The atmosphere surrounding Locke & Key‘s infamous Keyhouse exudes mystery, darkness and wonder. It boasts endless possibilities and bottomless secrets in equal measure. It has also exhibited a staggering resistance to change in an epic adaptation battle. However, fans can rejoice as Netflix finally succeeded in bringing the Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez penned comic book to television.
Along with Joe Hill’s obvious connections to the horror realm (simply look up his picture if you’re unsure), Locke & Key benefits from a host of other horror regulars. In the series’ cast we get Jackson Robert Scott (It, The Prodigy), Laysla De Oliveira (In the Tall Grass) and a killer cameo from Tom Savini. Helming the Director’s seat, Michael Morris (Preacher), Dawn Wilkinson (Riverdale), Mark Tonderai (Castle Rock), Tim Southam (Bates Motel) and Vincenzo Natali (Cube) take two episodes each. Andy and Barbara Muschietti (It, It: Chapter Two) retain Executive Producer credits, and Showrunner Meredith Averill (The Haunting of Hill House) is also in the mix.
Side by side with these familiar genre contributors stands Locke & Key‘s composer, Torin Borrowdale. With his fascinating musical perspective, sonic versatility and intuitive emotional translations, Borrowdale has quickly become a composer on the rise. Recently, Borrowdale has created scores for Searching (2018) starring John Cho, The Fare (2018) and the upcoming Run, directed by Aneesh Chaganty and starring Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story). I recently had the privilege of speaking with Borrowdale and we chatted all things Keyhouse, working with Chaganty again, differences between composing for film versus television and more. Want to know a bit more about Locke & Key before diving in? Check out NOFS’ Senior Contributor Stephanie Cole’s full review of the series here.
“There’s such a vast world that they’ve created and to dive into these characters, help bring them to life, and have it be my version of the story being told was a great challenge.”
Rachel Prin for Nightmare on Film Street: An adaptation of Locke & Key has been a long time coming. How and when did you first get involved with the project?
Torin Borrowdale: I first heard about it a year and half ago and sent in a demo for it. And basically didn’t hear back for 6 more months. And then randomly, they liked the demo I sent in! So I was like, ‘Wait a second. I better do some more research into what this actually is.’ It’s kind of funny because I had about two sentences to go off of for the demo. They wanted something orchestral and modern. And it said it was about a magical house that was also kind of scary.
Then I looked up the comic books and realized just how dark and gruesome it was. I would have totally written something different if I had known what the comic books were like so I was really glad that I was a bit ignorant on the subject. And that the tone they were going for was actually exactly what I had written. So, early last year I met with the producers and they asked me to write a couple more themes for them. And they loved all the themes! So essentially, all the themes I wrote that weekend (and for the demo) are the same exact ones you hear in the show. Really not much changed from when I wrote it to what you actually hear.
NOFS: Because this is the first successful film incarnation of Locke & Key, it was kind of a blank slate in terms of sonic direction. Did you find that openness freeing when developing themes and feel?
TB: Yeah, it was a great challenge. As a composer, you’re always looking for opportunities to explore and do creative things and this was a perfectly blank slate. I really didn’t want to even read any of the comics or see any other versions of it because I wanted it to be the ‘Netflix Version.’ It was really great to be able to build the score from the ground up. There’s such a vast world that they’ve created and to dive into these characters, help bring them to life, and have it be my version of the story being told was a great challenge.
NOFS: Let’s talk about the main theme song. It’s mysterious, playful and the instrumentation and rhythm has a subtle mechanical nature. Talk a bit about composing this piece and how it directly relates to the Locke & Key story.
TB: So the original demo I wrote is the main theme. The only difference is I wrote a 90 second version of it and the main title ended up being 60 seconds. That’s literally the only change that was made. I just wanted it to reflect how it would be to explore this house for the first time. There would be these endless rooms and endless possibilities, hidden keys and magic. All of that! I think the mechanical sound you’re getting at is something that just felt right. The turning of keys and locks, old clocks and things like that, the mechanical nature of it just felt right for the theme. The other aspect I really wanted to lean into was the magic of it, the fun of discovery. I didn’t want it to be ‘too cool.’ I wanted the music to embrace the childlike discovery and curiosity of exploring a magical place. And that’s how the main theme was born!
NOFS: I loved the character of Bode (Jackson Robert Scott) and the way his personal journey was handled. I also loved the music that surrounded his character. How did you approach scoring Bode and how does his music evolve throughout the show?
TB: Bode is really the protagonist at the beginning. He’s our main introduction to all the keys and he discovers most of them. It became really obvious reading the script that he would need his own theme. He drives so much of the narrative, especially in the first few episodes. So, with his theme, I wanted to lean into his childlike wonder and curiosity. Everyone wants to believe in magic, and obviously magic isn’t real. But I wanted people to be able to relate to his character and what it would feel like to discover magic. I wanted his theme to capture that.
His theme in its purest form is when he’s walking in the woods, just by himself and exploring. It’s just a simple tune that’s played on the flute. Because Bode often finds himself in bad situations, it was an easy theme to place into different musical modes. So sometimes it’s more childlike and wondrous. Sometimes it’s a little more dark and sinister. Depending on what Bode is doing, you still hear his theme, but it matches the tone. Giving him a simple melodic melody in the flute really helped to do that. How it changes over the course of the series, it becomes much more serious. Once things really get going, the music becomes less childlike wonderment and more like, real things are happening in this world. His theme matures as it goes on. The last time we hear it is in the epilogue and that kind of concludes Bode‘s story for the season.
