Ricky Reed’s task was harder than defeating the Night King’s Army of the Dead: cobble together the ultimate musical tribute to Game of Thrones using artists from rock, pop, hip-hop, Latin and folk. Oh, and try to make sure the songs kind of have that GoT vibe, if you know what we mean.
“My manager and I are both die-hard fans of the show, so we sniffed out who was going to be involved, and we started saying, ‘We’ll do as much or as little as anyone needs from us to be part of this,'” says Reed, 36, one of the executive producers of For the Throne (Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones), the 14-track compilation due April 26 that features appropriately dramatic tracks by everyone from Marren Morris and James Arthur to Muse‘s Matt Bellamy, The National, A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$, Rosalia, The Weeknd, SZA and Travis Scott, Ellie Goulding and late rapper Lil Peep.
Reed got his break in 2013 thanks to his beat for Jason DeRulo‘s “Talk Dirty to Me” and has gone on to work with everyone from Twenty One Pilots to Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Maggie Rogers, Phantogram, Halsey and X Ambassadors. It was while he was in the studio producing the next X Ambassadors album in the fall when the GoT soundtrack’s A&R lead, Imran Majid, sent an in-process song along for possible inclusion on the album and Reed got his wish.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m doing their album!'” he tells Billboard, recalling the conversation he had with the band’s singer, Sam Harris, who was equally excited. “He was like, ‘Dude! I fucking read all the books!'” At that point, Reed was off to the races, picking the brain of the show’s music supervisor, Evyen Klean, for some insight into how the creators like to use music and what the vibe of the just-launched final season might be.
“I’d heard they have unspoken rules about the way the show looks and sounds and feels, so for me going in, sonically, I knew I wanted to represent for the fans of the show and I was inspired by the idea that the show’s fans listen to all kinds of msuic, so my goal was to say, genre to genre, ‘How do we make songs that have that mood?'” he says of the difficult task of compiling the tracks that span many genres and styles. “It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had making an album.”
Reed ended up co-writing eight of the tracks, most of which manage to throw in lyrical nods and Easter egg-y references that will be familiar to the show’s millions of hard-core fans. The references range from Morris’ spooky opening track “Kingdom of One,” with references to crows, cold nights and burning it all down, to the just-released “Power Is Power” by SZA, The Weeknd and Travis Scott, which nods to ice and snow, wolves, soul-swappers and monsters with crowns.
Looking to tap into the weight and gothic feel of the show, Reed sought out arists who might be able to capture the series’ unique vibe, as well as connect to the saga’s core emotional triumvirate of heartbreak, betrayal and loss. “The idea with the lyrics was, ‘Let’s focus on songs that have these themes … but focus on what makes the show great, which is pulling on heartstrings,” he says of tracks such as The Lumineers‘ chilly folk tune “Nightshade” (“I saw the footprints in the white of the snow/ I counted thousands and I was just a rider alone”), Goulding’s spooky “Hollow Crown” (“I’m walking on my own, no fear, no fear/ I could have been who you trusted”) and Lennon Stella‘s slow-marching pop tune “Love Can Kill” (“You’re gonna suffer now whatever you do/ I need you to go, don’t fight me/ Even though I want to hold on tightly/ Let me go, but you won’t let me go”).
Because the above could apply to many different scenarios — even ones that don’t involve castle intrigue, direwolves and dragons — Reed and his team made sure that the songs didn’t use too many direct references to the show, even as they planted some fun Easter eggs for fans to discover. “I expected to have to do more directing, but these artists are all cool and they don’t want to say corny shit,” Reed says. “They want to make songs that stand on their own.” Luckily for him, they all fell into that sweet spot he was looking for without much intrusion on his part.
Some tracks, such as Chloe X Halle’s “Wolf at Your Door,” a sinuous, pulsing goth pop track about snakes in your bed and walking through fire, strike that perfect balance, while The National’s morose “Turn On Me” captures the dark recesses of Westeros via Matt Berninger’s typically emotive singing and heartsickness. Muse’s Matt Bellamy, however, went all in, naming his song “Pray (High Valyrian),” after one of the long-lost cities in the series and giving his solo track an eerie, gothic vibe that matches the show’s orchestral score.
It’s the first time that HBO has partnered with a major label — Columbia Records — to curate a soundtrack of all new songs specifically for the series, and while Reed said he felt serious pressure to deliver, “When you’re having fun, you don’t feel the weight of the pressure,” he says. “The fun gives you wings.” In the end, he feels like it does hang together, from upstart Spanish singer Rosalia’s dark Latin trap banger “Me Traicionaste” to A$AP Rocky and Joey Bada$$’ contemplative rap track “Too Many Gods.” “There will always be people who say you can’t connect popular music to the show, but there’s nothing you can do to please that crowd,” he says. “I am so proud of it and to me it feels like we’re trying to bring as many musical shades to it as Game of Thrones brings emotional plotlines. I wanted to build a soundtrack as rich and as vast as the show’s world is.”
A new father of twins, Reed says he’s been so busy he actually hasn’t even had time to watch last week’s season 8 premiere yet (no spoilers!), but he’s confident the album was made by fans, for fans. He knows this because his icebreaker with every artist was: What’s your theory on who is on the throne at the end? “Some would be like, ‘I’m only on season 4!’ and I’d say, ‘What are you doing?'”
The one superfan who, sadly, will not get to enjoy the fruits of their labor is late rapper Lil Peep, who died of an overdose in November 2017. Reed was not involved in crafting Peep and Ty Dolla $ign’s grungy “When I Lie,” but he heard through the grapevine that the SoundCloud MC was a big fan of the show and that those handling his estate knew he would have really wanted to be a part of the album. “They said he would have loved it,” he says. “It’s so thematically on point. I can’t speak to what he was thinking when he wrote it, but it fits so perfectly.”
For the Throne track list:
“King of One” – Maren Morris
“Power Is Power” – SZA, The Weeknd & Travis Scott
“Nightshade” – The Lumineers
“Hollow Crown” – Ellie Goulding
“Baptize Me” (feat. Jacob Banks) – X Ambassadors
“Too Many Gods” – A$AP Rocky & Joey Bada$$
“Turn On Me” – The National
“From The Grave” – James Arthur
“Me Traicionaste” (feat. A.CHAL) – ROSALÍA
“When I Lie” (Remix) [feat. Ty Dolla $ign] – Lil Peep
“Love Can Kill” – Lennon Stella
“Wolf At Your Door” – Chloe x Halle
“Devil In Your Eye” – Mumford & Sons
“Pray (High Valyrian)” – Matt Bellamy