Dan Romer Talks "Beasts of the Southern Wild" Music
Wed, 14 Nov 2012 14:26:07
The music for Beasts of the Southern Wild emerges with a primal energy befitting of the film's immersive fantasy. At the same time, it's elegantly ethereal and gorgeously vulnerable. At its heart, the score strikes a delicate balance courtesy of the deft composition by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin. The duo manages to construct a wonderful piece that's as unforgettable as the action on-screen.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com Rick Florino, Dan Romer talks his creative process, the score for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and so much more.
Your score balances dreamlike textures with classical instrumentation. What's your take on the music for Beasts of the Southern Wild?
When we set out to make it, the folk influence wasn't a primary objective. We weren't necessarily planning that the entire time. In the back of our heads, we thought we'd go through everything with a fiddle and see how that played over the stuff. Benh Zeitlin and I wrote the entire thing with samples of strings, horns, bells, and pianos. Those were the only things we wrote with for the first large portion of the writing process. Once we were done with all that stuff, we were like, "What instruments do we play?" I play banjo, guitar, and a bunch of little weird things. We went through the entire score with a banjo, an accordion, and other folk instruments to see where those things could be used. It ended up working out pretty well.
What has a bigger impact on the music? Is it the narrative or the characters?
When we started out the film, we know a certain amount of the writing would be from the point of view of the main character Hushpuppy. If there's a parade happening, how does she see it? Does she the music happening there or is there a grand orchestra? When you're a little kid, you'll hear music over different kinds of things in your head. What may seem like a commonplace thing will be this huge momentous occasion. In the opening sequence, we knew we were going to do this grand thing from her imagined point of view. As we got more into the scoring, we realized cues worked well when we were scoring directly from her point of view. How does she see this scene? Let's score it with that emotion. For example, when they're going to blow up the levee, you'd think there would be some kind of action music. We tried that kind of thing, and it didn't play right. Then, we tried it from how she would see it. It seemed so clear at that point.
The music's ebb and flow mirrors her emotional ebb and flow.
Definitely! The opening bells were originally her theme. At the end of the day, we realized it should all be Hushpuppy music. That specific theme was just one of her emotions. All of the music should be hers though.
What resonated with you the most about the character?
It was just the wonder she perceived the universe with. That wonder is what I feel like the entire film is really about. The opening piece is called "Particles of the Universe (Heartbeats)". One of the big themes of the film is Hushpuppy seeing and learning how everything fits together.
What's your favorite piece of music on the soundtrack?
It's very easy to say the last track, "Once There Was a Hushpuppy", because that has every piece on it. It's like an overture at the end. As far as a single piece I like listening to the most goes, I'd go with "I Think I Broke Something".
"Death Bed" stands out as well.
Thanks! It's based on the same theme as "I Think I Broke Something".
There's a lyrical element to the instrumentation. The pieces come across like songs.
Well, our influences are much more in the pop realm than they are in the film score or classical realm. We were mostly referencing pop music while we were writing. Then, we were referencing Rihanna, Kate Bush, Alicia Keys, Robyn, and Beyoncé—a lot of female pop singers.
What artists shaped you?
Benh and I have very different influences. I grew up listening to David Bowie, Talking Heads, Bob Dylan, Nico and The Velvet Underground, and music from that era. As far as music goes, it's a lot of dream pop from the '90s like The Flaming Lips. Benh was listening to heavy metal and hard rock like Metallica. He loves Metallica!
What's your process like?
We both have an aware concept of what pop music is. That means a lot to us. What do an Irish traditional song and a Beyoncé song have in common? We hold those common threads in a high place. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" could be an Irish traditional if it was slower [Laughs].
Was it important for the sonic nuances to shine through?
We were trying to make the sound of an orchestra using the smallest things we could, which was essentially one microphone up to one string player at a time. We did most of it instrument by instrument. We had every single piece on a separate track so we were able to tweak things to no end. In one case, we did end up building a completely new composition out of single pieces we recorded for other songs. That actually ended up being used over the levee scene.
Have you heard the score yet? Pick it up on iTunes now or on LP in December.