The Sounds of Linoleum, Composer Mark Hadley Discusses His Synth Heavy Film Score

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

To say Mark Hadley is well versed in the composing world would be an understatement. Hadley has done everything from play the electric guitar on the Modern Family soundtrack to dabble in the horror world with scores to Blumhouse’s Into the Dark: My Valentine and Cranked Up Films’ Double Walker. What’s next for Hadley? Colin West’s sci-fi dramedy, Linoleum, which made its world premiere at SXSW last year and was just released in select theaters and VOD.

The film follows Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children's science TV show called "Above & Beyond", has always had aspirations of being an astronaut. After a mysterious space-race era satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, his midlife crisis manifests in a plan to rebuild the machine into his dream rocket. As his relationship with his wife (Rhea Seehorn) and daughter (Katelyn Nacon) start to strain, surreal events begin unfolding around him -- a doppelgänger moving into the house next door, a car falling from the sky, and an unusual teenage boy forging a friendship with him. He slowly starts to piece these events together to ultimately reveal that there's more to his life story than he once thought.

When discussing his Linoleum score, Hadley remarks, “I utilized synthesizers and other electronic textures to bolster the role of space and astronomy in the film, and juxtaposed those tones with more human elements like piano and a string quartet to compliment the warmth and heartfelt nature of the story.” Read our full discussion with Hadley below about his work on the film.

Can you talk about your background and how you ended up working in the entertainment industry?

Mark Hadley: I began playing instruments at an early age, and by the time I was in high school, I was taking my guitar studies pretty seriously and knew I wanted to go to college for music and study jazz guitar. While I was in college at Berklee College of Music, I saw the film Revolutionary Road and noticed film music for the first time. After that, I knew I wanted to write music for visual media and made my way to Los Angeles after graduating. I started by working as an assistant to a TV/film composer. 

Can you go through your composing process. When you land a new project, what do you do first?

Mark Hadley: The first thing I do is talk with the director about their vision and try to understand what the story is about at the core. I also start listening to a ton of music (film music, classical, popular, anything) to see what feels like it lives in the same world as where the score could live, and create a playlist to share with the director so we can have more in depth conversations about what's resonating. I start to conceptualize the general sound and feel of the music. Before I ever see any part of the film, I try to compose some music based solely on these initial conversations and inspiration. From that point on, it's just a matter of continuing to have discussions about what's working and what's not, and beginning to compose to the specific scenes. 

The Wall Street Journal called your Linoleum score an “outer space lullaby”. What do you think about

Mark Hadley: I am obsessed with this description and very pleased about it.

Did you score the film in chronological order? If not, what scenes did you do first and why?

Mark Hadley: We started with the main title sequence to establish the primary theme and sound of Linoleum, but after that, it wasn't quite chronological. I like to prioritize scenes based on how important they are to the story and work on those first. With a film like Linoleum, where there is a lot of connective tissue between scenes throughout the entire film, I was continually re-opening cues to make threads between certain moments.  

During your first conversations with writer/director Colin West, what did he convey to you that he
wanted the film to sound like?

Mark Hadley: We talked about it feeling like a dreamstate, like a memory, and a love story at its core. We knew we wanted an intimate sound. Of course, given the role of space in the film, we knew we wanted some sci-fi elements in the score as well. 

Did those directions change as the production progressed?

Mark Hadley: Not really, but there is always a certain amount of trial and error. I think we did a lot of pulling back throughout the process; getting away from more driving synths and focusing more on a warm, emotional feel. 

You used a few different synths for your Linoleum score. How do you pick which specific ones to use?

Mark Hadley: Well each synth has its own flavor, and when I have an idea for a certain sound that I want to achieve, I know which synth to go to for that sound. In the case of Linoleum, there are many short, plucky bleep-bloop type sounds throughout which I knew I wanted to use the teenage engineering OP-1 for. For some of the more traditional analog synth style pads, I knew I wanted to use a more classic style synthesizer and so I used the Oberheim OB-6 for those sounds. It's all about understanding the equipment and knowing what to reach for based on what you hope to achieve. 

Your Linoleum soundtrack album was released digitally. Do you have a favorite track?

Mark Hadley: I suppose my favorite track is The Fantastic, mainly because I find that scene so touching and vulnerable and sweet, and had a really wonderful time writing the music to go with that moment. I also love Linoleum because it's an understated overture for the whole movie. 

What was the most difficult scene in the film to score? Why?

Mark Hadley: Definitely, the final 10-15 minutes of the film, starting with our reveal of old Cameron in the basement with Erin. There is pretty much non-stop music from that point through the end of the film, and a lot of things happen - major plot points are revealed and there are several big emotional payoffs. We needed to sustain a lot of emotion for a long time and also make sure things stayed dynamic and captivating. It was quite difficult.  

How has the composing industry changed from when you first started working in it, to now?

Mark Hadley: I suppose the primary way is that there is just more content and more providers of content, so there are so many more opportunities to score things. The flip side to that though is that there are also seemingly way more composers, so it's not like it's gotten any easier to get projects, and also seems to be going on the decline. It also seems like there is a much broader range of styles in film scores as well - more risk taking, which creates a lot of super interesting scores.

Listen to Mark Hadley’s full Linoleum score here.

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