If you’ve seen Suicide Squad, you know what an important role music plays in the movie. Boasting a soundtrack that’s a perfect mixture of classic rock, new alternative and stirring orchestral beats, Suicide Squad sounds as great as it looks, with many of its moments made even more memorable by the song that accompanies them. While there were many people behind Suicide Squad’s look and sound, the shape of the movie’s score rests almost entirely in the hands of one man—composer Steven Price.
Price worked previously with Suicide Squad director David Ayer on his film Fury and won the Oscar for Best Original Score with his tense and atmospheric work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. However, the violence of war and the silence of space are both pretty far removed from the bold, colorful world of comic book villains, which required a deep dive into the twisted psychology of characters like Harley Quinn and Joker. The results are stirring, exciting and uplifting, while maintaining the rough edge you’d expect with this particularly villainous crew. It’s a great score to get you fired up to face the day…which hopefully doesn’t include an incursion into a supernaturally-compromised city.
We recently spoke with Price about Suicide Squad, including whether he sees the members of Task Force X as heroes or villains and what it’s like writing love songs for the criminally insane.
Was Suicide Squad the first comic book movie you’d scored, or have you done others prior to this?
It was indeed my first superhero score, so it was an exciting challenge. I read and loved a lot of comics when I was a kid, so the idea of working on a movie with some of these characters was something that was always in the back of my mind… I was always hoping I’d get the opportunity.
Do you have a favorite super hero score? Did you look to any prior scores as influences here, or did you try to approach this fresh?
When it comes to favourites, obviously the classics are still as exciting now as they ever were. Things such as John Williams’ original Superman theme, for example. For this film though, the director David Ayer had such a singular vision that I found my job was to really try to merge my music with these very specific visuals and characters, and not to carry too much baggage with me from the intimidating canon of superhero music.
Suicide Squad is about a team of super-villains, but for the most part the score sounds really motivating and inspiring. Was that deliberate? Would you call the Squad members heroes?
The key to the score for me came out of an early conversation with David. He described all of the villains who become the Suicide Squad as essentially outsiders… they've all been doing their own variety of bad things, but have never really had anywhere they truly fit in. The Squad is the first home they have ever really had, and, working together, they become more than the sum of their parts. So musically, there was a journey there, and I felt that journey allowed them to earn the more heroic music that features towards the end of the movie. Most of the major characters have their own themes, and they combine in various ways as the relationships develop. It was a lot of fun to work out.
The songs that accompany moments between the Joker and Harley Quinn really stood out to me because they’re unnerving, but there’s also a real tenderness under them. Was that hard to achieve? How do you go about blending such disparate themes?
Writing for Harley and the Joker was one of my favourite bits of the project. The performances of Margot Robbie and Jared Leto were so vivid and interesting that they let me really go for this feeling of unsettling, doomed romance. Their music goes from really small, tense plucks on a really tightly wound string to full on operatic outbursts, and the performances meant you could switch between the extremes in the blink of an eye.
The movie’s primary theme, “Task Force X,” seems to utilize a lot of rock elements. Did you know that rock would be a big part of the Suicide Squad soundtrack going in?
Although I read an early version of the script very early on in the process, it was when I went to Toronto to see some early footage that the sound of the score started to form in my mind. The world that David and his collaborators were building had such a reality to it that it seemed crazy to try to stick with purely traditional orchestral instruments. The score couldn’t be neat and tidy. I ended up fusing all manner of things, attempting to let the rough edges show like the characters themselves, and that combination gradually became the sound of Suicide Squad. There was a lot of experimentation along the way, and in the end the music featured not only the orchestral players, but also guitars, synths, drums, duduks, marxophones, and a team of whistlers!
Do you have a favorite Squad member?
I enjoyed writing for all of the Squad members, but I particularly loved working with Deadshot and Diablo. With Deadshot, his theme needed to work for everything from his yearning for his daughter to the moments when he’s showing the Squad just how remarkably skilled he is, so that was a big challenge to do. And I loved Diablo… his whole backstory lent a real weight and soul to the story.
And finally, Suicide Squad has a really bright and loud color scheme. What colors would you use to describe your score?
When I was playing demos of the score cues to David, the phrase that would come up most often would be “more neon!” Basically the score always needed some extreme layer to make it fit into this world that the filmmakers were creating. So, to answer your question, I would describe the score as a whole wide range of colours, but definitely neon!