Meet Supernatural spinoff, The Winchesters, co-composer Philip White

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Acclaimed composer Philip White has a long list of notable works including The Loud House Movie which earned a 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. He is excited for the release of his upcoming project The Winchesters, a Supernatural spinoff that premiered on the CW on Oct. 11th. 

The story of The Winchesters centers around John and Mary Winchester (Sam and Dean’s parents). It takes place in 1972 and explores how they met and fell into the line of work that would ultimately be bequeathed to their sons.

Philip co-wrote the score to The Winchesters with Jay Gruska, and spoke with ProductionHUB about his experience. 

PH: Hi there Philip! I'd love to hear a little about your background in the industry.

Philip White: I moved to LA in 1999 and spent several years trying to decide whether to be an actor or a composer. After some time, I thankfully realized the life of a professional actor was not for me. I re-applied myself to music and was lucky to enroll in USC’s film scoring program in 2004. Not long after graduating, I was recommended to Christopher Lennertz, who was looking for help with an animated movie. Chris is a wonderful composer who would become a great mentor and friend. We’ve collaborated on numerous projects throughout the years, including Supernatural, the James Bond: Quantum of Solace and Starhawk video games, HOP, Identity Thief, Lost in Space, Revolution, Agent Carter, The Smurfs: Lost Village, and Jexi, to name a few. It was thanks to my years-long involvement with Supernatural that led me to being hired for The Winchesters.

PH: Can you talk me through how you knew you wanted to work with music as a career? 

Philip White: One of the first movies I remember—I was probably 5 or 6—was Disney’s Fantasia. So much about it stayed with me, but mostly how well the animation worked with the music. When I was 16, I watched it again, and it felt like reconnecting with a long-lost friend. It’s such a work of genius. That soundtrack (which includes excerpts from such seminal pieces as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, among others), along with the music of John Williams, were enormously influential during my childhood.

My entry into music began with guitar at age 13. By my senior year of high school, I began gravitating toward the piano. I’d come up with short tunes and melodies, and soon realized I enjoyed creating music more than performing it. In college, I enrolled in a dual-degree program with Tufts and the New England Conservatory, where I earned degrees in Drama and Music Composition. Writing music for media was a natural evolution of my artistic interests.

PH: Who are some of your influences?

Philip White: Every music teacher I’ve had has influenced me in some way. Certainly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without Vicente Nacher, my first guitar teacher in Madrid. Lee Hyla and Robert Ceely at NEC helped me with composition and orchestration. Later, everybody at USC: Jack Smalley, Pete Anthony, Brian King… It was actually Brian who recommended me to Chris (Lennertz), who has been monumental in furthering my career as a film composer.

In terms of musical influences, my love of movies is due in no small part to the unrivaled contributions of John Williams. Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, Thomas Newman, Gabriel Yared, and Toru Takemitsu are just a few who have also shaped my approach to writing. And, of course, Beethoven, Mahler, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartok, Leonard Bernstein, Sondheim…

PH: Let's talk about The Winchesters. How did you become involved? 

Philip White: Last July I read in the trades that a Supernatural spinoff was in the early stages of development. My friend, Robbie Thompson, was co-creating it with Chaos Machine Productions, a production company run by Jensen and Danneel Ackles (Jensen played Dean on Supernatural). I reached out to Robbie and told him I was interested in being on board. We stayed in touch, and in February we connected again once the pilot was greenlit.

A little backstory: Chris and Jay Gruska were the two composers on Supernatural. I began working as an assistant to Chris during the show’s first season in 2005, and I had the great privilege of writing additional music for much of the show’s 15-year run. I also shared a co-composer credit on the last two seasons. When I approached Chris about The Winchesters, he fully encouraged me to pursue this opportunity. I let Robbie know that I was there to help in any way he saw fit.

Luckily for me and Jay, the team decided to bring both of us on board, in a similar arrangement that he and Chris shared. 

PH: How did you and Jay collaborate to influence the show's tone and musical identity? 

Philip White: Because The Winchesters are cut from the same cloth as Supernatural, we 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 takes place). We also suggested using more thematic material, which would greatly enhance the developing love story between John and Mary. 

PH: I'd love to hear a bit more about your collaboration with Jay.

Philip White: In addition to being kind and generous, Jay is obviously a total pro and brings years of experience to the table. Our process has been very easy and open. For the pilot, it made sense for us to score it together, as many of the sounds of the show would be forged in the first episode. We actually began writing original material late last spring, trying out different ideas for different scenes. Some of those stayed in the pilot; others didn’t, as is typical with first drafts. For subsequent episodes, we’ll trade-off, as he and Chris did on Supernatural.

PH: What's it like coming into a project with a history behind it - especially preluding Supernatural, such an iconic, beloved series?

Philip White: It’s a great honor and a challenge to deliver the same emotional punch as Chris and Jay brought to the mothership! Luckily, I’m not jumping into it cold, as I’ve had the great fortune of being involved with Supernatural practically from the beginning.

PH: What challenges did you encounter? How did you resolve those?

Philip White: One of the biggest challenges in any project is finding your way in. I go through countless attempts at first, rejecting idea after idea. I remind myself that this is not only normal but necessary—the creative equivalent of flushing out the sewer lines. Eventually, if I keep improvising, trying different sounds, different ideas, or sometimes just going on a walk, I’ll find something. It may or may not end up in the final score, but it’s enough to keep me focused.

Once you’ve zeroed in on an idea, the second challenge is to make it sound as polished and as true to what you want within budgetary and time constraints. That’s always a bit of a Tetris game, but it can be fun if you’re excited about the raw material.

PH: Can you touch on some of your favorite sound moments? Will Supernatural fans be able to pinpoint any familiar sounds? 

Philip White: On Supernatural we sometimes used plucked piano strings as a recurring sound, as well as a detuned cimbalom, which is a kind of Hungarian dulcimer. (Chris actually bought it at a yard sale.) I’ve definitely resurrected those instruments. I suspect we’ll use them more, as the show is leaning towards more acoustic and organic sounds and less toward overdriven, synthetic ones.

PH: You also compose for the concert stage. Can you talk a bit about that experience and how it differs from television?

Philip White: The biggest difference is that the music isn’t subservient to the drama or the visual component. The music may be inspired by poems, stories, and other artistic mediums, but the music is still the main event. You’re writing music solely for yourself (and hopefully the audience). You are the only producer and critic. That comes with its own pros and cons. After a long period of writing for visual media, I love switching gears and writing a piece for a chamber or choir. I can take more harmonic risks with concert music. If I wrote film music the way I write concert pieces, I’d be fired! I don’t completely separate my musical brain between the two worlds, but they are different.

PH: Throughout your career, what have been some of the biggest lessons you've learned in your role?

Philip White: Patience, applying myself with intention, and following my curiosity have all served me well. I’m always trying to chase that synergistic sweet spot between luck and hard work. And working with generous, kind people is always a godsend.

PH: Would you like to share any upcoming projects you're working on? 

Philip White: 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.

Here’s a picture of the beat-up cimbalom:

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