James Gunns The suicide squad is out now in theaters and on HBO Max and is a wild ride by all reports. The film currently owns 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many calling it one of the best comic films of all time. Of course, such a film required a thrilling score, and who better to cope with the task than legendary composer John Murphy (Lock, stick and two smoke barrels, sunshine, 28 days later).
ComingSoon spoke to Murphy about work The suicide squad, and the composer discussed everything from John Barry’s influence on his work to what it was like to write music alongside Gunn.
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Jeff Ames: What attracted you to the world of film composition?
John Murphy: I think I remember very early on that I really loved the James Bond films, which was a big deal for me growing up. And I realized that a lot of it had to do with the music and the riffs and the big, bombastic horns; and it all felt so exotic, and it kind of got me excited as a kid looking at this stuff. That was probably the first time I realized that films have music that can really influence you.
A little later, when I was about eight or nine, I watched A few more dollars with the great score by Ennio Morricone, and I remember thinking, “This is so strange! What is all the music that’s played in all of these movies? ”I started paying more attention to music in movies and a few years later I got into music – I took a guitar and started playing – and then I was from about 12 to about 24 in bands many bands, you know the usual, and then one day someone asked me if I would like to write a few songs for this film, Leon the pig farmer [in 1992] with a friend of mine, David Hughes. Since they had no money, they asked throughout the process if we could write the score as well. I thought, “God, how do you do this?” But we did it our way and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Sitting down and thinking about the story and characters just blew me away because up until that point I had only written songs; and suddenly it was like drawing pictures with six colored pencils and someone came in and gave me a Crayola set of 250 colored pencils – it just blew me away that you could write music like that.
When I had that experience, it was just a big moment for me and I thought, “God, if I ever got the chance to do this again, it would be great!” It just felt very natural to me. Between the love of it and the chance to do it, it was a life changing moment.
That you mention James Bond is interesting because I collected the soundtracks myself. Do you have a particular score that you love?
It’s funny because I really love what David Arnold did when he started out and adapted the whole John Barry sound. I thought the way he did it was just perfect. I know David, he’s a friend of mine and he’s a big John Barry fan like me; and he was so nervous! There is a saying, “never meet your heroes,” but I think it was really hard for a composer to immerse himself in a composer who was completely revered, and I think he completely did it.
Obviously, throughout the legacy of the Bond sound, it will always be John Barry who defined it. What he did was brave, and if you put it in the context of the score at the time, we were just getting into certain pop influences in the score, you know, Henry Mancini comes to mind and you have some of those French that kind of had a pop background. You know this transition already started, but I think what John Barry did to his Bond scores – you know, because he was in John Barry 5 and a lot of pop stuff – I think he kicked the goals for all because he did it in such a brave and powerful way. Even now I listen to his scores and they just pump you up, the attitude is f-ing outrageous! Imagine what it would have looked like 60 years ago. That must have blown people away! Aside from the fact that you had all of these great melodies and this lovely way of arranging brass, John Barry kind of invented that lovely, luscious, philharmonic sound. This way of mixing the orchestra is a lot involved in these early Bond films, which is why I consider them to be some of my favorite pieces of music.
This is interesting because I see your music is the next evolution of this type of score – you have so many elements working together, an Ennio Morricone type choir, rock music, traditional orchestra, etc.
I think one of the reasons me and James [Gunn] connected, I guess – I think when you first meet James Gunn the first thing that blows in your face is that he’s a fan. He’s so passionate about this stuff because he’s the biggest fan in the world. He loves this stuff. So for him, making films that he wants to see is a huge part of his success. And this attitude also accompanies me. I mean, I don’t sit down and say I’m doing something like Ennio – that doesn’t cross my mind. It’s only at the end of the day and I listen to something and say, “Oh! That sounds a bit like Ennio – cool! ”There’s nothing derived from that, I just do what I love; And in most of the films you can’t do what you love because you’re there to do a job and take responsibility, you have to be an adult and you have to look at the thematic structure. You need to sit down with the right attitude and be fairly responsible before you even start writing.
with Suicide squad, I would get a call from James and, “Q-, that would be a great idea, and what about it?” It was just, let’s have fun! I know that sounds like a cliché because everyone says that about James Gunn, but it really was. There was no doubt about anything. Whether it made sense in the whole scheme or in the structure, it was like, “This is going to kill me! It’s so funny, let’s do it there! ”Or:“ F-, I had tears in my eyes when I did that! ”You know, it’s all very open. When he gave me the confidence to go with my gut instinct – and he did, he said every week, “John, go with your gut instinct and then we’ll see how it feels and we’ll make a decision! “He just let me go. When someone trusts you that much, you feel like you have to give them what they asked for, let’s see how that fits together ”or“ Let’s see how it works. ”
We both knew this wasn’t going to be a score that was inherently restricted because sometimes you write a very grown-up score and set the rules before you start. There were no rules. The only thing we talked about all the time for the first few days I met him was attitude. Whatever we do, we must have poise. If we are to make her cry, we really have to make her cry. If we scare them, we will scare them! It was like Spinal Tap – “Let’s go to 11!” It’s contagious when you see the director like that. You sit by yourself, so to speak, and say, “Well, f-, I’m not going to be the type to sneak into the movie discreetly! I’ll pull up my game too! “
So we just did it that way. We made or broke rules as we walked. The movie itself is so funny. I mean, I know it’s a superhero movie, but it’s so funny. This allows you to make fun of yourself. Some of the subjects I’ve written are kind of pastiche in a way because we were ironic or juxtaposed what was happening on the screen. It’s such a roller coaster right from the start. I mean two minutes later and it just explodes. So let’s just let the film pull the score along, you know? And if we suddenly had to go to a scene with some kind of low-fi, French noir film sound, we’d just do it! At that moment we racked our brains because it’s so stupid to have that type of music in this type of scene. If we all laughed, that was it and it went on to the next scene. It was definitely the most fun movie I’ve ever had.
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So I could imagine going back to traditional film music would be difficult!
[Laughs] It would be weird because it felt like school was over. I’ve always been a bit loud and I usually get a director who says, “Oh, yeah, it’s cool and it’s very loud. Can we just pull it back a little? ”With James it was like,“ Yeah, it’s really cool, but it has to be bigger! Can we get a little crazier here? ”I was almost offended that I had to be told to do more! So, yes, it would be a change to somehow have to go back to school and do an adult rating again. It was just too much fun. I wanted the vacation to be a little longer, you know?
James knows what he’s doing and the nice thing about the guy – you know, he’s such a cool guy – but he’s so musically intuitive, and I know it seems obvious when you see how he creates songs Guardian of the Galaxy and such things. He really understands. I didn’t feel like that out there trying different things for him because I always knew if something went a little too far to the left, he pulled it back like this – he was like the handrails. If I hit a tangent or went the wrong way, which I sometimes do, he would just say, “You know, I think it’s great, but I think we lost the point here.” He was always there to keep an eye on things. When you have training wheels, throwing crazy things out there is a lot less stressful.