Interview with Something in the Dirt composer Jimmy LaValle

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Aaron Moorehead Jimmy Lavalle and Justin Benson attends "The Endless" Premiere during 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Cinepolis Chelsea on April 21, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Aaron Moorehead Jimmy Lavalle and Justin Benson attends "The Endless" Premiere during 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Cinepolis Chelsea on April 21, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival) /

Directed by and starring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the horror/sci-fi flick Something in the Dirt already has a high Rotten Tomatoes score at 92%. We talked with the film’s composer, Jimmy LaValle, about his experience working on the film’s score, as well as his long-running music project, The Album Leaf, and his favorite horror films.

Interview with Something in the Dirt composer

1428 ELM: Based on what I have heard, I would say there are slow-yet-driving, drone-like melodies in the score. In what ways were these inspired by the story?

JIMMY LAVALLE: Part of that is just my composing style but thematically, there are narratives and characters that have their own motifs and I felt that the sort of detective work that is happening throughout the film is slowly being unraveled before us so that definitely influenced the pace.

1428 ELM: What story elements of Something in the Dirt most informed the music?

JIMMY LAVALLE: Theorizing, John’s backstory (his involvement with the church, his sinister demeanor, etc.), Levi’s backstory (his optimistic, always moving, whimsical outlook on life), and the documentary elements, interviews, etc. They all were individual storylines that needed to be scored.

The music of Something in the Dirt

1428 ELM: For the score to Something in the Dirt, how did you decide which instruments would work best?

JIMMY LAVALLE: I’m drawn to and utilize synths and atmosphere in my composing so I always start there. Moving into character themes, again, we wanted to find something that supported John in a way that both drew ties to his relationship to the church and his sinister demeanor so, with John, we landed on a pipe organ, with Levi, him being more optimistic, we landed on a flute.

This was the first time I have used woodwinds in my score and the performer, Hailey Niswanger, did a lot of improvisation on the flute and that really just stood out to be used for Levi. I’m always drawn to use voices in Just and Aarons films, mostly because they are drawn to it and I do believe that it really supports their kind of nod to time, mythology, etc.

I also work with the violinist Jake Falby to add strings to the score with a more unique approach than your typical string beds. He has a very playful approach to his performance and I encourage improvisation in general with anyone I work with while creating the score. This definitely informs the overall outcome as I’m able to grab moments of improvisation and edit them throughout the film.

1428 ELM: It’s impressive to tell a story with instrumental music alone. Do you think instrumentals (such as “post-rock” or surf music) could have a huge resurgence, sort of like swing had in the ‘90s?

JIMMY LAVALLE: I could see that the isolation that came with Covid might have had an impact on individuals looking for comfort in music. I’m not sure about post-rock or surf music in general, it’s not what I listen to but I think instrumental music creates an opportunity for the listener to have their own narrative and thoughts, whereas lyrics obviously guide you on a story. The story is wide open with instrumental music. I appreciate that.

1428 ELM: What’s it like getting to the final moments of the score?

JIMMY LAVALLE: It’s both exciting and confusing! There’s often a rush and panic and did I get everything? Did I get that stinger? Or did I miss that 1-sec transition??? But it’s also exciting in the sense of really being able to see your body of work in one place and listen to it, appreciate it, and pat yourself on the back. It’s always an exciting moment to finish a score but also a subtle sense of loss like, what do I do now? What’s next?

Jimmy LaValle
TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 07: Aaron Moorhead, Jimmy LaValle, Justin Benson, and David Lawson Jr. attend the “SYNCHRONIC” premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival at Ryerson Theatre on September 07, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images) /

Synchronic and The Album Leaf

1428 ELM: What was it like scoring for the Netflix film Synchronic? Admittedly, I have not seen it (it’s tough getting around to everything), but it does seem like the critics loved it.

JIMMY LAVALLE: The film was just picked by Netflix for streaming so we didn’t work with Netflix directly during the filmmaking process. Synchronic was the 3rd film I scored for Benson and Moorhead [who are directing episodes of the upcoming Moon Knight series for Marvel] and I feel like I really found my way in that film.

I thought the synth motifs I created were really interesting, the tone and drones in the film really supported its atmosphere and feel. I’m really happy with that film and feel like they did a fantastic job. I was really happy to see it at number 1 on Netflix for so many weeks. Really exciting to know that so many people were watching it.

1428 ELM: What can you tell us about The Album Leaf?

JIMMY LAVALLE: The Album Leaf has been my main creative outlet since 1999. I’ve released numerous records and toured the world over the last 25 years. I make primarily instrumental music and lean heavily on Rhodes piano, synthesizers, and electronics so it has always lent itself well to film and TV. So I kind of naturally fell into film scoring around 2009. I’m still releasing records, touring, and performing all over the world.

1428 ELM: What are your favorite horror films and TV shows?

JIMMY LAVALLE: Well, I grew up in the 80’s so watching films like Friday the 13th, the world of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Stephen King, etc was fun. But now I’m really impressed with modern genre filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, M Night Shyamalan, David Fincher, and films like Annihilation, Midsommer, Drive. [For TV,] I really like shows in the thriller, suspense, drama realm. Lovecraft Country, The OA, Ozark, Archive 81 etc.

I think the casts the umbrella of what I’m drawn to. But I also think as film has progressed, the world of composers is really exciting right along with it. With more composers having a band background if you will, it’s really changing the tone of scores in an exciting direction.

1428 ELM: Are you still discovering new things about music?

JIMMY LAVALLE: Always. As I was eluding to in the previous question with the composing world getting really exciting, I’m hearing a lot of creativity in films and across music in general. It’s really an exciting time to think outside of the box. The world of instruments and fx are ever-changing and growing so that definitely lends itself to creating new sounds and ideas. I feel like discovering new aspects of music is happening a lot.

1428 ELM: Are there any future projects you can tell us about?

JIMMY LAVALLE: I’m working on a new record as The Album Leaf. I’ll be touring throughout the year and I’m creating a new sound design for Beats Headphones. I also have a 60-minute sleep song coming out within the meditation app, Calm.

We’d like to thank Jimmy LaValle for answering our questions and, obviously, feel free to check out his work on Something In The Dirt as well as The Album Leaf.

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