Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: An Oral History of the Soundtrack

Featuring exclusive interviews with Edgar Wright, Nigel Godrich, and Kathy Nelson

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was a bob-omb upon arrival. Although the buzz was high ahead of its release on August 13, 2010, Edgar Wright’s imaginative action comedy went on to finish fifth at the box office that weekend. A week later, it had sunk to the bottom 10, which is hardly the business Universal had hoped for with an $60 million budget.

It’s an unlikely origin story for what’s now considered to be one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time. Because over the years, the cult film has since amassed a rabid following, chock full of fans and critics who all agree that Wright beautifully captured the rebellious spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original graphic novel series.

Much of that appeal, however, boils down to its impeccable soundtrack. Featuring contributions by Nigel Godrich, Beck, Metric, Broken Social Scene, Cornelius, Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and David Campbell, Wright masterfully assembled a collection of sounds that weren’t just hip at the time, but true to the source material.

After all, music is essential to the world of Scott Pilgrim. So much so that O’Malley literally wove the tracks into each one of his books. Fortunately for him, Wright was at the helm of his adaptation, and if there’s one muscle the English filmmaker loves to flex, it’s his ear for a perfect soundtrack. And boy did he kick our teeth in with this one.

To celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary, Consequence of Sound opted to zero in on said soundtrack by speaking with the masterminds behind the music. Ahead, you’ll hear interviews with writer/director Edgar Wright, producer/composer Nigel Godrich, and music supervisor Kathy Nelson, who share all the stories behind all the songs.

Rest assured, you won’t pee out of boredom.

Sex Bob-Omb

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Sex Bob-Omb is a good place to start when you’re talking about the musical world of Scott Pilgrim. As the protagonist band, they had to sound like your typical shitty garage band that someone like Scott might play in while also having the distinction of being good. Not an easy balance to find…

EDGAR WRIGHT (WRITER/DIRECTOR): Well, the first kind of jumping-off point was from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s book. And when I first started working on the screenplay, and was in contact with Bryan, one of the first things we did was swap music with each other. Like sending each other playlists to go with what he was listening to when he wrote the book and what the books made me think of in terms of bands. And so when it came to doing the film, I asked Nigel Godrich, who was a friend of mine, if he wanted to do the score and also oversee the songs.

NIGEL GODRICH (COMPOSER): We were friends. We had actually known each other for quite some time. I met him through mutual friends one summer. It was just a kind of repeated experience of us finding ourselves at the same events and weddings and parties and stuff. So, we became buddies. And he actually had not made a movie yet. He was actually just about to make Shaun of the Dead. And we were talking about possibly working together on score stuff for that, but then that never materialized. But we were already friends.

And when he came to do Scott Pilgrim, he was actually calling me asking me, “Who do you think could help me do this? Who do you think could do everything? Could do the band stuff and the score?” I don’t know if he was just asking me leading questions or innocently just asking me, but, of course, I said, “I’ll do it!” I really wanted to work with him, and I felt like it was something that I could do. So, that’s it. So, he was very happy, and I was very happy. And we went off and did it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal)

WRIGHT: What he suggested, which was a great idea, was: “Why don’t we ask different artists to be the different bands in the movie.” Rather than have one writer do all the fictional songs. Have different bands play different bands. So we were trying to find the right band for Sex Bob-Omb. And I remember we went to see the Black Lips in London, because we thought that they were the right vibe for Sex Bob-Omb. And then I was also interested in the band Be Your Own Pet, who I was supposed to meet. And then before I met them, they had already broken up. [Laughs.] I think they were on tour. I remember I was in Los Angeles, and it was like: “They’re on tour, and when they get to LA, they’d love to meet.” And then by the time they got to LA, it was: “Oh, the band has broken up.”

GODRICH: Then what happened was basically I said, “We should ask Beck to do this.”

