Composers of the Year Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross: “It’s Been an Intimidating Journey”

With Mank and Soul, the two musicians stepped out of their comfort zone in 2020

Michael Roffman and Spencer Kaufman
December 18, 2020
Consequence of Sound

Our Annual Report continues today with the announcement of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross as our Composers of the Year. Stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles in the days and weeks to come about the best music, film, and TV of the year. If you’ve missed any part of our Annual Report, you can check out all the coverage here

“You’re naming us Best Composers of All Time, right,” Trent Reznor asks over the phone. His partner-in-crime Atticus Ross laughs on another line. He’s joking, of course, but he’s also not exactly out of his element. While all-time might be a stretch — at least, for now — the two are certainly in contention for the last decade. After all, it’s been a wild 10 years for Reznor and Ross, one that began with a deafening bang.

That big bang arrived at the 83rd Academy Awards in 2011, when Reznor and Ross triumphed over the likes of Hans Zimmer and Alexandre Desplat to win Best Original Score for David Fincher’s The Social Network. Their debut score wound up being an opening salvo as Hollywood came calling — and fast. Since then, they’ve amassed an eclectic resume that most composers spend decades building up.

They’ve worked with veterans (Peter Berg, Susanne Bier), they’ve gone indie (Jonah Hill, Trey Edward Schulz), they’ve even found success on television (HBO’s Watchmen). Yet none of their collaborations have felt more succinct than their ensuing work with Fincher. They’re the Bernard Herrmann to his Alfred Hitchcock, the Giovanni Fusco to his Michelangelo Antonioni, the John Williams to his Steven Spielberg.

It’s a fitting marriage, not only in sound, but also in mind. Fincher is a perfectionist — meticulous for details, particular with pictures — and that ideology is right in line with Reznor and Ross (see: Nine Inch Nails, How to Destroy Angels). The two parties are carnivorous for challenges, and their working relationship has been nothing but a series of hurdles. Hurdles that have only notched higher and higher as the years pass them.

Mank is by far their most arduous collaboration yet. As if making a movie about the greatest movie of all time wasn’t tough enough, Reznor and Ross tasked themselves in using only period-authentic instruments from the 1940s. It’s a major departure from anything the two have done up to this point, eschewing their industrial minimalism for a dusty assortment of horns, swinging tempos, and nostalgia-tinged sounds.

Yet Fincher wasn’t the only call Reznor and Ross received, as far as 2020 movies are concerned. Pixar also rang for their latest spirited venture, Soul. Working alongside Inside Out director Pete Docter, the two composers dove headfirst into the sprawling, animated underworld. Together, they dreamed up a specific piece of music for each one of the film’s imaginative locales: The Great Before, The Great Beyond, The Astral Plane, and The You Seminar.

So, yes, it’s been a year for Reznor and Ross. In celebration, Consequence of Sound spoke to the award-winning composers about their outstanding run through the past and purgatory. Together, they weighed in on their long-storied history with Fincher, flexing new muscles with old instruments, the differences in working with animation, and past scores that inspired them. Needless to say, there are many decades to come.

Read the full interview

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