Four top hitmakers talk about creating the music inspired by the Games

By Ray Rahman
Updated March 02, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Taylor Swift
”I fell in love with the book, fell in love with all the themes running through it, fell in love with Katniss,” Swift says. So it was easy to get her on board for the soundtrack’s lead single, ”Safe & Sound,” which she co-created with rising folk duo the Civil Wars (complete with a current YouTube-favorite video), and which she characterizes as ”haunting and very quiet.” Swift addresses the story’s even darker aspects in a second song, ”Eyes Open,” which is ”more frantic and fast-paced, a completely different shade of music. I wrote it about Katniss’ relationship with the Capitol. It basically serves as a warning for her not to trust anyone — in many ways the opposite of ‘Safe & Sound.”’

Arcade Fire’s Win Butler
The frontman of revered indie-rock group Arcade Fire dug into his own teen years for inspiration: ”I tried to put myself in the head space of how excited I’d be if this film was coming out when I was 15,” he says. ”I still remember hearing Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’ in Romeo + Juliet when I was that age.” (Like that song, his band’s contribution, ”Abraham’s Daughter,” will play as the end credits roll.) And the basis for his lyrics goes even further back: ”There’s something in the story of Abraham and Isaac that I think resonates with the themes in the film, like sacrificing children. So we made a weird, apocryphal, alternate-universe version of that, where it’s as if Abraham has a daughter, kind of a metaphor for Katniss.”

The Civil Wars
In addition to joining Swift on the lead single, newly minted Grammy winners Joy Williams and John Paul White were given their own slot. ”We wrote ‘Kingdom Come’ on the road in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” White says. ”I think the landscape helped us capture the mood. We were unfettered, out in the middle of God’s country.” Adds Williams, ”It’s our homage to a survival song.” Of course, it didn’t hurt that the two were already fans of the series before being approached by the film’s music producer, T Bone Burnett. ”John Paul and I were literally full-fling into the books ourselves, so it was an easy yes. Especially when T Bone calls. Because anytime T Bone calls, the answer is always yes.”

Kid Cudi
Evil people need their own theme songs too. So when the genre-bouncing rapper found out he was getting tapped for the project, he knew exactly what route to take. ”Once I read the book and got a real feel for it, I homed straight in,” Cudi says. ”I wanted to make a sinister, villain-y kind of song. Because in the story, there isn’t just one bad guy — it’s this whole city, and the people running it, who are the villains.” That’s how he arrived at ”The Ruler and the Killer,” a title he says describes the Capitol at large. ”They’re murdering children. Children! So I wanted to write from the perspective of the city, and try to figure out how those people see things.”

Songs From District 12
Not every tune will be in the movie, but they will all be on the companion soundtrack (out March 20). And while Burnett had no problem enlisting an impressive roster of artists, including Swift, Maroon 5, Miranda Lambert, and the Decemberists, the real trick was making it sound cohesive. ”One of T Bone’s objectives was to make Appalachian music 300 years from now — what Americana and bluegrass music would turn into in the future,” says Swift. ”What’s great is that there are so many different representations.” And to ensure the album’s overarching aesthetic, she says, ”we recorded on these vintage microphones. They’re, like, 50 years old. So it’s given them this really warm, buzzy, spooky throwback feel. It was perfect.”

The Hunger Games

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Gary Ross