An extraordinary television show is always a team effort. Marvel’s latest masterpiece, Loki, is no exception. Every aspect of the show has been painstakingly crafted to convey a world and story so compelling that we’re up before the crack of dawn to watch the next episode. While the cinematography and production design of the series has been extraordinary, the show would not be nearly as glorious without its powerful, often-wrenching score. For that, we have award-winning composer Natalie Holt to thank. 

We recently chatted with the Emmy-nominated Holt, who has worked with legends like Hans Zimmer and Martin Phipps. We talked about Natalie’s early inspirations, her process composing for Loki, and her acclaimed performances as a violist with the string quartet, RaVen.

Natalie also discussed the importance of close collaboration with Loki director Kate Herron, as well as some of the challenges unique to women in the entertainment industry.

Natalie Holt
Natalie Holt

Loki stars Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia DiMartino, Wunmi Mosaku, Gugu Mbatha Raw, and Richard E. Grant. And be sure to check out our full commentary series

Listen Here:  iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts

Send us an email at feedback@themadamespod.com.

Follow us on Twitter & Instagram

Here’s the full transcript of the interview:

Amy:
So Natalie, who inspired you or what inspired you to be a composer and a performer?

Natalie Holt:
Well, my mum was a music teacher and a cellist as well, so that music was definitely being pushed – well, not pushed – but in the ether from very early on. And my grandmother was a violinist as well, actually. So I chose to learn the violin and I’m still playing her violin, even though she’s no longer with us. So kind of in the family, I would say.

Amy:
It’s a nice way to keep that history in the family, especially when you’re using the same instrument.

Natalie Holt:
Yeah, it’s really special. And I discovered a pile of her violin music recently. It was in my mum’s attic and it had all of her fingering and musical markings on lots of Bach partitas. So it felt like reading a letter or something, seeing her marked-up scores.

Kris:
Oh, wow. What a time capsule.

Amy:
That’s amazing.

Kris:
So, as we mentioned in the intro, you’ve worked with legendary composers, including Zimmer and Phipps. What are some of the greatest lessons that you’ve learned through those collaborations?

Natalie Holt:
That’s a good question. Hans didn’t employ me himself. I was Martin’s assistant and they co-wrote a film together. So I was working more with Martin, but I was in some meetings with Hans. And that was really a lesson to me, just seeing him handling a room full of execs and just putting everybody at ease. And he has this incredible way of communicating. He’ll come up with an idea, a concept – it’s not just music. It’s telling its own story. He just excites people and they’re totally in the palm of his hands. Seeing him kind of holding the room like that, he’s not going over people’s heads with musical terms. He’s just always about storytelling and being a good communicator. I think that’s also part of your job as a film and TV composer.

Amy:
I think that’s key when it comes to conveying emotions. A lot of it gets done through the score of any of the shows and movies that we watch.

Natalie Holt:
Definitely. And Martin as well. He’s such a thoughtful and really generous person. I love working with him. He loves to collaborate and be inspired by the musicians that he works with. And he’ll just be quite spare with his themes and textures, but then he’ll put something really beautifully detailed together. It’s really fascinating seeing different composers in their processes. And I just feel like I’m always learning from collaborating. I think if I was just stuck in a room on my own, I’d get really bored of myself. I love collaborating with filmmakers and musicians and other composers. It’s part of the fun of the job, I think.

Amy:
So of all the compositions that you’ve done for films and TV, which one would be your favorite? What would be the one that you’re most proud of?

Natalie Holt:
Oh, that’s like asking who your favorite child is. I only have one child, so that’s kind of an easy one. All the projects feel so different and, on the whole, incredibly positive. I feel really lucky to have collaborated and worked with such great people like Phillippa Lowthorpe. Three Girls was such a powerful storytelling process. It was a real-life story of these girls that were sexually abused in Rochdale in a trafficking ring. Philippa and Nicole Taylor were working with these victims of this abuse. And that dub, the final mix, we had one of the girls there. Just being part of that kind of cathartic experience for these people was incredible. And the music for that show was very spare but very emotional. I just felt like that story didn’t need a big, grand theme like Loki needed. So I feel like being appropriate for the story that you’re telling is always really key as well. And then I just finished a film that’s coming out in the autumn with Claudia Llosa called Fever Dream, which was a great project to work on as well and just a great team of people. And I love everything. Obviously, Loki has just been an amazing experience as well. And working with Kate Herron was just a dream. She was a dream collaborator, and we just really hit it off with our kind of sensibilities and tastes. And the direction that she and I wanted to take the music just seemed to gel.

Amy:
That’s wonderful.

Kris:
So the first half of the soundtrack dropped today and it’s just gorgeous. We think that you are the absolute perfect person to score this show for a number of reasons, but your collaborative spirit is one of them because it seems like this particular show more than most others has been such an incredible collaborative effort. So tell us about that process of creating the score. Where did you begin?

Natalie Holt:
I guess that it began with the very first meeting because I read the script and responded to what was happening with Loki. I guess the things that I was communicating with and the kind of ideas I had resonated with Kate Herron and Kevin Wright, who was the producer on those first meetings. And then I got through to the next stage where I did a pitch, which I’m sure they probably had loads of composers doing. It was a scene from Episode One from the time theater where Loki’s looking back at his life. I think it was a nine-minute sequence that I had to score. That was where I just came up with that Loki theme right there in the pitch. I just sat down at the piano and I came up with that theme. So that was there from the get-go actually. Weirdly, it just kind of popped into my head. It needs to be this grand, theatrical, kind of over-the-top theme with these flourishes. And then using the theremin was in my pitch as well. Kate just obviously decided that that was the way she wants to go. So everything just kind of connected up and flowed really well. I feel like I’ve managed to create something that I feel proud of. And I think Kate does too. And something that I feel really captured Loki’s spirit and kind of told his story musically.

Kris:
It certainly has. And I have to tell you, both our mouths are just wide open right now. The idea that that’s the scene they gave you to score. It’s one of, if not the most, emotional scenes of the series thus far.

Natalie Holt:
It was edited quite differently actually, last summer. It started, when they came up the lift. That was where the scene started. So it was kind of a bit lighter at the front. There was a bit of that Lokius – Loki and Mobius – chat at the beginning. That was more playful.

Kris:
So there are so many influences in the show and we can feel within the score. What were your particular inspirations?

Natalie Holt:
Definitely Tom Hiddleston’s performance. There’s something so Shakespearian about his delivery and the high notes and the low notes that Loki goes to. I felt like it needed to be something grand and orchestral, but I wanted the quirkiness of the TVA in there. When I saw the design, there was something quite sort of analog. There’s lots of levers and you see an Akai in Renslayer’s office. So I felt that texture of the TVA, like the analog tape machine, making everything kind of have that aesthetic. That matched what I was seeing visually. That seemed to work. And then obviously the theremin that Kate and I connected on in that very first meeting. Then as I got deeper into that emotional side of Loki and his past, his mother, and meeting this female version of himself, I wanted to call back to the Norse mythology. There we go. That’s a tongue twister, or it is for me. I just remembered these Norwegian musicians that I’d heard playing in London at a concert a few years earlier. And because of the pandemic, they weren’t on a tour. So they were really up for playing. You come up with a line on the piano or I play it on my violin. I’m classically trained, so I can’t put that folksy bit into it. And then you hear these inflections that Erik and Olaf put on their phrasing and it felt like it was the perfect combination, I think, for that kind of nostalgic calling back to Loki’s origins.

Kris:
And that spacey feeling is amazing, too. Especially thinking back to those old sci-fi movies from the ’50s and ’60s, when Loki and Sylvie went to meet the Timekeepers and that schlocky set. Between the score and the set, it had me thinking about Ed Wood.

Natalie Holt:
Yeah, there’s something quite campy about that. There was meant to be because they turn out to be automatons.

Kris:
It had me thinking back to Plan Nine and all that kind of schlocky design and paper-mache that didn’t quite work. It was perfect.

Natalie Holt:
Yeah, you kind of think, “Oh, these look a bit weird,” and then you realize. I love that the scripts just keep turning everything on their head the whole time. Such clever writing and clever directing from Kate as well. She really took that and ran with it as well.

Amy:
It’s been incredible so far. Did you want to go back to the previous Thor movies or the Avenger movies to get some sort of a feel for Loki’s soundtrack? Or did you want to just go with a fresh slate?

Natalie Holt:
Well, what I was told from the get-go was everybody really wants to push this, for it to be really different from the movies. You don’t need to think backwards, just think forwards. Everyone was really supportive of whichever direction I wanted to go in. It’s like looking at a blank canvas sometimes being like, “AHH!” But I think that was quite freeing in a way. And it was amazing to have all that freedom. And when I thought, “A Marvel, what would it be like to score something for them?” I didn’t realize it would be such a kind of freeing, amazing experience. It’s definitely exceeded anything I could have imagined in terms of creative freedom and support as well. Just an incredible team, like the music supervisors and Dave Jordan and [sic] and endless support and encouragement from everyone, and Kate, obviously.

Amy:
That’s fantastic. So what was the process like collaborating with such a large team?

