30 Songs, 1 Hour 16 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Based on the writings of martial arts icon Bruce Lee, the Cinemax series Warrior boasts stylish fight choreography and bold storytelling. The soundtrack is equally captivating as composers H. Scott Salinas and Reza Safinia take western and martial arts soundtrack styles and give them a fresh, contemporary makeover. And nine original hip-hop songs from Asian and Asian American artists reinforce the show’s powerful cultural statement. Salinas and Safinia, who previously worked together on the Birth of a Dragon soundtrack, spoke with Apple Music about the high-five as an excellence measurement, how they avoided tropes, and what kind of wood is the best to record foot stomps.

You're both composers with different ears. How do you work together?
Scott: We've known each other for a very long time. There's a lot of trust there. Sometimes an idea will come about because I'll go to the bathroom and then I'll come back and Reza is like, "I've got an idea. Plug this bass in..." and then he'll throw something down. Whenever someone has an idea, we just go with it. Depending on whose idea that is in the moment, the other person will play a sort of supporting producing role. We will switch hats, and it happens both ways. The music is born out of that trust. If we’re both high-fiving at the end, it's probably good. Because we come from very different backgrounds, that Venn diagram, that overlap area, is where we hit that sweet spot.

Reza: Even though we have our own specialties and things we really dig on, we both have a wider respect for other forms of music. There are things I'm really into, whether it's Hendrix or XXXTENTACION or Erik Satie. Conversely, there are things he's really into that I don't listen to. I love having the opportunity to hear those influences come through from his side, because it broadens my own perspective. We play the same instruments, but we play them with different emphasis, and it's always a joy for me to hear the way he plays something. There's always a revelation for at least one of us, if not both of us, each time we work together.

You’ve worked together on Birth of a Dragon. What did you want to do differently this time around?
Reza: You know how they say "acting is reacting"? I kind of feel the same is true in scoring, because the appropriate style of music comes out when you inhabit the headspace of the characters you're scoring, almost as if the characters are writing their own score in reaction to the circumstances they find themselves in. So even though the kung fu element was present in both Birth of a Dragon and Warrior, the characters, narrative, and worlds are so different that the writing style was just a completely different process. The character of Ah Sahm in Warrior has depth, wisdom, sorrow, and longing hidden under a veneer of badass attitude; those elements just found their way into the visceral mix of cinematic strings mixing with hip-hop beats and punky guitars with the same reckless abandon as the character itself. And with all the other characters, the same principle applied. Once we got into their psychological zone, their music just came and we went with it, supporting each other’s ideas and developing them without hesitation.

Scott: Birth of a Dragon was a much more cerebral process. Warrior is a little more like Jackson Pollock, throwing things, more frenetic and visceral. There are also some kind of classical, very refined things, but for the most part, it's kind of intentionally handmade and off-the-cuff.

Each episode closes with a hip-hop track over the end credits.
Scott: It's a nice refreshing texture, because you'll notice that's the only place in the show so far, at least in the first two seasons, where they're using a song with lyrics. There were other places in the show where we have montages, where we could've gone with a needle drop or a song, and they made a conscious effort to withhold that except for the end credits. So I think it's sort of a flavor that can be overused that we’re using really judiciously. And we got to collaborate with some of the artists, so that was very cool.

Were you careful to avoid western and martial arts soundtrack tropes?
Scott: Absolutely. We can't pretend that they don't exist, but we try to turn them on their head. In the case of the western tropes, we have a slide guitar but it's with a hip-hop beat. One of the concepts of the music of the show is that it's infused with contemporary instrumentation and rhythms and beats and sounds. So once you extended that through the western genre, you find there's a fruitful world there that hasn't been explored. You can be pretty similar in terms of the notes and the stylings, but as soon as you start putting that into the blender with hip-hop, hard drums, and cool sounds, it starts becoming its own thing. And also, we did all kinds of things to explore what feels western to us—like foot stomps. We got out all this wood and did all this stomping, and that felt western and visceral and honest. And maybe it's a trope, but it didn't feel derivative.

Did you find the wood at a construction site?
Scott: It's just a stupid wooden table that's very cheaply made. But when you pound on it, it sounds fantastic. And we did a revamp of the studio and it accidentally got thrown out. I was like, "No, that's our foot-stomp table!"

