Nine Songs: Daughter
The first soundtrack that really made an impact on Daughter’s Elena Tonra was 2001’s Vanilla Sky.
As well as introducing her to Sigur Rós, Jeff Buckley and Red House Painters, the films’ soundtrack furthered her obsession with Radiohead. “That soundtrack defined my whole record collection, that was the moment for me.”
After 2013’s If You Leave and 2016’s Not To Disappear, the next chapter for the trio, comprised of Tonra, Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella, is their own score, Music from Before the Storm, the soundtrack to the episodic videogame, Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
As we talk through their favourite songs from films and videogames, Haefeli realises he can’t seem to choose anything but songs which feature second on their respective soundtracks. “I didn’t notice until I put the list together, but there is a pattern. First you set the scene and then the second song tells you whether it’s going to be a good film or not. The second song really takes you there.”
The songs from Daughter’s first two albums told their stories through sound as much as they did words. Yet what it means to write for a story repeatedly features in our conversation, as Tonra and Haefeli realise how much the writing process for Life is Strange: Before the Storm mirrored stories they’d heard about the composers of their favourite soundtracks.
Haefeli: “This might be one of my favourite movie scenes of all time. It’s from when the car drives through the cornfields and it just gets so loud. I remember being in the cinema and everyone was like ‘woahhhh!’, we knew it was going to be a pretty amazing movie.
Tonra: “That scene is incredibly memorable anyway and the music only helps with that, it really works. I remember quite a lot of scenes from that film, but there’s something really special about this one.
Haefeli: “In a way it’s a really memorable scene, but it’s also quite plain – it’s just a car driving through a field. You don’t really know the emotional weight of the movie and then this song comes on and it really hits you, you realise it’s going to be more powerful than any old blockbuster or action movie. There's that whole parable of the relationship between the father and the Daughter and the way it's very intimate, but what sets it all off is the epic proportion of this love that goes through galaxies, far, far beyond anything we could imagine.
“I first saw it in the Ritzy in Brixton and I felt very lucky to see it there. I love Christopher Nolan as a director and I think all his films are worth seeing at the cinema – it’s a real cinematic experience. For the movie the music was mixed really loud, some people complained that they couldn't understand the dialogue, but that was how they intended it to be. It’s so great.”
Haefeli: “This one is also the second song on the soundtrack. Clint Mansell did the soundtrack for High-Rise too, he's quite smart but he's also hot on his sensibilities. In San Junipero there are all these different eras jumbled together and the music does that too, while being both modern and timeless at the same time. There are cool ‘80s synths with electronic sounds.
“It's very powerful and one of those soundtracks that really elevates the story. The whole visual element of the series is done so well already, but for me the best movies are often the ones where the music seems to really add an unexpected dimension to the whole experience. I watched that episode on the TV but normally I'd use my laptop, in general I quite like doing the headphones thing when it comes to watching series. Sadly I don't have a sound system that will give me the full cinema experience.
Tonra: “You want surround sound!
Haefeli: “I like the intimacy of using headphones. You hear a lot of details that you'd otherwise lose.
Tonra: “Talking about different eras and ‘80s stuff, I was thinking about Stranger Things and how the music in that is super important, it sets the scene for where those kids are. There's a throwback sci-fi element to something that's quite current as well. The way a soundtrack, or any collection of music, can balance eras is really interesting.
Haefeli: “Definitely. And here it’s what sets it apart from a lot of the Spielberg references in the series. It's really modern and that gives a bit of edge to it.”
Haefeli: “Again, this is the second song from the soundtrack.
Tonra: “You and your second songs!
Haefeli: “It's from the movie Victoria. I really love that movie and I love when this song comes in. Again that's when you realise that there's a real tragic element that's about to happen.
Tonra: “I haven't seen that film, but I need to see it, I love Nils Frahm, who doesn't? He's so loved.
