouldn't normally write. Try something new. Don't try to sound like someone else's music, because that's already been done.

Chaz_Finster1 karma

Hey Mr. Golden Deal, how does it feel?

JeffRusso4 karma

That happens to be my 3rd favorite Tonic song.

Krutchlife1 karma

Who are some composers that you look to for inspiration? Or who are your favorites?

JeffRusso3 karma

Most of the time, my inspiration comes from classical music. The way they incorporated melodies into long passages. Also choral music, which to me is harmonically so stunning. Bach, Beethoven....I'm not saying they inspire in the sense that they effect what I am writing, but they can make me feel good!

Flukeduke891 karma

What is the time frame in developing music for each episode of a TV show?

JeffRusso1 karma

It varies from television show to television show. In the case of Fargo, I develop themes prior to shooting the season. And then develop those themes throughout the season. For other shows like Manhattan, it can be 3-10 days of work per episode.

Actuallycaring1 karma

What animal do you think would be the best at composing?

JeffRusso1 karma


Ontru1 karma

Lemon Parade is on of my favorite albums. What did you do to celebrate when it went platinum?

JeffRusso1 karma

One word -- whiskey.

mello_cello331 karma

What is your favorite chord?

JeffRusso3 karma

D-minor. It's the saddest of all chords.

duckalucka1 karma

What has been your personal biggest "rock star" moment?

JeffRusso1 karma

Playing in front 400,000 people in Poland.

duckalucka1 karma

Wow! Can you describe the sensory experience of that? A sea of people...

JeffRusso1 karma

There is no way to describe how that feels. There isn't a descriptor that can truly capture a sea of 400,000 people, seeing them dancing and singing to what you are playing.

fargofanatic1 karma

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you in the course of creating the score for Fargo?

JeffRusso1 karma

Nothing particularly funny per se....but it was fun destroying a typewriter for season 2.

ifionlyhadadrain1 karma

It's obligatory for every AMA by a musician, how do you feel about piracy?

JeffRusso1 karma

I feel the same as anyone else. I feel that creators of content need to be compensated fairly.

chadsdad11 karma

Can you imagine yourself doing anything other than your current job?

JeffRusso2 karma

I used to be a chef.

sixkillstreak1 karma

What is your favorite thing about roller skating?

JeffRusso1 karma

This was my main mode of transportation as a kid in NYC, so I grew to love it.