Writer/Director Sean Durkin’s first feature, Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), gave Elizabeth Olsen her breakthrough role. Nine years on, his second feature might just do the same for Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, as he composes his first solo score. The Nest stars Jude Law and Carrie Coon as a husband and wife who relocate their family from suburban USA to rural Sussex in the booming ’80s, where a fresh start only means that everything starts to fall apart.

The Nest is now available to rent and buy online in the U.S. and Richard Reed Parry’s score is also available to stream or buy everywhere.

We sat down with the musician and composer to talk about his early aspirations and his first solo venture into making music for film with The Nest

Is making music for film something you’ve always had an interest in? 

I have, actually. When I was out of high school, I kind of always thought that’s what I would probably do. It seemed like a strong interest – but one that I didn’t, for whatever reasons, pursue that actively. I did a little bit of stuff when I was in university: a couple of student films, music for contemporary dance and for a couple of puppet shows. It’s not the same thing, but it’s a related genre of thinking and of doing. I never got a chance to do an actual feature. Then band life took off in the way that it did and all of a sudden I was a touring musician, trying to keep my head on, making albums.

The first feature that I was involved in scoring was with the band: the Spike Jonze film, Her. That was a lot more of a band thing, that fragmented group process. People were working on things alone and bringing them in to try out, just throwing lots of ideas at the wall. So I’ve done a bunch of things that point to scoring a feature film, but I’ve never scored a feature film on my own.

Was there a particular film score that made you want to make that your career back then, or do you have any favourite film scores that stick with you now? 

Oh yeah, loads. I mean, the Blade Runner soundtrack. That’s arguably the best film score of all time, or at least top five film scores of all time. It’s just such an amorphous mass of music and a really incredible achievement. That made a big impact on me quite young, as a teenager. I heard that when I saw Blade Runner for the first time and it really blew my mind. And Ennio Morricone. Once Upon a Time in the West is also one of the greatest achievements in film music of all time, I think. I get quite deep into all sorts of things. I love the Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi. He’s wonderful. He’s done about a million Japanese movies, including all of the Hayao Miyazaki films.

How did you come to be involved with writing the music for The Nest?

[Writer/director] Sean Durkin actually approached me way in advance. While I was on the Reflektor tour with Arcade Fire he approached me and was like, ‘do you want to score my next movie?’ I didn’t hear from him for years as he was writing it, mapping the whole thing out, then finally making the thing. As it got much closer he was like ‘are you still into it?’ Then the movie showed up on my doorstep.

Sean Durkin has said that he was listing to your Music for Heart and Breath album while writing the script. Was this film always written with your music in mind? 

That was really kind of humbling. It was really attractive to me in that way because I knew that it wasn’t going to be this movie that was already full of someone else’s temp music that I was going to have to imitate. He was super deliberate about not having any music in the film when he sent it to me so I got to have a blank slate watching it. Also, I loved the film. I thought it was really beautiful and very, very subtle and slow moving in a way that I love. It’s just gorgeously shot and the acting is amazing. It’s very soft spoken, the whole thing, in a way that really appeals to me. I was pretty much in from the get go.

How did you approach the process of writing this score? You were sent a cut of the film void of all music…

With no music and no instructions. It was a total blank slate. It was also twice as long as the film ultimately ended up being. He was still in the process of editing it. It was almost three hours when he sent it to me but I loved it like that. It took its time and had lots of wide open spaces that felt really emotionally resonant. But you have to get it a little more contained than that – unless you’re making The Godfather.

There is one piece of music that’s in the movie that he kept in. It’s a Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington and Max Roach piece called ‘Fleurette Africaine‘. By total coincidence I had been very, very obsessed with that particular piece of music for a bunch of years beforehand. We didn’t even discuss that deeply why he [Durkin] had picked that, but he just really wanted that particular piece of music to be in this particular scene. To my mind, immediately I wanted all the music I was making to get along with that piece of music.

Did the story the film is telling influence the music you were writing at all? 

I immediately knew the kind of feeling that I wanted it to have, the kind of musical aesthetic. The film centers around this family. I wanted there be an equivalent number of instruments as there were family members, more or less – in a subtle way, not in a Peter and the Wolf kind of way. I wanted to have the intimacy of these interlocking voices, to reflect and parallel the family.

I also knew right away that I wanted it to be really spacious. So much of the movie happens in this big old manor house in Surrey. I really wanted the music to feel like it could be made inside this house, like people could be playing the music in the room.

What was the writing process like for this film score? 

I only watched the movie the one time at the beginning. I wasn’t then watching the scenes and trying to score them. I just immediately started sketching on my own, recording demos, playing lots of different parts and exploring some kind of thematic material. I was making music after having been initially absorbed by the film, knowing that eventually some of these ideas will stick – either for me or for Sean or hopefully for both.

Then I wanted to start getting out of my own bubble of working on these ideas alone so I started working with my friend, Parker Shper, who’s this amazing pianist. I flew to Paris to work with this wonderful violinist from Berlin named Ayumi Paul. It was the two of us for a bit, then Parker came, then Stuart Bogie – who is the wind player. I was just singing the ideas or I’d play them a demo that I’d made and we’d work with that. It was very, very collaborative in terms of individual musicians bringing a lot to the table. I like to write stuff for people as well, but it’s always elevated when people get to bring their individual interpretive skills to an idea. I think the idea is always better for it. I was very happy to have such wonderful, brilliant collaborators working with me.

The Nest Jude Law Carrie Coon

Courtesy of: IFC Films

The Nest is set in the ’80s and the soundtrack features songs by The Cure and Thompson Twins. Was that musical backdrop something you kept in mind while writing this score?  

When I saw the original film those songs were there but I didn’t feel called in any way to connect to that, to that kind of ’80s pop. I didn’t feel like the score needed to relate to those in a direct way. In fact, kind of the opposite. Knowing that there was going to be these other pieces of music dotted throughout the movie, that kind of, in a way, allowed for even more space in the score. You know that you’ve got the atmosphere broken up by these these pop tunes every once in a while, in an everyday kind of way.

Was there anything you struggled with while working on the music for this film? 

We call it demoitis. You make an original recording and you’re not thinking about making it sound correct, you’re just getting the creative flow going and doing whatever comes instinctively, not spending too long being fussy about it. So often you get really attached to these unconscious musical decisions that you’ve made in the heat of that moment. You weren’t thinking about it, you weren’t being precious, and you weren’t trying something over and over and over again. You just do it once. Very often there’s something in that, a feeling that no matter how much ‘better’ you record something you never get that feeling back. It’s this eternal struggle for musicians, having demoitis.

If Sean picked certain pieces of music – which he had, and had been editing to those – if we redid it, there’d be subtle differences. I could see it coming and I didn’t even want to go there. I had to be recording these ideas well enough, right out of the gate, that if you bond to them, and they edit a scene and they find the perfect edit, they can use that. We can revisit it and add on to it, but the core elements are already recorded well enough that they’re good. A couple of tracks that ended up sticking were recorded at home in a single take, just trying an idea one way. You can hear the floor creaking or there’s a little bit of background noise. It doesn’t really come across in the movie, but you hear it a little bit more on the soundtrack album itself.

The Nest Carrie Coon

Courtesy of: IFC Films

The film premiered earlier this year at Sundance Festival. What was it like seeing the finished product – this feature film accompanied by your music – with an audience watching? 

It was really wonderful to see it in the big cinema. Three of us, three of the ensemble, went to the opening to play some of the music from the movie on the stage ahead of time, which was quite fun. It was beautiful to see it come to life. It’s such a beautifully paced film. It’s so soft spoken but it has this really heavy, dense emotional atmosphere.

One of my original impressions when I watched it was that it’s so nice to watch a movie that has no music in it. It’s just so spacious and takes its time. It’s not hitting you over the head trying to make a point. Originally I was like, ‘oh man, don’t put any music in this, just let it be open and let it speak for itself.’ Obviously he [Durkin] had a vision and he wanted music in it. I enjoyed making that and it was wonderful to see with music.

I think Sean’s style of filmmaking is so beautiful and so effective in terms of how human it is and how understated. It’s looking at really very complex individuals with mysterious motivations that aren’t maybe totally obvious at first sight. I just think that it’s a beautiful film. It’s beautifully subtle in a way that a lot of films are perhaps afraid to be.

Is writing music for film something you would like to see yourself doing more of in the future? 

I can only really do these things when I feel moved to do them. I’m not that great at writing music on demand if something doesn’t really resonate or speak to me. I have no ambition to be scoring superhero blockbusters, but when the right film – or films – come along, I’m really happy to do this. It’s a wonderful, artistic, explorative process. But I have no idea what’s next. I’m working on a lot of new compositions, working on new Quiet River music, working on new Arcade Fire music… I’m just doing my thing, playing music.

The Nest is now available to rent and buy online in the U.S. and Richard Reed Parry’s score is also available to stream or buy everywhere.