Tales From The Loop: An Interview with Paul Leonard-Morgan


By Paul Salfen

For BAFTA Award-winning Scottish composer Paul Leonard-Morgan, the chance to work with legendary composer Phillip Glass and work on a show that is unlike any other show before it was a no-brainer. The 46-year-old has worked on a wide variety of films, TV shows, documentaries, and video games ranging from Dredd to his EMMY-nominated turn in “Limitless” to Warhammer 40,000 to The Quiet One. But the challenge of Tales From the Loop found Leonard-Morgan creating something new sight unseen and then being thrown into the world of “the loop,” which, on the show is a machine that was built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. Created and written by Nathaniel Halpern based on the stunning work by Simon Stalenhag, the show also boasts notable directors like Jodie Foster, Mark Romanek, and Ti West and upon early reviews, it is striking.

Here’s more from Leonard-Morgan:

AMFM Magazine: Thank you for being with us and agreeing to do an interview with us during this strange time of quarantine.
Paul Leonard-Morgan: Without being totally flippant about it, absolutely nothing has changed at the moment. I’m still at the studio 24/7 at the back of the house. My wife is taking care of the kids at the moment and is going, “Can you hurry up and finish this soundtrack and get back?” [Laughs]

AMFM: That’s great that you can continue to work during all of this.
PLM: It’s a bit mental. Obviously this show was done last year but there are a couple of shows where production has stopped and they just don’t have endings and they’re just going to stop at episode 20 or episode 8 because they can’t film the final two shows so there are a lot of people looking at the screen going, “What the hell was that?” [Laughs]

AMFM: We got an early listen to the soundtrack and it’s fantastic. The pieces are beautiful.
PLM: Thank you. It’s something which I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of. I know it sounds like bullshit when people say, “It’s the most wonderful thing” but I genuinely don’t think I’ve seen anything like this let alone scored anything like this. With each track, you get the orchestra, you get to write melodies, and it’s very much this soundtrack should stand the test of time and is nice to listen to in tandem with the images. It’s filled with melody and heart and soul and it’s genuinely an optimistic sounding soundtrack. But yeah, it’s definitely a one-of-a-kind kind of thing.

AMFM: And you got to work with Phillip Glass. How could you say no?
PLM: Yeah, it’s definitely one of those “pinch me” kind of moments. I think the funniest thing was the start of last year when we started speaking about this, I was at his house in New York and I was down in his kitchen having a cup of tea and listening to this melody that was absolutely beautiful and he said, “Your harmonies need work.” {Laughs] “Thank you, maestro.” But then he started putting his chords under it and he totally transformed it and it was bizarre because that was just a chat but that’s how we began working together. I’d be giving him melodies, he’d be giving me melodies, I’d be putting chords underneath, he’d be putting chords underneath. We’d take a bit of each that worked. It was such a unique collaboration. I don’t think I’ve had anything like that and with Phillip, who is absolutely a hero of mine, anyway. Getting to work with him was quite something.

AMFM: Well, it’s not like he’s been open for many collaborations or is around at a lot of things. I’ve never seen him!
PLM: [Laughs] You’re around the wrong streets in New York. Phillip and Mark had nearly worked together before on a project and I don’t think it quite happened in the end. So then Mark had been very keen to use Phillip but he had never scored a TV series before. Then Nathaniel had heard a soundtrack that Errol Morris had used Phillip for and I had done the last four films with Errol so there was this nice synchronicity and we just hit it off.

AMFM: What are we getting into with this show because we haven’t been able to see it but it sounds fascinating.
PLM: I forget what people see and what they haven’t seen, but I knew of the books and I had seen some of the images of it from a friend. So when I started having a chat about whether we were going to do it or not or something that would work out between us, we looked over a whole lot of material. But Mark hadn’t even started shooting by that stage. Mark is a genius and it was just absolutely beautiful. So we were really involved right from the start. And then I would write some stuff and Phillip would write some stuff just send over to Mark and then he would say there’s a track that we need for playback the appears in one of the episodes. And so it was really, really early days. And normally on a pilot you’re thrown in and you’ve got about two weeks to score the entire thing whereas on this we were working for about three months on the initial pilot. So yeah, so we were just looking at images and what might happen and getting inspired. And then I remember Mark kind of saying, there’s not necessarily a scary robot, it’s just a robot but it’s hard when there’s no VFX. So he really wanted conversations going for three months and then finally, we started to see a rough cut. In one of the episodes there was 20 minutes of no dialogue, just music. For TV, it’s absolutely unbelievable. Music is so integral, which I would say that as a composer, but this music is so integral working hand in hand with the plots and the stories. But every single episode is treated as its own film. I’ve never seen anything like it.

