Tai Freligh chats with composer Philip White about Supernatural and The Winchesters…
Philip White composes music for film, television, interactive media, and the concert stage. He has composed the scores for Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming, The Loud House Movie (2021 HMMA nomination for Best Original Score for an Animated Film), Jexi, A Madea Family Funeral, Nobody’s Fool, Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, and Alex & Me.
In television, Philip has had the pleasure of working on Supernatural for the duration of its historic 15 seasons on the CW. Other major TV credits include Fraggle Rock, Lost in Space, Ray Donovan, What/If, Bates Motel, Agent Carter, When We Rise, Revolution, and Dallas.
I asked him about composing for the new spin-off series, The Winchesters, how he approaches music for reboots, and his music philosophy in general.
The House of Dragons theme music has elements of the original Game of Thrones theme music in it. Where The Winchesters is also a spinoff, how much bleed over was there with the music from Supernatural and/or thematic teases?
Because The Winchesters is cut from the same cloth as Supernatural, Jay (Gruska, the co-composer) and I knew we’d be bringing back many of the same sounds. We realized this made the most sense as an underscore for the horror and supernatural elements. After all, the monsters that Sam and Dean would fight were already plaguing humanity in 1972 (the time when The Winchesters take place). However, most of the sonic through-line in Supernatural was carried by instrumentation choices and orchestral gestures, rather than themes. For The Winchesters, we all agreed that using more thematic material would help set it apart from its predecessor and enhance the developing love story between John and Mary.
What were you and Jay going for with the music for The Winchesters in terms of the time period (70s) and the nature of the show?
Unlike Supernatural, The Winchesters takes place in 1972. We thought about how we would incorporate sounds from that era. Very broadly speaking, that meant favoring acoustic instruments a bit more and leaning away from synths and heavy distortion. Since we’re midway through the season, there is obviously still more to be explored there. The goal has always been to balance a fresh perspective with the sound of Supernatural which we know and love.
Having done music for 15 seasons of Supernatural, how do you keep it fresh and interesting?
It’s definitely a challenge. Over the course of an episode, it’s natural for musical ideas to get ingrained and take up space in your brain. However, when you have to move on to a new episode or project, they can be hard to banish! Finding something unique in the episode—whether it’s a character arc, or the location, or the lighting, or cinematography—will help you dial in something equally specific for the music. Blake Neely, who I had the great fortune of being mentored by at the Sundance Composers Lab, likes to call this the Big Idea. This can be applicable to one specific cue or the whole project.
You’ve done music for a few television shows that have been remakes of older shows (Fraggle Rock, Lost in Space, Dallas, etc.). How do you approach composing for a more modern version of a classic?
Fortunately, on several of those projects, I was always working with a lead composer who had already had many conversations with the producers about the tone of the new show. With any remake, it’s important to distill what made the original special. Once you figure out what that is, then the musical choices tend to fall more or less into place. For instance, with Dallas, which had the great Rob Cairns at the helm, we knew we weren’t going to try and emulate the original score because it would feel out of place in the remake. What made the original Dallas special was the drama that ensued from the insane family dynamics. As long as the music supported that in a way that felt contemporary, the palette was wide open.
Do you prefer composing for film or television and why?
I love composing for ANYTHING! There are pluses and minuses to different formats. Ultimately, I’m attracted to the storytelling, no matter how it’s presented. The only difference between film and television is the length of the dramatic arc.
What is your approach to composing music in general?
Fumbling around the keyboard repeatedly until I stumble across something I don’t loathe! I had a composition teacher say something like 50% of composing takes place away from a musical instrument. I find that often true. My most consequential musical decisions often take place while I’m walking my dog. The rest is a lot of trial and error, refining, and polishing. And sometimes starting over.
Is creating music for video games any different than doing it for movies or TV shows?
In some ways, yes. Most of the action in a game is not tied to events happening in fixed time. Instead, you’re scoring an overall mood. As such, I have more flexibility to define the musical structure of a piece of game music. Conversely, with music for film or TV, you may not always be able to write an unencumbered 4-bar phrase (but it’s so satisfying when you can!).
What do you have coming up for projects?
I have two projects coming up in the spring which I’m excited about. Since nothing has been officially announced, I’m sadly not able to say more yet.
Tai Freligh writes about entertainment and pop culture for Flickering Myth from sunny Huntington Beach, California…just a hop and a skip from Los Angeles. He can be found on Twitter and TikTok and his website.
PHOTOS: Geraldine Agoncillo / The CW