Haefeli: “He's amazing. What's interesting with Nils Frahm is that a lot of the time it's quite classic instrumental music, maybe with a few electronic sounds. But what makes it modern is the way he records himself. He records his own instruments and he uses things like compression in a really creative way. He brings up all the noise in the mics to a level that is way past what is an acceptable standard, from an engineer's point of view, but it adds another layer to his sound, which is unmistakably his.
Tonra: “I haven't seen Victoria so I can't talk about him from a soundtrack point of view, but that's true in terms of the ambience he creates. Whenever you listen to any of his songs you feel like you're in the room with the pedals and you can hear breathing and sometimes even his hands on the keys. It's very intimate. Even though I haven't seen that film, from what I know about it you're following someone very closely, right?
Haefeli: “Yeah exactly. It's very much this continuous shot throughout the whole movie. The sense of intimacy is definitely there, for better or worse. When that music comes in you get goosebumps and you feel like you're really embarking on something.”
Haefeli: “Elena and I watched this one together. We both really loved The Tree of Life, but a lot of people didn't! It's a Terrence Malick film, he makes very impressionistic movies that aren't really about anything complete, at least at first sight. People really like a plot: they like a start and a middle and an end and he doesn’t always offer that. It’s quite long, but you get completely lost in the story of this family and how they bring up their kids. It's all a bit of a blur to me really. We watched it on the train on the way to Paris on the Eurostar.
Tonra: “Is that where we watched it? I remember being a mess when I watched that film. I was probably crying on the train like ‘urrrggghh!'
Haefeli: “Apparently they wanted the soundtrack to feel like a river throughout. Funnily enough the track is called 'River'. A lot of the motifs are looped really heavily, I love it. It’s funny that we’re listing these people, obviously they are all people we admire but they all make pretty serious movies. We've made the music to a video game, but they’re inspirations to us nonetheless.”
Haefeli: “'Exit Music (For a Film)’ was originally written for Romeo + Juliet, but then it didn't come out on the soundtrack and instead came out on their album a year later. We like Radiohead and what they do and obviously this song is great. I find it really interesting that it was the first song they wrote when they felt they were getting somewhere with OK Computer. They were writing it for the movie but they thought ‘Hang on, this is feeling really good’ and I think that's very representative of this whole process. Sometimes focusing on something else is really inspiring for the process of ultimately getting to what you wanted to do in the first place.
Tonra: “That’s so relevant to what we were doing. We’ve very loosely started writing songs that may or may not be included on a future album of some sort, but it's quite interesting that when we were making the tracks for the video game we started to use more stuff. We had to think, ‘OK, how can we sum up this feeling or sound in the game?’ So we started to use more gear and experiment in a way that we never had done before. It's interesting that when you don't focus on making something for your own record and instead go off to make something else, all these different ideas pop up randomly.
“Like with the lyrics, I still wanted to sing, but a lot of the time I’m not singing actual words. I don't think we were ever told by the game developers to write particular lyrics. Obviously the songs need to be relevant but naturally I wanted to find a way to talk about things from a character's perspective. I felt like it was difficult to fully close off my feelings and I wasn't very successful, so there's a lot of stuff where I'm trying to talk about the main character, Chloe, and I'm actually talking about myself.
“I was very distracted sometimes. At the end of it, all it had a purpose, having a concept makes you less protective or precious over your ideas. We were quite open to changing things around or adding different instruments if the game developers thought a scene needed to be a certain way.
Haefeli: “With 'Exit Music (For a Film)' Thom Yorke originally wanted to integrate lines from the play into the song. Obviously it went completely differently and in the end he decided to summarise the story, but it just goes to show that sometimes you come with an intention and a concept and then things dynamically change. Sometimes we had a brief but we never knew how it's going to happen. At the end of the day, we're artists before being a gun for hire: there's that difference. You have a sensibility, and we've worked on tapping into that sensibility more than adapting to someone else's style.”
