A personal note from Alex Williamson, on his music for Tanner & Rei

Every Mutual Rescue story I’ve scored has been special. For Tanner & Rei, however, I knew we needed to take a different approach that not only suited the happy ending that we are used to seeing, but also conveyed the gravity of the hardships and the lasting scars from each character’s past. At the same time, we wanted to evoke the character, spirituality, and grandeur of the Southwest, which features so prominently in the film.

To that end, I experimented with various combinations of instruments that I felt viewers could immediately associate with the Southwest, the desert, and endless, wide-open spaces. In the end, I settled on a sonic palette grounded in two key acoustic instruments: the resonator guitar (sometimes referred to as a “Dobro,” played with a slide) and the fiddle, or violin. Rounding out the palette were a variety of guitars, of all sizes, and small percussion ranging from maracas and tambourines to castanets and frame drums.

I felt it was important to provide specific musical themes for our two main characters, an approach I haven’t always taken with Mutual Rescue films. For Tanner, the bold tone and attitude of the slide guitar was a perfect fit for his troubled, “bull in a china shop” past; I provided Tanner with a descending figure and plaintive melody that tries to convey his youth spent adrift, ultimately resulting in injury and tragedy.

On the other hand, I gave Rei a sweeter and more hopeful theme, carried by instruments with a lighter timbre, including a violin performance from the wonderful Gabriel Majou. Reflecting her own traumatic past, Rei’s theme wasn’t too lighthearted and cheery, maintaining a sense of melancholy and dignified beauty.

Tanner’s medical episode, representing his absolute rock bottom, is one instance where I felt traditional instruments couldn’t properly convey the utter hopelessness and horror of his situation. Here I made special, almost exclusive use of heavily processed sounds and textures, giving an unsettling and nightmarish dread to the score.

The real joy of the score was navigating the journey both Tanner and Rei took from the time of their meeting onward. Emerging from the darkness following his surgeries, Tanner’s guitars quietly reintroduce themselves. His slide guitar plays a sorrowful melody supported by the chords of Rei’s theme. As we witness his rehabilitation, the music picks up—literally ascending where it used to fall downwards over and over again. The guitar even becomes electric. It’s Tanner’s attitude and swagger, but with a bold new sense of direction, thanks to Rei.

From a certain point onward, we never hear Tanner’s old theme again, though the instruments are the same. His signature melodic figures are turned on their head, woven right into Rei’s delicate and sweet theme. Tanner is changed and forever intertwined with the companion he now lives for. Wherever they go from here, they go together.

Alex Williamson