Composer Steven Price Talks The Sounds, Themes And Heart Of FURY
Director David Ayer’s gripping World War 2 film, FURY, is now in cinemas and took in $23.5M at the box office to claim the #1 spot this weekend.
Over the course of 24 fateful hours, five men of the Sherman Tank “Fury” – Wardaddy, the commander; Boyd Swan, the gunner; Grady Travis, the loader; Trini Garcia, the driver; and Norman, the assistant driver – take on 300 enemy German troops in a desperate battle for survival. Ayer’s movie resonates with common themes of brotherly love, friendship, and trust.
The closing night film at the BFI London Film Festival, Sony Pictures’ FURY stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, and Scott Eastwood. FURY opens in UK cinemas on October 22.
The creative behind the scenes artists are cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, production designer Andrew Menzies, film editors Dody Dorn, ACE and Jay Cassidy, ACE, costume designer Owen Thornton, and composer Steven Price.
Price’s haunting score is filled with machine-like sounds, Germanic chants and intimate themes. Last year, I spoke with the Academy Award winning composer prior to the release of Edgar Wright’s AT WORLD’S END and Alfonso Cuaron’s GRAVITY.
Just as Price did on his Oscar-winning score for GRAVITY, where the sounds of radio waves were incorporated into the score, Price was able to find a distinctive voice for the music of FURY by using unusual and unconventional instruments in a fusion with the orchestral, choral and solo writing featured throughout.
Having not slowed down since his Oscar win six months ago, WAMG recently discussed with Steven Price his work on FURY, collaborating with David Ayer and a trip to Downing Street.
WAMG: The last time we spoke at The Academy’s “Oscar Concert” you were Steven Price… composer. Now you’re Academy Award winner Steven Price.
I hope AMPAS continues every year with that concert.
Steven Price: That was one of the great memories for me from the week.
WAMG: Now you have FURY. I have to tell you, for those of us whose grandfathers served in WWII…
SP: I’m one of them too.
WAMG: It’s very personal. It’s very emotional.
SP: Absolutely! Certainly made me wish I had the presence of mind when they were around to ask them some questions. No one in my family ever discussed it.
WAMG: My grandfather was a survivor of a ship that was sunk in the English Channel on Christmas Eve 1944, recovered, and then kept trudging along up to Battle of the Bulge.
SP: You can only imagine what they must have gone through. It was never discussed for the next 30 years, as in my granddad’s case. Definitely makes you think.
WAMG: From the first note of the score, you don’t pull any punches. Did you read the script beforehand?
SP: Once again, I was involved quite early on. I got some of the script when they just started shooting. It turned out they were filming 40 minutes away from where I live, so I was on set a couple of times. I was able to watch a couple of scenes being shot and spent a bit of time with David Ayer. We were discussing it in October of last year which gave me lots of time to do research and working out how I was going to help tell David’s story with the score.
WAMG: What did you think of the set and location where David Ayer was shooting?
SP: It was remarkable. The first time I went, they were doing long shots on the first big battle of the film. Basically what you see in the film is what I drove into. Huge, big tanks with the troops lined up behind them – it was like entering a war zone. The explosions were real. No CGI. It was a very weird thing I drove into.
You got a sense at what David was going for – a real authenticity. When I met the man himself, you got the sense of this being a very honest look at a very dark time in the War. He told me, as he was hitting his stomach, “I want to feel, I want to feel.” That was the agreement we had, music-wise, to help take you on that kind of journey. It was clear from the start that it was going to be quite an emotional score to do.
WAMG: World War II Soldiers were in the rain, mud, and sleep-deprived. 1940’s War Movies were almost too clean, too sanitized. FURY is definitely not.
SP: It’s really very brutal and visceral in many ways. Every now and then I would see a scene and think, “was that real – that guy getting run over by a tank?” Ayer’s research on the photography of the time was incredible. He’s kind of a huge expert on military history of that time anyway, so there’s nothing there that’s gratuitous really. FURY is a small window on how horrible it was. It was hell basically.