AMFM: What was the soundtrack you heard that made you want to do this?
PLM: As far as the career, I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and everyone says they want to score film music but no one ever really knows what they’re doing and then I watched The Mission and I was like, “This is the most beautiful soundtrack I’ve ever heard in my life. I thought, “This is it. I would absolutely love to do this.” I thought it would be a fascinating career but I got into it by producing bands and some film guys said, “Hey, come do my film” and the band guys loved that I worked with film guys so there seemed to be this very big crossover and I always liked working with orchestras and it became very a la mode.

AMFM: But it isn’t a normal career path. What advice would you give to musicians that want to be composers?
PLM: First and foremost, you have to have a passion for it because it’s a crazy amount of hours otherwise but there’s this great adrenaline from collaboration with such a wonderful community of just lovely, lovely people As far as advice, meet with as many people as you can because it’s not, “Oh, they’re very successful. What can they do for me?” or even “What can I do for them?” because if you just start chatting away and if you’re very passionate, it really shines through to other people I think. I think people go, “Oh, great, here’s someone that wants a job. Send me your reel.” But then if you’re talking about something you’re doing for no other reason than you love it that you were inspired to do, it’s different than if you wrote something for someone hoping that they would like it. But you can’t imitate other people. You have to have your own style to where people go, “Yeah, that’s very interesting.” At the moment, it’s a very different world. People want to try things out. But you have to be content with what you’re creating. But you can’t imitate another composer because no one will like that. What’s the point? You might as well go straight to the composer at that point.

AMFM: As I have on Drew Pearson Live, I need to ask your Hail Mary Moment, or moment in your life or career where you just had to go for it.
PLM: I would say two, actually. That’s a good question. One was getting offered the chance to pitch for the film Limitless with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro about eight years ago I think. I was in Scotland. I’ve been over here in the States producing a band and I had literally just got back on a plane and a guy said, “Hey, do you want to pitch?” I said, “I’ve never really pitched before. What do you do?” He said, “Well, basically you just have a look at this and see what you’re inspired to do” so I sent three long tracks to [director]Neil Burger and he loved it. We were just about to have our first baby so I was like, “Uh, honey…?” [Laughs] She said OK. That was definitely one of them. And then I think the other one was probably about five years ago we moved from Scotland to LA and it was one of those things that I was traveling so much doing 25 transatlantic returns a year and missing the kids growing up and I just couldn’t face traveling anymore and producers and directors love being in the studio with you but again, it was one of the things that in the end we said, “Let’s do it” and haven’t looked back. If I hadn’t done it, I didn’t think I would be where I am now because again, it’s just the whole thing is you need to be around where the people are that you want to be collaborating with and working with. And you can do it remotely and that’s fine. But you have to be in the room to get to meet them.

AMFM: You said you’re holed up in the studio. What are you working on?
PLM: There’ a TV series called “The Nest” and I’ve got one last bit to do for that. The first song came out last night. It’s bonkers: so Friday we were supposed to have a recording session in my studio and Thursday night everything goes into lockdown. It was mental. So overnight we had to get musicians in Berlin, Glasgow, London, and LA remotely set up for 10 hours later and somehow we did it. I’ve never experienced anything like it. And then there’s a video game Cyberpunk 2077 later in the year. It was a complete contrast from Tales From the Loop. Then there’s a symphony that is premiering in France in August and then the pipeline dries up because everything stopped production. So for now, it’s head down in the studio until then, but it’s all a bit weird. But at some point, it’ll be like “The Walking Dead” and I’ll have to stick my head out and see what the hell is going on.

Tales From the Loop is playing on Amazon Prime right now.

Follow Paul Leonard-Morgan:

-Instagram: @paulleonardmorgan
-Twitter: @PaulLeonardMorg

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