WRIGHT: Nigel said, “This is exactly in the wheelhouse of the music that Beck made when he started.” Like the sort of garage-y punk [sound]. So, he asked Beck, and Beck was completely down with the idea. I don’t know if Beck read the script. But he asked, “Can you give me just sort of a vague idea of what the scenes are?” Because what was written in the script were the names of the songs or the vibes of the songs. So, what we eventually did for him was I wrote what the scenes were and what was happening and some vague kind of pointers. And also I remember we blew up lots of art from the book onto massive boards, and we delivered all of that to his house. And he said, “I’m going to noodle around in the garage.”

beck scratched 1523x1020 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: An Oral History of the Soundtrack

GODRICH: We went in and just did two sessions, really, where he just wrote quickly. He looked at the comics, looked at what lyrics existed already. Like there’s a comic book version of a song called “Indefatigable” and he sang the lines that are in the comic and wrote some music. So we did a few things like that where they were direct references to the comics, and then he just came up with a couple of things. It was just very quickly with him and Brian LeBarton, who is a musician who he was working with at the time, we just went in and knocked out these things, very garage style on an 8-track. And then I just took them away and that was it. [Laughs.]

WRIGHT: He basically did this over the course of a long weekend … I got a demo CD that had 32 tracks on it. [Laughs.] He had done all of this in the space of like 72 hours.

GODRICH: It was the nature of the way which they were sort of created, which was very fast and warts and all, and there are mistakes and all of these things that make it feel authentic and keep it genuine.

WRIGHT: Nigel certainly said, “I don’t see why you would try to make them sound more finished. What he did on his 8-track is exactly what the band would be able to do. So, why don’t we use these, and we’ll change the vocals for the actors?” And that’s exactly what we did. There were no overdubs or anything.

GODRICH: The other thing about this is it’s a really excellent opportunity to go to Beck and get him to do something that he’s really good at without him feeling the pressure of any kind of commercial external forces or anybody’s expectation or anything like that. Because he’s not being Beck. He doesn’t have to stand behind it. He gets to just do something that’s a guilty pleasure in a way. He has this amazing ability to have output, and it was great. It was a really, really fun exercise.

WRIGHT: And most of those songs that are in the film are from that weekend. Like we changed the vocals because we had to get the actors to do the vocals instead, but “Garbage Truck” and the opening theme from Sex Bob-Omb and “Summertime” and “No Fun” and “Threshold” were all from that demo CD. And then also he did some kind of acoustic “Ramona” song. So, I had the CD, which had like 32 tracks on it. And it was like, “Okay. This one. This one. This one.” Hopefully, some of it you’ll hear before the end of the year… [Hint #1].

If you listen to the opening theme that’s over the opening credits, that is just Beck and Bryan jamming. And you could sort of tell because they’re like sort of changing rhythms throughout and wildly improvising, which made it quite difficult for the actors to learn because there were lots of little changes on the fly that were on the track. But it makes it feel real and vivid, and it makes it feel like somebody’s in your living room playing like the loudest music you’ve ever heard.

Crash and the Boys

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

The band that Sex Bob-Omb faces in the battle of the bands has to have a sound that is distinctive and also be instantly recognizable despite having no song that lasts longer than 20 seconds. And as far as Edgar Wright and Nigel Godrich were concerned, Broken Social Scene was an obvious choice.

WRIGHT: I think we thought it was funny to do like really loud short songs. We asked Broken Social Scene to do this because they had become friends of ours in Toronto. Like Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning and the gang. And the Crash and the Boys songs sound nothing like Broken Social Scene. But those guys are incredibly versatile musicians. And they basically tapped into teenage years listening to Napalm Death. [Laughs.] And those like short songs. Sort of like Napalm Death by way of like doing these incredibly short, incredibly thrashy songs. So, that was basically the idea.

GODRICH: They had to have a place in the movie because they’re so important as sort of legends of Toronto music with bands and stuff. And in that way, it was great to be able to bring friends in, leave them with a problem to solve, and know that they’re going to come up with something great.

WRIGHT: I remember Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene called me and said, “Hey, we’re doing the songs, and have you cast the kid who’s going to sing these?” And I said, “Well, actually, I have. His name’s Eric Knudson.” And he goes, “Is there a way that he can come to the studio and do it with us? It would be so much easier.” And I called Eric Knudson, who was in Toronto. And he was very young. I think he was about 19 or 20. But I called Eric and said, “Hey, Eric. Do you know the band Broken Social Scene?” And he goes, “Uh, yeah. It’s only my favorite band ever.” And I said, “Well, how do you feel about going into the studio with them right now and recording the songs for the film?” And so he did. And he actually went in that afternoon and just did the vocals with them. And then he was just sort of hanging out with his favorite band.

Clash at Demonhead

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Metric’s history with Scott Pilgrim begins well before the film. When O’Malley was creating the books, he actually drew Envy Adams as partially being based on (but not entirely) Metric lead singer Emily Haines. So, it would only make sense that all would come full circle when it was time to find who would bring The Clash at Demonhead to life.

