“Songs for Screens” is a Variety column written by Andrew Hampp, a VP at New York-based music sponsorship and experiential agency MAC Presents and former branding correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.
Just a few short years ago, Until the Ribbon Breaks, a Welsh alt-pop duo fronted by singer-songwriter Pete Lawrie-Winfield, were riding all the highs of that come with being an acclaimed band in the mid-2010s — a well-received major-label debut, buzzy collabs with Run The Jewels and sold-out tours supporting acts like Lorde and London Grammar, and multiple synchs for their music, most notably HBO’s “The Leftovers,” ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and a trailer for Warner Bros.’ “The Nice Guys.”
Unfortunately for Lawrie-Winfield, relocating to America from the UK only intensified his struggles with alcoholism and substance abuse, which leaves him at a loss to recall many of the highlights from touring and promoting the band’s 2015 album “A Lesson Unlearnt.” It took the singer’s longtime love of film — and a series of rehab centers across the globe — to help make the band’s self-titled sophomore album (out this Friday, Feb. 23) a reality. “I’m still amazed there’s a second record to speak of now, to be honest,” he says.
Whereas “A Lesson Unlearnt” was written while Lawrie-Winfield screened his favorite films on a projector (the band’s name is taken from this process), “Until the Ribbon Breaks” had to be written from the memories Lawrie-Winfield could piece together from his struggles on the road in between treatment sessions. “We would put together studios whether it was a basement in Santa Monica or a shack in Thailand. Needless to say it wasn’t always available for me to have a projector.”
Once the project neared completion, Lawrie-Winfield began to research which of his favorite films could best complement each track. He would then splice together footage from select films with old home-movie footage he downloaded on film-library site Archive.org that often creates the effect of an entirely new film. After the audio version of “Until the Ribbon Breaks” is released, additional music videos for the album’s 12 songs will continue to roll out into March, setting the music to clips from well-known films including “Kill Bill,” “Lost in Translation” and “Garden State,” among many others.
For standout track “Count the Lightning,” he turned to Richard Ayoade’s “Submarine” as the song’s companion film. The 2010 coming-of-age drama takes a naturalistic, Terrence Malick-style approach to a teenage couple coming of age in suburban Wales, not far from where Lawrie-Winfield grew up.
“That song is literally about childhood. It took you back to the sense of being us against the world,” he explains. “And [‘Submarine’] is about childhood and it’s about memory and nostalgia and innocence and innocence lost. I really like things that evoke nostalgia or the bittersweet melancholy of looking back. “
Though Lawrie-Winfield has been splicing together other directors’ films for his music videos for years, he has thus far avoided the process of rights clearances. But in the case of 2013’s “Romeo,” which is based on a series of re-edited footage of 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet,” that wasn’t an issue for Baz Luhrmann. “I was waiting for the day that it was going to get taken down, but apparently he’s seen it and likes it. The videos are meant as tributes, and if it gives the film another context I think people appreciate that. More and more these days it’s all just shares and copies and everyone’s just influenced by everything else. And I think that’s great.”
Though Until the Ribbon Breaks’ music has been licensed for several high-profile projects of its own in recent years, Lawrie-Winfield cites an Applebee’s commercial featuring the band’s “Taste Of Silver” as his true “I’ve made it” moment.
“Never would I have imagined when I was writing ‘Taste of Silver’ that it would be used to promote dipping cheese,” he says with a laugh. “We’re not in a position yet where I can be kind of Radiohead about it and say, ‘We’ll only be synched if it’s incredibly artistic.’ At this moment, it’s what helps us carry on making music. It’s very circular, you know – I wrote it to picture, then the picture used the music.”
Which isn’t to say Lawrie-Winfield wouldn’t like to follow Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood into film scoring some day. He just wrapped watching scoring sessions with in-demand composers like Cliff Martinez (Drive, The Neon Demon) and Fil Eisler (“Empire,” “To the Bone”), and is trying his own hand at it next. “I’m slowly but surely forcing myself into that world, making it aware that’s what I want to do. My dream is to write scores to movies where a song can be synched to a film. But obviously, based on our cheese conversation, I certainly wouldn’t say no to the right commercial.”