The film Blue Valentine, which stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose marriage is disintegrating, is soundtracked completely by the music of Grizzly Bear. The Brooklyn quartet's lush sounds are the orchestration behind the dissolution of a once-happy couple.
We were lucky enough to speak with Grizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen by phone about the experience of working with director Derek Cianfrance, as well as what influenced the collaboration.
The Pitch: What attracted you and the rest of Grizzly Bear to Blue Valentine? Was it the script? Had you seen the film?
Daniel Rossen: We met the director [Derek Cianfrance] -- I think it was two and a half, three years ago, something like that -- when he was just getting the production going. We really didn't know what to make of the film when we first read the script, but we met him and talked about what he wanted to do.
We just liked the director so much. We liked his ideas -- his whole attitude about filmmaking, and his whole attitude about music in film, and his taste in films -- and it just really clicked. We just clicked as people when we met, and he didn't really know how he wanted to use our music, or in what capacity. We didn't even know how the film was going to pan out, but we just trusted him because he seemed to have such a good sense of taste.
What was his taste in music and film that really clicked for you?
I don't really have a lot of experience with filmmakers, but I really liked the fact that he really appreciated restraint with music in films. We were talking about various filmmakers, and I remember the Dardenne Brothers came up -- these Belgian brothers that use very little music. They almost use no music. It's very -- I don't know, I think it's called cinéma vérité? Extremely reserved, very performance-based, very realistic, kind of intense, but no music. He was a very big fan of these directors.
His attitude about it was only using music when it really fit the scene and when it really seemed necessary. I think that factored into the way [music] was used in the film -- where all the present scenes were very gritty, and they had no music. Or, if there were, it was just music happening in the scene. There was no soundtrack. It was just purely the scene. If it were a scene from the past, you could give it the sentimental quality and kind of allow our music to score these past scenes. I really like the idea that he had about reserving music for scenes from the past and just really spacing it out in the film, which I think he did really, really well.
Rather than telegraphing all the emotional cues?
Yeah, exactly. It's definitely a pet peeve of mine when music is overused in films and it's telling you what to feel or really trying to demonstrate what the mood is supposed to be, rather than just letting the actors -- I dunno, emote, act, be the characters. It seemed to me what that film was about, in a way: how Ryan [Gosling] and Michelle Williams really got into those characters.
Did you guys write all new music for the film, or is some of it previously recorded material?
We actually didn't write any music for the film. It's actually all instrumentals from our records. We just gave [Cianfrance] all the instrumentals from everything we've ever done. We just said, "Do whatever you want," and he chose whatever he wanted and used it however he wanted, basically. We didn't have any part in how he ended up using our music, which is kind of fun, in a way. It was a nice surprise at the end to see how tastefully he used it. I really like the way he chose from our catalog. Where he would use what pieces. We were very hands-off.
Do you feel any ownership of the movie, despite having a hands-off position with your music?
Just seeing your music on a big screen, sort of taken out of context and being used to support a story that has nothing to do with you, is really kind of a thrilling experience. It's hard to explain. It's kind of an honor to see your music recontextualized and used to aid in someone else's story and emotions. It's very kind of exciting to see.
Does having your music used in commercials, television programs, and other movies (such as Twilight: New Moon) ever start to affect the releases of your albums?
I don't really know yet, because I feel like all of the stuff that has happened, has happened since the making of our last album [2009's Veckatimest]. I mean, not really. I think we've always felt like we make a kind of music that lends itself to cinema. It can be sprawling and cinematic, and film score is always a point in what we do. I think, in a way, it's always been in the back of our minds as far as a part of what we do, but it's not like I think we expect to be scoring films anytime soon, necessarily. I think we would consider it.
It's funny, too, because Blue Valentine is the oldest offer. It's just been in the works so long. He was the first director we ever spoke to about doing anything, and he's just been plodding away, trying to get the production together. And in that time, we've done records, and other things have come along, but he was the first guy that ever approached us.
Are there any filmmakers you'd like to work with in the future?
It'd be great to work with the Coen brothers. It'd be great to work with Werner Herzog, but I don't think we're counting on it. Also, though, this experience was exceptionally cool because this was the director's first major feature-length film, and we really had no idea what we were getting into. That experience was really great because we were with someone we really liked and really trusted. There's no credibility going into it, other than the fact that he seemed to be a really smart guy. That was a really great element of the experience: watching it grow on its own.
Will you be watching the Oscars this weekend?
I should probably do that. I don't really watch that much television, but I need to stop living under a rock all the time. So, yes. I didn't watch the Grammys, but I will watch the Oscars.
Blue Valentine is nominated for just one Academy Award, with Michelle Williams for Best Actress. The Oscar ceremony airs this Sunday night on ABC.