Film scoring has long been a bastion of established composers, but the number of alternative musicians scoring pics has been reaching critical mass. Those considered film score trailblazers such as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh are now finding themselves in good company with the likes of M83, Devotchka’s Nick Urata, Grizzly Bear, Laura Veirs, Fall on Your Sword and Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian filling the ranks.
Urata, whose scoring credits include “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” “Ruby Sparks” and “What Maisie Knew,” points out that indie music is the soundtrack to many modern directors’ lives, and believes it’s a natural extension for them to want to collaborate with the musicians they listen to every day. “Many directors are thinking, ‘I need that sound in the universe I created,’ ” he says.
For Urata in particular, the transition to film scoring came naturally, due in no small measure to his band Devotchka’s orchestral bent, replete with brass, strings and occasional spaghetti western influences. “It probably helped that I always had a cinematic approach to writing songs,” he says. “I pictured them as mini films and was always influenced by film scores to begin with.”
That said, he finds composing for films to be incredibly challenging. “I feel like I’m still learning the trade,” he says, even with a dozen film credits under his belt. “You’re writing to what’s happening on the screen, and you have to factor in the director’s vision. Film is the last true dictatorship,” he laughs.
Director Todd Louiso, known for his indie pics “Hello I Must Be Going” and “The Marc Pease Experience” as well as his acting turns in “High Fidelity” and “Jerry Maguire,” says Portland, Ore., folk-rocker Laura Veirs’ indie sensibility perfectly fit the mood of his 2012 divorce dramedy “Hello.”
“There was a certain vibe to the film and Laura fit that energy,” he says. “There’s a certain humor and seriousness and sadness to her music, which is what I like to see in movies. It doesn’t get too maudlin, yet it’s beautiful.”
Veirs’ sparse, folksy, acoustic-guitar-driven tunes punctuate “Hello” and help bring out both the tragedy and the humor in the main character’s travails as a recent divorcee living with her parents.
“My music, it’s sort of minor-key-oriented, dark music,” Veirs says. “There were light fun moments in the movie but overall (the main character) is going through a struggle. So there’s that melancholy aspect of my music that fit well.”
M83’s Anthony Gonzalez is also breaking out of his usual sandbox, making his film scoring debut with director Joseph Kosinski’s upcoming Tom Cruise vehicle, “Oblivion.”
“I’m always trying to push myself and I try to do it with my studio albums, and now this is a new adventure, so I’m going to push myself even harder,” Gonzalez told the Playlist. “My vision is really to have a combination of very electronic moments, very M83, and sometimes merge into something more soundtrack-y, but my kind of soundtracks.”
Meanwhile, Belle and Sebastian frontman Murdoch is taking things a step further. The Scottish indie rocker not only wrote all the music for the upcoming film “God Help the Girl,” but he also penned the script and directed it. He teamed up with producer and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Barry Mendel (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”), and plans to roll out the film in February.
“It was a very natural and welcome process,” he says of writing music for the film. “When I started writing these songs from a female perspective, I put all my desires and indulgences into these songs. It kept me in a good frame of mind to do Belle and Sebastian as well.”
Veirs says there are several reasons she and other indie musicians are welcoming the opportunity to score films. “It’s exciting to do different things,” she says. “As we (musicians) get older, not everybody wants to be a road dog … and this is a way to be creative and earn money. Frankly, the combo of film and indie music is a beautiful thing — it’s really magical.”