Exclusive: Composer Matthew Margeson Talks Kick-Ass 2
Kick-Ass 2 hits theaters in the U.S. today. Fans will finally get to see Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and the new costumed heroes of Justice Forever engage in battle with the forces of The Mother F****r. A big comic book action movie like Kick-Ass 2 needs a good score to sell the big, heroic moments as well as the softer emotional ones if it wants to be taken seriously. The sequel features two men, a dynamic duo if you will, composing the music to meet those needs. Those two men are Matthew Margeson and Henry Jackman. I got the chance to speak with Matthew Margeson earlier this week about his work on the film. Margeson has collaborated on several films with Jackman that you may have heard about. He has written additional music for Wreck It Ralph, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Puss In Boots just to name a few. He also contributed music to the HBO hit series Eastbound and Down. In my lengthy chat with Margeson, we talk about how he became involved with the sequel, the challenges of writing for some of the characters, and what’s next for him. Read on for the full chat.
You obviously have a love for music, but are you a comic book or comic book movie fan yourself?
You know, I was never a massive comic book collector. I did have a few back issues growing up. I had some friends that were into it, but it was never really my bag. As far as superhero movies go, definitely. I grew up with Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman. They were all part of the childhood, you know, being a child of the 80s. So there’s no denying that. But as far as the physical comic books, it was never a massive part of my upbringing.
You’ve worked on a lot of movies and some TV shows both advising and writing additional music. You really got a lot of acclaim for your work on the Skyline, and then you started working with Henry Jackman. You’ve worked with him on a lot of pretty big movies. Now you’re getting your first co-credited score with Kick-Ass 2. Can you talk a little bit about how your work on the first Kick-Ass led to your much larger gig with the sequel?
You know it was a really chaotic situation for the first film. There were four composers on the card for writing the original score for the first one. It really came down to one cue. From my recollection, there were a bunch of different versions for the mob boss Frank versus Hit-Girl fight at the end of the film. The director, Matthew Vaughn, really liked different aspects of each of those versions submitted by all of the different composers that were on the project. He didn’t really want to throw one in entirely without bringing residual bits and bobs from other versions. This was so late in the game that all four of the actual composers were over in London with the 60 piece orchestra sitting in front of them. So while they were recording, Henry had this idea of why don’t they call me and see if I could listen to all four of these versions and write something that encompassed different things that each one of them had to offer. That was just kind of a 48 hour job and I did it. Luckily Matthew really responded well to that.
When the topic of scoring Kick-Ass 2 came about, Matthew had called Henry because he had written this amazing tune for the main theme of Kick-Ass 1. Between the two of them going back and forth, it was like “Well we want to bring Henry back because of this tune.” Matthew said “What about this guy Matt who had written the Frank fight from the first film? What about bringing his ideas to the table and having it be a little partnership between the both of us?” It was one of those things were I got the right call at the right time and wrote something that was responded to fairly positively. All the stars aligned in a way.
Did the success of Kick-Ass surprise you when it came out? As both a box office success and that people really responded to the music and score? That Frank fight scene you’re talking about was a very big scene in the film.
Yeah. It’s such…especially for one of Matthew Vaughn’s first big projects, he had a really unique way of bringing the comic book to life. It’s such a stylized film. It does take itself too seriously, but not to the point where you’re rolling your eyes. There’s a big wink sort of throughout the whole entire film. It’s not too self-conscious. When Kick-Ass came out, I thought it probably should have done a little bit better in the theaters, but once it came out on DVD and the whole backline of it, there was a huge cult following and it became something special. It gained momentum after the theatrical release. You know, there’s something good about that too in a way.
When you started work on the second film, what sort of prep did you do? Did you go through and read the comics or anything to sort of get your head in the right place for it?
I was over in London about 9 months ago in December still working on another film, and I met with Jeff [Wadlow] the director and Eddie Hamilton who is the editor. We kind of had a long sit-down and just talked some initial ideas about the film. I did watch the first film almost as a little bit of a recon to keep in my head what the style was, what the pacing was, what the color palette was, and what the instrument palette was. It wasn’t a sense that I wanted to keep going back and watch it every week to make sure I wasn’t straying that far. I mean I’m not those four guys that were writing the first score, so I wanted to do something that was different and was new and was a sequel so to speak. I don’t think we wanted to completely abandon the ship for the first one. We wanted to always be able to nod and say even though we’re in different seats, we’re in the same ballpark. There’s new characters and there’s room for new material, but it’s not a different movie. It’s not a reboot. There’s not a different star in the protagonist role. We want to honor the world that was set up in the first film.
