Interview: Bleeding Fingers’ Russell Emanuel and Andrew Christie, the musical minds behind ‘The Simpsons’
Bleeding Fingers Music, was founded in 2013 by Russell Emanuel, Steve Kofsky and Oscar winner Hans Zimmer. Bleeding Fingers has scored everything from Planet Earth II to Intervention and American Playboy. But they recently took over the monumental task of composing the music for The Simpsons from Alf Clausen.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with The Simpsons co-score producer Russell Emanuel (RM), one of the founders and Chief Creative Officer of Bleeding Fingers. Emanuel, has over 80 credits to his name but is still looking for his first Emmy nomination. And Andrew Christie (AC), of Bleeding Fingers Music, is the lead composer of The Simpsons. We discussed the changing industry and the challenge of taking over the music for one the most iconic and prolific shows in television history.
AW: You’ve (Bleeding Fingers) taken over for The Simpsons recently, how daunting was that after Alf Clausen had been creating the music for 27 years?
RM: Very daunting but exciting. Of course. I mean there’s some big shoes we, you know, you’re stepping into. There’s a whole flurry of emotions that you really go through it’s an amazing challenge. I think from our perspective, such a long standing show, it’s, it’s such a privilege to be kind of invited in. I think we’ve learned a whole new language and, and uh, and that such an incredible team over there at The Simpsons. It’s a bit like being the new guitarist in the Rolling Stones.
AW: On a show (The Simpsons) where the characters don’t change, they don’t age, they always remain the same. What challenges does that create? Creating music that’ll keep the audience interested?
AC: Well, the nature of the show is that it’s always keeping up with sort of current events and it’s always a reflection on what’s currently going on. So that keeps the music fresh and writing for the characters very fresh. There’s a lot of the work done for us in that regard.
RM: I think we wanted to bring in new energy. I think that’s probably something wise on their behalf, making a change after that long bringing a new energy to it. And the, the kind of level of enthusiasm here for the show was great. A lot of us grew up with the show. If we can say we are grown-ups. But I think, as Andrew says, although the characters remain the same, there’s a new scenario, a new theme that they’re trying everything from 70s culture music to a French jazz, Dixieland. The script sets the theme and the theme sets the musical palette.
AW: Do you have a favorite kind of episode to score for The Simpsons?
AC: Yes. We did this episode called Working Mom and it was an homage of sorts to 1940s Parisian — to French cinema. We’re thrown into having to create this sort of this jazz soundtrack and especially with the live players, they really brought that to life. That was my favorite one. That was one of those really ‘wow’ moments for us. And that was so much fun.
RM: One of the joys of working on the show is the way which we were able to use some of the best musicians in the world — we’ve got access to incredible players.
AC: We had a great jazz guitarist come in and violin. It was a very simple setup. It was the biggest….
RM: You kind of realized how important the players are. Exactly two styles of music and then you start to delve into 1940s Parisian jazz. You realize how important it was all about the players at that time. It’s a real privilege.
AW: Does the music ever shape an episode? If so, can you tell us which episode?
RM: Yeah. I think the, I looked there were a lot of songs. Yes, there’s so many. I mean the Treehouse of Terror…
AC: Those episodes, those are heavy on the music. And the music is a really big character in that show.
RM: The Treehouse of Terror, that’s the Halloween episodes that they famously produce every year and it’s a big event.
AW: Do you have anything special planned for the upcoming 29th season of the Simpsons?
RM: It is very unusual the way that the music is created for the show. It’s like nothing I think I’ve heard of in the industry, we get one week — it’s breakneck speed. Yes, a huge task. We have a spotting session generally on a Friday and by the following Friday we’re in the studio scoring.
AC: Not much margin for error.
RM: And again, a big shock to the musical system for us, but very exciting to be on that roller coaster.
AW: The Halloween episode every year. Is one of their biggest, do you get any extra time?
RM: We usually do. We got an extra week. Yeah. It’s not exactly a luxurious calendar. Honestly, you know, I think we like it this way actually. It’s shoved on us and it’s a mad scrabble. No, say fortunately for us, we love it as well. As it is the start of the scoring year for us, which is in late August, it’s generally one of the first things we get very excited about. Yeah. It’s one of the very exciting…
AC: It’s a lot of late nights.
AW: We’ve seen a real push lately towards trying to include more women and minorities in the film and the television industry. How do you feel that maybe you can contribute towards other music branch?
RM: We all couldn’t be more for it and not because it’s the thing to say for the time, you know, we put our money where our mouth is. Bleeding Fingers has four, soon to be five composers on the team — female composers, that are fantastic in their own right. And, they bought an amazing aesthetic. I choose my words carefully, but, we need more. I think there’s been definitely a lack of female composers in the industry just because for such a long time it’s been a boys’ club and it’s been seen as a kind of slightly a dorky career. We’re very proud of the female members of our team and they’re incredible composers and they bring a little different look at the sound palette that helps us building things. Bleeding Fingers is all about collaboration. I think from my perspective when we put teams together it always lifts the production. I just hope we see more of it. I’m very proactive about flying the flag because I want to see more female composers apply here. I think it would be great for us. So sorry that was long winded but you hit on a subject that’s very dear to our hearts. Really. I think we want to see more of it. It’s very cool and it’s just a shame it took this long. But, they’re here and they’re here with a vengeance and I’m very happy about it.
AW: That is great to hear. And we are going to look forward to seeing what you have in store for The Simpsons next season. Thank you both so much for taking time to speak with me. And good luck with the Emmys this year.
RM: Well, we’ll keep everything crossed!