Greg Wells talks colaborating on the amazing Hunger Games Soundtrack with T. Bone Burnett with PopMatters.com, and his standout song. We LOVED this incredibly unique album and it was great to read about making it, see below!
When legendary producer, T-Bone Burnett was looking for a collaborator on his soundtrack for the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, he turned to Greg Wells, a legend in his own right whose influence can be heard in artists as diverse as Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Rufus Wainwright, Adele, Mika, and the All-American Rejects.
As for the The Hunger Games: Songs From District 12 and Beyond, “It was T-Bone’s idea to bring in another producer that was more in line with Top 40 radio, which sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not,” Wells says. “But I made it to the top of his list of who he should talk to.” The first task Burnett gave Wells was creating a version of the Taylor Swift/Civil Wars song, “Safe and Sound”, that would be different than the version on the soundtrack, and more appropriate for Top 40 radio.
Wells explains, “[Burnett] said, ‘I’m not going to come watch you work, I’m not going to sit over your shoulder. I think you should just take these vocals and take this main acoustic guitar track, and just do what feels right to you. When you feel like the cake is baked, or baked enough, I’ll come by your studio and give it a listen.’
“So that’s exactly what I did, I just followed my nose. And that’s pretty much what I do with whoever I’m working with. I try not to overthink things, I just sort of lead with my gut feeling. There were some rhythm elements in his original version that I really liked that sneak in toward the end, kind of a rolling, marching snare drum thing, and I thought ‘Maybe we can start the song with something like that.’ It was important to me to have the same kind of intention and feeling that his version did. I didn’t want it to sound like apples and oranges. I just wanted to give it a bit more momentum. Then they came by and really liked it, and everyone, including Taylor, encouraged me to take it even further, and up the energy even more. And I’m quite proud with how it turned out.”
However, the real gem of the soundtrack is the Kid Cudi song, “The Ruler and the Killer”, which Wells co-wrote with Cudi and Burnett. The track has been universally hailed as the highlight of the album, and Wells knew it was special the moment the song was born.
His success with the song was interesting, considering that he didn’t have any prior experience with The Hunger Games. “I usually have a couple of projects going on at the same time, and between that and having three kids, I’m just so busy I don’t take in a lot of new stuff that doesn’t get put right in front of me,” Wells says. “So, I was somehow unaware of the massive phenomenon that is that book series. But I got played a very long trailer that I don’t think was ever released, a ten-minute trailer that was put together and really gave me a huge feel for what the movie is, and the arc of the whole story—and I was so sucked in. It was an incredible little vignette from that movie, and I was pretty much just like, ‘OK, I’m in! This is amazing. There’s nothing like it.’”
The soundtrack itself stands as one of the great film soundtracks of recent years. It, like Burnett’s soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and every soundtrack for every Quentin Tarantino film ever created, is a narrative in its own right, allowing the listener to know and live in the world of the film long after the screen goes dark. The album boasts talent like Taylor Swift and Kid Cudi, as well as The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, and Neko Case, among others, creating a rich tapestry true to the dystopian, Appalachian core of both the film and the books.
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