The soundtrack that makes Gatsby sing
F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic 1925 novel ''The Great Gatsby'' is drenched in jazz. But director Baz Luhrmann decided to take a more contemporary musical approach with his new Leonardo DiCaprio-starring big-screen version, enlisting help from Beyoncé, Fergie, Jack White, Florence Welch, Gotye, and soundtrack executive producer Jay-Z, among others. We asked the Australian auteur and his collaborators to talk about giving ''Gatsby'' its groove.
TAKE IT TO THE STREETS
Luhrmann announced way back in December 2008 that he had secured the rights to Fitzgerald’s tale of obsessive love, and the director and his co-writer Craig Pearce resolved early on that the film’s music should have a strong hip-hop flavor. ”Fitzgerald took the African-American street music called jazz and put it front and center in the book,” Luhrmann explains. ”Gatsby was immediate, it was reflective of the moment. Fitzgerald coined the phrase ‘the Jazz Age,’ and we live in the Hip-Hop Age. So the idea of hip-hop being the leading musical texture was written into the script.”
IN THE COURT OF THE KING
With hip-hop on the brain and the Gatsby script coming together, Luhrmann found both a collaborator and the film’s musical entry point at New York’s Mercer Hotel. It was there that DiCaprio introduced him to Jay-Z, who was recording the track ”No Church in the Wild” for his and Kanye West’s 2011 album, Watch the Throne. ”That night he played all these tracks from Watch the Throne, and I told him what I wanted to do, and I barely got to ‘I wonder, would you be interested…’ and he said, ‘We’ve got to do this.”’ ”No Church in the Wild” became the jumping-off point for the rest of the soundtrack.
BUILDING THE WORLD
Having secured Jay-Z’s participation, Luhrmann and his Gatsby cast — which also includes Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan — shot the film in Australia in the fall of 2011. The director then began screening footage for a select group of artists, such as Florence Welch (above), who crafted the ballad ”Over the Love” for the project. ”Some of it was literally Baz holding my hand and directing me as I sang,” the singer recalls.
Wanting to retain some traditional jazz influences, Luhrmann recruited Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry to assemble an orchestra, which provided bursts of ’20s energy and the backdrop for Emeli Sandé’s cover of Beyoncé’s ”Crazy in Love.” ”Initially it was very daunting, especially because Jay-Z was the executive producer and because I did it with the orchestra,” Sandé (below) says. ”But I felt very free to express myself.” When it came time to find a sound that could give Jay Gatsby an air of melancholy, Luhrmann turned to the xx guitarist Romy Madley Croft. ”Jay really loved the xx, and I wondered if we could use Romy’s guitar as Gatsby’s haunting instrument,” says the director. ”We’d actually written the song [”Together”] after our last tour,” says the xx’s Oliver Sim of the tune they’d held from 2012’s Coexist. ”When Baz told us about the scene, we kind of knew it’d be a match.”
Much of the first half of Fitzgerald’s novel is devoted to the lavish parties Gatsby hosts in hopes of recapturing the heart of his true love, Daisy. ”Gatsby is intoxicating everybody with champagne and the Charleston, and he’s trying to get them to let go of their inhibitions,” Luhrmann explains. ”We had to do the equivalent.” So the director got in touch with producer GoonRock to tap into the same aural hedonism he had helped create on LMFAO’s ”Party Rock Anthem.” With a suggestion from songwriter Andrea Martin (who worked on Coco O.’s ”Where the Wind Blows” for the soundtrack), the hook of ”A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” was born. That’s when Fergie entered the fray. ”Lyrically Baz pushed all the writers to come up with the perfect yet ironic line to kick off the biggest party scene in the movie,” says the Black Eyed Peas singer, who would ultimately be joined on the track by Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest.
Luhrmann had planned to use Gotye’s 2007 single ”Hearts a Mess” to accompany a car accident that, in dramatic terms, dominates the film’s final act. ”He felt it resonated with an undercurrent in Gatsby’s story,” says the singer. But…? ”Gotye said, ‘I think it’s wrong,”’ Luhrmann recalls. ”It’s too in-your-face.” Though ”Hearts a Mess” ended up in the film, the crash sequence is soundtracked by Jack White’s version of U2’s ”Love Is Blindness.”
GAT’S ALL, FOLKS!
Finally, Luhrmann garnered soundtrack contributions from Sia, Nero, Lana Del Rey, and will.i.am. So what does the director think Fitzgerald himself would make of a soundtrack that features more Beyoncé — who collaborates with Andre 3000 on a cover of Amy Winehouse’s ”Back to Black” — than it does, say, ’20s-era jazz great Bix Beiderbecke? ”Do I know what Fitzgerald would have thought?” muses Luhrmann. ”No. But I can’t imagine him going, ‘Why didn’t you put the old-fashioned music back in the movie?’ I could be burned alive for that. But I think what he wanted to do above all else was tell stories, touch people, and affect culture. And that’s what I’ve really tried to do.” (With additional reporting by Nuzhat Naoreen and Ray Rahman)
The Great Gatsby