“Realism” isn’t the first word that comes to mind regarding “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” which opens Friday. The film features stylized fight sequences cut back-to-back with cartoon-y melodrama. However, in one very specific aspect realism was key, according to director and co-writer Edgar Wright: Music.
The “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels, on which the pic is based, are populated by a number of indie rock bands, like Pilgrim’s Sex Bob-Omb and the villainous Clash at Demonhead. In the film, their songs are played by the thesps themselves — Sex Bob-Omb consists of Michael Cera on bass, Alison Pill on drums and Mark Webber on guitar and vocals, for example — but their songs were written by famed alt rocker Beck.
“We had to solve a problem that (graphic novelist) Bryan Lee O’Malley didn’t have in the comics, which is what (the bands) sound like,” he said.
Whereas most films approach similar situationsby hiring a composer to write music for all the different sounds, Wright bristled at the thought. Those films, “never quite sound right or feel real,” he said.
So Wright and music producer Nigel Godrich hired different bands to develop new songs for the various groups. And what better bands to choose from than some of the ones O’Malley used as inspiration while penning the comics.
Emily Haines of Canadian New Wave rock band Metric said when they played an early version of their song “Black Sheep” for Wright and Godrich, everyone was surprised at “how perfectly it coordinated with Bryan’s Clash at Demonhead fictional band.”
Toronto-based Broken Social Scene was hired to write for Crash and the Boys, a Sex Bob-Omb rival band notorious for its three-second “I Am So Sad, So Very, Very Sad.” “It’s like nothing we had ever done under Social Scene,” says band member Kevin Drew. “Really, I think our longest song (in the film) is about 56 seconds.”
Wright met with Drew in Toronto at what Drew describes as “a sort of blind date dinner.” From there, Wright and Godrich asked Broken Social Scene to write a number of songs. Very short songs.
Wright noted that “Metric were playing an exaggerated version of themselves and Broken Social Scene were playing against type.” Of course, Beck as Sex Bob-Omb had to pull out a new sound as well. In 2008, Beck entered a studio session with poster blow-ups of comic book frames of the band. “I had a CD at the end of that session that was 22 tracks long,” Wright said.
“The actual kind of playing is not particularly virtuoso,” Wright admitted. The band’s songs — particularly “Garbage Truck” — which show up early in the film, have an intentionally grungy, unpolished quality to them.
The soundtrack complements Godrich’s original score, which Wright considers a “sonic embarrassment of riches” and includes nonoriginal, thematically linked songs like “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones and “Scott Pilgrim” by Plumtree.