WRIGHT: I got to know Metric a little bit through Bryan Lee O’Malley. I actually met those guys while I was prepping the movie. And Bryan had put me on to some of the earlier songs. And they actually had a couple of hits in the UK with “Poster of a Girl” and “Monster Hospital”. And so I was well aware of Metric. I knew their stuff. And then when we were talking about bands for Clash at Demonhead, they were the obvious people to do the song.

GODRICH: Obviously, Clash at Demonhead are Metric, so that was very easy to put together.

WRIGHT: So, I met Emily and Jimmy Shaw … I guess I met them in like 2008 when I was first going to Toronto to talk about doing this movie. And on their 2009 album, Fantasies, “Black Sheep” was a song that they had recorded but not put onto the album. And because I was describing what we needed, and they said, “Well, we have this song that is not on the new album.” And the reason they hadn’t put it on the album is because they said it sounded like a parody of Metric. [Laughs.] And I said, “Well, that sounds like the perfect song for us!” And they said, “Well, you can have it.”

So, they’d already recorded the song. And then in their home studio — they had a great, little home studio in the back of like Jimmy’s house — I went in there with Nigel, and we did the cast recording for the songs. So, the actors in Sex Bomb-Ob — Allison Pill, Michael Cera, and Mark Weber — sang the vocals on top of the Beck demos. And Brie Larson came in and sang her vocal on top of the Metric one. So, basically, the “Black Sheep” song in the movie is Metric playing. And you can kind of hear Emily Haines’ backing track, but Brie is singing the live vocal. And when it came to do the soundtrack, I understand that Metric wanted to have that version on the soundtrack album. So, that’s why that’s on the soundtrack album.

And wait and see. You might have a nice surprise when the 10th Anniversary of the album comes out … I can’t say anything more than that! [Hint #2]

Click ahead to read more about the score, music school, and stories off the stage…

The Score

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Not only was Nigel Godrich going to be working with the bands for the songs within the film, but he was also tasked with creating the score to match the graphic novel. This was his first score and definitely a daunting one to jump off with.

GODRICH: Once the shoot was happening, then I started working on the score, which was a completely different thing. Like another whole big slab of music. But because it was already there, it meant that I could work with the band stuff and interweave things and like join it together and make this large web of stuff.

WRIGHT: I really love Nigel’s score, actually. And it sort of moves between this kind of mellow, lyrical mood for some of the tender scenes that is really, really beautiful. Those are some of my favorite cues on it, actually. There’s one called “Second Cup”, which is just beautiful. And another one called “Hillcrest Park”. Like those ones that are really great. And then I think the other one that is fantastic is one of the final piece called “Boss Battle”, which is just amazing.

GODRICH: I like the more kind of elated parts. I don’t know what they’re called. But when they’re walking in the park, it’s very beautiful. Through the snow. And then the end kind of crescendo with a beautiful kind of synthetic stuff at the end worked really well. And the scene at the end where they say goodbye works really well.

WRIGHT: Nigel did the Universal fanfare, the 8-bit version of the fanfare at the start, which he seemed to knock off in like, like half an hour. It’s like, “Hey, can you do an 8-bit version of the Universal fanfare as if it was done on the Commodore 64?” And he was like, “Sure.” And then came back with that. I don’t think there was ever a second draft of it … that was it.

GODRICH: The great thing was that each one is kind of a vignette, all seven deadly exes. Each one had kind of a tip of a hat to something. There was the Kung Fu movie version, which was great fun to sort of create that sort of soundtrack using 8-bit stuff. Using low bit rate, Commodore 64 generated parts. And reflecting back to gaming technology and the music from a couple of games. And then there was a bit that was like a John Carpenter movie, and it’s really fun to create those kinds of things because it’s so beautiful a visual thing with very key elements that make it all work. And it sort of points the finger of what the reference is. And you have this sort of weird universe that you’re in, so you can write a bridge between the genres.

WRIGHT: I do remember that Nigel had various people that he’d worked with coming in to sort of play on it. So, on Nigel’s score, there is Kevin and Brendan from Broken Social Scene. They were in town, and Nigel said, “Hey, would you want to come into the studio, and we’ll do some stuff?” So, basically, on the score, working as session musicians, were Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene and then Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffee from Supergrass. And then we also needed some kinda like scratching stuff, so we got Kid Koala to do that. So, it was just amazing. It was just an amazing all-star session of musicians on the score.