Tonra: “I actually don't know much of Martin Stig Andersen's stuff apart from this game called Limbo, that I love. It was a track called 'Sister'. To be honest the whole soundtrack for this game is really good, it's a beautiful game, it's monochrome and it's set in limbo, you play this tiny child and you've got little lit-up eyes but the rest of you is a silhouette. They're basically playing with silhouette and atmosphere a lot, and the music really helps.
“It's quite scary. In parts it's eerie because it's a really damp-looking weird place and there are spider creatures who try and kill you all the time. You're basically looking for your sister, that's the concept. You're travelling through this massively scary world trying to look for your sister.
“The song is quite interesting. It gets quite muffly sounding but it's a really beautiful soundtrack and the whole game is beautiful. I think it's one of the first games I've seen where the whole design of it is really striking. It's super minimal but really emotional, even though there's no higher levels of drama or anything. There’s something about it that’s really sad, and that must come down to the music. You get killed so many times! And the way you die is really awful!”
Tonra: “This is such a great game, I used to love it when I was a kid. There are two aliens and you go around trying to get presents on islands. You have to go into a little lift and then it takes you up and then you go to a different level of the island and you get more presents.
"The soundtrack is called Alien Breakdown and I think it sounds like a Stevie Wonder backing track. It's funk-based, it goes on for five minutes and it's so silly. There are so many themes and when you go into a different lift onto the next level the theme changes. It just reminds me of my childhood, because that was all I heard for hours and hours. I have no idea who it's by.
Haefeli: “I think what's quite interesting with that is the limitations at the time. This is probably 8-bit music, with a very limited range of what you can do with it. But that’s what makes it amazing, it's part of an era and I think it sends people straight back to when they would play that game. It has a poignancy about it, in comparison to now, where you can make anything you want as far as technical mutations will allow.”
Haefeli: “Again, it might be the second track on the soundtrack. What’s cool is the use of vocals, Johansson used a lot of little snippets of vocals in it and he always does vocal music in different ways, it really gives a different atmosphere. His use of strings and electronics is really inspired; he doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything yet he always makes it sound so good.
Tonra: “We had a lot of fun with vocals, we reversed loads of stuff and piled on the effects. Trying to use vocals as an instrument is really fun, you don’t have to be saying something, but with our game, especially with the female lead character, I really wanted to give her a voice, but not necessarily always to be like ‘Hello! I’m talking about stuff!’
“I ooh and ahh a lot. It’s an interesting exercise, written lyrics often define a lot about the structure of a song, where different things will happen and if there’s a chorus that repeats or whatever, it defines what the music is doing a lot of the time. Taking that out is quite liberating, it was also just a bit of a break for me!”
Tonra: “This is a very surreal film.
Haefeli: “Michael Nyman is a great composer, he’s done a lot of stuff. This movie is based mostly in this French restaurant and there’s a bad guy who is fat and he loves eating. He gets the cook to make him the most amazing rich foods and he just keeps on eating. He’s decadent and quite a disgusting character. His wife is played by Helen Mirren.
Tonra: “I love Helen Mirren!
Haefeli: “She falls for another guy because she’s sickened and repulsed by her husband.
Tonra: “Well, he is a massive dickhead.
Haefeli: “It’s filmed in this amazing way with amazing lights and what look like lanterns. She falls in love with another customer at the restaurant and this theme plays, the lover’s theme.
Tonra: “Is that the scene where they go in the back room somewhere and it’s slightly awkward and clumsy but also gentle and beautiful?
Haefeli: “Yeah, it’s wonderfully slightly out of tune. It’s this really great moment, because the whole movie slows down completely. It’s that contrast between the horrible, classical-painting-full-of-food kind of look and the love which is very pure in style. They meet and are so clumsy but also so gentle. It’s a very striking moment where music plays such a huge part.
Tonra: “It’s beautiful. I adore that scene.”