Despite being released a mere three weeks ago, Disney+’s The Mandalorian has already become a favourite of critics and Star Wars fans alike. The series, created by Jon Favreau, places audiences in a Star Wars universe unlike any they’ve ever seen before, following a gunslinger and bounty hunter on the prowl after the fall of the Empire. The show’s ambience is striking, owing in large part to its brilliant writing and compositions by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson.
At this point, Göransson needs no introduction. He recently won an Oscar for his work on Black Panther, and before that, he produced Childish Gambino’s number one hit “This Is America.” But right now, his main concern is what to wear. “I’m in this moment where I just want to be comfortable, so I love to wear silky types of stuff,” says the artist. Along with the numerous projects he has undertaken in the last year, Göransson has also had a baby and adopted a golden doodle named Barbara. Comfort is an understandable concern. “What I’m wearing now are the kind of things that you can sleep in, but also go to the opera in,” notes Göransson with a laugh.
In fact, fashion has played a part in Göransson’s life for nearly as long as music, a trait he attributes to his fashion designer sister. “I grew up in a small town in Sweden, and every time my sister came home from London she always brought new clothes,” remembers Göransson. “I liked to be a little different. Sometimes people made fun of the way I was dressed, but to me, I was like, this is the way people dress in London. I just felt kind of cool.”
It’s difficult to look at Göransson’s life today and imagine not feeling at least a little bit cool. When not working on projects like The Mandalorian, he also produces music for artists like Chance the Rapper, Haim and Vampire Weekend; as a part of their long-term collaborative relationship, he produced Childish Gambino’s Redbone in 2016, a song that eventually became a critical success and the artist’s first top 20 single.
Göransson first met Childish Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, on the set of Community, an NBC sitcom in which Glover was a lead character. Community was one of Göransson’s first consistent compositional projects — and one of his most challenging. “The schedule was crazy,” Göransson recalls. “[Creator] Dan Harmon — the way he wrote his episodes was that every episode was completely different and took place somewhere new with a different storyline… I really had to learn how to tackle all of these different kinds of musical styles.”
Despite its challenges, Göransson says, the series was a learning experience. “Working on that show for six years really gave me the tools and the craft to write in many styles.” These tools definitely come in handy when composing for projects like The Mandalorian. Working in the Star Wars universe means big shoes to fill; Göransson appreciatively admits that the original John Williams score “is probably the best orchestral theme music that ever was and that ever will be.”
Knowing this, he opted to root his work not in Williams’s compositions, but in the emotional experiences that surrounded them. “I was trying to emulate and bring back the memories of hearing that music, and seeing those visuals with that music for the first time — how did that make me feel, and how can I evoke those feelings I had when I first experienced that again?” This discovery process, coupled with the go-ahead from show heads Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni to “try something different,” drew Göransson to an unlikely instrument: the recorder.
“I played recorders when I was like, seven or eight, and the sound of them made me feel like a kid again,” Göransson explains. In the days following his initial conversation with Favreau and Filoni, Göransson picked up a full set of the childhood instrument, bringing it back to his studio to learn and compose all at the same time. “I didn’t want to write by the computer anymore… [so] I had all different kinds of organic instruments in the room, and I’d go from the piano to the guitar to the drums and back to the recorders. And I made five songs, away from the computer, just by touching the instruments. It was kind of a meditational experience, because that’s how I used to write music when I was younger. That became the stepping stones of The Mandalorian‘s sound: those melodies, those recorders.”
Göransson’s influences for The Mandalorian extend beyond Star Wars. His compositions pull from a similar range of inspirations as The Mandalorian itself, including old Westerns and samurai films. Doing this, he explains, allows him to build a “world of sound” — something he finds essential to the success of any project. “I like to approach every project differently. I want to keep myself inspired and feeling like everything I’m doing, every different project is a new thing. Everything has a new world and a new sonic landscape to it.” This process can take Göransson to some interesting places: “For Black Panther, I went to Africa and recorded these incredible African musicians and studied African music. For Creed, I went into a boxing gym and I had two days of work recording a boxer training. I recorded all these sounds, like jump ropes and things like that, and made a beat.”
Besides The Mandalorian, Göransson’s stylings will also be heard on the soundtrack for the upcoming Trolls World Tour, which he will be co-producing with Justin Timberlake. Next year will also see the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which features a score composed by Göransson.
“I’m at a point in my career where I just want to do projects that I really care about — projects I feel I have something to learn from that I don’t do on autopilot,” Göransson shares. “That’s why I’m also not doing a hundred projects at the same time. With whatever I do, producing an artist or writing a score, I want to really go into a new world, to study and learn and take the time that it needs. You can’t really do anything great in just a couple hours. It’s all exercise. I still want to learn.”
The Mandalorian is currently streaming on Disney+. Follow Ludwig on Instagram.
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