Scoring James

by JAMES composer, Tom Kinsella

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The James Bond Theme is probably the most famous piece of film music of all time. So, when Lily and Andrew asked me if I would write an original soundtrack for ‘James’ – by drawing on the rich musical language of the Bond legacy – I was absolutely terrified. The James Bond of Hollywood fame has an unforgettable sonority in our collective consciousness, but how would a young James Bond sound? As a corollary, the true challenge of this piece was in creating a soundscape that contained all the musical seeds of the James Bond series, but also remained truthful to Lily’s own vision of Bond, who appears youthful, inchoate, and at times, vulnerable (none of which are adjectives one would normally use to describe the womanizing 007).

To achieve this, I borrowed a range of tropes from John Barry (who, for those that don’t know, composed the music for eleven of the James Bond films between 1963–1987). And then, I manipulated them. Some of these tropes were obvious and irresistible – for example, utilizing a surf rock style guitar ­– and some were more technical; most of the harmony in the film is built around variations of the ‘James Bond Chord’, which, for all those music theory fanatics out there, consists of a minor triad with an added major 7th/9th.

For the opening sequence, I incorporated these features (amongst others), but veiled their presence by writing in a pop music idiom. Why? The Bond we observe in this film is a young, somewhat ordinary student who works in the library, goes to the pub and isn’t great at flirting – he’s definitely more Katy Perry than he is Prokofiev. By way of contrast, omens that point towards the future of James’ character, in addition to moments like the fight scene, gave me a chance to explore the darker, more visceral side of Bond’s music, and pay homage to more recent works, like Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for ‘Skyfall’.

Overall, my aim for the film was for its music to synthesize and flit between the old and the new – contemporary Bond, and his younger self. In a broader sense, I guess my attraction to Lily’s James is that he encompasses something we can all somehow relate to; he is a nascent character, transitioning between his teenage years and adulthood, yearning to find himself, through a prism of insecurity – yet all the while possessing a glimmer of his future self. I’ve tried my best for my composition to emulate this; to be honest, I’m still terrified. But after all, what would a Bond film be without a bit of tension, fear and a large dose of excitement?