It is with joy that we see Tree Adams’ name appear on the screen these days. It means we are in for an earful of musical ecstasy. Having joined the CW drama THE 100 since the show’s third season, fans know that Tree is going to deliver a sound wholly unique and thrilling to the momentous emotional scenes. Not only that, but Tree will also carefully construct a sound that brings each of the beloved characters closer to our hearts. It is no easy task to enthrall and captivate, and yet not overwhelm a scene, but Tree’s outstanding work on THE 100 has endeared him to fans and makes him an essential part of the show. He is also more than happy to chat with the fans on social media about his work and participates in live tweets for the shows he composes for. It makes him well-loved and well-regarded. In an exclusive interview, Tree shares what elements he has selected and woven into the musical fabric of Season of THE 100 this season and talks about his work on his new series Fox’s drama LETHAL WEAPON.
What has been your favorite part about working THE 100 Season 4?
TREE: This season we were able to write themes for some great new characters, such as Gaia (Tati Gabrielle), Echo (Tasya Teles), and Ilian (Chai Hansen). We also had several interesting new story components in the impending death wave and the whole legend of the 12th seal.
Any favorite scenes from the episodes that have aired so far?
TREE: A scene in episode 407 aired with Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) and Ilian hiding out in a cave, seeking shelter from acid rain. She is numb and trying to feel anything, and they end up in a classic passionate, forbidden love scene. The scene gave me the opportunity to write something Bernard Hermann-esque, which was a treat.
You are known for composing unique sounds for each character, maybe you could share what instruments and sounds you created for King Roan (Zach McGowan), Echo, Riley (Ben Sullivan) and Ilian in Season 4.
TREE: King Roan’s theme incorporates a horn motif that feels like an ancient Greek Lydian modal, along with signature ominous textures. Echo is often with Roan, so their themes frequently co-mingle. Echo has these brass triplets that feel Wagnerian, or a bit like a Darth Vader figure. You’ll also hear military snare rolls as she storms through her space. Riley didn’t really get a theme because the big moment with his reappearance was more about Bellamy’s choice to save the slaves (and Riley) as opposed to the reclamator. Ilian has a dark piano theme that repeats as he lurks about, planning to blow up Arkadia. He is also involved with Octavia and their relationship has an evolving string theme.
Then how did you come up with the specific sound for the sword fight between Octavia and Echo in episode 404 and then Octavia’s “resurrection” from the river?
TREE: The sword fight incorporates little pieces of both character’s themes. Octavia has a dark horn theme with some heavy chuniing electric guitar beneath it for her skairippa side. Echo’s previously mentioned brass and snare motifs co-mingle throughout the battle. The fight naturally needed tension and propulsion as its backdrop, so there are drums, synth pulses and ostinato strings pumping along as well.
Where there any specific challenges to the composition for episode 405, like for the Azgeda standoff and then the final scene where everyone stands in horror watching the ship burn in Arkadia?
TREE: The Azgeda standoff is a great tension scene and it was cool to see the army splayed out like that on the screen. We created a special new sound for this moment with a metallic pulse that bobbed and weaved along with the dialog and plot as the layers unfolded. For the end scene with the ark burning, we reprised the tragic theme from last season and did a variation on it, incorporating a new cello solo and a deep Jupiter synth to convey the gravity of the moment.
With the heavy use of Becca’s lab this season, what kind of sound and instruments are you using to create the sound unique to that environment?
TREE: We had a major recurring theme in Becca’s (Erica Cerra) lab this season for Raven’s (Lindsay Morgan) hallucinations. I used an eerie repeating guitar figure with a few different delay pedals, giving the sound a high-grainy sustain underneath which is a couple layers of guitarviol just bowing along on the root to give things a creepy, off-kilter quality.
With Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and Bellamy (Bob Morley) working so much more closely this season, what instruments and sound do you use to invoke that team up?
TREE: For Clarke and Bellamy’s relationship, there isn’t a distinct instrumentation per se. It’s really more about a recurring melodic and harmonic framework, typically orchestral with piano.
What has been one thing you have taken away from working on THE 100 for the past couple of seasons?
TREE: This show has had a more thematic approach than any other show I’ve worked on. It has so many characters and dynamics to underscore and that challenge has forced me to create a new workflow. We began organizing the thematic elements in folders and keeping notes on a spreadsheet for reference because it became tough to keep track. Having gone through this process, I now have a good system for this type of show moving forward.
