The 100 composer Tree Adams shares season 4 soundtrack details with Hypable’s Hype Podcast.
In season 3, The 100 got a major sound upgrade when Tree Adams joined the kru as composer, creating a beautiful and action-packed soundtrack that helped crank up the levels on the scale of epicness.
With The 100 season 4 in full swing, we had the pleasure of speaking to Adams about his work on the series, his favorite themes and characters, the ‘sound of the season,’ as well as some of his other projects.
‘The 100’ composer Tree Adams talks scoring the apocalypse
The conversation spans everything from how Adams first got started in the industry to very specific sounds of different characters and themes of The 100 season 4. One highlight from the interview was Adams explaining his process, and how much freedom he has in terms of experimenting with different sounds and instruments.
“With The 100 I’ve been fortunate in that the music has become another character in the show,” says Adams. “Jason Rothenberg wants to tell a story with music, so I’ll get some moments … [producer] Tim Scanlan will kinda smile and say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna ride you up here.’ It’s a cool thing to get that room to spread your wings musically within the context of somebody’s story.”
Adams shares his appreciation for the “melting pot” of sounds and instruments available to him in the imagined future of The 100, explaining, “We use a lot of contemporary pulses and soundscape stuff, mixed with all kinds of world instrumentation, in addition to all the traditional orchestral stuff. So it’s pretty wide open. Especially now that I’ve been doing it for a while, and Jason trusts me, I do feel free to take risks. And I like that, cause that’s when some of the best stuff happens.”
But the risks don’t always make it into the final score. “I did something the other day where I was singing really low, like Tuvan monks,” Adams recalls. “I layered a whole bunch of crazy low vocals underneath this scene, and it just played a little too crazy and I got shot down. But I mean, why not? You gotta go for it!”
We also discussed the process of creating the score, from his initial ideas to the finished product. Says Adams, “Usually before the season starts I’ll write a bunch of thematic material that speaks to what lies ahead, a thematic sweep. As far as the actual episode by episode goes, I’ll get a rough cut, I’ll start writing to it, and then we’ll all sit down and do what’s called a spotting session.”
As they’re planning out the season’s musical journey, “I will especially try and help guide us towards some kind of thematic fabric,” says Adams, “so I’ll be like ‘Okay, this is this sort of love here, burgeoning between these two, let’s do something with that, because we know in the episode before they kissed, and now they’re having some tensions.’ You know, you kind of want to have long arcs that accompany the story.”
Returning for his second season as composer for The 100, naturally we can expect to hear some familiar themes, mixed in with completely new sounds.
“We’re operating in a world we’ve established, so there’s a certain amount that is gonna be the same,” Adams says. “We do have some new characters, some new relationships — and some of the old characters, even though they have a relationship, that relationship has changed a little bit. So some of our palette is intact, but we’re bringing in some new things.”
One of the new pieces of music we can expect is Echo’s theme — which Adams compares to Darth Vader’s theme in Star Wars.
“We have this new character Echo, she’s sort of the right-hand woman of Roan, and she’s almost got this Darth Vader theme going,” he says. “Every once in a while I’ll do, like, almost a military snare drum and then these staccato brass things like ba-ba-da-da! But that just happened because she kept arriving in these military situations, and I was like, alright, that’s just gonna be her thing.”
“There are also some new dynamics that I certainly can’t speak about,” he adds, “things that are happening in the world that are new, so we have to introduce a whole new flavor for them. That’s one of the beautiful things about the show, it’s the same world but it’s really changing, so every season you get to breathe new life into it, sonically and thematically.”
When asked how one goes about musically representing the end of the world, Adams reveals that, “at the beginning of the season, I sat down to write a theme called the ‘End of the World Theme.’ I have some strings that are doing a motif that’s pretty severe, and obviously fraught with emotion and finality; there’s base, piano, octaves, just giving you that really, frickin’, ‘someone just died’ thing, and then I’ve got this weird undulating synth base that’s pretty distinct and wiggly. I was just tweaking some oscillators and got something that felt really unsettling, and I was like, alright, that’s my guy. You’ll feel it, you know?”
We also spoke a bit about the development of the Grounders’ music. Adams explains that as they were figuring out what kind of music the Grounders would play and have access to, they asked themselves, “Did they have to reinvent music? What do they know of music? There’s a piano around, so that’s a segue into Western scales.”
“The thought was that it’s like a poly-cultural soup, like a globalized, all of the different music and instruments,” he says. “Imagine that they’ve been melted in this future, and it’s a little bit more of a wide-open palette. Which I think is where things are heading on some level, because of the globalization of the ecomony, and the Internet being what it is, and people having access to all kinds of music.”
“There’s all these different things that are cross-pollinating in pop culture, and I think ultimately that’s probably where it’s all going, all of the different instruments and the palette will blend all of the languages, all of the stylistic rhythms and everything is gonna kind of melt into one big pot. And when thinking about where the Grounders are at, that’s how we envisioned it. They’ve had to start again, but the idea is that they found some instruments lying around. The walls have been broken down, it’s not in bins.”
“Octavia is the one who has transformed the most so far, her character is really exciting this season. She’s unhinged,” he teases. “And so what you’ve got there, musically, is basically this cold-blooded killer, so we have this treacherous assassin motif for her. It’s this dark, gigantic horn theme, and then we’ll play it sometimes when she’s sneaking around, on lighter instruments. If you listen quietly we’ll play it on a harp or something like that. But yeah, she’s really exciting this season.”
And yes, Kabby fans: We can confirm that there’s gonna be a Kabby love theme on the season 4 soundtrack.
“There was a little bit of a romantic thing with them last year — they had this one kiss — but they didn’t last long. They were always having this intimate conversation that was then interrupted by the urgent matter at hand, or they were chipped and having a conversation where they weren’t themselves,” Adams recalls. “So while there was the seeds of a love theme, I didn’t really have enough of a thing for it last season to put it on the soundtrack. It was almost in there… but let’s just say there is enough of it this year.”
Of course the soundtrack needs to come out first, and Tree Adams reminds us that it’s not a certain thing. “Half the battle is showing there’s an audience for it,” he says, which luckily we know The 100 fans are more than capable of doing! Adams further expresses an interest in releasing the season 4 soundtrack on vinyl, which would be an awesome way to experience the post-apocalyptic, futuristic soundscape of the series.
While he hasn’t named all the tracks yet, Adams does tease that, along with the Kabby theme, we can probably expect a track named “Bellamy’s Choice” based on his decision in the second episode of season 4.
As for whether we can expect an updated version of the Bellarke theme in season 4? The short answer is yes. Says Adams, “there has always been some thematic material for them, and that will continue throughout this season. And it certainly evolves, because that’s a very crucial relationship.”
Finally, I asked Adams to define the ‘sound of the season,’ as much as such a thing can be done. “It’s very dark,” Adams muses. “We have a lot of emotion and high stakes, and it’s pretty exotic-sounding.”
For more detailed answers to all of these questions and lots more information on the character themes, the history of Grounder music and more, listen to the full podcast interview above or download/subscribe to the podcast!