'13 Reasons Why' Composer Brendan 'Eskmo' Angelides on Show's Complex Themes & Working With Selena Gomez
"I just tried to really tap into the performances and tap into the characters and the arc that I knew they were going to be experiencing throughout the show," he tells Billboard.
When he was about 15, Brendan “Eskmo” Angelides listened to two bands -- Primus and The Prodigy -- sparking his interest in heavy, bass-oriented music and eventually inspiring him to start creating electronic tracks. Fast-forward about 20 years, and Eskmo found himself as the lead composer on Netflix’s hit series 13 Reasons Why, which tackles difficult themes of teen suicide and bullying.
Eskmo was asked to get involved in the show after music supervisor Season Kent attended a few of his shows with The Echo Society, a group of composers and artists in L.A. who combine a live orchestra with electronic music. Paramount Pictures director Natalie Hayden was a fan of his work on the Showtime drama Billions, so the two sent him a copy of the pilot and suggested him for the position. Eskmo then met with the show’s writer, playwright Brian Yorkey, and the two immediately hit it off.
“We had a great conversation about the music and also about life and the backstory around this and his motivation for working on it,” Eskmo said. “His intention was to convey an honest, heartfelt story that was not shying away from some pretty serious issues.”
Eskmo was hired on a Thursday and started work the following Monday.
He said one of the most important parts of his role was developing main character Hannah Baker’s theme music and ensuring that it was emotional and innocent, yet slightly dark with a catchy enough hook that it could connect well with other characters.
“One of the cool things about this show from a musical standpoint is that it’s so sectioned off,” Eskmo said. “Each tape per character, per episode -- it really allowed me to go crazy with the theme in terms of trying to make [one] for each of the main characters.”
Originally from Connecticut, Eskmo fell in love with music at an early age and started performing in high school bands during his teens before moving to San Francisco about 15 years ago. He’s been a Los Angeles native for the last 10 years and has been performing live electronic music throughout the U.S. and Europe while producing three albums: Eskmo, Terra and SOL, in addition to his work on the Billions and 13 Reasons Why soundtracks.
The musician said one of the highlights of creating the music for 13 Reasons Why was working with executive producer Selena Gomez on a cover of “Only You” and witnessing her passion for the project when she recorded her vocal tracks. “In the studio, she was super encouraging and supportive, and it was great to see how much this series meant to her,” Eskmo said.
While Eskmo has gained experience producing the score for Billions, he said developing music for 13 Reasons Why required a completely different mind-set.
“I just tried to really tap into the performances and tap into the characters and the arc that I knew they were going to be experiencing throughout the show,” Eskmo said. "For this one, it was trying to come from a place that had a warmth to it, while also being able to bend over into the thriller-y kind of darker side of things too.”
For example, the character Justin is often seen as the bad guy, so Eskmo said it was tempting to go with a tough, angular piece, but because of Justin’s difficult home life, he wanted to use music to show the character’s complexity.
“He had a sense of being a good person that was wanting to do good, but just not really strong enough to stand for himself in certain ways,” Eskmo said. “So I ended up writing something really, really soft for him, and it’s kind of warm and saturated, but I balanced that out with putting some piano on top of it where I actually put tinfoil and paper into the piano and recorded a line on top of that … to convey the two sides of what was happening with his character.”
This method created a combination of melodic, emotional notes overlaid with brittle, buzzing piano to encapsulate Justin’s multifaceted storyline.
Eskmo said he plans to be involved in composing the score for the show’s just-announced second season and hopes to build on the success of the first season both in terms of music and plot development.
“I feel like it’ll just be another step down that route of trying to convey something honest and simple, and also it’s being able to keep on merging the electronic meets organic, traditional strain of piano,” Eskmo said. “That’s been a really big, fun process: creating stuff that can feel fresh and exciting while at the same time be able to go from super soft to super dark and aggressive and cover a wide range.”
Listen to the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack below: