'Before My Time' From 'Chasing Ice': Story Behind the Oscar Best Song Nominee
C. Taylor Crothers

This article is from the February 9, 2013, issue of Billboard magazine. You can click here to subscribe, and go here to order back issues

Best Songs: The Stories Behind This Year's Oscar Nominees

Song: "Before My Time"

Film: "Chasing Ice"

Songwriter/Composer: J Ralph

Performers: Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell

J Ralph: "I felt the best way to link up what I am trying to do [with film] is to not try to create performances in the music. Of all the songs I have done, whether it be Willie Nelson or Norah Jones or Antony & the Johnsons, the first time they heard [the song] was in the studio. I want to capture a moment of fragility and soul. After someone learns the song, it's a performance and not a discovery. Documentaries are discoveries.

"Scarlett is a dear friend of mine. I said, 'You're the only person I want to sing this song.' She came over to my theater [on New York's Lower East Side]. I played it for her, showed her the melody and gave her the lyrics, and we spent half an hour messing around with different keys. I wanted something that reflected this personaldialogue between the will of mankind and the unrelenting force of nature and I wanted to find the key that was best for Scarlett and her low, raspy voice. I wanted to juxtapose the beauty of Joshua's violin on top of that to create that dichotomy. That track is pretty much just reverb. It's just well-placed, well-chosen microphones and world-class musicians.

"I did the score and then at the end I realized this is a very heavy film, a daunting film, and I wanted to write a song that distilled the themes of the movie and allowed the audience to reflect on what they just saw. [The song] was intentionally kept spare. It's a hyper-intimate recording and arrangement so that it becomes very personal, allowing you to be absorbed into the imagery."

Song Sales: 1,000

Soundtrack Sales: N/A

U.S. Box Office: $1.3 million