GODRICH: Honestly, I haven’t listened to it for an awful long time. And I was listening to a few things the other day for a reissue of the score that’s coming out and vinyl and all that kind of stuff. [Hint #3]. In the 10 years since it’s come out, I’ve done an awful lot of stuff. So, when I go back and listen to something, it’s like, “Oh, I can’t remember making this.”

WRIGHT: It was the first score that he’d ever done. In fact, it’s still the first score. The only score he’s done actually to this day. But he was brilliant doing it.

GODRICH: I’m proud of the whole thing as well. Because, like I said, it’s not my drive to work on movie scores. That’s not my intention. But I knew that I could do one if I wanted to, and I did it. And there it is. I can point to it and say, “See? I can do that!”

Curated Music

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

As if all the other music wasn’t enough, there is a certain amount of additional music that was curated for the film. It rounds everything out, completes the world, and further cements the fact that they are not messing around when it comes to the music…

WRIGHT: I think some of the other tracks that were already pre-existing tracks were a combination of songs that Bryan Lee O’Malley had played to me, which were songs that he would listen to when he drew the books. And those would include like “Scott Pilgrim” by Plum Tree and the cover of “By Your Side” by Beachwood Sparks. And then ones I contributed were “I Heard Ramona Sing” by Frank Black and the Black Lips song “Oh, Katrina” and “Teenage Dream” by Mark Bolan and a song by the band Blood Red Shoes called “It’s Getting Boring by the Sea”. These are all things I thought were in the right zone.

NELSON: A lot of what I did was help him get songs that he really wanted that would have normally been too expensive if I hadn’t worked on getting good prices for them. That kind of stuff.

WRIGHT: You know, there are other songs like “Anthem for a 17 Year-Old Girl by Broken Social Scene. That is an absolutely classic slice of Canadian indie rock. So, that felt like it was very much in place.

KATHY NELSON [MUSIC SUPERVISOR]: Edgar wanted The Rolling Stones [song “Under My Thumb”], and I said to him, “Alright, that’s going to be really expensive. Do you want The Rolling Stones song bad enough that you’re willing to give up four other songs? Because we’ve really got to try and make this budget. I really don’t want you to go over budget.” I can’t remember how I worked this out, but at the time I was really good friends with Iris Keitel who ran ABKCO. And I’m sure I was able to get her to help me to get this done. Actually, we got The Rolling Stones song for the price I needed because we gave ABKCO the soundtrack.

Music School

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Edgar Wright didn’t go out of his way to cast musicians as the principal band for Sex Bob-Omb on screen. Michael Cera knew how to play guitar, but the others did not. So, Edgar Wright created an intensive music school and brought in Chris Murphy to help show them the ropes enough that they’d be believable in the movie.

WRIGHT: The one other person who wasn’t on the soundtrack but was a big part of it was Chris Murphy from the band Sloan. A Canadian sort of legend. He was employed as the musical coach. So, he actually was the guy on set. I mean, he was teaching all the actors how to play their instruments. I mean, some people played already, like Michael Cera could already play guitar. But other people had to be coached from scratch, and Chris Murphy is the guy who did it. So, you know, that was amazing. He was on set the entire time as sort of like coach and cheerleader. And a very sweet guy.

GODRICH: There was a guy there helping us coach them. And we did in fact have like some stand-up rehearsals. And we had real musicians being a part of these bands. And certainly some of the actors had experience playing, but Mark certainly didn’t. He can’t play the guitar. So, his was the biggest challenge, trying to get him to look like he was actually playing. Michael Cera is a musician and can play. So, he was easy. It’s as you expect. It’s everything you have to do to try and make it seem real.

NELSON: He had this huge kind of facility in Toronto, and every day there was like music lessons going on, martial arts. And because he’s Edgar, he was actually taking the martial arts classes also [Laughs]. It was like an intense summer camp. It was like summer school.

WRIGHT: The people who learned it from scratch were Mark Weber and Allison Pill and maybe Brandon Routh as well. And the drummer in Clash at Demonhead is a real drummer, Tennessee Thomas, who’s the drummer from The Like. And then Crash and the Boys. All of those people, including the little Asian girl on drums, could all play. We found like a, you know, an eight-year-old Asian drummer. [Laughs.] She could really play. She was actually a drummer.

