INTERVIEW: Composer Sherri Chung Talks Riverdale And The DC Universe
"I’m always focused on what’s right in front of me but I particularly love working on projects that are sort of otherworldly."
In a recent interview, I was very lucky to speak with the composer, Sherri Chung, who is behind the music of CW’s Riverdale and NBC’s Blindspot. She had so much to share about her journey as a composer, vocalist, conductor, among many more talents. She is a ridiculously multi-talented individual and has worked alongside famed composer Blake Neely for DC CW shows such as Supergirl, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. Her list of accomplishments speaks for itself and it was such a pleasure talking about all her experiences and her journey to becoming the composer she is today. Our conversation below dives into her passion for music and how she continues to use that to bring life to some of our favorite television shows!
Tell me a bit about yourself! How did you get into this line of work?
I grew up in a semi-musical family too! I started piano lessons when I was age five and begged my parents to get me lessons. I started training classically and realized that wasn’t for me. I had a lot of musical background from going to church and summer camps. One of my backgrounds was in band, and I also played in an orchestra, for jazz band, and played trumpet for a while and sang a lot. I think I started writing music for a little bit, but I wasn’t being trained.
When I was 12 years old, I watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and was really blown away by the score of it. From then on, I realized I must do this even though I didn’t know anything about it. I continued through high school and got a degree in compositional theory. Then, I came out to LA for the graduate program for film scoring and now I’m here!
Riverdale is a fun, amazing show and has such a dark, unique take on the Archie comics. Can you tell me a bit about how you came to work on this show?
I worked with Blake Neely who was the co-composer on the show. I started working with Blake many years ago from when I was a student at USC and he was an advisor and teaching a class there. I wanted to work with him and I finally did during the Supergirl pilot and helped with parts of developing that. When Riverdale came around, we worked on that together from season one. Personally, I work on the music for the Lodges’, Veronica, Hermione, and when Hiram came on that was a really fun thing to explore on that show musically.
I am a huge CW DC universe fan, and I was so excited to learn that you have worked on shows like The Flash and Arrow alongside Blake Neely, how has that experience been for you? Did you work on the Flash musical last year?
So, I started working with him on Supergirl which was really exciting and a huge learning opportunity. Everything from light and comical to heavier accent really driving the content. I really started working with him when he started on Legends of Tomorrow, which was really fun. I worked a little bit on The Flash and got to work on all four shows during the big crossover event. The Flash musical was really a creative challenge but fun to work on. I generally worked on all of them and we did a lot of Skype producing, but Darren Criss did come into the studio. I did work on the one where the character Joe sings, it was all very exciting and fun to work on.
When working with other composers like Blake, how much of your influence is a part of the music that is being created?
One of the great things about Blake is that he is really open about needing help so one of the great things about when I started working with him was that it was a great thing to get in there and learn about the pace of television which can be quite brutal. A lot has to be written and of high quality because the shows are all high profile and really well done. But through working with him he was very open to my collaborative input.
It got to the point in the first season of some of these shows (especially Riverdale and Blindspot) where I was contributing enough that it made more sense to move to a co-credit because we both were contributing the same. That was really exciting for me for my own growth, and to be partners on the show. And while it allows me creative freedom, it’s also fun to talk through it all with Blake too. It’s such a direct collaboration and a wonderful creative development for myself.
Out of the DC universe or Riverdale, is there a specific show or character that is a personal favorite or one you’re most connected to?
I think I really connect with the Lodges’ in general, specifically Veronica and even Hermione. I love the connection between the two of them as mother and daughter. Another character I love writing for is FP, Jughead’s dad. I love the depth of the writing for him and his acting/execution of it. I really connect with the Serpents, and developing their sound a little. I feel like every single episode I’m so excited to revisit each one of these characters, and how their journey continues musically.
What is your process from start to finish like for creating pieces of music for a show/movie/documentary?
The first thing I do is watch, and have a discussion with the director, producer, or whoever is in charge and talk to them about what they want the piece to say, and what the job of the score is. It depends on the genre of the show, so that discussion takes place before writing anything to determine the function of the score. And after that, my process is more throwing sounds up against the picture and understanding it in context of character and storyline.
I do like to write away from the picture first after watching it with the picture in mind. It’s a great tool because you’re not inhibited by the length of scene and get to think in a brainstorming free association kind of way. And oftentimes I’ll play that piece of music for the director and producer and say not to use it on the picture but ask them what they think of it. It’s a great tool for them to say if they love it or not, and if something is lacking with what their vision is. They get to pick and choose what they’re connecting with and then I can build the meal.
The Netflix documentary The Keepers was particularly haunting and creepy. How did you come about doing this particular project and what challenges did it present compared to some of the other work you’ve done?
That was definitely all Blake’s contribution on that. I did do a vocal on there though. What I was really able to do was the conducting on that score with Blake. It was a fascinating way to be involved in the music in a different way. When the documentary first started, the story developed one way, and as more evidence was being uncovered, it was creatively interesting for me in the process. The challenges were incredibly fulfilling and, of course, are very different from the scripted shows, and justice has to be given to the story and the people it’s about.
You did work on The Other Side of Home, which was on the shortlist for Oscars 2017 in the category for Best Short Documentary. Tell me a little bit about that and what your experience was like!
I have worked with the director on many projects and she’s such a great storyteller. We’ve done many different kinds of film together. When this one came along, she was looking for a very specific person. I remember when I saw the first cute we talked about tone and what’s happening. She told me the story that Maya, the subject of the film, even through her journey she denies the genocide.
In the end, it ended up being the gem of the story because it brought up the conflict and how Maya represents the conflict. I wrote the scene and she thought it was amazing and we had a dialogue/discussion about it. She went into the editing bay and put the music up against the picture and it worked tonally and structurally. It was great to work with someone I have already worked with because we can discuss what has or hasn’t worked in the past.
What is a project you’d love to work on or be a part of?
I’ve really been thinking about this lately and I’m always focused on what’s right in front of me but I particularly love working on projects that are sort of otherworldly. The ones that focus on a different world – especially post-apocalyptic. They’re really exciting! Something like I Am Legend, something not of this time period or reality. As well as something like The Shape of Water! It’s a great exploration of sound.
Are there any future projects you have coming up or we can look out for?
I am starting a documentary this summer so I can go back to the fun story-telling! I’m going to be working on an album as well. I wrote a song for a horror film, Ghost Town, and it has this underground cult following, so the soundtrack for that is going to be released. And I look forward to working again on the next seasons of Riverdale and Blindspot.
Keep up to date on Sherry’s upcoming projects on her website.