Composer Daniel Pemberton talks about the music of “The Bad Guys”
There’s a classic sound to heist movies, especially from the ’60s and ’70s – a little jazzy, a little stealthy, sometimes raspy and wild – and composer Daniel Pemberton cleverly channels it throughout ‘The Bad Guys’. , the action-comedy from DreamWorks Animation that opens today.
“In a way, the film is a tribute to classic hug movies,” says the English composer, “and it’s a world I really enjoy playing in. .”
Pemberton’s energetic music sets the tone and enlivens the action in Pierre Perifel’s animated adventure about a notorious criminal gang (a wolf, a snake, a piranha, a shark and a tarantula) who plan to go right away after crossing paths with a philanthropist pig guinea fowl and their red fox governor.
“Basically, it’s a very joyful score, even if there’s deviousness, tension, all that sort of thing,” he notes. He cites “The Italian Job” by Quincy Jones, “Bullitt” by Lalo Schifrin and “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3” by David Shire (all written between 1968 and 1974) as early inspirations.
“The Bad Guys” contains Hammond organ, fuzz guitar, bongo drums, Moog synthesizer, which refer to this period. But it’s also a very contemporary sound, with big beats, a full orchestra and a fast pace throughout. There is never a dull moment in the film or the score.
The choice of musicians was essential, says Pemberton. “It was a bit like starting your own gang of burglars,” he says. “You’ve got the safecracker, the getaway car driver, the muscle guy. I’ll do that with a band: I know a guy who’s great at Hammond organ solos, a great guitarist, a great drummer. That’s the way to approach a score like this.
It took time. In fact, the “Bad Guys” score required 4,000 individual takes, a record for the Oscar-nominated songwriter whose recent career includes such high-profile hits as “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and “Being the Ricardos” and who also did the live action “Ocean’s Eight”.
“I like to get the best possible performance out of people,” he says. “I could spend half a day recording a bassline. The more detail I can put into each performance, the better it can be,” although he also admits that “by the time the movie is over, you’re like, can anyone even hear that?
Spicing up the score are unique and unexpected sounds, including the Indian bansuri flute, which is the voice of Crimson Paw, a fellow thief who comes to the aid of the imprisoned gang; and the Japanese tashiogoto, an unusual stringed instrument heard in the main theme “Bad Guys”.
Professor Marmalade, the gentle guinea pig, is given a Bach-style piano prelude (“he’s very pleased with himself, and there’s intelligence in Bach’s preludes,” says Pemberton), and there’s a guitar motif classic for the wicked to go “alright” (temporarily).
He also wrote two songs, one of which (“We’re Gonna Be Good Tonight”) is the focus of an early heist scene. “We had to have a song that could start as a distraction for the audience, then had to turn into a message about how the audience had to adjust their opinions about how they looked at people, and then into a song that was so fun, if contagious, that you couldn’t stop dancing to it.
Pemberton and lyricist Gary Go have it all wrapped up in a single evening walk from Pemberton’s London studio to Big Ben and back home. “It was magical, like your fantasy of being a Hollywood songwriter, hanging out with your mate, walking along the Thames at night and singing into your iPhones,” he says.
He also collaborated with English band The Heavy on the final title song, “Brand New Day. “We had to send the bad guys to the next chapter of their story,” he says.
“I’m always drawn to projects where I can have enough space to be original,” adds Pemberton, whose only previous animation experience was the famous “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” “I thought this could really be a fun way to have a long time, and it was. It was truly one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I have ever had.