The bands who know the (film) score

Grizzly Bear, Daft Punk and Phoenix are the latest acts to compose music for films, bringing their hipster cachet with them. It's a mutually beneficial collaboration, says Gillian Orr

Next time you find yourself at the cinema watching the latest hip feature, pay a little attention to the film score: there's every chance an equally cool musician has composed it. Films such as The Social Network, Tron: Legacy, Somewhere and the upcoming Blue Valentine all have scores by bands or pop stars rather than traditional film composers.

A film score, as opposed to a soundtrack, is the instrumental music that accompanies a picture, setting the overall mood and tone. Written specifically for the film, it is not designed to stand out but rather to complement the action. Indeed, film-makers often say that the sign of a good score is that the audience doesn't even notice it.

In the past, film scores have become some of the most instantly recognisable pieces of music ever written, such as Vangelis's score for Chariots of Fire or John Williams's soundtrack for Star Wars. And it's quite usual for the more prolific composers to become household names and recognised artists in their own right. So why the current trend to hire a hot, young band over a composer?

First and foremost, it's about an exchange of core values. Blue Valentine, a superb, low-budget film starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple who have grown to resent each other, has been scored by indie favourites Grizzly Bear. The Brooklyn quartet is riding high, enjoying a reputation for being hip and credible, and their involvement lends these assets to the film. The band stands for emotion, truth and experimentation over big budgets and the obvious. Fans of Grizzly Bear might consider themselves to be more discerning than the average pop listener – in other words, exactly the sort of person who might go and see a film like Blue Valentine. It's a pretty neat marketing device.

Aesthetically, the two also suit each other perfectly. Grizzly Bear's rousing, soaring instrumentals are only used in the scenes that flash back to when the couple first meet and fall in love, the score perfectly demonstrating the dizzying effects of infatuation. When we return to the present, to a desperate couple stifled by marriage and the choices they have made, the music ceases. The only score is the couple's tears and raised voices.

The film's director, Derek Cianfrance, says, "For nine of the 12 years that I was working on Blue Valentine, I imagined the movie to Vangelis's score for L'Apocalypse des Animaux. Then, my friend and former film professor, Phil Solomon, introduced me to the music of Grizzly Bear. It seemed so cinematic. The music seemed classic, yet somehow very modern and iconic. And they were writing about relationships. I found a kinship with their music. I started seeing the movie whilst listening to their songs. Soon I began writing to it and it began inspiring the script. I never once had writer's block when it was on."

In a mutually beneficial deal, the band also gets kudos for contributing to a film that is likely to receive great acclaim and even get to recapture some of the cool points that they might have lost along the way by, say, lending their song "Two Weeks" to a Peugeot commercial.

Another reason that more pop musicians are getting involved in film is simply because it represents a new challenge. The French indie band Phoenix may seem an obvious choice to score Sofia Coppola's new film, Somewhere – their lead singer, Thomas Mars, is the director's partner, after all – but they relished having a new, refreshing way to work. Mars says, "In music, everything is possible. When you're in the studio to record an album, you have almost too much space, too much freedom. I guess it's nice sometimes to have guidelines and direction. To work within a frame and to do something very specific can be a nice change of pace. It's like learning a new skill."

Somewhere follows an unhappy movie star called Johnny Marco, whose life has become a blur of booze, pills and strippers. We are introduced to him as he drives his Ferrari round and round a track; his life is simply going nowhere. For the score, Coppola asked for something moody and sad, a theme for Los Angeles, and pointed to the band's instrumental song "Love Like a Sunset" from their last album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, as a starting point.

Inspired by minimalist composers such as Steve Reich, the sparse beats of the score melt with the sounds of the film, including the Ferrari's engine that features so prominently throughout. "We don't manage to work on tour usually," Mars observes. "But with this we could just get on with it. It was easy because we would sit down in the afternoon, look at the music and get inspired. It happened very fast."

Score work can also be a way for a band member to move away from their day job. The French electronic duo Daft Punk have had a life-long fascination with the 1982 film Tron, so when they were approached by the director of the new sequel, Tron: Legacy, to do the score, they could hardly turn down the opportunity. The result is a 22-track epic score, taking in synthesisers, beats and an 85-strong orchestra. "It's by far the most challenging and complex thing we have ever been involved with," Thomas Bangalter, one half of the band, has said.

Jonny Greenwood has also been spending down time away from his duties as Radiohead's guitarist to score films. His tense, unsettling pieces for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood were well received in 2007. He has just completed the score for the upcoming film adaptation of Haruki Murakami's wildly popular novel Norwegian Wood. Both scores incorporate classical music and orchestras, a sonic departure from Radiohead.

Elsewhere, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor used his commission to score The Social Network (with composer Atticus Ross) as an opportunity to experiment with new genres. Neglecting his rock and metal roots in favour of electronica, the result is a series of dark, moody pieces that at one point even deconstructs Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King". Reznor wrote on his website, "I was planning on taking some time off and spend this year experimenting. Well, that plan didn't work out so well. David Fincher started inquiring about my interest in scoring his upcoming film. When I actually read the script and realized what he was up to, I said goodbye to that free time I had planned... I couldn't be happier with how it's turned out. The entire process has been challenging and truly enjoyable."

For pop and rock musicians, who go from the studio to the tour bus and back again, scoring a film can provide not just a welcome break from their usual routine, but the chance to explore new territory. And a collaboration that really works can also bolster opinion of both the artist and the film, meaning everyone's a winner.

'Somewhere' is out today. 'Tron: Legacy' is out next Friday. 'Blue Valentine' is released 21 January. 'Norwegian Wood' is released 18 March

In tune: Musicians at the movies

James Murphy, Greenberg

To have the man behind LCD Soundsystem (above left) score Noah Baumbach's film (starring Ben Stiller, above right) was a natural collaboration. The cutting-edge musician and the independent film-maker appeal to a similar demographic.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, The Road

Who do you turn to for scoring the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic, bleak novel 'The Road'? Step forward Nick Cave, purveyor of all things dark and depressing.

Goldfrapp, Nowhere Boy

More of an unusual one: Goldfrapp wrote the film score for 'Nowhere Boy', Sam Taylor-Wood's film about the young John Lennon. It was recorded, appropriately, at Abbey Road Studios.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss