Bryant Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, Sam! Now, obviously you're a Hunger Games fan, but could you share what specifically drew you to the series and how that developed into your desire to create Music of Panem: Beginning of a Rebellion Part I (The Hunger Games Unofficial Score)?
Sam Cushion: I first read The Hunger Games the summer of 2009 and immediately wrote "Rue's Lullaby." I was so moved by the book’s emotional and powerful story that I couldn't deny my urge to translate these emotions into music.
BD: Can you describe your creative process when it comes to creating a score for a novel?
SC: After I read the book, I would make notes of what characters or events stood out in my mind. That’s why most of the song titles are not very mysterious. Like "District 11 Execution;" that’s just what I wrote down as a note and it stuck as the title. I like for the titles to be very obvious, so that the listener/reader can just listen and not be thinking, "Where does this go?"
BD: What is your musical background? Have you always wanted to write scores or other types of music?
SC: I was in high school marching band and I have played guitar since I was 13, but, other than that, I have never had any classical training. I have been writing music since I got my first guitar and couldn't even play, haha. I had a 4-track analog recorder that I would plug into my tape recorder and record myself playing really simple progressions that I thought were just "so awesome." I don't think there has been a time since I was very young I haven't been writing music.
BD: What kind of reaction has Music of Panem gotten from The Hunger Games fan community?
SC: It has gotten a great reaction! I am so thankful to this fan community for the way they welcomed me in, and I have made some of my best friends in the past year. Of course, there are people who don't like my music, but you can never please everyone. Overall, though, I would say it has gotten a very positive reaction. Lots of "you should send this to Lionsgate!" I want to confirm again that I don't want to push my music to be in the movie. I wrote these songs because I am a fan. I like to keep it that way.
BD: One common fan worry seems to be that the film version of The Hunger Games will water down the more dark and violent elements of the story, all of which seem to be vividly present in your score. Was this a concern when you were composing the music?
SC: Not at all. I wrote most of these songs before a director had even been chosen for the films. The thought of a movie never even crossed my mind during the whole process. I allowed the dark and violent elements of the story to influence my music as necessary. As far as fan concern, I wouldn't worry about them watering it down. There was no way they were going to release a YA book to movie as rated R. There are also things that, when you read, may be extremely violent to help portray the scene where a movie can use music and picture to get across a story without having to depict such harsh violence. It’s a different medium and where it might be necessary in the books, it might not be as necessary in the movie to be quite as graphic.
BD: Specifically in the song "Prim's Name is Drawn" there seems to be an electronic-type breakdown in the middle of the piece that is almost reminiscent of elements of Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy. It adds a cool, Sci-Fi feel to the piece. Was this your intent?
SC: First off, let me state how much I loved Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy! As for "Prim's Name is Drawn" I added the electronic percussion to make the listener feel uneasy and nervous. I love mixing electronic sounds with strings or any kind of organic instrument. For a situation like this, I imagined Katniss waiting to hear the name of the female tribute. You can only imagine what it would feel like to be waiting to see if you will be sent to leave your family to die. Then, to hear her sister's name called. That’s when the electronics really kick in and the low end strings. It really brought that overwhelming sense of hopelessness and sadness to what I was imagining how Katniss would be feeling.
BD: It seems there are a number of songs in your Music of Panem: Beginning of a Rebellion Part I (Hunger Games Unofficial Score) that have reoccurring themes, one example being that the "Peeta" theme seems to be subtly present in the "A Loaf of Bread" track. Did you intentionally create particular theme for characters or places? If so, do you have plans for those themes to reoccur in Part 2 & 3 of your Music of Panem scores?
SC: I try to keep my songs close enough so that they tell the story without sounding out of place or like they completely don't belong. Every now and then, I will use a theme from one song to help tell a story in another.
BD: You recently released the first single from your upcoming Music of Panem Part III: The Rebellion (Mockingjay Unofficial Score), and it sounds dark, grim, and fantastic. Are there any other upcoming specific pieces you've been working on that you're particularly excited about?
SC: I just finished a piece called "Visiting District 12 - The Aftermath," which is the opening song for the third album. It’s very dark and slow but full of the emotion you could imagine Katniss feels seeing the destruction and bodies of people she once knew. It’s a very, very sad piece.
BD: Are there any other novels that you'd consider scoring? Any dream projects?
SC: I am a huge Harry Potter fan, but I think it would be almost offensive to try and write a fan score for a book that is already represented on film by one of the greatest composers ever. I do have a dream project that I would love to work on. Paper Towns by John Green. The score would be so different for that from anything I have ever written. However, I loved the book and am an undeniable nerdfighter, so I don't think I could pass up the opportunity to write for that book.
BD: Well, thanks for sharing all of this with us, Sam! There are previews of Sam’s work that fans can listen to and purchase on his website, samchushion.bandcamp.com. All hardcore tributes out there should follow Sam on Twitter (@sam_cushion), Facebook (facebook.com/districttribute), and Youtube (youtube.com/unofficialscore) to get updates on his new releases and samples of his work! You can also find all of his music on iTunes, Amazon.com, and Spotify.