Dhani Harrison and TheNewNo2 on Scoring 'Beautiful Creatures' and How It's Not Like 'Twilight' (Q&A)
"We wanted it to be timeless," says the son of George, who, along with his bandmates, looked to Buddy Holly and Bernard Herrmann for inspiration.
The score for Beautiful Creatures doesn’t sound like it was composed by a rock band, but then, the group known as “thenewno2” has always been more of an eclectic collective than a traditionally bangin’ combo. It’s the brainchild of Dhani Harrison, son of George and Olivia, who didn’t want to trade on the family name -- or visage or voice, since he’s a dead ringer for dad -- but opted for a spirit of loose collaboration.
For this project, Harrison teamed up with two thenewno2 “bandmates”: Jonathan Sadoff, who’d previously scored last year’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World on his own, and Paul Hicks, who used to work at the famed Abbey Road studio, where this soundtrack was mostly laid down. At the Santa Monica studio/office space they share with Olivia’s company, the trio talked with The Hollywood Reporter about taking a tri-fold approach to Richard LaGravenese’s teen-oriented paranormal-romance picture.
The Hollywood Reporter: Did the three of you divide duties on the score?
Jonathan Sadoff: There are 80 minutes of music. When we got hired, we were like, “That’s a lot of music.” So we each took on a thing and then we’d pass it on to the left. There was one element that, because the film took place in the South, is swampy and bluesy, and that worked really well for Dhani’s aesthetic. Then there were a lot of atmospheric, otherworldly things happening, which led to a lot of programming and electronic atmospheres that Paul’s really good at. Other moments called for a traditional, Hollywood, Bernard Herrmann/Max Steiner kind of thing, and I do the more orchestral stuff. But rather than it being three separate things, once we had those ideas, it was very important to glue everything together.
Dhani Harrison: I wrote most of the band stuff, just kind of alone in my room...
Sadoff: We each chose characters in the movie and kind of spearheaded a theme.
Harrison: And then we’d play with each other’s theme. I turned John’s orchestral love theme into, like, a Nirvana or Pixies song... When we divvied all the characters up, I was happy because I managed to get Ridley (Emmy Rossum), because her character’s basically just hot and evil. So we got a lot of the rockin’ stuff in there as her thing… We start off with this kind of backwoods, little Bible-bashy kind of town. When the story opens itself up to this other world, then the soundtrack becomes this other magical thing. But we start with a very small little plunky soundtrack that’s like the blues.
Sadoff: And by the time the movie ends, there’s an 80-piece orchestra with a full rock outfit and electronic ensemble. It gets to be as big as the story becomes. The concept behind the score was that it starts slow and then builds and builds and builds.
THR: From the initial ads, it was easy to think, “Okay, Twilight knockoff.”
Paul Hicks: You said the T-word!
Sadoff: Trust me, we’ve heard that one. When we watched the movie, we thought, this is not a normal teen movie. This is a good movie! This is gonna be cool and weird.
THR: You were first-time scorers. Were all your ideas enthusiastically greeted?
Harrison: There was nothing we really tried that Richard said no to. Other than one piece. We did an awesome mega-rude dubstep cue for the storm sequence near the end. We were looking to see how far we could push Richard, and we scared him with that. But that’s good, because dubstep would have dated the score, and we wanted it to be timeless. [Without that] it’s a classic rock/blues-meets-Bernard-Herrmann traditional score.
Sadoff: We have swamp-tronica, and then there’s Herrmann-tronica. Herm-tronica was pretty hard to pull off.
THR: Were you doing any other stuff as a band during this time?
Sadoff: We turned in 75-80 percent of the score and then went on tour with Jane’s Addiction. When we came back, Richard had completely reedited the movie. We watched it and were like, “Wow -- it’s completely changed!” He’d realized that some of his first instincts were right and put a lot of things back in he’d taken out. We ended up having three more scenes to write for.
Harrison: It went darker. Less funny and more dark. It got tougher as a movie. Less of what you were expecting, the T-word, and more like the magical thinking man’s movie.
THR: Ben Harper is one of your guests.
Harrison: Ben has a sort of ethereal, kind of theremin-y sounding, Indian-style guitar on a lot of the stuff.
THR: Funny you should mention Harper’s guitar sounding Indian, because on the song “Run to You,” there’s some Indian-sounding percussion. It feels like you, Dhani, acknowledging your heritage there a little.
Harrison: Paul and I were children of ‘60s musicians [Hicks’ father was in the Hollies], and there was a lot of Indian music floating around. But there isn’t any Indian percussion. It’s actually only claps. You know what it is? That tabla sound was really a Buddy Holly homage. In that scene, Ethan really reminded me of Buddy Holly. He’s got these glasses and almost a bouffy kind of Buddy Holly quiff. So when he was driving, I was thinking “Every day…” Because that’s how they did the drums on Holly’s track, just him tapping on his jeans.
THR: Has thenewno2 worked out the way you originally envisioned it -- as this collective that would be kind of amorphous and allow you to be semi-anonymous in the billing?
Harrison: I’m very, very happy. I was such a big Massive Attack fan and I always loved how every album you got a different singer -- or you got two different singers. You got Shara Nelson and Tracy Thorne or Martina Topley Bird all on one record. Because it’s confusing, it takes people longer to understand it, but once they do, they see the music for what it is, and it’s easier to get the music looked at without the whole Harrison thing being the thing. People hear a girl vocalist and a guy vocalist and “Wait, was that Ben Harper?” I guess maybe that was a diversionary tactic I was using at the start to protect myself from being “Dhani Harrison and the Dannies,” but it worked musically, too, inasmuch as I actually have a lot of fun playing music with a lot of different people.
THR: You share this space with your mother, Olivia?
Harrison: It’s like that Jack White song: “As soon as you do something good, you’re gonna need a bigger room.” My mother is more like Dark Horse and back catalog, and I’m more like Hot Records, which is the new catalog. I thought, "Why don’t we combine our offices into one big office and we have general people working for us instead of having different staff?" In 2009 we built it out to be future-proof. My mother was always saying, “This place is too big,” but when we were doing the film, it was exactly the right size. It was also great when my mother was finishing up on the Martin Scorsese documentary next door. We did the George Harrison guitar collection app out of here, and we’re working on a new app I can’t tell you about yet that’s going to be extremely interesting for this year. I was working on The Beatles: Rock Band here as well with the Harmonix guys. Plus everyone’s studios are around here; Sonos, Jackson Browne’s place, Ben Harper’s got a place nearby and Apogee, Bob Clearmountain’s place, is just down the street. Plus, Google is just across the street -- obviously, our No. 1 competitor. We’ve been stealing their Wi-Fi for years!