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HomeComposersEmmy Nominee: White Lotus Composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer Is Pleased With...

Emmy Nominee: White Lotus Composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer Is Pleased With the Remixes


The White Lotus
Simona Tobasco and Beatrice Grannò in The White Lotus (Credit: HBO)

It was a turn of events composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer never expected. His theme songs for both Season 1 and Season 2 of The White Lotus became viral sensations, even being re-mixed for DJs to play in clubs.

Now, he’s Emmy-nominated for a composition from Season 2, which means he could add another statuette to the two he scored last year (Main Title Theme and Dramatic Score) for the HBO Max series created by Mike White.

Tapia de Veer’s entry into Lotusland, first in Hawaii and this time in Italy, all started when White began using his music from another show as a temp score. That sealed the deal to get him the permanent gig, adding to a list of credits that includes The Third Day, Hunters, Black Mirror, Electric Dreams and last year’s hit horror film, Smile.

Although due to Emmy rules, she wasn’t included in the nomination for Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score), Tapia de Veer wants to give equal credit to his co-composer, Kim Neundorf for the composition entitled “In the Sandbox.”

Below the Line caught up with Tapia de Veer via Zoom at his home base in Montreal. In a wide-ranging conversation, he talked about the tonal differences between the two Lotus seasons, the influence of opera and Italian films on his work and looking ahead to a new season of the series set to be shot in Thailand.

Below the Line: The White Lotus scored 23 Emmy nominations for its second season, including yours. That comes on top of your two wins for the series last year. How are you feeling about the recognition from your peers?

Cristobal Tapia de Veer: It’s been overwhelming. I have to say in the sense that sometimes there’s a critical approval and sometimes there’s a popular approval, but now, it’s all approval everywhere, and it’s unexpected, for sure. Of course, it’s very pleasing and it’s very flattering and everything, but it’s very surprising because we were not aiming for anything like that.

On my side, at least for the music, I didn’t make a theme thinking of making a hit for the radio or for people to dance in the club or anything like that. It was whatever fit the show, really. So we were already happy that the show felt good and everything. The fact that the music somehow took on a life on of its own is like the cherry on top in a way. 

BTL: How did you first come into The White Lotus?

Tapia de Veer: I just received a call from them, and I met with Mike White and it was basically because they were using my music as temp score in the first season. They were using music that I did for Black Mirror, and that seemed to be the only music that was working for him. I don’t know how long they were looking for a composer, but it was pretty late when they found me and when they called me. I suppose they just thought that that music from Black Mirror was working really well for them, and they thought, well, let’s just call the guy who did it. 

BTL: How would you describe your collaboration with Mike White? 

Tapia de Veer: At the beginning, it was funny because I didn’t really know what was going to be the approach after I read the script, and I thought it was one of the funniest, really good scripts I’ve read ever. I didn’t know how comedic the music needed to be, but I had an idea. So when we discussed it, it was rather abstract the stuff we were saying, because he didn’t want comedic music in the sense, like funky music or something, that you would hear normally in a comedy. I think he wanted drama and even danger coming from the music.

We spoke about doing a kind of Hawaiian Hitchcock, but I don’t know how that translates. We didn’t really speak about anything concrete about how the music needed to sound or anything like that. I just had an idea, a sense that we needed danger and we needed the music to be somehow subversive and even dramatic. And even when it’s not necessarily what’s happening on the screen, the music is almost announcing that something bad might happen at a point or at the end of an episode, or somebody might die.

BTL: The theme songs of “Aloha” and “Renaissance” have become very popular. DJ Tiësto put out their own version of “Renaissance.” How did you feel when this music just kind of blew up?

Tapia de Veer: The second season was as unexpected as the first one because the main theme sounds a lot more commercial. It sounds more approachable or familiar than the first season. But, to me, it was more because it fit with Italy and I had many influences. We spoke with Mike about having these Italian operatic elements, which made it into the song. But I also felt some inspiration from Paolo Sorrentino movies, and TV shows like The Young Pope or his Italian speaking movies and there’s always a blend of very beautiful classical music.

