From the producers of Life of Pi and The Blind Side comes The Glass Castle directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, starring Oscar winner Brie Larson, Oscar Nominee and Emmy Winning actor Woody Harrelson, Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head and Max Greenfield.
The film chronicles the adventures of an eccentric, resilient, and close-knit family. It’s a story of unconditional love. Brie Larson brings Jeannette Wall’s best-selling memoir to life as a young woman who influenced by the joyfully wild nature of her deeply dysfunctional father played by Woody Harrelson, found the determination to create a successful life on her own terms.
I spoke with the film’s composer, Joel P. West while he was in New York this past week.
L’Etage – How did the song, “Summer Storm” come to you?
Joel – “Summer Storm” was initially a shot at creating a fun, vintage-sounding song for a scene (the montage of the Walls family moving into the run-down house in Welch, West Virgina) that would work a little better than something we might license. Once I started writing, Destin had the idea to connect the song to a poem called “Summer Storm” that Jeannette references in her book, which her father Rex won a statewide poetry contest with when he was in high school. Jeannette doesn’t have a copy of the poem and never got to read it, so I spent some time with Rex’s journals to try and figure out about what that poem might have been about, and to take a stab at writing a best-guess replica that could be sung as lyrics.
L’Etage – What drew you to this film?
Joel – The honesty of Jeannette’s book is so captivating and disarming in a way that makes you think of your own struggles and family, and it has an infectious optimism that spoke to me and pretty much every other person I know who has read it. And when I found out that Destin Cretton, a close friend and long-time collaborator, was going to write and direct the film adaptation, I knew I wanted to be a part of it since he has an incredible way of creating scenes that can feel totally emotional or magical while still feeling real.
L’Etage – What comes first the words or the music?
Joel- When I’m writing songs, I tend to work on both lyrics and music simultaneously, until fragments of each start rising to the surface and making sense together. For “Summer Storm”, I knew that I wanted to write something on guitar that felt simple and connected to Appalachian and Americana music, and I also knew that I wanted to write a folk-style song that repeats a line at the end of each verse instead of having a chorus. I was working on the guitar riff here and there while also finding a good melody that could incorporate the words “Summer Storm” at the end of each verse, and they slowly moved towards each other until it became a singular melody and song.
L’Etage – What’s your process?
Joel – For film music, I like to start with descriptive words from the director about how they want a scene to feel, and then I generally find a tempo and some chord changes first that feel like they capture that mood. I like to build music slowly, first with that overall mood and pace, and then start writing melodies over it and adding textures and colors to discover where it might be able to go emotionally.
L’Etage – When did you fall in love with music?
Joel – I initially got into music and playing guitar because I was drawn to songs I heard in skateboarding videos as a teenager, but it started a search for good music that eventually led me to beautiful albums by artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Radiohead. I’ve always loved recorded music because it can be a companion to road trips or walks, and the way that some of those albums made me feel when I was in a deeply emotional time of life or even just a beautiful landscape made me want to figure out how to make music that could stir up the same feelings in others.
Glass Castle is in theaters Friday, August 11, 2017.
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