Ever since the Deadly Class panel and surprise screening at New York Comic Con this past October fans have been counting down until January 16th when the Syfy series premieres. Recently new details have emerged about which characters from the comic will be on the show, including Isaiah Lehtinen (The Flash) whom will play Shabnam, King’s Dominion’s resident bookworm as well as Brian Posehn as metalhead Dwight Shandy. Erica Cerra (The 100, Eureka) will step into the role of Beheading 101 teacher De Luca while 3rd Rock from the Sun alum French Stewart will play unpredictable psych teacher Scorpio Slasher. With only a few weeks left until the full season begins, we decided to speak with the show’s composer Nathan Matthew David and discuss everything from how he kept the 1980s vibe to what the Russo Brothers vision for the score was.
How did you first get involved with Deadly Class?
I’ve co-scored on a couple shows and films with my close friend and mentor, Ludwig Goransson (Black Panther). One of his first gigs was to score Community, which was produced by the Russo Brothers. We got a call about this pilot, and Ludwig graciously recommended that I score the show on my own.
What was your initial appeal to the show?
Rick and Miles wrote an amazing script for the pilot, and the initial footage was visually stunning. I love that at its core, it’s a dark and irreverent coming-of-age story about underrepresented groups. The show runs counter to the ‘Amblin 80s’—that cozy and midwestern 80s that was represented so strongly in films of that time. It honestly explores how difficult it is to become an adult, especially when grappling with mental illness and poverty. I also love that the cast is so diverse. Being Asian-American, it’s heartening to see Lana Condor and Benedict Wong get so much screen time as main characters on a show like this. It’s equally amazing that the female leads (like Saya and Maria) are so epically strong and badass in the show.
Deadly Class is based on a graphic novel by Rick Remender. Did you go back and study this at all before starting work on the show?
Rick created such a stylish, original and poignant graphic novel, it was so easy to get hooked. I immediately went out and bought the printed versions and I’m so glad I did. Wes Craig’s drawings just jump out so much more on paper. I had about five months from when it was picked up to series to when I would begin composing for it. I had the first fifteen or so volumes on my nightstand. And every night, I would take a little bit of it in. Probably not the best thing to do before bed, but it made for some interesting dreams…
Deadly Class takes place in the 80s. How much did the time period influence your score?
The show is unlike anything else out there, so we’re hopefully always forward-looking with the score. It was important for us to be somewhat nostalgic every other day, but most days we’re looking for something new. In many ways, I think this ethos helped us to go against the grain of that skewed ‘Amblin 80s’ that’s stuck in most of our heads. I used a lot of modular synths to create different textures and unique instruments, a couple synths from that time and also guitar. Much of the guitar playing was influenced by post-punk and goth rock bands of that era. Each episode is also littered with some iconic needle drops of that time and those songs do so much to create the color for that era. Rick and Miles have such great musical tastes, their song choices for the show are epic.
Do you have a favorite character to score, why?
There are so many deep and interesting characters on this show! Marcus is our first guide into the world of King’s Dominion, so the music starts from his perspective. We experience a lot of the world through his eyes in the first couple episodes, so his themes are revealed early on. As he connects with other characters, and as we get to know them more intimately, the thematic palette expands. I love that each episode has a 2D animation segment that reveals the back story of each of our characters. It’ll be a treat for fans of the comic. I really tried to focus on making those animation moments as connective as possible with the characters. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make that effective.
In one sentence how would you describe your score for the show?
Rick Deckard hunts the rogue replicant, Robert Smith of The Cure. (That was probably a very poor sentence).
Anthony & Joe Russo Russo executive produced the series. Did they have any specific notes about the score?
We talked a lot about doing a future-past score. It was great to be asked by them to create something unique, and not derivative or overtly nostalgic. I think that’s what makes them great producers and directors, they take chances and they also give opportunities to unheard voices.
You also score TBS’s Angie Tribeca. How is working on a show like that different from working on Deadly Class?
They’re both incredibly irreverent, but they couldn’t be more different. But how awesome would it be if Angie Tribeca was sent back in time to 1987 and assigned a case in King’s Dominion? Could we make that happen? I hear crossovers are big these days.
Many thanks to Nathan Matthew David for taking the time for this interview.
Syfy surprised fans by putting the premiere episode online this week, and you can watch it here.