The Chemical Brothers: Scoring 'Hanna' was a lot of work, but strangely liberating
Fans of the Chemical Brothers may still be coming down from their Friday-night headlining performance at Coachella. But those fond of the English duo might also have recently encountered them in a less likely venue: "Hanna," Joe Wright's stylized action film that just completed its second weekend in theaters.
The duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, who have helped define electronica music for nearly two decades, decided to take a turn into scoring during production of the Saoirse Ronan-starring picture, which sees the actress as an assassin fighting and fleeing throughout Europe.
In the film, the band's driving bass alternates with gentler, more ethereal tones. And though the score is probably not going to get the same attention as, say, Trent Reznor's contributions to"The Social Network," the band's musical ideas in many instances help distinguish the film as much as Wright's visual choices.
We caught up with Rowlands on Friday as he was preparing to drive from Los Angeles to Coachella. The musician said that he and Simons found a score to be nearly as much work as an album -- but with a very different process. (The Chemical Brothers had written songs for numerous movies before, including several tracks for "Black Swan," but never scored a complete film.)
"With us, we usually make the record and then kind of figure out what we have afterward," he said. "Here it was the reverse. We had a very specific sense of what Joe wanted and we were trying to create something that fit that."
Although that might sound constraining, Rowlands said that he and Simons found that it freed them from the weight of indecision. "It was actually liberating. Normally we have 15 versions of a song and we're not sure which one to use. Here we might have had two or three versions, and Joe would come in and collaborate, set some parameters," he said.
Rowlands and Simons knew Wright from before his days as a director (he once coordinated logistics for a company that handled visuals for the band). Rowlands said that the Chemical Brothers would be open to scoring another film if they felt the circumstances were right. (The pair released its studio album "Further" last summer and have been touring this year to support it.)
Rowlands and Simons are old pros at setting a tone, particularly on a dance floor. But was it a strange feeling to define the atmosphere in a theater in which they weren't present? "What we found was really interesting with a movie is how you can have a very tense action scene, and then the challenge is making it go to a very beautiful moment," Rowlands said. "We liked being able to create these moods that went along with everything else you were seeing in the film."
Photo: The Chemical Brothers at the Hollywood Bowl in August. Credit: Kristian Dowling / Getty Images