For Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, the opportunity to write the soundtrack for Song One, the indie drama about a young woman who finds herself in a relationship with her ailing brother's favorite musician, came from the film's star herself—Anne Hathaway. But after the folk duo read the script, they realized the task of actually penning original tracks for characters they'd never met before wasn't going to be simple.
"write the songs and then let them go"
"We received the script from Anne Hathaway and noticed there were seven or eight full songs built into it. These songs had imaginary titles. It seemed to be such a big part of the script where they were using it almost in the way that a musical would use it where an entire scene was dominated by a whole song," said Rice. The songwriters were given notes such as "James plays a song that Franny is moved by," and they'd go from there. To create a cohesive sound that stretched across 11 songs, they began by asking themselves what kind of songwriter Johnny Flynn's character would be. "We decided he'd be one of the songwriters of our generation that we know that made these low-fi, bedroom-style recordings, and had a cult audience, like a Jeff Mangum or something."
The duo stuck to what they know and decided to record the songs with friends from Los Angeles, synonymous with how they'd create one of their own records. The entire nine-month process proved that much like a movie is made, its soundtrack is best produced as a collaboration. And in response to the film's somber mood, the duo revealed more of the minimal James Forester through the music. "That's the great thing about writing for film. It gives you the opportunity to just sit down and write, especially if you're experiencing a bout of writer's block, which I was at the time. Even if it didn't end up in the movie, it's still a song that exists in the universe, and it's always a great challenge to write from another perspective," Lewis admitted.
But perhaps the most noteworthy discovery of their experience was the fact that once a song was written and accepted, any finishing touches that remained were at the discretion of the script (and ultimately, Flynn himself). "Johnny Flynn's interpretation of our songs is very much his own. We had little to no input as to how he performed the songs and we think he performed the songs beautifully," Rice pointed out. "We weren't hired as 'folk rock consultants,' so it was a new thing for us to just kind of write the songs and then let them go."