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.

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit