Soundtrack: <I>Heels</I> composer Jeff Cardoni
Issue: July/August 2021

Soundtrack: Heels composer Jeff Cardoni

Heels is a new drama from series creator Michael Waldron. The show premiered on Starz on August 15th and focuses on two brothers, who are rivals in a small-town professional wrestling organization — the Duffy Wrestling League. Jack Spade (Stephen Amell) is the league’s hard-working proprietor, who’s trying to breathe new life into the family-owned business, while his brother, Ace Spade (Alexander Ludwig), is the league’s beloved hero, who sees his success as a potential path to bigger things. In addition to being brothers and rivals, Jack and Ace are also at war over their late father’s legacy.

Jeff Cardoni ( composed original music for the series and recently answered a few questions for Post about his experience working on the project. 

Jeff, how did you get involved in this project?

“Writing the music for Heels was a dream come true. I’ve been looking to score a sports drama for years, so I jumped at the chance to get in the ring, so to speak. I had a chance to demo on the project pre-pandemic. I read the script and wrote a cue that night called ‘Crystal Belongs In The Ring’. That not only got me the job, but became one of the main themes of the series, and the track appears in the climax of the final episode.”

How did you approach the musical theme?

“The show is set in rural Georgia, so my first instinct was to use traditional instruments — mostly clean electric guitar, piano and violin. I didn’t want it to sound too Southern, so I avoided twang at all costs, and played more of the emotions inside the characters as opposed to what we’re seeing on-screen. 

“One of the benefits of writing during the pandemic was that I got to really spend time and think about every note. While they were filming in Georgia, I just wrote a ton of music away from picture based on the script and thoughts from showrunner Mike O’Malley. The editors started cutting it in and it just worked. 

“For the nuts and bolts of it, I used my Duesenberg semi-hollow guitar into a small Epiphone Valve Junior, which is not a boutique amp at all, but just seemed to have that nice gritty noisy sound I was hearing. I used couple of cool pedals — a ChaseBliss Mood pedal that does some crazy things, and a AC Noises Respira tremolo – all then going into an Electro Harmonix Memory Box delay and an Eventide Space reverb. All of the pads and textures were made from live guitar and my trusty E-bow. To augment that, I used my Steinway grand piano and live violin on some cues, as well as my voice drenched in reverb on a handful of big moments. 

“I can say this is probably my most personal score in that there was never any temp music or any real discussion of what its should be. The producers just seemed to react to what I was doing and I just kept going. It was really gratifying from a purely artistic point of view, something that doesn’t often happen in this business. To top it off, I also did the main titles, which is a story in itself. 

“As the studio began seeing cuts, I think they realized that the show is just great, so there were discussions of a big band doing the theme. I had written a piece that tied into the themes in the score and thought that it had something, so I just started putting it in the cuts while the powers that be tried to find the song. At a certain point, someone said, ‘We kind of like this. What is it?’ Then I owe a debt of gratitude to music supervisor Jonathan Leahy, who suggested pairing me up with a singer to take a stab at it. Enter Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses fame. We basically had a couple of days to make the pitch. 

“We’d both send terrible vocal demos though text and there were moments that I didn’t think it would work out. But I got a text from Ben a couple days later and put it on in my car and literally got chills when he hit the ending. It was just magic. The song is called ‘Love In War’ and I can’t wait for you all to hear it.

“Heels is a show about family, and wrestling or not, I think there’s something in it for everyone. Can’t wait for it to be out in the world.”