An extinction-level disaster and dark political comedy may not necessarily be the kinds of things that make one think of Bon Iver. But as Adam McKay was chatting with Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell about the music for the end of his new satire, Don’t Look Up, it was the director who suggested, “Y’know, it would be great if there was an original Bon Iver song playing right there. That would just be, like, perfect.”
Britell, as he recently recalled to Rolling Stone, excitedly chimed in, “Do you want me to give Justin Vernon a call?”
Not long after, Britell and Bon Iver wrote and recorded “Second Nature,” which plays over the end credits of Don’t Look Up. The song is out Friday, Dec. 10, along with the rest of the Don’t Look Up soundtrack (which also includes a new song by Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, who appear in the film, too). Britell also composed the score and produced the soundtrack, as well as co-wrote the Ariana Grande Kid Cudi track.
Meanwhile, the movie — in which Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Rob Morgan play a trio of scientists trying to warn the world about a planet-destroying comet — arrives in select theaters today, and hits Netflix Dec. 24.
While Britell and Vernon have known each other for a decade, “Second Nature” — a lush, heartening ballad filled with rich harmonies and plenty of cinematic grandeur — marks the first time they’ve worked together. “When Nicholas and I first met, he was already doing amazing things,” Vernon says. “Then he went on to do If Beale Street Could Talk, 12 Years a Slave — all this incredible, incredible shit — and then Succession! But we never had a chance to create anything together. It was meant to be that this is how we would collide.”
Britell adds, “There’s something truly special about finding a musical collaborator where you feel really inspired and that’s what this particular experience was for me. We were just able to create.”
“Second Nature” came quickly, with Britell and Vernon throwing out ideas immediately after watching a cut of Don’t Look Up: “I was energized and inspired beyond words,” Vernon says, “kinda like a bull in the pen before the rodeo.” In the studio, it started with a chord progress Britell had been working on, which Vernon matched on acoustic guitar; an off-hand comment Britell made about something being “second nature” provided kindling for Vernon’s lyrics.
“I love the words, ‘We will see you next time… they’ll be water in the rain,’” Vernon says. “Like next time, we’ll have a new chance, but the irony is we won’t have a second chance when it comes to climate change.”
“It’s a beautiful thought but there’s also a warning there,” Britell adds. “And that’s the double meaning of the song; talking about what’s happening to nature and human nature’s role in that. I also love the line, ‘When’s that Rapture… will there be merch?’”
While there’s a tenderness and triumph to “Second Nature” that makes it perfect end credits fodder, its edges are appropriately sharp and wild for the kind of movie it helps close. Britell even points out that McKay had just one note when he heard an early version of the song: “Can you just turn up the crazy by an extra 10%?”
“There’s real profundity and a large sense of astonishment at how absurd today’s world can sometimes get,” Britell says. “We tried to capture all those different elements with the song. So it has a solemnity to it but it also has a sense of crazy. And it wound up existing in a much larger sequence than we initially anticipated because it fit so well.”
Vernon adds, “I think this movie is truly incredible and important. It brings levity and reality to us through humor and art. I’m incredibly moved to be a part of it.”