Seis Manos on Netflix: Composer Carl Thiel chats music highlights, long overdue representation and more

Seis Mano Poster via Netflix
Seis Mano Poster via Netflix /

Award-winning composer and producer Carl Thiel helped transform Netflix’s Seis Manos into a gritty, colorful, and action-packed animated series with the perfect score! Read our recent chat, below.

Seis Manos is now streaming on Netflix. The animated series is set in Mexico in the 1970’s era and follows three martial arts warriors who team up with a DEA Agent and a Mexican Federal official after their mentor is brutally murdered. What they find is not what they were expecting and the mystery only grows darker and more complicated.

You may know Carl Thiel from his work on Spy Kids, Machete Kills, Sin City: 2 A Dame to Kill For, and several other projects. Raised in Mexico City, Thiel was a perfect choice to take on Seis Manos. His music tranforms the action series and truly sets up the right tone and passion.

In our interview below, Thiel and I chat about long overdue Hispanic representation, the importance of music in pieces of art, and what’s on Thiel’s personal music playlist!

Hidden Remote: Getting right to it, I’d like to comment on how it’s 2019 and we still don’t see much Hispanic representation in anime, so I found this very cool. Were you into any animated series growing up?

Photo: Composer Carl Thiel in Studio.. Image Courtesy Defiant PR
Photo: Composer Carl Thiel in Studio.. Image Courtesy Defiant PR /

Carl Thiel: Sure was. What’s funny is that growing up in Mexico, we got all the American animated shows dubbed in Spanish, so when I moved to the States as a young adult and finally heard the original voices in English I thought “that’s not what Pedro Picapiedra (Fred Flintstone) sounds like! I loved all the Warner Brothers cartoons, especially Bugs Bunny… and boy, those scores still blow my mind to this day. Carl Stalling was a genius.

I loved Japanese Anime, “Triton of the Sea” and “Speed Racer” were a couple of my favorites.

Also got into Spider Man early on, I thought it was really dark and cool… although I must admit I had a few nightmares after some of those episodes… probably was a bit young for the subject matter.

And yes, it’s wonderful to be involved in a great show that features not only Hispanic heroes but also awesome female leads that play against stereotype. It’s long overdue.

HR: The fact that it’s set in the 1970’s era is so interesting. It truly offers something unique. I know you were raised in Mexico City, did you draw inspiration from the sounds of the city and streets? It’s such a lively area!

Thiel: Absolutely. Mexico is so culturally rich, and also such an ethnic melting pot. Walking down the streets of downtown Mexico City, you’ll hear an organ grinder playing an out of tune waltz on one corner, and the next there’ll be a trio playing beautiful Los Panchos romantic boleros; and just further down you’ll see an Aztec troupe performing indigenous dances with ancient instrumental accompaniment; not to mention the mariachis, rancheras, norteñas, pop groups, etc. that permeate every corner of the city.

I think all that musical richness has been ingrained in my DNA and it comes out naturally when working on projects related to Mexico.

HR: Who were your favorite artists growing up?

Thiel: The very first record I ever owned was the single (45rpm) of the theme from “Hawaii 5-0” by The Ventures. I must’ve been about 7 or 8 years old and I didn’t have a record player, so I would borrow my older sister’s suitcase player, take it to my room and play that darn thing over and over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of it! I loved that theme.

Later on I got into Rick Wakeman, Yes, Queen, Rush… I was drawn to the storytelling, where I could visualize the plot of what the music was telling me. I was also into Elton John, Billy Joel, of course The Beatles. There’s so many more.

As far as Spanish language artists, I really enjoyed Emmanuel, Miguel Bosé, Mocedades,and later on Juan Luis Guerra. I was always a fan of Agustin Lara, and of course Vicente Fernandez and Lucha Villa… that’s mariachi royalty right there.

HR: What are some songs on your playlist right now?

Thiel: Let’s see… and I’m being brutally honest here cause I’m looking on my phone as I write this:

  • “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (Main Title)” by Michael Abels from the “Get Out” soundtrack
  • “Medicate” by Kae Astra, a great new artist who happens to be a good friend
  • “Freeze All Motor Functions” by Ramin Djawadi from the “Westworld” soundtrack
  • “Subterranean Homesick Alien” by Radiohead
  • “Road to Chicago” by Thomas Newman from the “Road to Perdition” soundtrack
  • “Showtime, A-holes” by Tyler Bates from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack
  • “Wheels” by the Foo Fighters
  • “Don’t Talk” by Melody Gardot

HR: Having worked in both animation and live action, are there any particular differences between the two?

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Thiel: Definitely. Just like animation can take you places real life can’t, you can take the music further than you would on live action productions. Also, I think music plays a more central stage in the storytelling of animation.

When you have live actors, you can see their eyes twitch, their skin interacting with the environment, the slightest turn in their expressions… all the subtle micro signals that we unconsciously communicate when interacting as human beings. With animation, the music aids in filling in those emotional gaps that are so difficult to communicate without a live actor on camera.

HR: I find that music is crucial, especially in animation. It’s what sets the mood and style. In the trailer for Seis Manos, your music faithfully displays the tone for what to expect. It’s the perfect mixture of not only action and mystery, but also culture. What were some challenges bringing this to life?

Thiel: Thank you. It was definitely a fun challenge. How do you blend Chinese and Mexican music into a cohesive action theme that sounds like it’s from the 70’s? I had written the original Chinese motif (the one you first hear the flute play in the main titles) as part of a proof of concept demo we had done a while back. It was just an incidental accent in an action cue. But it really stuck with me, so when writing the main theme, I decided to build on that and try it over a 6/8 huapango beat with a dramatic western chord progression.

Then I thought, how about Mariachi trumpets? So I tried that, and it sounded cool, but later I got the idea “what if we try adding Chinese harmonies to the mariachi trumpets?” And then “It’s gotta have a wah wah guitar! But it’s gotta be epic, so French horns, and an orchestra!” And that’s how the whole thing came about.

Photo: Seis Manos on Netflix soundtrack.. Credit Defiant PR
Photo: Seis Manos on Netflix soundtrack.. Credit Defiant PR /

HR: What did you enjoy most from working on Seis Manos? Do you have a favorite scene or character you loved scoring for?

Thiel: That’s a difficult question… I loved every aspect of the show. I really enjoyed digging into the Chinese culture and music. It was a world I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore, and it’s so rich and beautiful.

The character of Chiu is definitely up there on the list. I admire his wisdom and balance and I really wanted his theme to be special… something that represented the depth of his history and spiritual strength. All the magic elements were also very fun to score, and blending those with the Chinese and Mexican cultures was just a blast.

HR: Is there a genre you’ve yet to take on that you would like to or do you have a set favorite?

Thiel: It would be great to work on a sci-fi drama with an orchestral (or hybrid) score. I love writing for character development, those internal cues that support the evolution, the subtext of a moment, as well as the big dramatic panoramic scenes where the music can really soar.

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HR: Are you working on anything else at the moment?

There’s a few things brewing that I’m unable to disclose at the moment, but you can always follow me on Instagram: @carl.thiel and twitter: @cutmasta to stay up to date on what’s going on.

I would like to add that thanks to Milan Records and Sony Music Masterworks, we’ll have a Seis Manos soundtrack available on Digital and CD Oct. 4, and thanks to Mondo Records, we’ll have a double LP with awesome original art available for preorder very soon!

Seis Manos is now streaming on Netflix. The animated series stars voices of Mike Colter, Vic Chao, Jonny Cruz, Danny Tregjo, Angelica Vale, among others.