When thenewno2 set out to write the soundtrack for Beautiful Creatures, they had a lot of ideas to work with. The film, which opens on February 14th, takes place in a small town in the South and centers around Lena, a teenage girl played by Alice Englert, whose family possesses supernatural powers in contrasting shades: Light and Dark.
After watching a screening and meeting with director Richard LaGravenese, thenewno2’s Dhani Harrison says he and his bandmates decided to put a Southern Gothic spin on the type of classic orchestral scores made by Bernard Herrmann, the late American composer famed for his work on Alfred Hitchcock thrillers like Psycho and Vertigo.
“We kind of created our own world inasmuch as what we wanted from this Southern town,” Harrison, the son of George Harrison, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s kind of backwards and pretty small-minded, and by the end of the film, it ends up a very magical and fantastical world. So we kind of had to bridge this gap.”
With some help from collaborators, including Ben Harper, the Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss and Tony Hicks of the Hollies (who’s the father of thenewno2’s Paul Hicks), thenewno2 came up with a style all its own – “swamptronica” – mixing swampy blues licks and moody electronic beats with big, tense strings.
To write the soundtrack (which comes out through Watertower Music on February 12th), the three bandmates each focused on different duties. Jonathan Sadoff specialized in orchestrating, Hicks worked on mixing and atmospheric elements of the music, and Harrison took on the band arrangements, he says.
They also divvied up the characters, with Harrison writing some haunting, occasionally rocking music for Lena’s cousin, Ridley, and mother, Sarafine, both Dark Casters.
“I got the evil girls,” he says. “I kind of fancied them at the beginning. I was very adamant about that – ‘I want the most evil people in the film.'”
The trio started work in September and had about three months to complete the project. While thenewno2 went on tour with Jane’s Addiction, Sadoff hauled around a desktop computer so the band could work on the road.
“You can’t run the samples that you need on the laptop, really, so he bought a desktop with a road case,” Harrison says. “We’d wheel the thing around and set it up in every hotel room that we went to, and we’d work every night after the shows and before the shows.”
When it came time to record, they brought a 54-piece, London-based orchestra to Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios, the vaunted London studio where many Beatles songs were recorded, and where Paul Hicks had worked on Beatles remasters and produced the Beatles’ Let It Be . . . Naked.
Harrison had spent plenty of time at Abbey Road growing up, but this was the first time he’d actually recorded there himself. Eager to make use of the studio, he tracked his vocal parts while standing in the center of the big, open room, using multiple microphones.
Meanwhile, he says, many were excited to plunk out some notes on “Mrs. Mills,” the upright Steinway piano heard on Beatles tunes like “Lady Madonna” and “Martha My Dear.”
“If you could see this piano’s discography, it would put most artists to shame,” Harrison says. “This one piano, this poor little piano, has been on everything. And they just leave her in the corner. She’s just sitting there in the corner. So when we got there, we were like, ‘Mrs. Mills!'”
When the soundtrack got dubbed for the film and they worked out all the final tweaks, Harrison says he got goosebumps seeing it all come together. He feels fortunate for having the experience, and working at the studio where his dad had spent so much time.
“I think that if I didn’t know the place so well, it would’ve been way more intimidating,” he says. “It was kind of natural. It didn’t freak me out. It was just, like, ‘Let’s do this.'”