Inside the Music of ‘Reminiscence’

This week, Warner Bros. releases Reminiscence, from the terrific Lisa Joy (co-creator of Westworld), in theaters and on HBO Max. And to celebrate, The Nerds of Color was recently invited to a virtual roundtable with Joy, Grammy-nominated music producer Jeff “Gitty” Gitelman, musical artist Lonr, and legendary composer Ramin Djawadi (Iron Man, Pacific Rim, Game of Thrones, Westworld). Together they discussed the process of writing and composing the moody tones featured in the film, as well as Lonr’s original song for the film, “Save My Love.”

Here’s what they had to say:

Was the purpose [of “Save My Love”] to capture an emotion or to create an overall essence for the film?

Joy: That’s a great question. The song, for my part — because this came together in a lot of fortuitous ways with these incredible collaborators… The film is kind of like the song. There’s a lot of action and there’s a lot of scope and world building, but at the heart of it, for me, you have to have a lot of emotional connection to something. It has to make you feel. Or else what’s the point of watching plain spectacle without substance. And so we searched for a long time to find the song, and we got incredible artists writing stuff, but it didn’t feel organic to the material for me.

And from the very beginning before even going into prep Ramin and I were already talking about soundscapes, the musical instruments, and the tone. The word I kept using was “swagger.” It’s got to have swagger. And I was obsessed with the guitar for it. And reinventing the tone for noir, so it’s not just moody saxophones. I wanted something with a beat to it, that could grow emotionally later. And a modernity to it was important. So after Ramin sent the template for some of those instruments, and I was looking to find an original song… Gitty came to a screening with me. And I work with his wife. And I was lamenting the lack of an original song. And he was like ‘No, I can do it.” He had seen the film and seen the emotional intent of the film. The tone of the action and everything. So I think that could inform from the very beginning.

Gitelman: I was pleasantly surprised when I started my first conversation with Lisa about the song she was looking for, before we went composing, she said, ‘I want a rock song.’… Right now there’s no rock bands out there essentially. So when she said she wants a rock song, I said ‘Ok. This is different from what everybody’s making right now.’ So I thought this was an amazing opportunity to do something unique… I collaborate with Lonr all the time… Rock music is Black music to me, when you think about the roots of it. So when thinking about… having the song have adrenaline, and have the [movie] end on an adrenaline [note]. Like, ‘wow! this is powerful and I’m going to go conquer the world after this.’ That’s what I took away from this… Just the position of Lonr’s soulful voice on this adrenaline bass track… I think in a lot of ways, it took Rock music back to its roots for me. Stylistically speaking.

Joy: It had that beat that stuck with you. My film is about memory and the way people remember things… Nothing transports people through time more than music. More than that song that sticks in your head, and where you were the first time you heard it. And whenever you hear it you know exactly where you were the first time you hear it. It’s that song you connect with that just sticks in there. It transports you right back to that moment, where you were, who you were with, the emotions you were feeling. The way the words and musicality resonated with you. So there’s no greater time machine for me than music. The music plays an important thematic role within the film.

What was the influence behind the score, what are the references within it, and what instruments is it based on?

Joy: In between Reminiscence and Westworld, Ramin is foundational in how I even approach writing and editing and even directing characters. We’d talk about a cross-pollination of ideas. And music inspires as well as transports. And well before I set foot in New Orleans, Ramin and I would just go back and forth on sounds and riffs. And I knew I wanted guitar. And then I tried to learn guitar. And I’m so bad at it. It sucks. But I wanted to get close to it…. Ramin has a very complex way of approaching music that really dovetails with storytelling. I think he’s very much a storyteller at heart. And for me the film itself is about an emotional journey about a man who is essentially trying to find a woman wrapped up in a lot of other things. It’s a sci-fi, noir, romance, action, thriller… The idea of genre is just like the idea of tropes. They are things to be debunked, recontextualized, and reclaimed.

When we talked about the sound for this, I talked a lot about the emotional journeys of the characters. And how for Hugh Jackman’s character we’re like, this is not the journey of a simple hero. We’re presenting it that way, but we’re going to subvert it. And this is not the story of a simple femme fatale. We’re presenting it that way, but again, this is now about real people. And what Ramin was able to do, was for each of the characters and themes, they had a motif. And as we discovered more about the characters, the motifs evolved and grew in complexity in a way that dovetailed with the story itself and the emotion of the story.

Djawadi: For me, what inspires me is hearing you talk through the movie and the characters, and that’s exactly what we did in the beginning. And the guitar as an instrument was mentioned… We talked about instruments that are timeless. The guitar definitely, the piano, the strings… but the guitar was always the main idea. The idea to go film noir without the saxophone. What was the more contemporary version but with organic instruments. But not the regular guitar what about a lower guitar. So we got to use the baritone guitar. And it’s just fun to carry that through the film. The last theme is hinted in the very opening of the movie, and it sets the tone when you don’t know what’s going to happen… And in the end when it plays with the bigger string section, it’s just very fun to develop and dovetail with the character and how the character develops.

For Lonr, can you talk about doing a song for a movie versus doing a song that’s not for a movie?

Lonr: All my inspiration and passion come from that feeling, come from what I’m hearing and what I feel. But to know that it was for a movie, especially from the amazing Lisa Joy… when I get opportunities like this, it really puts my head into the zone to make it as amazing as possible, to collaborate and talk things through so we can touch people to the highest degree,

Joy: When you were going in there and saying these pained lyrics, and I’m thinking about exes and stuff, were you thinking about anyone in particular?

Lonr: I was thinking about a couple of relationships. I had to tap in a few times when I got my heart broken. But I think that’s why I do enjoy breakups sometimes. Because there’s always a way to turn that around and create something new from it.

For Ramin, in both Game of Thrones and Westworld you used different tones to convey different settings. How did you try to portray the setting of Miami and the unique world in Reminiscence with your score?

Djawadi: One term that kept coming up was the word “broken…” The score has to feel messed up and broken. Same with the characters. There’s a mystery to the characters, and through the movie we find out more about our characters. So how can we do that with the score? The sounds we threw in with the guitar and instruments that were a little bit off sounding, and the backwards sound with the guitar — sounds that make you feel uneasy and just not as clean was the throughput of most of the score.

For Lisa, was there any particular moment in the film where you were excited about the music from the film?

Joy: Rebecca [Ferguson] sings in the film, and that’s always exciting to see her singing on stage to music Ramin helped us adapt to her voice for this film specifically. But there’s a big action set piece, and during the scene I really wanted… where during this fight scene a jukebox get shot. And I wanted a ridiculous song to play to counter the tension of the scene and allow the audience to have a little bit of fun. And so it starts playing “Tainted Love” which is an excellent jukebox song. And then it has to get shot more so that the seriousness of the fight can take over. And that was the point at which I talked to Ramin…

I tried to choreograph the action in such a way that we know exactly when the jukebox would be hit because it was going to be this “Tainted Love” piece… and then after that I knew Ramin was going to take it from there… take it and make it into something epic. Roll it into something real. And when he did that it was so fantastic. It gave me exactly the feeling I was looking for. We’re having fun, it’s completely ironic. But then all of a sudden, this is a battle to the death and completely real now. And Ramin’s score carried it away and took care of the tone and the adrenaline, and that was super fun.

And I think we can all agree that we hope the film, like the music that defines it, will be just as fun as well!

Reminiscence hits theaters and HBO Max Friday, August 20.

Check out the new hit single “Save My Love” now on YouTube here: