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Music Interview: Steven Price

Music Interview: Steven Price

Academy Award-winning British film composer, Steven Price, has worked on major movies including Gravity, Baby Driver and, most recently, innovative director Edgar Wright’s brilliant psychological thriller-meets-horror-film-meets-Swinging-‘60s-drama, Last Night In Soho.

Rather fittingly, hi-fi+ caught up with him in Soho, at the legendary Groucho Club, where he was working with Bowers & Wilkins to promote the brand’s new Dolby Atmos soundbar, Panorama 3, which launched in March, 2022.

We talked about how his music helps to tell the story of what a film director has in mind and how immersive audio technology has changed the way he works.

SH: Last Night In Soho is partly set in the ‘60s. The soundtrack has pop songs from that era on it, and also your takes on them, but some of the action occurs in a contemporary setting. How did you approach the score, as it had to work for both of those periods?

SP: That’s what’s so fun about Edgar Wright’s films. A lot of directors just use one song and that’s it, but with us the song is the starting point and we reinterpret it.

Music Interview: Steven Price, Music Interview: Steven Price

In Last Night In Soho, there are Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw songs that we ripped apart and then put back in a different order.

On one of the two versions of the soundtrack LP available, there’s an unsettling, psychedelic reinterpretation of ‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’…

It’s my ‘Revolution 9’ tribute. Everything is used as a reason for the story – I’m often playing along with it and using it to lead into the score to help whatever story Edgar is trying to tell.

With Last Night In Soho, it’s the idea of the 1960s being this glorious thing we all look back on – the good old days – but the story – the history – has leaked through into the life of a girl in the present day, so by the end of the film, it has dissolved and become a grotesque thing.

The score was a device that took some of those songs and instrumentation but made it evolve into something that was basically a nightmare – it was all intertwined.

I started writing the music early on, so it was incorporated into the edit from the start and the two of just chipped away at it, sending things back and forth.

As we go through different editorial stages, I give them music and they might change the cut, so it comes back to me. Gradually the final shape comes together.

I’ve worked with Edgar for a long time, so I was on the set and I was writing suites just off the basis of the script.

I also went to the studio a few times to work with [actress] Anya [Taylor-Joy], who sings on the score. She’s amazing and her character’s siren song is being sung through the ages.

What were your influences for the soundtrack? I’m guessing your brief was ‘60s pop: Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw, Dusty Springfield?

Yes, but also film scores. I listened to a lot of John Barry and Ennio Morricone. We also talked about John Carpenter very early on. There were a lot of references.

Edgar’s very good – you always know his influences and what’s he watching at the time. You put all these things together and gradually it becomes something else – it evolves.

Your score for Last Night In Soho is often minimalist, but some of the tracks have dramatic strings and brass. It’s an interesting mix of styles, which makes it a great soundtrack. It doesn’t sound like a ‘60s pastiche, which could’ve been quite easy to do…

The whole film is about the idea of memory and how the ‘60s wasn’t that great – it’s a distorted memory, so any ‘60s references I made in the music had to be broken up.

Music Interview: Steven Price, Music Interview: Steven Price

There were loads of things based on the concept of tape loops because the film is a time loop – the music incorporates all these elements of dialogue, and, as the loop degrades, it becomes distorted and messy. There were lots of taking things and melting them.

There are some great moments in the film, musically and visually, like when one of the central female characters, Eloise, first steps into ‘60s London and sees the West End, or when we first see the Café de Paris…

The first 20 minutes of the film are all in mono, but when the character goes into the ‘60s and everything opens up, we opened up the whole sound field, to the extent that I went to Abbey Road and recorded the strings and brass for ‘You’re My World’ all over again, so we could take it from being a record to a live experience.

It’s immersive sound – you go into the Café de Paris and it’s as if the band are in the room next door.

You mentioned immersive sound. How has audio technology like Dolby Atmos changed how you work?

I think it’s one of the great unexplored areas of filmmaking. There are lots of films that surround you with sound, but there aren’t a lot that use it for story reasons.

Music Interview: Steven Price, Music Interview: Steven Price

In Gravity, the sound was a massive ‘character’ in the film and the music moved around you – I was proud of that.

Surround sound is the future – it’s a whole story based around sound, which is why I think products like soundbars are worth supporting.

It gives people a taste of what we’re doing – you can hear the detail we’re putting into soundtracks that are designed for a theatre, in the home, in a way that you won’t get from a PC or a phone.

Where did you record the Last Night In Soho soundtrack? Was it all done at Abbey Road?

The majority of it, including the orchestral parts, was recorded at Abbey Road, but we also did some bits at British Grove, in Chiswick (West London), and the vocals were done at my studio, in Surrey.

It was all done over a long period of time and we were interrupted by COVID – the whole thing got delayed by six months, which was great, actually, because we got to come back to it with fresh eyes.

Was Last Night In Soho fun to work on?

All of Edgar’s film are. It was exciting and it makes you wonder what the hell he might do next. There are moments of cinema in Last Night In Soho that are wonderful. It’s a departure for him, but you can see him in it – he has a real voice.

On a film like Last Night In Soho, or Baby Driver, your score has to complement a playlist of other songs…

It’s connective tissue, but hopefully you’re doing an emotional job – that’s the way I think of it. The whole soundtrack has to feel like it’s rolling on and when we get it right, it feels like a momentum that’s taking you from each scene to each scene – sometimes we have to chip away at it for a long time to get that.

Edgar’s films are fascinating because he has such an interest in music and you know that it’s going to be heard.

In the ‘90s and the early noughties, film soundtracks were often dominated by lots of contemporary songs – the actual score felt less important. Do you think we’re seeing a return to those classic film soundtrack scores of the ‘60s and the ‘70s?

When scores could be unique? Yes – it’s an exciting time. People are embracing things that are different. Filmmakers and directors are really keen to have something that feels unique to their film.

When I first met Alfonso Cuarón, who directed Gravity, his first words to me were: ‘I don’t really like film music, so what are we going to do about that, then?’

I had to work out what we wanted to feel – anything that felt like film music wasn’t going to fly.

A lot of my scores involve original sounds that I make – I create my own instruments and play those. That’s the fun bit for me – how you can make a film sound unlike any other film. That’s my aim.

The soundtrack album for Last Night In Soho is available now on Mondo/Back Lot Music.

Music Interview: Steven Price, Music Interview: Steven Price

Bowers & Wilkins’s new Panorama 3 Dolby Atmos soundbar is available from the brand’s website and select retailers.

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