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Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell need no introduction. After sweeping all of the major Grammys (best new artist, album, song and record of the year) with When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go?, which O’Connell produced, Eilish has cemented herself as one of the biggest names in pop music.
Her sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, could have crumbled under the weight of extreme expectations, and yet, the siblings were able to pull off a second collection of music perhaps even more sonically impressive than the first. And now the two are nominated for an Oscar. Yet securing the gig on the latest James Bond film, No Time To Die, was far from guaranteed.
The filmmakers behind Daniel Craig’s final turn as 007 invited artists to submit their best effort at a title song for the iconic opening credits. Eilish and O’Connell, longtime fans of the franchise, recorded their demo on a tour bus between concerts and put their track up for consideration. Their song, with the help of additional orchestration by the legendary composer Hans Zimmer, is both at home in the realm of the Bond universe, pairing nicely with other tracks like the Oscar-winning “Skyfall,” and true to Eilish’s signature moody sultriness. “No Time To Die” packs a punch and sets the tone for the next nearly three hours of Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film, which is also up for Oscars for visual effects and sound.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Eilish and O’Connell one afternoon, as they Zoomed from another tour bus, to talk about writing the song, the new Batman and the iconic score of Pirates of the Caribbean.
I wanted to start by asking about your relationship with the James Bond franchise. Tell me a little about your connection to the films and if there’s a character you most relate to.
Finneas O’Connell: I mean, I don’t relate to this character, but in Skyfall I thought Javier Bardem’s character was the coolest villain in any movie I’ve ever seen. I forget how old I was when Skyfall was in theaters, but I was young enough. That made a real impact on me. I think Billie feels the same way. We were young enough watching, especially the Daniel Craig Bond movies, that they felt very integral to our awareness.
Billie Eilish: Christoph Waltz, you know, in which one? Spectre. Spectre was like, the scariest villain ever —honestly.
O’Connell: I think, actually, all of the villains have been scary. Mads Mikkelsen is super scary, Rami [Malek] does a great job being super scary in No Time To Die. So, good job.
[The following section contains spoilers from No Time to Die.]
For No Time To Die, I understand you guys were sent only a small part of the script first. What was inspiring you as you wrote this? Did you invent characters, or your own sort of stories, in your head to put the cinematic universe of the song together?
Eilish: Honestly, the thing that was writing the song for us in our own heads was what we had been told of the movie so far. And even though it was, you know, 25 pages, it really gave us a good sense of the movie. Also, Barbara [Broccoli, producer] had told us: “This is the first thing that happens. But the thing that you should know is that it turns out later that [Bond] realizes he was fooled.” That was really an interesting thing to write about: the idea of thinking you’ve been betrayed, your life is flash[ing] before your eyes. You rethink everything that you’ve ever experienced with this person. But then also having in mind that she [Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine] also is blindsided by this, and it’s not her, she was set up. That’s all we needed, which is kind of shocking to me, even thinking back, that we didn’t really have anything else.
O’Connell: We watched the other movies.
Eilish: We had just watched all the other movies.
O’Connell: That was the backstory to it.
Eilish: We knew what was going on, which I think helped.
So you’d been told about the betrayal where he touches the thing and then becomes the virus?
Eilish: Oh, no, we actually didn’t know about that at all, we just knew what happened before. We knew that first scene, that’s the flashback of Madeleine’s childhood, and Rami with the mask, in the snow, under the ice. That was pretty much all we knew. And then the scene of them in the hotel, and the letter … Every single element of the script up until the beginning credits where the song usually lives.
O’Connell: And then what Barbara told us is, obviously, if you only have those first 25 pages, you think Madeleine just betrayed him. Then Barbara said, “He’s wrong about that.”
You recorded the song on a tour bus, below an arena. I’m curious if that process of songwriting and recording on the go felt like a Bond movie of its own.
Eilish: Well, this was in October of 2019. We were — ooh, horses and cows! Sorry, we’re driving — we were in between ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival) weekends, we were playing a few shows in Texas. We were in green rooms, kind of doing nothing. We needed to make the song. Once we wrote it, we didn’t have a studio. We didn’t really have time to go to a studio to record, and we had to do it right then and there. We were just finding anywhere we could do it. Finneas was like, “Why don’t we go to the bus? That’s probably the quietest place.” And it really was. We went on the bus, which was in the basement of the arena, because that’s where they have to park, and we turned off the engine, turned the lights off, so that it was as quiet as it could be. And we went into the bunk, one of the many. I had a handheld mic. We recorded most of the song like that, except for the belt, and a few parts of the chorus. But it was really fun. It was also weird. We didn’t really think about it when we did it. We just kind of did it.
O’Connell: It’s also the only time — this is publicly known, but it was really a submission. It wasn’t like they said, “You got the job, now write a song.” They were like, “If you write a really good song, we’d love to hear it.” We were running out of time to submit a song. That was the other reason that we weren’t able to wait until we got back to L.A. to record it. We just had no time on our hands.