How did the working relationship go with Henry Jackman on this one? How did you divvy up the score?
It really wasn’t a black-and-white process where ‘you’re doing this character, I’m doing this character or I’m doing this theme, you’re doing this theme.’ Henry and my writing studios are about a minute and a half walk from each other. That’s a real blessing being able, either one of us, to be able to pop over to the other guy’s studio and listen to what we’re doing and share ideas and push each other. It was a real homogenous process. Someone might have started a cue and someone finished it. You might come into another person’s room and say what if we did this? What if it’s 10bpm faster? It’s a constant back and forth of trying things until time runs out really. I think we have a really good mutual respect for each other. I’ve learned a lot from the guy, and I’m sure he can say the same for me. It’s a really good collaborative process with the two of us.
Did you guys have a short hand having worked together so many times?
Absolutely. If someone were to be a fly on the wall when we’re talking about ideas, it’s like you said, there’s a shorthand or an inside dialect we have. If someone were to listen in they’d probably have no idea what we’re talking about.
Did you have a lot of conversations with Jeff Wadlow? He was coming in fresh much like yourself. How was it working with him to nail down the music for the film?
Definitely. Before we started music to actual scenes, I sent Jeff a bunch of ideas initially. Some of them he absolutely loved and some of them not so much. I think that’s a good way, at least writing 5-10 minutes of music, to create the world. A lot of times you’re not really talking about music per say or the details of the music, but more of a feeling that gets evoked in him. That goes the same when we’re writing scenes. He’s not necessarily talking about the guitar being in the wrong octave or we should play that tune on violas instead of French horns, which is great. He would really say I think the emotional injection of this is just right or I think we’re actually too tense here when we need to let the audience off the hook a little bit. Those kind of conversations really help mold the final product into what it’s going to be.
Kick-Ass 2 isn’t a traditional superhero movie in a sense. Did you try to give it a sort of punk edge and really go bigger? The story goes bigger, crazier, and more violent.
You know, I think one of the great juxtaposition of the story is that most of the characters are below 20 years of age. They’re kids. It’s not actually Superman or Spider-Man we’re dealing with or the Green Lantern who are a little more mature and you can be really serious with. I think we were able to give a little bit of a fun element by using more cutting edge, more garage band sounds to remind us that these are a hodgepodge group of characters. It’s not like they’re actually from Krypton or have real superheroes. They’re throwing their costumes on from whatever they can order from Amazon or ebay and hoping they’re not going to get killed.
It also seems like their might be a little touch of western in the score. That seems like a good touch to add to the more urban/rock/hip hop touches you can hear.
In the first one there’s definitely a sprinkle of an almost Morricone western vibe. There’s a couple of different standoffs on it where that stuff work so well. Matthew Vaughn loves that type of stuff with just a solo bell or a little guitar strum that’s on its own to invoke a certain bareness in the music. He did that throughout the course of the first one quite a bit and it was definitely something that was a conscious to save and bring back for the sequel.
Not to take away from anyone else in the film, but Hit-Girl and the Red Mist’s new persona kind of steal the show. Can you talk about what went into creating their themes and what influenced them?
Hit-Girl and Mindy McCready, her character was actually one of the easier ones to come up with because it is such a simple story. She’s a 15/16 year old girl. She’s trying to fit in in high school and it’s a story we’re all familiar with. It’s a little bit of a rite of passage. We’re all trying to worry about what we look like, what we’re wearing, who’s looking at us, or what girl or boy likes us, and hormones and dealing with all that stuff. We didn’t really have to dive too much into a color palette. We decided piano would be her instrument when she was Mindy. It was a very comfortable instrument. Everyone know what it sounds like. There’s no guessing of what it is.
As for Red Mist and his new persona, for that it was more of a back and forth. That’s the one focus that we probably spent the most time on at the beginning of creating the musical world. What was a really big influential key for coming up with what it eventually became was Jeff Wadlow, our director, eventually said at one point “If he’s walking down the street listening to his iPod, what is he listening to?” He’s listening to hip hop, he’s listening to Eminem, he’s listening to Jay Z. We needed to basically figure out how we could do that with the music while also making him as bad as Darth Vader. He thinks of himself as the dark overlord of the universe. It was really taking those elements, the hip hop, the drum grooves, and the layers of drums and guitars and merging it into the Imperial March with the big villain tune. That was the process after weeks and weeks of pulling our hair out, but we’re really proud of what we came up with for him.
