Composer Tyler Durham releases ‘Coming Home,’ his debut solo album as Limina

Photo by Michaela Watkin

Having initially put out an EP as Limina in 2020, Los Angeles-based film composer Tyler Durham is back with the debut album from his solo project. Coming Home was recorded at London’s AIR studios with members from The Philharmonia Orchestra. Traveling in the London Tube provided thematic inspiration for the album, and making Coming Home allowed him to further explore synth programming and sound design in ways not possible in his other work.

Durham’s soundtrack career includes work with Academy Award-nominated composer James Newton Howard on films such as News of the World, Jungle Cruise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life. He writes additional music for series Outer Banks and Biohackers, frequently collaborates with composer Pinar Toprak, and composed music for the 2020 National Geographic documentary The Last Ice.

In the following interview, Durham discussed the making of Coming Home and how writing/recording as Limina compares to this soundtrack work.

What made you decide to create your own project at this point in your career? Was it something you had been considering doing for a while? Did something inspire you to do this now?

Tyler Durham: So, it’s a little bit of both because I had been thinking about it for a while. Working in the film medium, I am often responding to… my art is responding to what’s happening on screen, which is a very fun challenge, and I love that collaboration. But I also wanted another challenge and just the freedom of expression to say, ‘How can I tell a story of my own? What would that look like? What kind of sound would that be?’ There was that element of just wanting to explore on my own. There was this concept that I learned about when I was in grad school at Columbia College, which is finding your home base. When you’re a film composer, you’ll have your sound that you identify with, but depending on the picture, you’re writing in different ways and doing different techniques and styles and all of this, so having a home base that says this is my real voice, this is where I feel comfortable. The most authentic Limina came out of that and wanting to make an album about that and expressing that. So that’s the reason for the album.

Were there specific things that you had been wanting to do? Maybe ideas that came into your head when you were composing for others that you felt you needed an outlet for? Or did ideas come to you at the time you decided to focus on your own music?

Tyler Durham: Yeah, it was a little bit of both, but I did have this moment. I mean, the story of the album came when I was in London. I was working on a project there and riding the tube on my way to work. You’re just sitting on the tube, and it’s all silent. You just hear the rumble of the cars, and it gives you all this time for reflection. And I was thinking about ‘What are other people reflecting about? What are other people experiencing?’ and that became such a vehicle for my storytelling and saying, ‘Let me put myself in someone else’s shoes.’ And I made this story up of someone coming back to see their family that they had been estranged from and all of the silent anxiety and guilt and fear, and then ultimately the acceptance and the love that comes from those choices. So much of the decision-making in the actual album, just different ideas, came from ‘How do I express anxiety through music? How do I express a certain kind of fear or loneliness or isolation?’ And then turn that into ‘How do I create that momentum?’ And that’s the form of the arc. It is really just tapping into different sets of emotions to tell that character’s journey.

You have a background composing for film and TV. When working on this album, did you find yourself having visuals in your mind as you were making the music?

Tyler Durham: I didn’t have as many specific visuals. I was definitely locked into the kind of story I was telling, which, I mean, is really loose because I really just wanted to explore, really focus on the sonic ideas, and have just some sort of throughline to help me create the arc. So, towards the end of the album, there are a couple of tracks that I did have sort of visual and kind of this reconnection moment or just an internal connection, and those had some visual elements to them. But it was pretty loose most of the time. It was more about tapping into the emotion and the sonic element of it.

I’m curious about your creative process, in terms of how the sound design and the compositional aspects work together.

Tyler Durham: Yeah, much of the time, I do start my composing process through sound design. And oftentimes, as I’m experimenting and saying, ‘I have a general idea of what I want this to be, starting with something plucky or something atmospheric,’ I’ll be just venturing in that space, and as soon as I find any idea and I say, ‘Ooh, that’s something,’ that one sound can so often inform the rest of the composition. And so you either work that way or it will work from the other end. I will be just sitting on the piano and saying, ‘All right, here’s my melody, here are my chords,’ and then build around that. But the two very much go hand in hand when actually creating.

