Despite being a critical misfire, Warner Bros.’ Suicide Squad is a hit both at the box office and on the charts, thanks in part to an ambitious soundtrack that appears to reach in every direction at once: new (Twenty One Pilots) brushes against old (Creedence Clearwater Revival), while brusque rap sits next to bunker-busting electronic music and classic rock covers. The man behind the album, Atlantic Records President of Film & TV Kevin Weaver, has a sterling resume – a Grammy for his work on the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack and credits on the soundtracks for The Fault In Our Stars and Furious 7, both of which spawned major pop hits. He spoke with Billboard about putting together the music for what he calls “the coolest movie of 2016.”
What’s your first step when you’re trying to put together a soundtrack like this one?
We spent a lot of time with the music supervisors very early on. We were fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with the director of the film, David Ayer. We really dug in deep with them in the preliminary stages right when they got back from shooting the picture, and we started to identify the various music cues, what the sound of the movie was going to be, what we all felt the music needs of the picture were. As we did that, we started evaluating a list of artists that we liked and thought would be meaningful contributors and speak to the creative needs of the picture. Then we began the process of trying to align those artists with the various moments in the film.
The filmmakers have a lot of input, or they defer to you on soundtrack-related matters?
It was a very collaborative process. We were very much all in the trenches together. We were all attached at the hip throughout the course of the project.
Thematically, what did you decide you needed in the music so it would align with the film?
You always want a smash, but –
I feel like we have what feel like multiple big records here. We just began working with artists, producers, and songwriters to mine the strongest records we could put together based on the various music moments in the picture.
There are several records on here which pull multiple artists from different genres, why did you want so many big collaborations?
We basically tried to put the strongest records together that had the widest variety and the broadest reach but also were incredible songs that felt like smashes.
Skrillex wanted to be a part of this from very early on. I connected David Ayer with Sonny in the very preliminary phase of development. The two of them really connected; David went over and spent a bunch of time with Sonny, showed Sonny a bunch of scenes. He played David a bunch of music, and that evolved into the Skrillex/Rick Ross record.
On the Twenty One Pilots song, that was a band that we identified as being incredible for the project, and I was able to bring Tyler Joseph over to meet with David. He looked at scenes, talked with David, created a dialogue, so when Tyler was out on tour, he was thinking of ideas, going back and forth with David on that. That ultimately turned into “Heathens.”
Being able to tap into such a wide range of artists, give them assignments, show them footage, and connect them into David, was a really interesting way to go about the development of the music.
How do you logistically make a collaboration like “Sucker For Pain” happen?
It’s extremely complicated. I worked with my very good friend Alex da Kid on “Sucker For Pain.” He presented us a track and a hook from Imagine Dragons that we all loved for the film. Alex and I basically began reaching out to artists together and having them put verses on the song. Then Alex and I went through the process of A&R-ing that record into the song that you hear today. It’s a very laborious process.
The great thing was, everybody wanted to be a part of this project. It was so highly coveted by every songwriter and artists and producer. Based on the strength of the project, we were really able to engage the highest level of artists and talent to participate. Based on the track and hook being as strong as they were on “Sucker For Pain,” once the artists heard it, they all immediately reacted to it.
You weren’t worried about having too many cooks in the kitchen?
No. As songs evolved, it became very clear to us what the natural fits were and weren’t. We went with our gut as songs were evolving.
What’s the incentive for artists to be involved in a project like this?
This project is the coolest movie of 2016. It’ll probably be the biggest film of the summer. Based on the coolness factor, the buzz-factor, all the material from the early Comic-Con trailer that was out last summer, the trailers that were subsequently released – all the hype and buzz meant there was such a desire for people to be a part of this because of how amazingly cool it is.
Do you see an album with all these stars driving people to the movie? Or a vice versa?
I think it’s both. This movie is tracking to do $125 million in box office opening weekend. Our soundtrack is also projecting to do some pretty significant numbers week of release. A couple of singles have been out; we’ve sold a lot of singles. We’ve had millions of streams. Our videos have racked up millions of views. It’s a combination effect of all that. We’re attached to a huge film with amazing music; those mutually support each other.
Do you feel like the function of soundtracks has changed over time?
I do. No question. I think soundtracks are very much back in a relevant place these days. The last handful of years, there have been some very, very big soundtracks. It’s like anything else in music – it’s largely hit-driven. Not every movie warrants a soundtrack; not every film makes sense to have songs attached to it like this. So I’m very cautious about the projects I pick up, what we commit our times, resources, and bandwidth too. We’re very much in a climate now where if a movie uses music in a meaningful way, you can have a lot of success.
If you were forced to pick a favorite song, what would it be?
I feel like they’re all my children. You don’t pick favorites. They each have their own merits. This is not a single-driven project where one song is the catalyst of the make-or-break. This is an album that’s a body of work with multiple songs that are strong in their own right.
A version of this article appeared in the Aug. 20 issue of Billboard.