Natalie Holt:
Well, it was very much between Kate and I, the dialogue. But then Kevin Wright would chip in occasionally, and then we would get notes from the execs as well. They were kind of like the timekeepers overseeing everything and super sweet. All the execs and Christine Alonzo and Louie [D’Esposito] actually personally called me to just say thank you, which was really generous and kind of them.

Amy:
How much did you know of Loki, the character, before you started this process?

Natalie Holt:
Well, I’d watched pretty much all the Marvel movies, so I was pretty familiar with it. And in fact, I have to say Ragnarok was one of my favorites. I really love that arm or branch of the universe. So when my agent told me, it wasn’t even said what it was to begin with. She was just like, “Oh, there’s a Marvel thing that they want a playlist that’s sort of slightly space-age and quite big melodies.” And so I didn’t even know what the job was for when I sent my showreel. When I got the script, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s Loki!” I was totally stoked – just the dream job really. It just feels like such a huge scope to be really bold and different and traumatic and so many ups and downs. Just taking the theme, as well, and playing around with it in so many different ways has been super fun.

Kris:
It was mind-blowing hearing Sophia DiMartino and Wunmi Masako both say they had no idea what they were auditioning for.

Natalie Holt:
Marvel being secretive.

Amy:
That’s their way.

Natalie Holt:
Yeah. I definitely trust their process. They deliver the goods, I think. And the way that it was all managed and steered, like delivering a suite and having the suite approved and then being able to just treat the series like a sort of six-hour film meant that there’s this cohesion and scope to it. It feels really good.

Amy:
Right. Since you were familiar with Loki, you probably didn’t need to get the Loki lectures from Tom Hiddleston, did you?

Natalie Holt:
No, I think those were only bestowed on the acting side of things, sadly, I should’ve got myself like an extra’s part playing an instrument on the train. That could have been a nice cameo.

Kris:
COVID just changed so much about the entertainment industry, the whole world. All of this you had to deal with remotely. So how did it all come together? Both technically and creatively.

Natalie Holt:
I’m not sure I would have got the job were it not for COVID. I just don’t know. The fact that they were happy to have people working remotely, probably more than they would have been pre-pandemic, was maybe a bonus for me. It’s so strange to have actually never met Kate Herron in person, and yet feel like we’ve just totally been in the trenches together. We’ve just bonded so, so much over this job and what we’ve created – and without meeting. It’s really bonkers.

Kris:
Well, we hope that you all meet at the Emmys because you all deserve to be there.

Natalie Holt:
Well, that’s very sweet of you. I guess we missed the boat this year, so it’ll be a while away. But Kate’s back in London now. So I think I’m meeting up with her and Emma, the editor, for the final episode. We might have a watching party for Episode Six.

Amy:
Oh, that’s awesome.

Natalie Holt:
It’ll be cool. We’ve just been chatting about it, so hopefully that happens.

Kris:
So in addition to all the remote work, what other challenges did you face in scoring the show that you haven’t come across in your work before?

Natalie Holt:
I think homeschooling my daughter. She was six at the time of Loki, so still needing quite a lot of attention. She lost her front tooth during the middle of a meeting and came in and showed everybody her front tooth. So that’s probably an unusual meeting point. It was definitely really challenging just keeping my brain across all the different elements, making sure that I’d recorded everything, all the solos that I needed to get, and got all the things I needed on the tape and pass it over to this person. And then the sessions with the orchestra and the brass section and the choir was quite time-consuming. For each episode, I was probably on two-and-a-half days of recording, just because it was quite a slow process. And we couldn’t watch picture, so I’d have to kind of stop and check back and then go in again. Everybody worked really hard to make it happen. I think we got there in the end. Then my engineer, Jake Jackson, just brought it all together and all that. I think he had to buy a different license for pro tools because he was using so many tracks for Episodes 5 and 6. They were quite giant sessions, and again we had to just mix it remotely. So Audiomovers and Zoom were sort of key instruments in getting it all over the line.

Kris:
For sure. Well, honestly, you’d never know that you guys had to do this all remotely. It’s flawless.

Natalie Holt:
Oh, that’s very sweet of you. The other thing is, I probably couldn’t have gotten all those musicians to be free and available. I bet they would have all been on tour had we not been in a pandemic. So there’s the positives and negatives kind of in balance, I would say.

Amy:
Because it sometimes can be a blessing in disguise, definitely, as well as the challenges.

Kris:
So we’ve talked a lot about you as a composer for Loki and your other work, but you’ve also spent a lot of time on stage as a performer formerly in the string quartet, RaVen. Tell us a little bit about that time, how you came together.

