Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: An Oral History of the Soundtrack

on August 13, 2020, 1:00pm
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The Score

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Not only was Nigel Godrich going to be working with the bands for the songs within the film, but he was also tasked with creating the score to match the graphic novel. This was his first score and definitely a daunting one to jump off with.

GODRICH: Once the shoot was happening, then I started working on the score, which was a completely different thing. Like another whole big slab of music. But because it was already there, it meant that I could work with the band stuff and interweave things and like join it together and make this large web of stuff.

WRIGHT: I really love Nigel’s score, actually. And it sort of moves between this kind of mellow, lyrical mood for some of the tender scenes that is really, really beautiful. Those are some of my favorite cues on it, actually. There’s one called “Second Cup”, which is just beautiful. And another one called “Hillcrest Park”. Like those ones that are really great. And then I think the other one that is fantastic is one of the final piece called “Boss Battle”, which is just amazing.

GODRICH: I like the more kind of elated parts. I don’t know what they’re called. But when they’re walking in the park, it’s very beautiful. Through the snow. And then the end kind of crescendo with a beautiful kind of synthetic stuff at the end worked really well. And the scene at the end where they say goodbye works really well.

WRIGHT: Nigel did the Universal fanfare, the 8-bit version of the fanfare at the start, which he seemed to knock off in like, like half an hour. It’s like, “Hey, can you do an 8-bit version of the Universal fanfare as if it was done on the Commodore 64?” And he was like, “Sure.” And then came back with that. I don’t think there was ever a second draft of it … that was it.

GODRICH: The great thing was that each one is kind of a vignette, all seven deadly exes. Each one had kind of a tip of a hat to something. There was the Kung Fu movie version, which was great fun to sort of create that sort of soundtrack using 8-bit stuff. Using low bit rate, Commodore 64 generated parts. And reflecting back to gaming technology and the music from a couple of games. And then there was a bit that was like a John Carpenter movie, and it’s really fun to create those kinds of things because it’s so beautiful a visual thing with very key elements that make it all work. And it sort of points the finger of what the reference is. And you have this sort of weird universe that you’re in, so you can write a bridge between the genres.

WRIGHT: I do remember that Nigel had various people that he’d worked with coming in to sort of play on it. So, on Nigel’s score, there is Kevin and Brendan from Broken Social Scene. They were in town, and Nigel said, “Hey, would you want to come into the studio, and we’ll do some stuff?” So, basically, on the score, working as session musicians, were Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene and then Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffee from Supergrass. And then we also needed some kinda like scratching stuff, so we got Kid Koala to do that. So, it was just amazing. It was just an amazing all-star session of musicians on the score.

GODRICH: Honestly, I haven’t listened to it for an awful long time. And I was listening to a few things the other day for a reissue of the score that’s coming out and vinyl and all that kind of stuff. [Hint #3]. In the 10 years since it’s come out, I’ve done an awful lot of stuff. So, when I go back and listen to something, it’s like, “Oh, I can’t remember making this.”

WRIGHT: It was the first score that he’d ever done. In fact, it’s still the first score. The only score he’s done actually to this day. But he was brilliant doing it.

GODRICH: I’m proud of the whole thing as well. Because, like I said, it’s not my drive to work on movie scores. That’s not my intention. But I knew that I could do one if I wanted to, and I did it. And there it is. I can point to it and say, “See? I can do that!”

Curated Music

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

As if all the other music wasn’t enough, there is a certain amount of additional music that was curated for the film. It rounds everything out, completes the world, and further cements the fact that they are not messing around when it comes to the music…

WRIGHT: I think some of the other tracks that were already pre-existing tracks were a combination of songs that Bryan Lee O’Malley had played to me, which were songs that he would listen to when he drew the books. And those would include like “Scott Pilgrim” by Plum Tree and the cover of “By Your Side” by Beachwood Sparks. And then ones I contributed were “I Heard Ramona Sing” by Frank Black and the Black Lips song “Oh, Katrina” and “Teenage Dream” by Mark Bolan and a song by the band Blood Red Shoes called “It’s Getting Boring by the Sea”. These are all things I thought were in the right zone.

NELSON: A lot of what I did was help him get songs that he really wanted that would have normally been too expensive if I hadn’t worked on getting good prices for them. That kind of stuff.

WRIGHT: You know, there are other songs like “Anthem for a 17 Year-Old Girl by Broken Social Scene. That is an absolutely classic slice of Canadian indie rock. So, that felt like it was very much in place.

KATHY NELSON [MUSIC SUPERVISOR]: Edgar wanted The Rolling Stones [song “Under My Thumb”], and I said to him, “Alright, that’s going to be really expensive. Do you want The Rolling Stones song bad enough that you’re willing to give up four other songs? Because we’ve really got to try and make this budget. I really don’t want you to go over budget.” I can’t remember how I worked this out, but at the time I was really good friends with Iris Keitel who ran ABKCO. And I’m sure I was able to get her to help me to get this done. Actually, we got The Rolling Stones song for the price I needed because we gave ABKCO the soundtrack.

Music School

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Edgar Wright didn’t go out of his way to cast musicians as the principal band for Sex Bob-Omb on screen. Michael Cera knew how to play guitar, but the others did not. So, Edgar Wright created an intensive music school and brought in Chris Murphy to help show them the ropes enough that they’d be believable in the movie.

WRIGHT: The one other person who wasn’t on the soundtrack but was a big part of it was Chris Murphy from the band Sloan. A Canadian sort of legend. He was employed as the musical coach. So, he actually was the guy on set. I mean, he was teaching all the actors how to play their instruments. I mean, some people played already, like Michael Cera could already play guitar. But other people had to be coached from scratch, and Chris Murphy is the guy who did it. So, you know, that was amazing. He was on set the entire time as sort of like coach and cheerleader. And a very sweet guy.