No time to die. I want to hear about working with Hans Zimmer to complete the song and if you were big fans of his?
Eilish: Hans is on an unbelievably high pedestal for us. He’s a genius who we’ve idolized for a really long time. Hearing his name be brought up, and the idea of “This is the person who’s doing this…” We were like, “No fucking way. Like, Pirates of the Caribbean? Are you kidding me?” It’s the most iconic thing in the world. (Sings.) Dun dun da da dun dun da da dun dun da da dun. Nobody doesn’t know that.
O’Connell: Gladiator, Interstellar, The Dark Knight. So good.
What was it like working with him?
Eilish: It was so much fun. He’s so easy to work with. He’s so charming and kind and very collaborative and not interested in making something that he thinks sucks — and also not interested in making something that you think sucks.
O’Connell: He couldn’t have been less bossy without also being really clear.
Eilish: If he wasn’t obviously Hans Zimmer, and he was the way he was, you’d be like, “This is the nicest guy. He has no ego at all.” You would never have thought that somebody so nice has done every good movie.
O’Connell: It was amazing. We’re also like, idiot kids. At the time, it was after Billie’s 18th birthday. I was only 22. And we’re working with the most accomplished film composer. I just was very prepared for somebody to go, “You guys don’t know what you’re doing. Listen to us.” And it couldn’t have been less like that. He was like, “What do you like about it? This is what I think.” And he was also super helpful and had great ideas. I feel like I always lower my expectations for things like this, because I don’t want to get my hopes up. And I should have had my hopes really high, because it exceeded all my expectations. It was great.
Have both of you had an interest in writing music for films for a long time? After doing this, is it something you hope to do more of?
Eilish: It’s a big want for us, we really enjoy making music for film. Not like we’ve done it a thousand times, it’s just something we’ve always done: written with a certain story in mind, or a fictional idea or character. That’s something we used to have a lot of fun doing, and we still have fun doing when we write, but especially at the beginning of writing together, we were writing a lot of fiction. Not that much was really my real feelings, my real this and that, it was a lot of fun storytelling, which is just as real. It just isn’t my personal life. It’s something we love so much. Especially writing for something with a script of things to follow was so exciting, and something we really want to keep doing. We did it for this movie Turning Red that just came out, we wrote these songs for this boy band, and we became these five boys. It was really sweet. With Bond, it just was so satisfying. I feel like what we are actually pretty good at is doing that, writing different stories than our own. We have a lot of fun. I honestly like writing like that more than writing about my own life. I feel too vulnerable, writing about my own life —
O’Connell: Which we do a lot.
Eilish: Which we also do, but it is a little bit more fun to write in a character.
O’Connell: You know what else is a cool thing? When you have a fan base, and you put it out under your own name, as Billie does, they read into everything that you release as if it is about your personal life, even if you made up something. So the most fun thing about doing a Bond theme is, I think, people suspend their analysis of: “Oh, this is Billie singing about, you know, an ex-boyfriend or something.” They’re like, “Oh, this is a James Bond song.” And I think that’s a good excuse to write whatever we want, as opposed to worrying about perception.
I feel like you guys would be a natural fit if there was a sequel to the new Batman movie, for instance, that just came out.
O’Connell: We both saw it together last week and loved it. I love the use of the Nirvana song [“Something In The Way”] in it. And then I love [Michael] Giacchino’s score, as well. I thought it was one of the coolest scores I’d ever heard. But yeah, what an honor that would [be] — if they reached out, we’d oblige.
I wanted to ask about receiving this Oscar nomination and what that moment felt like for the two of you, and what you’re most looking forward to come Oscar night.
O’Connell: Gosh, we just came from the Oscar luncheon yesterday, which was really a thrill to be at, and everybody was super kind to us. I’ve often maintained about the peer group of musicians that my favorite thing to do is just get to tell people who’ve made music that was impactful to me how impactful their music was. If I’m friends with an artist who makes music, I love [that] I get to tell them. I think that’s so exciting. And so I tried to just use the opportunity to do that yesterday. I got to tell Will Smith how great I thought King Richard was, or we were at the same table as Kristen Stewart … I got to tell her how amazing I thought she was in Spencer.
Eilish: It’s really nice to be able to compliment people that you really want to compliment. It’s just really nice to be able to validate and recognize somebody who you think deserves it. I think no matter how successful one can get, everybody wants to hear that you like the hard work they do.
O’Connell: Especially in the two cases of Kristen and Will, those are two people that I was talking about how great they were for the last three months with whomever. I was like, “Oh my God, Kristen is so amazing in Spencer.” So to get to just tell her, “Hey, I thought you were great in that.” It feels really good to convey that to people. We’ve been on the receiving end of it from people who’ve said really kind things about our music, and it means a lot to us. So I feel like I’m always happy to pay it forward.
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