Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a bob-omb upon arrival. Although the buzz was high ahead of its release on August 13, 2010, Edgar Wright’s imaginative action comedy went on to finish fifth at the box office that weekend. A week later, it had sunk to the bottom 10, which is hardly the business Universal had hoped for with an $60 million budget.
It’s an unlikely origin story for what’s now considered to be one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time. Because over the years, the cult film has since amassed a rabid following, chock full of fans and critics who all agree that Wright beautifully captured the rebellious spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original graphic novel series.
Much of that appeal, however, boils down to its impeccable soundtrack. Featuring contributions by Nigel Godrich, Beck, Metric, Broken Social Scene, Cornelius, Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and David Campbell, Wright masterfully assembled a collection of sounds that weren’t just hip at the time, but true to the source material.
After all, music is essential to the world of Scott Pilgrim. So much so that O’Malley literally wove the tracks into each one of his books. Fortunately for him, Wright was at the helm of his adaptation, and if there’s one muscle the English filmmaker loves to flex, it’s his ear for a perfect soundtrack. And boy did he kick our teeth in with this one.
To celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary, Consequence of Sound opted to zero in on said soundtrack by speaking with the masterminds behind the music. Ahead, you’ll hear interviews with writer/director Edgar Wright, producer/composer Nigel Godrich, and music supervisor Kathy Nelson, who share all the stories behind all the songs.
Rest assured, you won’t pee out of boredom.
Sex Bob-Omb is a good place to start when you’re talking about the musical world of Scott Pilgrim. As the protagonist band, they had to sound like your typical shitty garage band that someone like Scott might play in while also having the distinction of being good. Not an easy balance to find…
EDGAR WRIGHT (WRITER/DIRECTOR): Well, the first kind of jumping-off point was from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book. And when I first started working on the screenplay, and was in contact with Bryan, one of the first things we did was swap music with each other. Like sending each other playlists to go with what he was listening to when he wrote the book and what the books made me think of in terms of bands. And so when it came to doing the film, I asked Nigel Godrich, who was a friend of mine, if he wanted to do the score and also oversee the songs.
NIGEL GODRICH (COMPOSER): We were friends. We had actually known each other for quite some time. I met him through mutual friends one summer. It was just a kind of repeated experience of us finding ourselves at the same events and weddings and parties and stuff. So, we became buddies. And he actually had not made a movie yet. He was actually just about to make Shaun of the Dead. And we were talking about possibly working together on score stuff for that, but then that never materialized. But we were already friends.
And when he came to do Scott Pilgrim, he was actually calling me asking me, “Who do you think could help me do this? Who do you think could do everything? Could do the band stuff and the score?” I don’t know if he was just asking me leading questions or innocently just asking me, but, of course, I said, “I’ll do it!” I really wanted to work with him, and I felt like it was something that I could do. So, that’s it. So, he was very happy, and I was very happy. And we went off and did it.
WRIGHT: What he suggested, which was a great idea, was: “Why don’t we ask different artists to be the different bands in the movie.” Rather than have one writer do all the fictional songs. Have different bands play different bands. So we were trying to find the right band for Sex Bob-Omb. And I remember we went to see the Black Lips in London, because we thought that they were the right vibe for Sex Bob-Omb. And then I was also interested in the band Be Your Own Pet, who I was supposed to meet. And then before I met them, they had already broken up. [Laughs.] I think they were on tour. I remember I was in Los Angeles, and it was like: “They’re on tour, and when they get to LA, they’d love to meet.” And then by the time they got to LA, it was: “Oh, the band has broken up.”
GODRICH: Then what happened was basically I said, “We should ask Beck to do this.”
WRIGHT: Nigel said, “This is exactly in the wheelhouse of the music that Beck made when he started.” Like the sort of garage-y punk [sound]. So, he asked Beck, and Beck was completely down with the idea. I don’t know if Beck read the script. But he asked, “Can you give me just sort of a vague idea of what the scenes are?” Because what was written in the script were the names of the songs or the vibes of the songs. So, what we eventually did for him was I wrote what the scenes were and what was happening and some vague kind of pointers. And also I remember we blew up lots of art from the book onto massive boards, and we delivered all of that to his house. And he said, “I’m going to noodle around in the garage.”
GODRICH: We went in and just did two sessions, really, where he just wrote quickly. He looked at the comics, looked at what lyrics existed already. Like there’s a comic book version of a song called “Indefatigable” and he sang the lines that are in the comic and wrote some music. So we did a few things like that where they were direct references to the comics, and then he just came up with a couple of things. It was just very quickly with him and Brian LeBarton, who is a musician who he was working with at the time, we just went in and knocked out these things, very garage style on an 8-track. And then I just took them away and that was it. [Laughs.]
WRIGHT: He basically did this over the course of a long weekend … I got a demo CD that had 32 tracks on it. [Laughs.] He had done all of this in the space of like 72 hours.
GODRICH: It was the nature of the way which they were sort of created, which was very fast and warts and all, and there are mistakes and all of these things that make it feel authentic and keep it genuine.
WRIGHT: Nigel certainly said, “I don’t see why you would try to make them sound more finished. What he did on his 8-track is exactly what the band would be able to do. So, why don’t we use these, and we’ll change the vocals for the actors?” And that’s exactly what we did. There were no overdubs or anything.