Off-Stage Memories

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Oral History

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Oni Press)

Like any good behind-the-music project, there are always more stories…

NELSON: This project took so long because of the layers and the pre-production that had to go into the making of this movie, with regard to all the martial arts stuff and the musical performances being all original music. I actually kept my notebook with all my paperwork from that movie. It’s like three inches thick. And it just went on and on and on. And I thought, If I’m going to keep a notebook on any of the movies I’ve worked on, this will be the one because everything had to be done on this movie. So, there was almost nothing I couldn’t refer to if I needed to figure out something for another movie.

WRIGHT: Well, I had been for probably about 10 years at that point a big, big fan of Cornelius, the Japanese artist Keigo Oyamada. I got into him through the album Fantasma, which Matador released I think in 1998. And I’d seen him live a number of times. And the media press always used to sort of say, “Oh, he’s like the Japanese Beck.” You know, and in fact, Keigo and Beck have become friends. And Cornelius has done some remixes of Beck’s tracks. So, I met him in Los Angeles at a concert, and then me and Nigel met him in London after seeing one of his gigs. He’s incredible live. And we asked him to do the music for us.

He recorded that track for the twins way ahead of the actual film. And then we basically made it into like a sound clash with Beck’s threshold. So, you know, it was an extremely music nerd joke, to me only probably, that it was funny that the battle was Beck versus the Japanese Beck, Cornelius.

NELSON: When you’re working on the movie, they’re constantly saying, “Oh, we need more money for special effects. Take it out of the music budget!” So, it’s like, “Oh brother.” So, your music budget dwindles down to not a very significant amount based on what you start with.

WRIGHT: The Matthew Patel song was all Dan Nakamura. Dan the Automator did that. I was a fan of his, and I loved an album that he did, Bombay the Hard Way. And that was lots of like remixes of Bollywood music. So, we got in touch with him to see if he would do the song for Matthew Patel. So he wrote that.

GODRICH: The interesting thing about the whole project was that we had to get all this music together before they could even shoot. We had to do all the Sex Bob-Omb stuff, all the other band stuff, the bass battle, the Katayanagi Twins. We had to get them because all the choreography, visually what you saw, was based around what was happening in the sounds. That’s why we prepared all that music two years before the movie. But it was in the works and in the script, but we still had to make all this stuff before they could even start.

WRIGHT: The bass battle is Jason Falkner and Justin Meldal-Johnson, who both have played with Beck and you know, like Jason Falkner, ex of Jellyfish and also a solo artist in his own right. And Justin Meldal-Johnson was Beck’s bassist. But it was just amazing. Basically the bass battle that is in the movie is them really doing it live. They just sat opposite each other and just basically had like a riff on the bass. Which was an amazing thing to witness. They just do that thing live, where they’re just going like dueling banjos. It was incredible to watch. And it’s basically straight into the movie and then the actors had to learn the same part. [Laughs.] And try to look like they were playing it.

GODRICH: Arriving in Toronto when we were just beginning to shoot. Because I’d been on the project since the very beginning, because of the inception of all of the original music that we had to make in order to start shooting, what was really nice was showing up when the actors first came together and being able to see these people who were going to be playing these parts that you were creating music for. And in an imaginary sense, to suddenly see that become tangible was a lovely experience.

NELSON: It’s one of my favorite experiences among the many, many years and the many, many movies and soundtracks that I’ve worked on.

scottpilgrim albumcover Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: An Oral History of the Soundtrack

GODRICH: I watched that first scene being shot, and it’s like, “Wow, this is really happening.” You can’t really believe it, and it’s like “Okay. Well, off we go.” A movie set could either be the most boring place on Earth or everything you hoped it could be. But it’s a lovely universe to sort of be involved in.

WRIGHT: ABCKO is going to re-release the soundtrack for the 10th anniversary, and we’re going to put a couple of unreleased tracks on. And I was listening to, just earlier today, I think Beck had done like seven versions of the “Ramona” acoustic song. And there was one of them where I was like, “That’s it! That’s the one!” And it’s exactly what Michael Cera sings and also what you hear Beck singing at a later moment in the movie where you hear a sad version of the “Ramona” acoustic song.

I’m actually glad that we’re gonna bring out the physical releases of the score, because it only got a digital release. I think it slightly gets forgotten about in a way. But I think the score is really extraordinary. But the re-release is going to be the score on vinyl and then the soundtrack with a whole new side.