'Fury': How Steven Price's Score Evokes a "Truthful and Honest" View of War
"It does link you into other wars that have gone on and are going on as well, and that's what I felt was the terrible thing about all this"
"We're not here for right and wrong anymore — we're here to kill them," clarifies tank leader Brad Pitt to new recruit Logan Lerman in Fury, David Ayer's World War II drama that follows an M4 Sherman and its five crewmembers on a deadly mission in enemy territory for 24 hours.
"It's a window into that experience, a glimpse of war in a very truthful and honest way that wasn't attempting to romanticize or glamorize anything. For me, it was an antiwar sort of thing," says film composer Steven Price to The Hollywood Reporter. Though Price's grandfathers were both in WWII and "got medals and were in Africa for five years — I know these general details, but they never talked of it. The men of that generation went through that, and no one really knows. It wasn't the done thing in those days to talk about it. It was buried."
Because of the inherent silence over the topic, Price was tasked to reveal in the score what the screenplay won't say. Pitt's Don 'Wardaddy' Collier has a musical theme that is "blunt" and "blocky" but with "a weight of experience — you didn't need to know the detail, but you were just aware of it all the time. And when he's alone, his theme hints at something more, that he hides to be strong for his crew." On the other hand, Lerman's Norman Ellison is "nervous and skittish. His eyes are flicking around all over the place, and his melody does the same thing."
The Sony release also casts Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal, who have been in the tank with Pitt for years. "They had been together for so long, and they are broken. They're exhausted, they've seen things we can't imagine, their lives have been damaged beyond all repair," says Price, who was often on set to observe shooting and was able to select moments with Ayer that would bring the music to the foreground. To capture the simultaneous machinery and humanity of what the soldiers repeatedly call "the best job ever," the Oscar-winning composer of Gravity and The World's End created a score that is "constantly moving forward."
"It was capturing the sense that it was just another day, and the sense that their life was the reality of it," he explains of discovering the film's musical identity in a scene of the tank traveling down the road. "That's when I found this heavy treading idea: the rhythms are very slow with big downbeats, but within that, you can have quite an extended melody."
To do so, Price used audio clips recorded on set of "tanks moving, hatches closing, gun shells dropping and levers switching gears" and brought bullet belts, helmets and other military equipment into the studio. "The first sound you hear in the film is from dog tags and tones that are extensions of shells being dropped," he reveals of his process, shown in the exclusive featurette below. "It's something I like to do to extract music from the film — there's something in the quality of the real sounds that somehow connects more than something you make from a synthesizer could ever do."
Battle sequences called for "hard, grinding percussions," which sprouted from army men coming to the studio in their gear as well as Pitt's rifle from the top of the tank. "We basically just used them as percussion instruments. They add this layer of grit and true grinding metal that just felt appropriate and gave the action more of a sharpness."
The score also features a disconcerting choir that whispers or loudly recites (in unison or in layers) these "constant monotone chants, all in German, with the idea being that while, according to the timeline of the war, it's nearly over, the reality is they're in Nazi Germany and they're completely surrounded. So I tried to surround the audience and the tank with these voices that give an undertone of danger." The choir is, in fact, reciting passages from the Lutheran Bible, Price tells THR. "I didn't want people to hear the words, but the German language is so strong, you feel it. I wasn't sure if it was going to work, but we tried one where they were whispering, and it was a bit spooky." Other vocal moments feature Lisa Hannigan and John Smith singing an octave apart to make audiences' stomachs turn.
Despite the unconventional instruments and techniques, Price notes that the score had him working with the piano more than he's used to. Still, for Norman's theme of innocence, "a posh film piano just doesn't work for this, so we ended up with very old 1940s microphones, recording a piano the way you're not supposed to, with the microphones underneath. Somehow, it was this mechanical piano sound where you can hear every detail: the pedal coming down, the pianist's seat moving, every little mechanical noise. There's some sort of truthfulness to it. When I started this project, I didn't imagine I'd be doing that."
The most "violent" piece of music in the film actually plays while the credits roll. "That was a very late development," says Price of a sequence that was initially set to start the film over a main title card. "This isn't a regular war film, so it's the idea of being violent with the music but also thematic. I basically just stayed up late one night and did the most extreme thing I could think of, and [Ayer] loved it." As the film evolved, they opted for a quieter kickoff, but the number was rediscovered in the mixing process. "I came back to it, and it suddenly didn't sound as weird as I remembered it — the whole thing felt like it was meant to be," says Price, who then resent it to Ayer and spurred the closing credits, filled with aggressive measures over images of WWII insignia. "It does link you into other wars that have gone on and are going on as well, and that's what I felt was the terrible thing about all this."
"In many ways, the film is an extended suicide note — they can't live through this," he concludes. "They've seen too much and done too much. They're dead anyway."