Clean Lyrics

EDITORS’ NOTES

Based on the writings of martial arts icon Bruce Lee, the Cinemax series Warrior boasts stylish fight choreography and bold storytelling. The soundtrack is equally captivating as composers H. Scott Salinas and Reza Safinia take western and martial arts soundtrack styles and give them a fresh, contemporary makeover. And nine original hip-hop songs from Asian and Asian American artists reinforce the show’s powerful cultural statement. Salinas and Safinia, who previously worked together on the Birth of a Dragon soundtrack, spoke with Apple Music about the high-five as an excellence measurement, how they avoided tropes, and what kind of wood is the best to record foot stomps.

You're both composers with different ears. How do you work together?
Scott: We've known each other for a very long time. There's a lot of trust there. Sometimes an idea will come about because I'll go to the bathroom and then I'll come back and Reza is like, "I've got an idea. Plug this bass in..." and then he'll throw something down. Whenever someone has an idea, we just go with it. Depending on whose idea that is in the moment, the other person will play a sort of supporting producing role. We will switch hats, and it happens both ways. The music is born out of that trust. If we’re both high-fiving at the end, it's probably good. Because we come from very different backgrounds, that Venn diagram, that overlap area, is where we hit that sweet spot.

Reza: Even though we have our own specialties and things we really dig on, we both have a wider respect for other forms of music. There are things I'm really into, whether it's Hendrix or XXXTENTACION or Erik Satie. Conversely, there are things he's really into that I don't listen to. I love having the opportunity to hear those influences come through from his side, because it broadens my own perspective. We play the same instruments, but we play them with different emphasis, and it's always a joy for me to hear the way he plays something. There's always a revelation for at least one of us, if not both of us, each time we work together.

You’ve worked together on Birth of a Dragon. What did you want to do differently this time around?
Reza: You know how they say "acting is reacting"? I kind of feel the same is true in scoring, because the appropriate style of music comes out when you inhabit the headspace of the characters you're scoring, almost as if the characters are writing their own score in reaction to the circumstances they find themselves in. So even though the kung fu element was present in both Birth of a Dragon and Warrior, the characters, narrative, and worlds are so different that the writing style was just a completely different process. The character of Ah Sahm in Warrior has depth, wisdom, sorrow, and longing hidden under a veneer of badass attitude; those elements just found their way into the visceral mix of cinematic strings mixing with hip-hop beats and punky guitars with the same reckless abandon as the character itself. And with all the other characters, the same principle applied. Once we got into their psychological zone, their music just came and we went with it, supporting each other’s ideas and developing them without hesitation.

Scott: Birth of a Dragon was a much more cerebral process. Warrior is a little more like Jackson Pollock, throwing things, more frenetic and visceral. There are also some kind of classical, very refined things, but for the most part, it's kind of intentionally handmade and off-the-cuff.

Each episode closes with a hip-hop track over the end credits.
Scott: It's a nice refreshing texture, because you'll notice that's the only place in the show so far, at least in the first two seasons, where they're using a song with lyrics. There were other places in the show where we have montages, where we could've gone with a needle drop or a song, and they made a conscious effort to withhold that except for the end credits. So I think it's sort of a flavor that can be overused that we’re using really judiciously. And we got to collaborate with some of the artists, so that was very cool.

Were you careful to avoid western and martial arts soundtrack tropes?
Scott: Absolutely. We can't pretend that they don't exist, but we try to turn them on their head. In the case of the western tropes, we have a slide guitar but it's with a hip-hop beat. One of the concepts of the music of the show is that it's infused with contemporary instrumentation and rhythms and beats and sounds. So once you extended that through the western genre, you find there's a fruitful world there that hasn't been explored. You can be pretty similar in terms of the notes and the stylings, but as soon as you start putting that into the blender with hip-hop, hard drums, and cool sounds, it starts becoming its own thing. And also, we did all kinds of things to explore what feels western to us—like foot stomps. We got out all this wood and did all this stomping, and that felt western and visceral and honest. And maybe it's a trope, but it didn't feel derivative.

Did you find the wood at a construction site?
Scott: It's just a stupid wooden table that's very cheaply made. But when you pound on it, it sounds fantastic. And we did a revamp of the studio and it accidentally got thrown out. I was like, "No, that's our foot-stomp table!"

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The Warrior Main Theme

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