We spoke with musicians Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, two members of the band Manchester Orchestra who composed the unique score for Swiss Army Man. The two discussed their involvement in creating the music behind the film, their inspiration, and working with Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano.
Shakefire (SF): How much of the film did you know about when you first signed on? What were your initial thoughts about the story revolving around a farting corpse coming to life.
Robert McDowell (RM): We knew all of it, haha, when we signed on.
Andy Hull (AH): Yeah, we read the script. The script was different but it was still a top tier level of insanity to it for sure. Our initial were a combination of how are they going to do this that it’s not going to be embarrassing to show my parents, and not because of it’s bad just because it’s kinda crude. You know, farting corpses just reads crude. And then slowly we started to realize it’s a much deeper and beautiful story about love and shame. And it’s a movie I would be proud to show my parents now.
SF: And there hasn’t really been a film lately where the score has been so involved in the story itself. Was that always the case? I mean, Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano are in the film, singing your songs.
RM: Yeah, they always had the vision of that, and we had to create some music beforehand so they could sing along with it on set. I think they knew with the insanity of the script they wanted to rely on the beauty of the music and the beauty of the shot and everything to make farting beautiful and not just have it be a fart comedy. So we were kinda thrown into this place where we had to be the third character and tie in the music with the dialogue and the characters themselves.
AH: It was interesting learning how that was going down. There was a pivotal moment where my manager called me and was like, “You can write some songs for it, or if you want to, they’re offering the full score of this movie, top to bottom. Every single thing would be done by you.” We were like, “Yeah, let’s try it! We’ll give it a go!” And then as we got into it we realized that what we were doing is actually affecting the way the movie is being shot. We’re helping create this movie more so than just adding music into it. That was sorta incredibly bizarre to find ourselves in that situation. I can’t believe we’re actually doing this.
SF: Did you get to meet Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe or visit the set?
AH: I met them a few times. At the very I actually have a cameo as a cameraman. Robert and I went out to LA and went to the studio with those guys for about five days or so and got all of the singing that we needed for the parts and then went and mixed it all. Paul hung around a good bit for the mixing stuff. He would drop in. Then of course at the Sundance premiere we all got to have a nice reunion there too. Both are just really wonderful, wonderful guys.
SF: Was there a single theme you centered around when composing the score?
AH: I think a mixture of isolation and hope. Somewhere between those lines. I think those two things are pretty prevalent.
SF: How did you develop ‘Montage?’ That’s definitely one of the defining tracks of the film.
RM: Those lyrics actually came towards the end. We had just had another lyric thing to that melody in there that’s describing a scene that actually happens later with a bear. They said this will be the moment in the movie where it breaks out. We got to feel like we’re going 100 miles an hour. It’s like playing in the woods. It’s everything; it’s the montage. We just developed around that, the beats, the handclaps, and sounds we made in the forest. Other than those kinda big drum hits, we always kinda felt like you could find those somewhere banging on a trashcan somewhere.
SF: What was the reasoning behind going for the score being all a capella?
AH: That was them as well. They said we want this thing to sound like it’s taking place inside of Paul Dano’s head, and it’s gotta be like you’re hearing his thoughts. We loved the challenge. I don’t know how in the world we’re going to do this but we’re going to find a way.
SF: Did you compose mostly to the script or were there finished scenes you could work with?
AH: We did each of those things. We had to write songs before they would sing it. We had to tweak those songs that the guys sing in the movie. We had to watch the movie over and over with two screens and add stuff in real time as we were watching. Then we went to LA and re-recorded stuff and finished some stuff in LA during the last two weeks before we had to submit it to Sundance. I mean, every sort of way you could score it I think we did at each level.