'Suicide Squad' Composer Steven Price on Writing Music with a 'Sleazy '70s Vibe'

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
A still from Suicide Squad.

When British composer Steven Price and director David Ayer first worked together on 2014’s World War ll epic Fury, Ayer encouraged Price “to make the music weirder.” It was advice that came in handy as they re-teamed for Suicide Squad, the Warner Bros. film based on the DC Comics band of antiheroes that opened Friday (Aug. 5).

“I knew that a nice, tidy orchestral score wasn’t what he wanted,” says Price, who won the Academy Award for best original score for  2013’s Gravity. “Everything in the film is rough around the edges.”

Therefore, he wanted to make the music the same. “All the Squad members are outsiders, and my idea for them was to make their themes angular, things are a bit off, and then when they all come together, the score is more harmonic because they feel for the first time like they belong.”

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For Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, he used a marxophone (a fretless zither) to capture her quirkiness. Even though it’s too distorted in the final mix to hear, he even had singers record nursery rhymes to represent the voices she hears in her head. Droning guitars were run through a chain of EFX pedals to create more texture. For Will Smith’s Deadshot, much of his themes conveyed his yearning for his daughter. “I started each theme with a story idea, not a music idea,” says Price, 39. “Even in the action sequences, you want to feel the human being in the insanity. They all have elements of sounds that are unique to them.” 

The movie’s “sleazy, '70s vibe” and its darkness reminded Price of David Bowie’s legendary trio of '70s albums made in Berlin: Low, Heroes and Lodger. While he’s “wary of pushing the Bowie influence too far,” Price says the way those albums fearlessly used instruments in a non-traditional way to sometimes render them unrecognizable helped inspire his thinking for Suicide Squad. “It was more a sonic thing that triggered a thought in my mind,” he says.

Price’s score had to weave around the movie’s many songs from artists such as Twenty One Pilots, Skrillex, Eminem, Kehlani, Grimes and Panic! at the Disco (who covered Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody). “When I knew what the song references were, I had to make sure that the score didn’t feel like it was coming from a different planet,” he says. “A lot of the songs fit in with the slightly flamboyant style that the score has. I think we were all on the same page with how the music fit into the film.”

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Price recorded the score in Los Angeles with the 80-piece Hollywood Studio Orchestra at both Warner Bros Studios’ Eastwood Scoring Stage and Sony Pictures Studios' Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage. WaterTower Music will release the 72-minute score Aug. 8. 

Many reviews for the film have been negative, which Price admits is upsetting, but does not affect the joy he had working on the music. “I would by lying appallingly if I said it didn’t bother me,” he says. “You want people to love things. You’re doing this to entertain people and if there’s a sense that it hasn’t done that, you’re sad.” However, it looks like the movie will definitely triumph over the critics: It is estimated to rake in as much as $145 million its opening weekend, making it the highest opener ever for an August movie.