I got to talk with Atlanta’s own singer-songwriter Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell, from the band Manchester Orchestra, about their composing and recording the score for the upcoming film “Swiss Army Man” from co-writer/directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known as The Daniels). “Swiss Army Man” is about a man (Paul Dano) who is shipwrecked on a deserted island and finds a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe) which he then befriends and uses to survive in a unique way.
You had worked with the Daniels before with your music video “Simple Math.” In fact, that put the Daniels on the map. How was that experience?
Andy: It was amazing and really collaborative. I met them at a bar in Brooklyn a few months before we started to shoot the video. They gave me a treatment, one that I didn’t understand at the time. I was told that they were talented and after meeting them, I was pretty overwhelmed by their level of creativity and passion. We had a blast making that video. The music video ended up being a special piece of art. We always wanted to continue to work with them as well.
What did you think when you were told about the plot of ” Swiss Army Man?”
Andy: I loved it! I thought it was great!
Robert: I think the thing about the Daniels is that their passion, drive and creativity can make any idea great with incredible results. So it was just trusting in them and looking forward to seeing what they were going to do with the material.
Yeah, I would have loved to have been in the meeting when they pitched the film to investors.
Robert: They actually used a lot of music during the pitch. They used a lot of our music in the meeting to set the scenes. We started working on the music for the film right away. We sent the first song to the Daniels very early on. We then wrote six songs for pivotal moments in the movie to help them pitch the film. The way these guys pitch is unlike anything else you have ever seen or heard. They even act out scenes, so it’s an incredible experience.
Because the Daniels cut their teeth on music videos, did that make it easier to work with them? With their vast music video background, they have to be very knowledgeable about music.
Andy: They would laugh if they heard you said that they were musically knowledgeable. Daniel Kwan has a very distinct vision of what they want audiences to feel from the music. We all worked hard to come up with music that felt right for the scenes. They were far more involved than your typical director. We had to think about the score as an important element to the movie.
Have you guys ever scored a film before?
Andy: It was our first time.
So it must have been a very collaborative effort between you guys and the Daniels.
Robert: Yeah, a lot of it involved with us reading a scene and then them telling us what the tone of that scene was. We would then start working on some music. Sometimes they were like “That just what we are looking for,” and then other times, especially toward the end of the process, when we were just putting in parts of songs. We tried to figure how do we convey this emotion, how do we work this piece of music in? They gave us a ton of freedom in that respect.
A lot of the score for the film is very minimalist with a lot of a cappella use in it. What was the concept behind going in that direction for the film?
Andy: They kind of tied our hands with that. They told us that we couldn’t use any real instruments in the film until the very last scene. So we had to figure out different ways to emulate certain things that movies do. After a couple of months, we finally found this formula to allow a single voice to fill the space, which made it very haunting and beautiful at the same time.
This film is surprisingly touching, but it’s also really funny. Did you have to keep in mind the humorous tone of the film?
Robert: I think we had to. This isn’t that beautiful dinosaur scene in “Jurassic Park.” It was a constant thing of that the beauty of it made it funnier. There are some ridiculous things happening in this film where we put in some triumphant music and that just made it funnier.
Is scoring films something you want to keep doing, maybe working with other directors in the future?
Robert: Yeah, we loved it. It was an incredible experience. If there is another project that comes our way that can help us grow as musicians, then we would be way into doing another one.
You just played the Sweetwater 420 Music Festival. How does it feel to return to home and play for your fans?
Robert: We love Atlanta. We throw a festival every year on the night before Thanksgiving called The Stuffing. This year it will be our seventh festival, holding at the Center Stage complex. It’s always a treat to come home. It’s always a nice reminder that people do appreciate all the hard work we put into our music. It’s very humbling.
Thanks for talking to me and I wish you much success with the film and your music.
“Swiss Army Man” is playing in theatres nationwide.
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