In the film, the American tank column faces their most deadly threat: a German Tiger tank – ultimate tank of war. A Sherman really stood very little chance against a Tiger – it’s set up as a formidable weapon.
On this film, Price had access to recordings made on the set, and later, weapons, and parts of the tank itself were called back into duty as percussion equipment in the studio.
WAMG: You can hear a lot of different elements with your score, including the tanks, the metal and even the dogtags.
SP: One of the crucial ideas behind the score was this was a war of mass mechanization where everyone was building these machines to kill. You were there to kill your opponents before they killed you with these tanks. Within those tanks were the humans trudging forward and the guys in Fury who had been working together and living together for 3 or 4 years, were exhausted and broken down. It was a way of finding music that encompassed all of that.
The music constantly grinds forward. There’s metallic, grinding noises and some were derived from actual source recordings off the tanks themselves.
Then you’ve got the choir which is constantly chanting in German. The idea being there, whilst three weeks away from the end of the War, you assume for the Allies, victory was in sight, when actually they were surrounded in Nazi Germany. They were totally unsafe every single moment. The choir is the embodiment of evil – chanting sometimes far away, sometimes close whispering – with the constant unsettling presence.
The orchestra is carrying more emotional ideas, more character themes. All of those ideas to give the sense of the hell they’re in, in the midst of exhaustion and constant motion.
WAMG: The echoes of that Germanic chanting are chilling. When did you decide to utilize that effective theme?
SP: That was quite early on. One of the cues halfway through the film, one where they’re travelling in the tanks to the next horrible thing, I wanted this sense of threat and exhaustion. I fell upon the idea of this inhuman chanting, followed by the idea that it could be this German chanting where they’re constantly singing and reciting extracts from the Lutheran Bible. It has lots of references to invasion and the pain of war, so it felt kind of timeless and accurate to what we were doing.
Really until we got to the recording session for it, I wasn’t totally sure it was going to work. But I got it all set up in the studio with big charts and all of these phrases that I had selected and literally going through it cue by cue. With each scene, for this one we’re going to use this bit, and we did this through the whole thing. There are no emotions in their voices – it was meant to sound like this machine.
The first moment that we did it, there was a shiver in the control room. It felt very unnerving. It became a feature of the score from then on.
WAMG: You added some beautiful piano solos in two tracks – “Wardaddy” and particularly my favorite “Norman”.
SP: That was one of the earlier themes I wrote.
WAMG: Both just about bring you to tears. These themes and their relationship are the soul of the film. Both tracks are so pure.
SP: A lot of the work on the film was their relationship and introducing them at the very start. We don’t know Wardaddy – he’s very cold and abstract. As we see more aspects of him, that develops. When we first meet Norman, his theme is this skittish kind of thing. He’s very unsettled. His eyes are flickering around all over the place. He’s landed in this place he never expected to be. It’s only later in the film that he develops more of a sense of where he is and it’s there that his theme evolves.
WAMG: FURY is the closing night selection at the BFI Film Festival. Plus you’ll be making a special trip.
SP: My wife and I are off to Downing Street, which is something I never thought I’d say, for an Academy Event to initiate the new members. It’ll be a bit weird being in the home of British government.
WAMG: What was Oscar week like for you both?
SP: It was a totally surreal experience. It’s a lot longer than what you see at home. We were told at the start, it would be two and a half hours before they call your category. As the time went on, it became more surreal and after two hours into it, it became more amusing. I’ve seen the clip when the announcement is made and I’m still not totally convinced it’s me. I have very little recollection of it.
WAMG: And then they swoop you back stage.
SP: The room for the photos was the most blinding room I’ve ever been in. The whole thing was such a wonderful experience and a very fun night.
The FURY original motion picture soundtrack is available now from Varese Sarabande Records: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fury-original-motion-picture/id922668968
Listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.