GODRICH: The other thing about this is it’s a really excellent opportunity to go to Beck and get him to do something that he’s really good at without him feeling the pressure of any kind of commercial external forces or anybody’s expectation or anything like that. Because he’s not being Beck. He doesn’t have to stand behind it. He gets to just do something that’s a guilty pleasure in a way. He has this amazing ability to have output, and it was great. It was a really, really fun exercise.
WRIGHT: And most of those songs that are in the film are from that weekend. Like we changed the vocals because we had to get the actors to do the vocals instead, but “Garbage Truck” and the opening theme from Sex Bob-Omb and “Summertime” and “No Fun” and “Threshold” were all from that demo CD. And then also he did some kind of acoustic “Ramona” song. So, I had the CD, which had like 32 tracks on it. And it was like, “Okay. This one. This one. This one.” Hopefully, some of it you’ll hear before the end of the year… [Hint #1].
If you listen to the opening theme that’s over the opening credits, that is just Beck and Bryan jamming. And you could sort of tell because they’re like sort of changing rhythms throughout and wildly improvising, which made it quite difficult for the actors to learn because there were lots of little changes on the fly that were on the track. But it makes it feel real and vivid, and it makes it feel like somebody’s in your living room playing like the loudest music you’ve ever heard.
Crash and the Boys
The band that Sex Bob-Omb faces in the battle of the bands has to have a sound that is distinctive and also be instantly recognizable despite having no song that lasts longer than 20 seconds. And as far as Edgar Wright and Nigel Godrich were concerned, Broken Social Scene was an obvious choice.
WRIGHT: I think we thought it was funny to do like really loud short songs. We asked Broken Social Scene to do this because they had become friends of ours in Toronto. Like Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning and the gang. And the Crash and the Boys songs sound nothing like Broken Social Scene. But those guys are incredibly versatile musicians. And they basically tapped into teenage years listening to Napalm Death. [Laughs.] And those like short songs. Sort of like Napalm Death by way of like doing these incredibly short, incredibly thrashy songs. So, that was basically the idea.
GODRICH: They had to have a place in the movie because they’re so important as sort of legends of Toronto music with bands and stuff. And in that way, it was great to be able to bring friends in, leave them with a problem to solve, and know that they’re going to come up with something great.
WRIGHT: I remember Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene called me and said, “Hey, we’re doing the songs, and have you cast the kid who’s going to sing these?” And I said, “Well, actually, I have. His name’s Eric Knudson.” And he goes, “Is there a way that he can come to the studio and do it with us? It would be so much easier.” And I called Eric Knudson, who was in Toronto. And he was very young. I think he was about 19 or 20. But I called Eric and said, “Hey, Eric. Do you know the band Broken Social Scene?” And he goes, “Uh, yeah. It’s only my favorite band ever.” And I said, “Well, how do you feel about going into the studio with them right now and recording the songs for the film?” And so he did. And he actually went in that afternoon and just did the vocals with them. And then he was just sort of hanging out with his favorite band.
Clash at Demonhead
Metric’s history with Scott Pilgrim begins well before the film. When O’Malley was creating the books, he actually drew Envy Adams as partially being based on (but not entirely) Metric lead singer Emily Haines. So, it would only make sense that all would come full circle when it was time to find who would bring The Clash at Demonhead to life.
WRIGHT: I got to know Metric a little bit through Bryan Lee O’Malley. I actually met those guys while I was prepping the movie. And Bryan had put me on to some of the earlier songs. And they actually had a couple of hits in the UK with “Poster of a Girl” and “Monster Hospital”. And so I was well aware of Metric. I knew their stuff. And then when we were talking about bands for Clash at Demonhead, they were the obvious people to do the song.
GODRICH: Obviously, Clash at Demonhead are Metric, so that was very easy to put together.
WRIGHT: So, I met Emily and Jimmy Shaw … I guess I met them in like 2008 when I was first going to Toronto to talk about doing this movie. And on their 2009 album, Fantasies, “Black Sheep” was a song that they had recorded but not put onto the album. And because I was describing what we needed, and they said, “Well, we have this song that is not on the new album.” And the reason they hadn’t put it on the album is because they said it sounded like a parody of Metric. [Laughs.] And I said, “Well, that sounds like the perfect song for us!” And they said, “Well, you can have it.”
So, they’d already recorded the song. And then in their home studio — they had a great, little home studio in the back of like Jimmy’s house — I went in there with Nigel, and we did the cast recording for the songs. So, the actors in Sex Bomb-Ob — Allison Pill, Michael Cera, and Mark Weber — sang the vocals on top of the Beck demos. And Brie Larson came in and sang her vocal on top of the Metric one. So, basically, the “Black Sheep” song in the movie is Metric playing. And you can kind of hear Emily Haines’ backing track, but Brie is singing the live vocal. And when it came to do the soundtrack, I understand that Metric wanted to have that version on the soundtrack album. So, that’s why that’s on the soundtrack album.
And wait and see. You might have a nice surprise when the 10th Anniversary of the album comes out … I can’t say anything more than that! [Hint #2]
Click ahead to read more about the score, music school, and stories off the stage…