We discussed this briefly before, but were there any particular styles, pieces of equipment, or sounds that you had been wanting to incorporate into music but weren’t able to when working with other people? Were there any specific things that you wanted to bring into your process?

Tyler Durham: Definitely. There were actually quite a few, especially on the sound design front. I use a lot of glitched effects or granular synthesis that don’t really translate as well in a film space because you have dialogue, audio, and sound effects that you have to manage and balance. But when you’re just writing on your own, all of my sound design love and techniques can really come out. Specifically, in one track that was just released, ‘Dissolved,’ I took all these plucks and distorted them, and it basically sounds like I created my own static in a way. I have that just peppered all over the end of the track. That’s something that would not fly in a film sense, but I’m able to do that in this album. Another thing is just being able to play with form, because in the film world, I have to adhere to the cut and the edit, whereas when I’m writing on my own, I can expand an idea or play with it however long I want. So that’s something I was also very excited about when stepping into my own work.

Could you talk about how the project may have evolved since then between your first EP, Hidden Spaces, and the album?

Tyler Durham: Hidden Spaces was scratching that first itch of, like I said, wanting to write on my own. And that occupied more of an atmospheric space and played more with … the whole concept of the album was that it was actually one long track. It was divided into six, but it all flows seamlessly together. So, the goal of it was just to create all these very fun and fluid transitions, and in that process, it just became very atmospheric. Where my new album is, I think there’s more weight to it, and it’s a bit more, I don’t want to say grounded, but it has, yeah, it is. That’s how I would describe it. Where Hidden Spaces is a little bit more atmospheric and floaty, ‘Coming Home’ is very much so grounded and weighted in that way.

Were you able to dedicate a block of time to the album, or were you working on other projects at the same time?

Tyler Durham: I wish I was able to just dedicate a certain amount of time. The reason it took so long to produce and write was because it would come in between projects. So, you’d have anywhere from two weeks to three weeks, if I was really lucky, that I would jump in, write a couple of tracks, and then go back to working on a film project. But the other thing is, I actually wrote a completely separate version of this album, like a full 12 tracks, and I had finished it, and then I had worked on a film project, came back to the album and listened to it. And I just went, ‘This isn’t good enough.’ And I scrapped everything except one track and started again. Yeah, which was ‘Coming Home,’ that was the track that I didn’t scrap.

Could you talk more about that? I’m also wondering if any of the projects you worked on at the same time may have had an influence on your work on the album?

Tyler Durham: One of the projects I was working on was very synth-heavy. And so I learned a lot of new techniques and was exploring new ideas. Coming back to the album, I just realized I wasn’t pushing myself enough. It wasn’t saying what I wanted to say and what I knew I could say. It was one of those tough moments as an artist where you have to have the conversation with yourself and say, ‘I put in all this work, but I can do better.’ So it was both a defeating moment and also a very encouraging moment to just say, I have a path forward with this. And I think that’s the really difficult thing. It’s both the blessing and the curse of being able to write projects like this in an album because there are no locked-in deadlines. So I did have the freedom to say, ‘Yes, all right, I want to start this album over.’ But also it becomes that battle of the creative curse of always overcriticizing your work. But in this case, it was the right thing to do.

In terms of the different types of music composition you’ve done, do you have a particular favorite type of project to do in terms of genres or styles?

Tyler Durham: Yeah, I really love sci-fi spaces because you have the ability to, of course, tap into the sound design elements and really craft beautiful sonic worlds or just interesting or dark, whatever that happens to be. But I also think there are a lot of opportunities for great orchestral writing in sci-fi as well, so it brings in both of my two loves into one genre. So, I really love working in that space.

Have you done any live shows as Limina?

Tyler Durham: I haven’t done any live shows yet, and my record label and I are talking about how to get live performances and make that a reality. The album was recorded with – the most musicians were 14 we recorded with – so that’s a little hard to track down for live performances. But we are talking about creating and looking into creating a pared-down version of that for a quartet and then just having my synth rigs and all that. So yeah, it’s currently in the works.

For more info, visit Tyler Durham Music