How the music of ‘Bullet Train’ wreaks havoc on Brad Pitt’s thriller

How the music of ‘Bullet Train’ wreaks havoc on Brad Pitt’s thriller

A musical clue comes right at the beginning of “Bullet Train,” which is available now, when a new version of the disco classic “Stayin’ Alive” is sung in Japanese by the Bee Gees – because an American assassin codenamed Ladybug (Brad Pitt) will spend the next two hours trying to do just that, battling half a dozen other killers on a Tokyo-Kyoto bullet train.

An over-the-top film like Bullet Train called for an over-the-top score, composer Dominic Lewis (“The King’s Man”) decided, and he spent more than a year not only writing the entire score, but producing it (and in some cases co-writers) of the songs featured in David Leitch’s action thriller.

Lewis knew that Leitch’s previous films (“Atomic Blonde”, “Deadpool 2”) were littered with songs (“he’s a needle drop guy”), so his concept was: “Can I do something like a needle drop, this feels like a song, but it does the job of scoring, tracking the ups and downs of what’s going on?”

While trained in classical music at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Lewis also spent time in rock bands before launching a career in film scoring. “I became a mad scientist,” he says, noting that the “Bullet Train” assignment started during the COVID lockdown, so he plays guitars, bass, keyboards and sings throughout the score.

“It’s very raw and intentionally messy,” Lewis concedes. “It’s all vibe and not technique. That’s a lot of what rock ‘n’ roll is about. It’s about attitude and I really wanted to convey that.”

There are weird, wordless vocals throughout, and according to Lewis, “the main solo voice is an enka singer,” a form of traditional Japanese singing. “It’s so unique in its style, the vibrato is so emotional.” It’s the score’s only nod to traditional Japanese music; he does not use Japanese instruments.

He developed a series of songs as source material for some of the film’s main characters. “Le Despedida,” sung in Spanish by 22-time Latin Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz, was written for the wolf (played by Bad Bunny in the film). “My Time to Shine,” performed by UPSAHL, began as a theme for Prince (Joey King).

“Kill Me Pretty” is Lewis’ “Destiny” theme “with a ’70s rock vibe” and sung by Japanese singer Tamio Okuda, while the two more well-known tunes were newly produced by Lewis – “Stayin’ Alive” and “The Century Old “. “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” – will be sung by Japanese singer Avu-chan and 86-year-old 1960s pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck.

Humperdinck, perhaps the most outlandish choice of all, was recruited because Lewis had spotted a West Ham United football club sticker on the back of Tangerine’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) mobile phone and the composer recalled that the team’s theme song was ” I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, written in 1918 and a hit in British variety shows in the 1920s.

“Let’s do an arrangement with a ’60s Vegas go-go vibe,” thought Lewis, and coincidentally Humperdinck lives in Los Angeles. Recorded at legendary Capitol Studios, this was part of Lewis’ plan to create a sound that spanned popular music genres of the ’60s and ’70s, through ’80s synths to ’90s grunge rock.

Lazy loaded image

Composer Dominic Lewis experimented with music to create car-to-car mayhem for “Bullet Train.”
Dan Pinder

Lewis even got to write the cheesy synthesizer TV theme for the kiddie show for the costumed Momomon character on the train. Finally, when the cause of the car-to-car chaos became clear and the train spun out of control, “I needed a huge orchestra to bring everything home.” A 70-piece orchestra recorded at Sony for two days, to round off the score.

For another twist: “We put pretty much everything, including the strings, through a tape machine. We added wow and flutter, made things flex and just made it sound like an old sample.”

Leitch encouraged experimentation, Lewis says, “David said, ‘You can do whatever you want and if it gets too much I’ll pull you back. Just swing over the fences, be brave and have fun.” And that was it.”

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