MRH: Nicolas Cage has a certain screen presence and acting style. Were there any aspects of his performance that inspired you to change the original concept of certain themes and cues?


MW: I don’t know if it affected my scoring process so much as I guess I was lucky… We knew from the get-go – you can even tell fro the title – that there was nothing subtle at all in the movie. Everything was going to be very much in your face; very aggressive, straightforward… It was all about making it as big and gnarly and forward moving with a lot of momentum as possible.

The big nod in the movie was to tip the hat to seventies and early eighties kind of AOR album rock, as opposed to the really over-produced, alt-rock type of things that people are listening to now. It wouldn’t have felt right in this movie; it’s just not that vibe.


MRH: What I like so much about the bluegrass combination – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, really fat electric bass and drums – is that you can come up with the nastiest groove imaginable, making a sequence really edgy in a way that’s not really possible with electronics.


MW: No, it’s very basic, it’s very primal, and it speaks to a lot of people on some level… It’s a very charged kind of music, and at its core it’s very simple, but it’s also the foundation for so many other forms of music.

Even the bluegrass things that we did in the bar were very traditional, in the sense that I did the original lineup, which is mandolin, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and a very small trap kit. It’s not even a drum kit; it’s somewhere between a hambone kind of thing and a drum kit… Blending those two approaches made for a lot of fun. It was very different from doing anything I’ve done before.


MRH: You can take those same instruments, particularly the acoustic instruments, and make them menacing, or incredibly tender.


MW: Where I was using the acoustic instruments, I would either process them heavily during moments when Milton (Nicolas Cage) was interacting with bad guy Jonah King (who’s played by Billy Burke); there’s kind of a supernatural element going on [and] it was almost demonic at points.

[For] the moments that he was sharing with Piper (Amber Heard) or just expressing regret or remorse or nostalgia or anything like that, where I’d been using an electric cello in one case, I’d use a real cello; or instead of using an electric guitar, I was using an instrument called a guitarviol which is a hollow-bodied instrument that looks a lot like if you smashed a viola and a guitar together around the neck. You play it with a bow, but it’s threaded and fingered the exact same as a guitar, so it has a very natural acoustic presence, but it’s different.

Nicolas Cage as Milton

Billy Burke as Jonah

Amber Heard as Piper

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