Interview: Composer Andrew Lockington Discusses Mayor of Kingstown

Mayor of Kingstown is now streaming on Paramount+ and ComingSoon had the opportunity to speak with series composer Andrew Lockington, who discussed everything from his career to his approach to film scoring.

Andrew Lockington is best known for his bombastic action scores in movies like Rampage and San Andreas. The Canadian composer dialed back the energy for his latest project: the Paramount+ crime drama Mayor of Kingstown (starring two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner), from creator Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone, Hell or High Water).

The series follows the McLusky family, power brokers in the small town, and tackles themes of systemic racism, corruption, and inequality while providing a look at their attempt to bring order and justice to a town that has neither.

Jeff Ames: What drew you to the world of film composing?

Andrew Lockington: My parents had both been aspiring musicians and ended up not following through. My brother ended up in the language arts and my father ended up in science as an engineer. Parted of them wanted their kids to be musical so they put me in piano lessons when I was three or four. I was quite the lazy student – I don’t think I was at the top of any of my piano teacher’s favorite kids. But on my own time, I would sit down for the required amount of time and play my own thing instead of playing what was on the page. And I guess film composing was the closest occupation to turning that into a career. I guess I gravitated towards film composing because of that. Flash forward to the present day and I’m still doing this and still waiting for the parents to barge into the room and break up the party. [Laughs]

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Were there any artists or composers who influenced your style?

I was born at a time when you had E.T., Star Wars, and Jaws. John Williams was really dominating that world. So, the orchestral side was probably the first thing I was really exposed to. After studying orchestral music in a university, I had the opportunity to apprentice with Mychal Dana who really approached film scoring from a much more open-minded place. He didn’t automatically assume that every story had to be told by a European Western orchestral pallet. And that really changed my way of thinking and had a big influence on what I’ve done.

So, working with him and his brother – I worked a lot with his brother Jeff as well – that had a big influence on me. It allowed me to keep my orchestral chops but really look much wider than just that world in terms of a pallet for writing.

Was there a project you worked on where you felt you had what it takes to be a film composer?

I kind of think that sentiment is reversely proportional to career arc because it feels like every project you think, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?” No matter what the project or the budget, you’re always in exactly the same position you were in on those independent films you were doing for free where you’re presented with this problem in trying to find a musical way of telling a story in an original way; and something that’s going to contribute to – that’s going to say all the things the visuals can’t say. When you have a book, there are connections that can be made between two different storylines and character groups that never meet. An author can make those connections. When it comes to a script, it’s much harder to do in a visual way so it really falls upon music; and it’s where music can actually make connections and connect characters who actually never connect on screen.

How have you as a composer evolved since you first started?

I think that my approach has evolved, but I think the actual craft has also evolved. An early reference that a lot of people might be able to relate to in terms of film composing is the idea of Peter and the Wolf where every idea is represented by a theme and every character is represented by an instrument. There are certain projects where you tend to think that way, people will say if it’s a film about Peter, you have Peter’s theme. That’s something we should all be familiar with. What I evolved to learn is that that means the music can only represent one aspect of Peter – I’m using Peter as a random example – but a character’s identity. Far more interesting is to find themes that the world shares. I’ve done some Dwayne Johnson movies, and if there’s a hero theme then there’s obviously a moment where Dwayne Johnson has that theme. But if you can actually show the other characters borrowing that theme and having their own heroic moments – instead of scoring a character, score an idea, a relationship. Score tragedy or heroism, suffering; score something that will help the audience delve into the depths of the person and who they are instead of just them as a label.

So, where do you stand in terms of smaller pics versus bigger films. Do you prefer one over the other?

I love the idea that I can be always changing my perspective. I’ve said this a lot in interviews, but my mother used to rearrange the family room where the piano was. And every time she rearranged it, the piano would be looking out a different window or at a different wall or at a different perspective of the room; and that always influenced me to write something different. I felt like I was looking through a different lens or window, and I think films are like that as well.

When you look at a film like San Andreas, I think a big part of the score is not reiterating the destruction and the earthquake, but making you care about the characters who are enduring that. One example are the videos on Instagram, and you see a snowboarder jump over a bus – and I’ve seen that actual video. Now, you think that’s quite amazing, but imagine if that snowboarder is someone you care about – your brother, friend, or family member — you view that video quite differently. There are far more stakes involved.

So, a film like San Andreas works in much the same way. If you can care about the characters … if you watch someone you care about go through an ordeal in an action movie, it’s a very different experience than watching something like Medieval Times with your kids.

So, to answer your questions, I love all of them. I love that in my career I’ve been able to do both; and also find the kinetic moments in the stories and the more poignant moments in the action stories as well.

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What drew you to Mayor of Kingstown? And what was the biggest challenge of the project?

Well, I was introduced through a mutual friend to Taylor (Sheridan). I had been a massive fan and am still a massive fan of his writing and directing. In my list of favorite movies are several that he’s worked on. So, it was a really humbling thing to get an opportunity to work with him. What I loved about the story, especially in a time where there’s so many labels on people – you know, politics are almost a religion and you’re either in one camp or another camp; and it just feels like the world has a lot of little subsectors and groups. A lot of people are talking and no one is listening. And what Taylor has done is written a story about a system that’s broken – the prison system in the U.S. – and really given an opportunity to – because there’s a lot of darkness and there needed to be a lot of darkness in the score – but he’s really given it with his writing and working with me on the music, trying to look at the humanity in all of these people. So quickly we look at a label, even a convict who spent his life in prison, and you stop there. That is the defining element of that person. And I think what he’s done is really challenged us and challenged me with all of this music to find the humanity in all of these groups, the good and the bad.

Going back to what we talked about, it would have been really easy to score Mayor of Kingstown in those camps in those groups – the different gangs have their own musical signature and the police have their own musical signature; and Mike McLusky played by Jeremy Renner … for everyone to have that. More than that we tried to come up with musical identities and themes that would show their musical similarities rather than their differences.

Working on that level and having those kinds of discussions with a filmmaker is a real pinch me element as a composer. It’s amazing to be able to operate in that arena, to create music that’s really telling a part of the story the visuals can’t tell. It was a really easy sell and I’m happy to be a part of it.

Is it more gratifying to score a 10-episode series as opposed to a two-hour film? I would imagine the former gives you the chance to really embellish a theme or idea where a two-hour film wouldn’t.

Yeah, you nailed it. It’s funny, in a film you might have a few themes you end up hearing maybe three or four times. In reality, you’ve thought of twelve or fifteen different ways you could do a variation on those themes. It’s sometimes quite depressing in a film to have to choose my favorite four.

The film and series world are a lot similar than they used to be. The amount of care and effort and budget and time that goes into a series is much more commensurate to a big theatrical film. So, because of that, the musical approach is also very similar. Mayor of Kingstown is scored like a 10-hour movie. You’ve got themes that evolve over the course of the 10-episodes and you’ve got more than four themes just because of the sheer volume and time. You really have a chance to have this musical evolution of story that, when I first started TV years ago, I’d be working on episode two and I don’t think episode four was written yet. I certainly had no idea where it was going. Here, Taylor sent me the 10 scripts. I read them as 10 and envisioned it as a film and could see the evolution of the themes and all the ways the music could enhance the symbolism and little nods to different ideas he was putting in the script.

In terms of preference, I love them both. I love being able to expand on ideas for 20 episodes or even multiple seasons and plant multiple seeds that you come back to that the audience will remember. And I love the idea of trying to be more succinct and editing yourself into a two-hour piece and living with the fact there are certain things you can’t say but making those hard choices.

Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk to us about? And is there a specific genre or series of films that you would like to explore or dive into as a composer?

I’ve always wanted to dive into superheroes. I don’t know which direction the genre’s going. I think my ideas are less comedy-based and more sort of classic superhero ideas, but yeah that’s a genre I’d love to dive into and explore more.

As for upcoming projects, I’m currently starting a project with Brad Peyton, who I worked with on San Andreas, Rampage, and Journey 2, and we’re doing a project with Jennifer Lopez called Atlas with Netflix. It’s amazing and really exciting.

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