“Everyone wants to believe in magic, and obviously magic isn’t real. But I wanted people to be able to relate to his character and what it would feel like to discover magic.”
NOFS: Due to the nature of a TV format, I suspect it requires much more music than a stand-alone film. How much music did you compose all together? Did you find this different process creatively liberating or more of a challenge?
TB: Well, I did tally up the number and it’s 4 1/2 hours of music. Which…was pretty crazy. It was like doing, probably 3 films back to back. I found it really liberating. Like with Bode’s theme, you can take the same theme and put it into so many different contexts. You can really get creative with it and fully explore all the possibilities of a theme. You can let it grow with a character throughout the season. So I really enjoyed that process.
NOFS: I’m very curious about the intersection of score vs. soundtrack. Locke & Key features a lot of cool, modern pop songs inserted throughout the series. As the composer, did you know the series would feature so many other songs? Were you aware of their placement and how did this affect your process, if at all?
TB: I generally didn’t let it change the way I approached things. In general, the pop music fits into dramatic situations that wouldn’t need score to begin with. So, a lot of the high school drama that is so ‘real life’ and placed in this world, that doesn’t need more underscore to feel more magical. That worked organically as it was. A couple of the songs were actually written into the script. Like, ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’ by Sigrid at the beginning of Episode 4, that was written into the script so I knew things like that would happen. I also didn’t work closely with the Music Supervisor, so those pop tracks were already placed in the show and I just kind of worked around them. Which worked fine for me.
NOFS: Traditionally on a film, the director and composer have a pretty collaborative and close relationship. How does that work on a series with rotating directors? Who is your consistent point of contact?
TB: My main point of contact was Ra’uf Glasgow who is the Post Producer. I worked closest with him and when we’d review each episode Meredith Averill and Carlton Cuse would come in, look over everything and approve everything. But my main collaborator day to day was Ra’uf. He came to the recording sessions and oversaw all of that. Generally it was really smooth. They liked my ideas and everything was pretty much approved as is. We generally just had small notes on specific episodes, like ‘tweak this a little bit.’ There was no major re-writes or anything like that. It was actually very smooth show to be working on. Carlton and Meredith are amazing showrunners in their own right and working with both of them was really fun. They’re so smart and they know what they want. But they’re also really collaborative and allow me to come up with my own ideas and have my own input. So, it was really a joy to work with both of them.
NOFS: The show ends with a bit of a cliffhanger hinting at a Season 2. Any insight to whether or not that’ll happen? Will you return if it does?
TB: I have literally zero insight into both storylines or if it’ll even happen. (laughs) I’m hoping! The scores seems to be well received and I’d love to come back to score season 2. We’ll see what happens. They certainly built it up to have a season 2 so I hope we get to see how that unfolds.
“…so many of life’s problems would be easier if you could just get from Point A to Point B without any time or effort[…] Who wouldn’t want that?”
NOFS: I definitely also want to mention your upcoming film Run. Tell me a bit about the film and what it was like working with Director Aneesh Chaganty (Searching) again?
TB: Run was fun to work on. It’s about a mother (Sarah Paulson) and daughter (Kiera Allen) where the mother has raised the daughter in isolation. The daughter comes to find there’s something the mom has been keeping from her. It’s like totally opposite from Locke & Key. Locke & Key has so many characters and a full range of dramatic scenarios, from big adventure to really intimate cues. And then Run is like really pared back with just two main characters. It’s just about their relationship and what happens. It’s about maintaining tension and suspense.
Basically there’s only one scene throughout the entire movie. So instead of having to juggle all these characters and character arcs it was more about, ‘How do we make this one idea last for an entire feature? How do we make that satisfying?’ At first we had a theme for the mother and one for the daughter. And even that was too much. So we had to combine them and have just one for the relationship. With the instrumentation for it, we wanted to do a modern take on a Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock type score. So we used strings a lot as kind of the basis for the sound. But we created a lot of interesting textures with the strings rather than doing something with more traditional harmony or even ‘Psycho‘-like strings. It’s the essence of Bernard Herrmann, but for a 2020 cinematic experience.
It’s always great working with Aneesh. He’s so smart and has so many great ideas. He’s always very collaborative and he wrote the movie, and he directed the movie, so he knows what it should be. I’m convinced that if he was able to write music he would just write his own scores too because he knows what it needs to be, he’s just not a composer so he needs someone else to work with. It’s really fun to work that way because you’re both working towards this goal together. I actually got brought on really early for this project, even before they shot it, so we were working on ideas even from the script stage. So the score kind of came together with the shoot, with the editing, as an organic part of everything else. There really wasn’t much of a temp track for it. They did some test screenings for it and my music was already in there. It really came together as part of the whole film. Aneesh just has so many great ideas and the music is no exception.
NOFS: Final question…if you could pick one, out of all the keys in Keyhouse, which would you pick to possess?
TB: (laughs) I think anyone that doesn’t choose the Anywhere Key is lying because that’s the clear winner. I mean, so many of life’s problems would be easier if you could just get from Point A to Point B without any time or effort. The first thing I think of is to be able to travel for free. Who wouldn’t want that?
Season 1 of Locke & Key is currently streaming on Netflix. You can also snag Borrowdale’s incredible score for the series digitally here. Physical release of the score is likely forthcoming with release date TBA. Run is currently scheduled to hit theaters May 20th, 2020.