'The Irishman' Composer Reveals How He and Scorsese Create the Perfect Soundtrack
Musician Robbie Robertson is legendary enough on his own, but put him with Martin Scorsese and magic happens.
As a songwriter and producer, Canadian musician Robbie Robertson is probably best known for his work with the Band, Bob Dylan's backing outfit, which had a heavily influence on music of the 1960s and '70s.
But he's also gained fame for his multiple collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, starting with 1978's The Last Waltz, a documentary about The Band's final performance. Together, Robertson and Scorsese have worked on several iconic film projects, including Raging Bull, Casino, The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, and, now, The Irishman.
We've talked here before about how needle drops can sometimes influence the feel of a project and take it to an entirely new level. (Remember Easy Rider?) When you think about how to create the soundscape of a film, you should definitely consider Robertson and Scorsese's body of work, as well. Vulture recently sat down with Robertson to discuss his career, background, and The Irishman. (Did you know Robertson doesn't write or read music? Crazy!)
Press play on The Irishman's official soundtrack, and let's take a look at key insights from the interview!
How do you select music for a movie that spans decades?
Robertson says the first step was breaking the movie into periods. They specifically thought about what songs would serve as a counterpoint to the time period, or perhaps might not be the most obvious choice.
Scorsese also asked that Robertson create music that didn't sound like it was made for a movie.
That’s where we started, and when it came time to figure out the score, Marty said, “Rule number one is that it can’t sound like movie music.” I was doing music for a movie, but it couldn’t sound like movie music?! That eliminated a lot of possibilities, so I had to go to a musical headspace that I had never been before.
Who picked some of those classic needle drops?
Vulture quizzes Robertson on specific songs used in movies.
When it comes to “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from Casino, that was a Scorsese pick. “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” from The Departed was one of Robertson's selections, and he says he introduced the Dropkick Murphys to Scorsese.
It seems the nature of their working relationship is one of constant teaching and learning. Scorsese shares his love of sometimes obscure films, while Robertson is always on the lookout for new sounds.
He gets writer's block, too
Robertson admits that he sometimes hits "a wall" when he tries to make music. He has to take a step back and approach his creative process in a different way.
It’s not necessarily superstitious, but if I’m just walking around the room whistling, and I sit down at the piano and touch the keys, suddenly, it’s like, “Whoa! I wonder where this is going.”
This is good advice for anyone working on a creative project, but don't box yourself in or feel that you need to produce content only one way. Take breaks, allow ideas to come to you in ways you might not expect, and you might experience the "pleasure in the discovery" that Robertson mentions.
Check out the full interview!