GODRICH: There was a guy there helping us coach them. And we did in fact have like some stand-up rehearsals. And we had real musicians being a part of these bands. And certainly some of the actors had experience playing, but Mark certainly didn’t. He can’t play the guitar. So, his was the biggest challenge, trying to get him to look like he was actually playing. Michael Cera is a musician and can play. So, he was easy. It’s as you expect. It’s everything you have to do to try and make it seem real.

NELSON: He had this huge kind of facility in Toronto, and every day there was like music lessons going on, martial arts. And because he’s Edgar, he was actually taking the martial arts classes also [Laughs]. It was like an intense summer camp. It was like summer school.

WRIGHT: The people who learned it from scratch were Mark Weber and Allison Pill and maybe Brandon Routh as well. And the drummer in Clash at Demonhead is a real drummer, Tennessee Thomas, who’s the drummer from The Like. And then Crash and the Boys. All of those people, including the little Asian girl on drums, could all play. We found like a, you know, an eight-year-old Asian drummer. [Laughs.] She could really play. She was actually a drummer.

Off-Stage Memories

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Like any good behind-the-music project, there are always more stories…

NELSON: This project took so long because of the layers and the pre-production that had to go into the making of this movie, with regard to all the martial arts stuff and the musical performances being all original music. I actually kept my notebook with all my paperwork from that movie. It’s like three inches thick. And it just went on and on and on. And I thought, If I’m going to keep a notebook on any of the movies I’ve worked on, this will be the one because everything had to be done on this movie. So, there was almost nothing I couldn’t refer to if I needed to figure out something for another movie.

WRIGHT: Well, I had been for probably about 10 years at that point a big, big fan of Cornelius, the Japanese artist Keigo Oyamada. I got into him through the album Fantasma, which Matador released I think in 1998. And I’d seen him live a number of times. And the media press always used to sort of say, “Oh, he’s like the Japanese Beck.” You know, and in fact, Keigo and Beck have become friends. And Cornelius has done some remixes of Beck’s tracks. So, I met him in Los Angeles at a concert, and then me and Nigel met him in London after seeing one of his gigs. He’s incredible live. And we asked him to do the music for us.

He recorded that track for the twins way ahead of the actual film. And then we basically made it into like a sound clash with Beck’s threshold. So, you know, it was an extremely music nerd joke, to me only probably, that it was funny that the battle was Beck versus the Japanese Beck, Cornelius.

NELSON: When you’re working on the movie, they’re constantly saying, “Oh, we need more money for special effects. Take it out of the music budget!” So, it’s like, “Oh brother.” So, your music budget dwindles down to not a very significant amount based on what you start with.

WRIGHT: The Matthew Patel song was all Dan Nakamura. Dan the Automator did that. I was a fan of his, and I loved an album that he did, Bombay the Hard Way. And that was lots of like remixes of Bollywood music. So, we got in touch with him to see if he would do the song for Matthew Patel. So he wrote that.

GODRICH: The interesting thing about the whole project was that we had to get all this music together before they could even shoot. We had to do all the Sex Bob-Omb stuff, all the other band stuff, the bass battle, the Katayanagi Twins. We had to get them because all the choreography, visually what you saw, was based around what was happening in the sounds. That’s why we prepared all that music two years before the movie. But it was in the works and in the script, but we still had to make all this stuff before they could even start.

WRIGHT: The bass battle is Jason Falkner and Justin Meldal-Johnson, who both have played with Beck and you know, like Jason Falkner, ex of Jellyfish and also a solo artist in his own right. And Justin Meldal-Johnson was Beck’s bassist. But it was just amazing. Basically the bass battle that is in the movie is them really doing it live. They just sat opposite each other and just basically had like a riff on the bass. Which was an amazing thing to witness. They just do that thing live, where they’re just going like dueling banjos. It was incredible to watch. And it’s basically straight into the movie and then the actors had to learn the same part. [Laughs.] And try to look like they were playing it.

GODRICH: Arriving in Toronto when we were just beginning to shoot. Because I’d been on the project since the very beginning, because of the inception of all of the original music that we had to make in order to start shooting, what was really nice was showing up when the actors first came together and being able to see these people who were going to be playing these parts that you were creating music for. And in an imaginary sense, to suddenly see that become tangible was a lovely experience.

NELSON: It’s one of my favorite experiences among the many, many years and the many, many movies and soundtracks that I’ve worked on.

scottpilgrim albumcover Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: An Oral History of the Soundtrack

GODRICH: I watched that first scene being shot, and it’s like, “Wow, this is really happening.” You can’t really believe it, and it’s like “Okay. Well, off we go.” A movie set could either be the most boring place on Earth or everything you hoped it could be. But it’s a lovely universe to sort of be involved in.

WRIGHT: ABCKO is going to re-release the soundtrack for the 10th anniversary, and we’re going to put a couple of unreleased tracks on. And I was listening to, just earlier today, I think Beck had done like seven versions of the “Ramona” acoustic song. And there was one of them where I was like, “That’s it! That’s the one!” And it’s exactly what Michael Cera sings and also what you hear Beck singing at a later moment in the movie where you hear a sad version of the “Ramona” acoustic song.

I’m actually glad that we’re gonna bring out the physical releases of the score, because it only got a digital release. I think it slightly gets forgotten about in a way. But I think the score is really extraordinary. But the re-release is going to be the score on vinyl and then the soundtrack with a whole new side.

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