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Composer Ryan Lott on his Cleveland roots and Oscar nods for 'Everything Everywhere All at Once'

Son Lux.jpeg
Jes Nijjer
Ryan Lott
Ryan Lott (center) began recording as Son Lux in the mid-2000s in Cleveland. He later moved to California and expanded the project to a trio with Ian Chang (left) and Oberlin grad Rafiq Bhatia. They're up for an Academy Award for the score for "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

The absurdist-comedy "Everything Everywhere All at Once" is up for 11 Academy Awards this year - the most nominations for any film. Two of them are for the movie’s eclectic score, co-written by former Clevelander Ryan Lott.

He and his wife, Jennifer, had no ties to Northeast Ohio when they got married in 2001. But they promptly moved to Cleveland so she could help found Inlet Dance Theater. In 2006, Lott was recognized with the Cleveland Arts Prize as an emerging artist. The Denver native credits that and an Ohio Arts Council grant with kick-starting his career.

“[They] were absolutely instrumental in getting me off the ground,” he said.

Lott and his wife were involved with Cleveland Public Theatre, IngenuityFest and Gina Gibney’s “Food For Thought” program at Cleveland State. She later founded New York City’s Gibney Dance.

“I'm about to premiere a piece with her company at the St. George Theatre in May,” Lott said. “There's so many things that started [in Cleveland] for us that still are continually having a bright and beautiful impact. All of our memories of Cleveland, the people and the opportunities, are so beautiful."

Lott also recorded most of his first album as the band Son Lux in Cleveland. Once he needed to go on tour, he expanded the project by adding Ian Chang and Oberlin graduate Rafiq Bhatia. The trio composed the score for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” about a Chinese immigrant who connects with a parallel universe while being audited by the IRS.

“We read the script and it was so bananas, I honestly thought my PDF was corrupt,” Lott said. “It didn't make sense. Flipping from one page to the next, it was like, 'There's no way this is what they meant, right? Certainly, we've skipped some pages or something's out of order.'”

Lott said the trio scored the film as a team.

“Everybody had their hands in everything,” he said. “I could not have done this solo. None of us could have. And I’m just so happy that this big, beautiful thing was something we could do as a family.”

Lott received a second nomination for co-writing the song “This is a Life” with David Byrne. He says recognition from the Academy Awards is different from the other accolades he’s received.

“You can be celebrated within your field,” he said. “But for everyone in my family and my neighbors… this is something that everybody understands. This metric is a recognition on a scale that transcends a single industry.”

Son Lux plans to perform at the ceremony with David Byrne Sunday, March 12.

“[We] can’t drink too much that night because the next morning we have to wake up and go into two solid days of intense rehearsal and fly back to Europe to start the tour. No rest for the weary,” Lott said.

Along with Lott and Bhatia, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” has another Cleveland tie: Joe and Anthony Russo produced the film, which is nominated for Best Picture.

Updated: March 10, 2023 at 10:46 AM EST
This story was updated to include Son Lux will perform at the ceremony.
Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.