Bringing Sound to the Screen: An Interview with Film Composer Alex Geringas

Eric Gasa

When talking about his work, Alex Geringas can’t help but excitedly chuckle. The Moscow born, German-raised, and LA-dwelling musician has had a steady rise to success from penning failed pop singles back in the 90’s to writing big screen movie scores, and collaborating with pop legends like Cher and Kelly Clarkson.

During my chat with Geringas I had the opportunity to speak with an idiosyncratic man dedicated to both his family and craft. In his latest project, writing the score for Netflix’s Trolls: The Beat Goes On! Geringas channels his inner Wagner; infusing hilariously overdramatic tones to one of the most charming, quirkiest kids shows on TV today. The juxtaposition fits his personality perfectly; a man of the dignified arts not afraid to join in on the fun.

Other scores to Geringas’ credit includes Pitch Perfect 3, Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh, Ice Age: Collision Course, and The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

How did you first break into the music industry?

It was back in 1998, I was living in Germany and a friend of mine told me, ‘Hey man, let’s write a hit!’ At the time I knew nothing about writing for artists and then he told me lets write about something everybody likes and bring it to a publisher. I thought it was all talk. We wrote a song about a topic we both thought everybody liked, vacation. We played it to the publisher, who liked it, then the record label sent it to a radio station, and then we had our first release.

But this also has to be the biggest flop in my career to date because nobody bought the single. There was a producer though that heard our song and reached out to me to write one with him for a rap group. That first single would become my first Top Ten hit in Germany. Our second release together became the theme song for the first episode of Big Brother in Germany.

As a composer and songwriter, which comes first, the lyrics or the melody?

I am and always will be a melody guy. I love working with lyricists, but I also love setting a concept with them and developing that idea.

Who are some of your musical inspirations?

One of my biggest musical inspirations is John Williams, the film composer. I love the variety of styles that he has composed. And of course, there is Alexandre Desplat who is just phenomenal in how he found a dialogue where no words are spoken in, The Shape of Water. Absolutely fantastic. That is where I would like to be someday.

Do you have children? If so, are they what first inspired you to write compositions for animated movies?

My two daughters, Polly and Lea who are 9 and 11, and my wife are next to my biggest inspirations for everything I do. I think that’s why I love to do animation because when I walk straight into my house the first thing I hear is “Oh, Dad that sounded cool” or “Dad, that sounds embarrassing.” My daughters always judge my music exactly the right way.

For “Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh” you wrote a song with none other than Cher. How was collaborating with her?

She is a highly motivated artist and so hard working. So motivated in fact, that after she had done the voiceover for the show, everyone was very happy with her recording, but not herself. She wanted to record it again because she thought she could make it better. She wanted it to be perfect.

This is exactly the dedication that separates a super star from a regular star.

How did you get involved with producing the music for Trolls?

I was doing a lot of work for DreamWorks already. I was just Emmy nominated for All Hail King Julien and I did some themes like Voltron and some other shows when I got a phone call from the head of music that just said, ‘Hey, you’re doing Trolls now.’ And I thought, how could I resist such a charming phone call? But yes, I was super happy to be involved from one project to another.

Can you describe your creative process for Trolls, The Beat Goes On?

Trolls was not easy because the characters, as you can see are very quirky, colorful, the question is what can you do to underline it but not play against the animation. So, we decided to create a unique palate of instruments to create a cohesive score. We used a lot of vocal samples, organic handclaps; we wanted to define the world as much as we could from an audio standpoint.

But even 20 episodes in, we are still developing and finding things we can do better. That is one reason why I love scoring TV shows because you never stand still, there is always new input and new things to learn.

What has been your favorite moment while working on this production?

One of my favorite moments, was a scene in the first season where Branch came in to rescue Poppy and he came in on a horse that reminded me of a Wagner opera. There are so many, funny overdramatic moments in this show. The executive producer requested super overdramatic symphonic scores, and so on some episodes, I’m scoring all the war music you can imagine, movies like Braveheart. I’m getting to score music meant for big, epic, action movies.

I think that answers the question best, that must be my favorite thing about Trolls. Because this is what I love to do, score big, epic movies. And I get the opportunity to do this in Trolls.

Were you given a lot of creative freedom on this project?

Yes, but it was funny that I didn’t have a lot of time to come up with concepts; I literally had 2-3 days. But it is sometimes great to not have too much time to think about a project. During that time, I was also working on additional music for Pitch Perfect 3 and Home, so I had so much stuff going on. I had just the right amount of time to think, make a decision, and move on. But I was lucky enough that the people loved it.

Do you have any big projects or plans coming up for you in 2018?

I have some movies so far where I have contributed some original songs like The War with Grandpa, which is an upcoming Robert De Niro movie. Also for Brian Henson there is the Happy Time Murders which is an upcoming Melissa McCarthy movie with original songs that I have contributed. I have some other stuff brewing but nothing I can talk about at this moment unfortunately.