John Lennon, Neil Young, David Bowie, Tim Buckley, Perry Como, Sigur Rós and Nirvana are just some of the iconic acts whose works are featured on the soundtrack to Beautiful Boy, the 2018 theatrical release based on of the books Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, both of which writer David Sheff penned as a means of exploring his strained relationship with his drug-addicted son, Nic. But the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner of Plan B wanted one song uniquely crafted for the film’s ending credits. That job was assigned to Sampha Sisay, the South London artist better known as Sampha.
“Although I haven’t personally been through what they have, there were emotional aspects I could relate to in my own experiences and that is what I channeled into the writing of the song,” Sampha tells Billboard.
After a screening of the film in Los Angeles recently, Plan B hosted guests at the Sunset Tower Hotel for an intimate after-party where Sampha performed a six-song set that included tracks “Plastic 100°C,” “Happens,” “Too Much” and “Treasure,” the song he wrote for the film.
An array of film execs including Amazon Studios’ head of music Bob Bowen nibbled on appetizers, sipped cocktails and mingled while Sampha prepared backstage. Also in attendance were the film’s starring actors, Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.
Around 10 p.m., Sampha took his place in front of a piano, while the audience huddled closely around him, remaining completely quiet as Sampha weaved through his set, bursting into a roar of applause afterward.
At the event, Plan B producer Jeremy Kleiner told Billboard that he and his team are still pinching themselves over having landed Sampha for the film’s original track. He explained that the Beautiful Boy production team was initially going to go with an original score to accompany the picture but decided that, since music played a powerful role in the lives of both David and Nic Sheff, source-driven music appeared to be much more appropriate. There was room, however, for one original tune.
“When it came to how we wanted people to feel as they left the theater, there is this thing about the bravery David and Nic had, to be able to their story and to make themselves vulnerable the way they did. And we thought of Sampha as being an artist that could pull that off,” he explained.
Kleiner added that upon deciding that Sampha was the man for the job, he quickly hopped on the phone with the artist and his team, including Caius Pawson, founder of the record label Young Turks. “We talked about some of the ideas of the film and Sampha very quickly understood the movie after he had seen it. We talked about this process of confronting pain, moving through pain to some kind of surrender or ascension of some kind,” he said. Kleiner also referenced a Spotify session that Sampha had done a few years back, which he recalled as “very stripped down” and the perfect starting point for the tune. “His performance there was free flowing, a little bit more like jazz structure,” he said.
Sampha told Billboard that after being asked to write a piece of original music for Beautiful Boy, he watched the film and “felt really affected by its storyline.” He modeled his tune around the idea of wanting to tonally illustrate David and his son Nic’s back-and-forth relationship. The musician said he also was inspired by “the feeling that the relationship we have with the things we treasure can be complicated.”
“Sampha’s song, ‘Treasure,’ really captures the perspective of the father and the son in the same song, which is what the movie is in a way,” Kleiner said. “I’ve been a massive fan of Sampha for years and not just his record but his spots on other people’s records, his incredible voice. We’re so lucky that he wanted to do it.”