Was it a challenge to figure out the tones for the film? Things change up quite a bit. I mean you have a lot of rocking, fun adventures when everyone is playing hero but then a few scenes later you have some real hard emotional moments with these characters.
There’s only one or two musical cues in the film, aside from the needle drop songs that are in there, as far as the score goes there are only a couple of cues that don’t have orchestra in them at all. The beautiful thing about that is when you get string and brass, orchestral woodwinds, and percussion in the room it can work with a lot of different instruments. If we play them by themselves it obviously worked, and if we played them with a five piece band in the background with keyboards, organs, and pianos, guitars and stuff there was always kind of a basis of the orchestral palette that helped with everything. I think that you could very easily run into problems when trying to mix a big Marshall stack of electric guitars with a big orchestra.
I mean there’s a lot going on. No matter how many players you have in an orchestra, there’s this element of real edginess and aggression with the electric guitar. There’s a little bit of a challenge of not making the orchestra sound really tiny when mixing it with these other instruments. We had a really excellent mix engineer who helped produce some of our sessions. I think too, part of the writing you have to keep in mind when you’re doing stuff like that is a lot of time you have to consider the orchestra as one instrument. You say the orchestra for these 10 bars are going to act as our rhythm guitar, or our cymbal, or our bass line. That help in making tracks sound more like a record and not necessarily like Beethoven with guitar over it.
Is there a particular piece you like best from your score? Is there one that surprised you when you heard the finished product?
There’s a great example in the score on the CD called “Real Evil” and that is one of my favorite tracks. It’s a good mix of everything. It has the guitars, it has the hip hop beats, it has the orchestral. There are some real emotional orchestral writing within the brass. I’m really proud of that. It really encompasses the score in one piece.
The first Kick-Ass didn’t have an original soundtrack, but this one does. How important was it for you to get one out for fans? People do love their original soundtracks.
Definitely. I might be misspeaking here, but I’m almost positive on the UK iTunes there is a score soundtrack release. I’m not sure if it’s still up there, but I know it’s not in the US. To answer your question more directly it’s obviously really, really important. The film music fans out there are a really concentrated, potent group of people that really love getting stuff. It’s a pleasure to be able to give that stuff to them. It’s also really good exposure for young composers such as myself and orchestras, you know, because all the liner notes and all the credits are given. It’s a big thank you and almost a big advertisement for people to come to L.A. and record. It’s another means for people to get a little bit of exposure. There’s a lot of people that made this happen.
Is there a certain type or genre of movie you’d like to try or do more of? Would you like to do another more traditional superhero film?
Excellent question. Yes, I think at this point in my career I’m up for anything. I’d really love to just dip my feet in as many genres as I can. The most important thing, I think, is to work with people you really like to work with and discover what your fortes are and what’s not really in your bag. I think that’s kind of the point in my career in which I’m at. I would absolutely love to do something like this. I had a real blast doing it. It was a lot of fun. It was a three and a half month process that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
So no real dream project per say? You would just like to try a little bit of everything right now?
You know someone recently asked me if there was one movie I could go back and score, what would it be? There is so much sacred territory out there you don’t want to touch. I gave her my answer and said to go back and rescore any of the Bond films would probably be a really fun experience. I mean it has it all. You have romance in there, you have really cutting edge action too. You could inject these swanky jazz chords into the whole entire score which is always a lot of fun. I know the players really love playing stuff like that too because it’s a little bit different than your traditional orchestration.
What’s next for you? Do you have anything coming up we should be on the lookout for?
I just finished a PlayStation 4 game which will be coming out in the late fall I believe when the PlayStation 4 is released. I’m not actually allowed to say what the name is of that yet. I’ve also just started working on a film called the Curse of Downers Grove, which is an independent thriller you’ll see sometime in 2014.
Our thanks to Mr. Margeson for chatting with us about his work on the film. The soundtrack for Kick-Ass 2 is great. If you’re a original soundtrack fan, you’ll definitely want to pick the CD up. If you’re not a big fan, I highly encourage you to go and at least listen to some samples of the pieces. Margeson and Henry Jackman really nailed The Mother F****r‘s theme in particular. After hearing Margeson talk about the conversations that went into getting the tone and feel they were aiming for, you’ll appreciate it even more. A guy who listens to Eminem but thinks he’s Darth Vader sounds like something really weird, but Margeson and Jackman deliver. Have you seen Kick-Ass 2 yet? What did you think of the music?