And then a really club track with some electronic music to dance to, and it’s done in such a classy way that you don’t feel a clash. It feels very lively and playful. When Tiësto and people like that were doing remixes and people playing it in the clubs, it’s way beyond what I was expecting or where I thought this song could go. I don’t know what to say other than I didn’t plan for it, but it’s really very fulfilling.

BTL: What instruments did you use and how did you adapt the Season 2 theme from the first season?

Tapia de Veer: It was mainly the kind of Renaissance hints like the harp, which sounds lovely. So the opera, the harp and some classical elements are the first half of the theme because the entry into the theme — the intro — is very different from the first season. You don’t recognize the theme at all. But then the weird voices from the first season come in that are so recognizable. Then slowly the music starts changing into this clubby thing and then it goes into a club anthem, and it feels a bit like a rave.

So the first part is the introduction to the new place in this new country and very different people and images from the first season. There’s a party going on in that place. So there’s a celebratory thing in the second part of the theme. 

For the rest of the show, to fit within the Italian context we added more acoustic instruments like the violin and classical instruments because all the tribal stuff from the first season and the percussions and the screaming didn’t really fit. Except maybe for a couple of sexy scenes, we brought back some drums. 

Generally speaking, Mike wanted to get away from all these crazy sounds from the first season. Now, it feels more melodic and more in harmony with the images and what’s happening. It takes a while this season before things get really dark. I suppose Mike really wanted to keep the darkness for more towards the end, that’s for sure.

BTL: With the third season of The White Lotus confirmed to be set in Thailand, can you give us a preview of some of the musical elements we might expect when the show debuts?

Tapia de Veer: I really don’t know at this point, as it’s still a bit far off and we haven’t talked about that really. I’m expecting maybe to have some traditional sounds from the area. I think it would be great to have some kind of Eastern philosophy thrown in with Buddhism in Thailand and all of that. I have lots of Thai gongs which I can play almost like a keyboard. I have like three, six Thai gongs that I can play melodies with. 

BTL: Well, we are eagerly awaiting it, but tell me more about your process for composing and scoring this particular series. What else do you hope to accomplish with your scores? 

Tapia de Veer: The first season it was very fast. I didn’t have much time, so we’d have four or five weeks before the mix. I pretty much just jammed for like two weeks recording nonstop percussions and flutes and all this native stuff. 

On the second season, it was different because I had a collaboration with Kim [Neundorf ] who was recording a lot of the violins and acoustic guitars. So in the second season, we were really two composers, and even though the majority of the music there is mine, I think her music is in every episode.

In my mind, people are listening to the work of two people, so that’s very different from the first one where I was just alone banging on stuff and making something tribal out of that. This time around we have many songs and themes and some were mine, some were hers and we recorded everything, or lots of it before we saw any images. 

When we got the script, we got inspired by that and we did some more tracks. So when we received the images, we already had several tracks and several themes and we started reworking all those ideas with the images. So yeah, the process was pretty different in the second season from the first one.

BTL: With the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and seeing all the consolidation amongst these media companies, the layoffs, what concerns you most right now as a creative person in the industry?

Tapia de Veer: I think it’s a general trend in the world at large. It is just a planetary trend of the very, very rich not wanting to share anything with the people who are doing the stuff, who in this case are the writers. When you negotiate the contracts, whether you are an actor or a musician or anything, the struggles are very similar in the sense that if you don’t have a super shark working for you to protect you from the other guys, they’re gonna take probably everything they can from you. 

Sometimes stories pop up like when Michelle Williams was on a movie and Mark Wahlberg got paid for reshoots but she didn’t. So if that happens to superstars, it happens to everyone.

I think it’s a generalized thing where people just abuse and they want to take the most they can from you, but you work with producers and all kinds of people and everybody is really nice. I think it’s really the big, big bosses that we just never see. I’ll just say I support unions, I’ll say that [laughs].

Seasons 1 and 2 of The White Lotus are streaming on Max.

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