What do you hope viewers take away from watching THE 100 Season 4?
TREE: One thing about sci-fi is that by painting a picture of an imagined future, the writers often take the opportunity to say something about what’s happening in today’s society. I think Jason Rothenberg is doing that a bit here and hopefully people will pick up on that.
You also composed for Fox’s LETHAL WEAPON this season. How have you balanced working on both THE 100 and LETHAL WEAPON simultaneously?
TREE: They are very different shows. The trick is two-fold: first, you have to make distinct palettes for each show and be careful not to blend them. Second, you have to determine the language and the rules of each show, such as how to approach comedic moments, how big do the emotional scenes need to be, how hard to hit action/high stakes scenes, etc. Each show establishes specific dynamics for these areas, and it’s key to be tuned in to these layers. Switching back and forth is very similar to speaking different languages.
As LETHAL WEAPON is another high-octane show with deeply person moments between the characters embedded throughout, do you find there are similar sounds that you use in both or are they wholly independent in their sound?
TREE: For LETHAL WEAPON and THE 100, I work with very different palettes. Lethal has more of a general guitar thing happening, along with a little hip hop component in there at times. It gets a lot more comedic as the cops get more wise-cracking. Action scenes sometimes employ strings and contemporary pulses, and that may be the only place where there’s some overlap–sonically—with THE 100. Overall, THE 100 gets much more emotional and tragic and the stakes are higher throughout the show. In LETHAL WEAPON, the stakes aren’t typically raised until the last act.
What instruments and sound did you weave together for the characters of Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), individually and then when they work together as a team?
TREE: There was a less distinct thematic approach with LETHAL WEAPON. Riggs has always gotten delayed guitar collages with no recognizable melody. For Murtaugh, we’ve been using some Rhodes and layered reverse pads. When the guys work together as a team, there’s usually some lightness to it or action that is often groove-oriented.
At this stage of your career, what do you think you have learned from the amazing variety of projects you have worked on?
TREE: I think it’s very important to stay inspired and find ways to keep evolving. Creating the same sound over and over again can become a chore and ultimately lead to decay. I’m always looking to find the next adventure—the next chapter of becoming.
Are there any cool perks of where you are in your career right now?
TREE: At this point in my career, when embarking on a new gig, things are a little less mysterious and scary than they used to be. Perhaps that one of the perks of experience.
If there were one project you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
TREE: I feel like I always gave every project my all, so looking back, I have no regrets. That said, I think I keep getting better as I go along, so if I could, I’d redo them all!
Do any of your projects ever leave a lasting impression on you?
TREE: I learn something from every gig. It all goes into the mill.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten?
TREE: I’ve had plenty of great advice along the way. Graeme Ravell told me not to skimp on monitor size because it’s important for us to use our eyes as well as our ears as composers. Tom Rothrock said to commit to something cool-sounding early in the mix and build around it. Tyler Bates emphasized how important it is to get proactive in the process and the politics. Snuffy (Walden) had some great advice about work flow and ultimately gave me the idea to keep a studio at home and set up a second studio/office for mixing with work stations for assistants.
What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring composers?
TREE: Whatever system you use, it can always be improved. Focus on understanding the dynamic language of the project. The music part will be easy if you can tune in to and pin down these operating principals the storyteller is trying to define. Most of the gig is about listening patiently to the story, the storyteller, to those who have come before you and ultimately to the music that is in your soul, trying to get out.
What do you consider to be one of your proudest accomplishments as a composer?
TREE: My proudest accomplishment is just to have made a living so far by writing these little melodies that fall out of my head.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you can share that fans should keep an eye out for?
TREE: I have written and just release a graphic novel called DUSKRIDERS along with an album of music to go with it. It’s a dark tale about the toughest chick in the world, Dublyn Stinson, who forms a 3-man army called the Duskriders in order to save the earth from a corporate warlord who has colonized a distant planet with the rich and powerful. I’m very proud of it. Have a look and listen to the links below:
To see how hauntingly and brilliantly Tree’s compositions and musical themes resonate, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of THE 100 on Wednesday nights at 9:00 p.m. on the CW. Then also look for more of his great work when LETHAL WEAPON returns for Season 2 Fall 2017. Tree can also be found ready and willing to chat on Twitter. His Twitter handle is: @TreeAdams
For those curious, here’s our Season 3 interview with Tree about his work on THE 100 last season:
Also see Tree’s interview with our friends at Hypable about Season 4 as well: