The Sigur Rós frontman talks about his transition to film composer for Cameron Crowe's We Bought a Zoo.
Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi Birgisson has turned film scorer for Cameron Crowe's mid-life domestic-drama-with-a-twist We Bought a Zoo. LWLies caught up with the falsetto-voiced Icelander recently to discuss how he set about adding 'composer' to his bow.
LWLies: How did your involvement come about?
Jónsi: I was in Reykjavík one Friday night, and Almost famous came on the TV, and it reminded me to email Cameron. We had emailed back and forth over the years, since he used some of our music for Vanilla Sky. And he replied saying, ‘We’re actually in the middle of shooting a movie, and coincidentally we’ve been using your solo album as filler music for it before we complete the soundtrack.’ So he said, ‘Why don’t you come to LA and score the movie?’ I had some time off, we had just finished a tour, so I said, ‘Yeah, cool.’ It was serendipitous; it was very cool.
How did it compare with writing music with Sigur Rós?
It was completely different. I had no clue, no idea. I was just going to come out and put some music on top of the film. I had no clue how it would fit together, how the dialogue should be reflected by the music or that some characters would need themes. When you write music by yourself, it’s so selfish in a way. You just write exactly what you want. When you’re scoring, you need to write what the movie wants. But I was lucky to have Cameron for my first big scoring job, because he listened to what I had to say, helped me and let me experiment with things.
It’s not a typical movie score. What was the creative process like?
I wanted to avoid the whole Hollywood strings thing, but I felt myself falling into that trap. I think, in my head, I was doing ‘movie’ scoring. But that’s not why they wanted me, so I had to remind myself why I was there. In the end, I took an unusual approach. Usually composers write, like, 25-second or four-minute chunks of music to fit with the movie. My idea was to create four or five themes: one magical theme; one to fit with Matt [Damon] and his son and so on. They fade in and out. It was quite experimental and open-ended, like a conversation between music and film. It was a good experience.
But they used some of your band’s songs, too. 'Hoppipolla' plays over the closing scenes.
Yeah. I really didn’t want to have that song in the movie to begin with. I asked Cameron, 'Please can we take it out?' In the band we’ve got so used to it – I’m getting so tired of it, personally. But it works really well in the movie, I think. And there will be lots of people, especially here in the States, who will watch this movie and have never even heard of Sigur Rós. So they won’t mind.
What do you think your fans will think of the movie?
They’ll probably think it’s a little bit... cheesy? They might be surprised by it because it’s definitely a family movie. But it’s a family movie by a director that has an amazing skill with dialogue, for creating characters. Even though it’s made up of Hollywood DNA, it’s something different. I think they’ll understand that.
Would you score another movie?
Who would you like to work with? I would love to do it again. It’s really fun. There are so many good directors. I like Wes Anderson a lot. He used one of our songs in The Life Aquatic. Darren Aronofsky is great. He actually talked to us about a project a while ago. Sadly, we didn’t have time to do it, but I love that movie, Black Swan. His use of sound effects, the breathing... It was so well done. But I don’t think I’ll be doing any movies for a while. We’re in the middle of doing a new album now, coming out in March, then we’ll go on tour. This year is about Sigur Rós.