Natalie Holt:
Sure. So I studied violin and then I switched over to definitely wanting to be a film composer. Then I did my master’s at the National Film & Television School. And I still played a bit on the side to pay the rent. But when I left film school, I was totally broke, nipping in a flatshare in London like, “I want to compose, I’m going to be a composer! But I have no one, no one will give me a job!” So I started doing session work and quartet gigs, and then set up this group with a couple of friends. It was amazing. I think also the experience of playing chamber – I was actually playing viola in that quartet. So you’re kind of in the middle, listening to people, being more virtuosic at the top, high up on the violin. But I think it really improved my musicality actually, and rehearsing, and they’re all incredible musicians, those girls. So it was really informative, being in that group. And also we used to do lots of sessions playing on films, Abbey Road and [sic]. So being in there and playing on other composers’ soundtracks was just a great lesson. And then I kind of reached out to Martin Phipps. I sent him a few things I’d written and we had met up for coffee and he just said, “I’ll keep you in mind if I ever need any help with string writing or arranging or anything.” And then that work kind of increased. And Martin called me up for Great Expectations. I think it was 2010. That was always what I wanted to do primarily, and I just suddenly found a way of doing it and making that work. So I sort of dropped the playing, although I still play all over my stuff. I actually played with the girls at a wedding a couple of weeks ago. So that was really nice.

Amy:
Oh, that’s wonderful.

Kris:
So you’ve toured the world with RaVen with three other women, and you’ve been working in the industry as a woman for years now. How did it feel working with Kate and a bunch of other great women behind the scenes of Loki? That’s one of the things we love about the show is that there’s such a strong sense of female empowerment, not only on-screen but behind the scenes as well. And we just most recently saw that with Sophia DiMartino showing the world her costume that Christine Wada made her so that it would be easier for her to breastfeed.

Natalie Holt:
That was so cool. I love that she did that. I think it’s amazing that there’s space and opportunities, and I love seeing more women in the industry being given opportunities. It’s great to see. And obviously, there are those women that do choose to have families. There’s still this issue that we can’t get around, which is the biology of having a baby and breastfeeding. I’m so pleased to see that picture and feel real solidarity with it. Like I can remember breastfeeding my daughter when I was assisting on Paddington and my other half wheeling her around in a pram in Soho. I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was working with that I had a baby. When I went in for the interview, I was like, “Can you see I’m pregnant?” When I was pregnant and having my daughter, I didn’t want to tell people about it because I didn’t want it to affect my work, which seems really crazy now. I think people have become a lot more accommodating.

Amy:
I think so. And do you think that perhaps now with COVID and more of us being able to work remotely, would that help in a situation like this?

Natalie Holt:
Definitely. I think so. I think remote working is fine. I think it’s easier in post-production. I still think, if you’re, if you’re on set, cinematographers have a real challenge. One of my best friends is a cinematographer and she is constantly being asked to travel around the world and be on set for like four months to six months, whatever it is. And that’s not very family-friendly. And it is something that you see – male cinematographers, perhaps, would have their wives come and just follow them with the kids or whatever. I don’t know. We’ve got a ways to go before we’re totally equal in child-rearing. I think it just needs a lot of transparency and conversations to happen. That seems to be going in the right direction.

Amy:
That’s the best part, at least it’s going in the right direction for sure.

Kris:
It goes to show, you’re only the second woman ever to score an MCU project out of twenty-something now, between movies and Disney+ series and we’re getting more and more women in. So it’s refreshing both on-screen and behind the scenes.

Natalie Holt:
Definitely. Hildur [Guonadottir], with her killer score for Joker – I was so proud. She’s amazing. Her speech last year was really, really empowering, I thought.

Kris:
So you’ve played some incredible venues all over the world. You played Buckingham Palace, the London Olympics. What was your favorite throughout the years? For those of us who can’t leave our homes quite yet still, and can’t travel around, take us vicariously.

Natalie Holt:
Oh my goodness. I remember we got a quartet gig in Mexico, which was kind of crazy. It was winemakers in Ensanada, I think. We got to play in this vineyard and the whole village came. We were playing on a stage and we just had fireworks going off and were eating amazing Mexican food. It was like a celebration of this vineyard. I think it was his 25th year anniversary or something. It felt so cool to be in this vineyard with all these people and these mad experiences that you get booked to do as a musician.

Amy:
That sounds like straight out of a movie.

Natalie Holt:
And then, obviously, playing with George Michael was really special as well. He’s such a legend and he was so sweet. He used to come and put on a little. We played at The Royal Opera House and he did a little party. I was in his Symphonica band. So there was a lot of musicians, but he was just really sweet to everybody and spoke, came round, and said “Hi” to everyone.

Amy:
Oh, that’s fantastic. I remember growing up listening to his music.

Natalie Holt:
Me too. I was a bit kind of star-struck.

Kris:
I’m glad you mentioned the great food there in Mexico. We’ve read that you’re quite the exotic eater. So what’s the, what’s the craziest or weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Natalie Holt:
Oh my goodness. I don’t know where you plucked that from. Definitely. We did a tour in Japan after the tsunami. This Japanese musician that we’d all been recording with paid for a chamber orchestra to go over. And we played in lots of the areas where people were living in temporary accommodations. It was like six months after the tsunami hit and we traveled around that whole region. I think we did about six or seven concerts, and we had the chance to eat a lot of unusual food on that tour. Everybody always passed it up and sent it down to me. I think I had sea urchin. And natto, which is like rotten fermented soybeans, right?

Amy:
Yes, I’ve heard of that.

Natalie Holt:
I just always have to try everything. I’m just that kind of person.

Amy:
Any biggest regrets?

Natalie Holt:
Well, there’s that thing for oysters, isn’t there? You’re not meant to have them in months with “R” in them? I can’t remember. Anyway, I have had bad oysters, but it hasn’t put me off. I still eat them.

Amy:
Okay. So are there any philanthropic causes that you’d like to shine a light on?

Natalie Holt:
We’ve touched on women’s entry, MeToo, and how amazing it is that women are being given opportunities that they weren’t given before. And I think it’s so important, not just for our generation. I’m looking at people coming up and it makes me really sad because I was given scholarships to Saturday music school where I was given composition lessons from the age of eleven – and theory and harmony and music. This was run by the local council. Since then, in the last ten years that school has been closed down. Funding has been stopped and music in schools is dwindling. I just worry that the arts is becoming really unaffordable and inaccessible for young people. And it’s so prohibitively expensive to go to university and study and do a master’s and then try to enter into the film industry. I certainly had quite a long stretch of hardly earning anything, but I was okay because I didn’t have all that debt coming out of university. I just think if I was coming up, if I was a young person now, I worry that the access into the industry is for the elite, the wealthy. I think we’ve got to open up to women and we’ve also got to open it up for people who don’t have that financial support from family. I hope that we can keep our industry available and open to everybody.

Kris:
So you mentioned Fever Dream earlier. That’s coming out on Netflix, correct?

Natalie Holt:
Yes. I’m really excited for that to be out in the world. Claudia Llosa, the director, is so talented. It’s a film about a strange illness and mother-daughter relationship and a slightly mystical kind of journey. It just feels very timely after the year-and-a-half that we’ve all had. I’m looking forward to seeing it now after what’s happened.

Amy:
Can you tell us when the second half of the Loki soundtrack will release?

Natalie Holt:
The second half’s coming on the 23rd of July.

Amy:
Oh, fantastic.

Natalie Holt:
Episodes 5 & 6 get really… prepare yourself.

Kris:
I don’t know if I can handle more. I had a heart attack watching Episode 4 because I did not know ahead of time that there was a mid-credit scene. So I was in the middle of a stroke when I looked at my phone and saw Amy’s message that there’s a mid-credit scene.

Natalie Holt:
That scene with Mobius being pruned, as well, is just killer. I love that scene.

Kris:
It’s interesting that you do watch your own work because we’ve talked with others in the industry who just can’t. They can’t be anywhere near it after it’s done.

Natalie Holt:
I’m just so into this project. They were saying that not many composers go to the dub either, but I can’t let it go. I just have to watch it and check the levels. And I’d be messaging Kate like, “Can we turn this scene up, please? I felt like it was a bit quiet.” I find it really hard to let go. So I think I’m sort of intrigued to watch it and see how it sounds, how the final CGI special effects have come out, and stuff like that.

Amy:
And as a creative, you’re always wanting to make it that much, a little better. You just have that trouble of “It’s okay. It’s good enough. I’m going to stop.”

Natalie Holt:
I definitely had that with this. I just felt like I could keep going down a rabbit hole. Jake, the engineer, was prizing it out of my hands at certain points.

Kris:
So Natalie, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. We are so excited for episodes five and six we’ve loved everything thus far.

Natalie Holt:
It was just really fun to chat with you. And I’m looking forward to everybody getting part two of the album as well and hope everybody feels as enthusiastic.

Amy:
I personally can’t wait because I would love to have you on for a couple of hours and just ask you so many questions.

Natalie Holt:
Well, happy to come back if you forgot to go over anything today.

Kris:
Best of luck with Fever Dream and all the secret projects that you have coming up.

Natalie Holt:
Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.