Brian Tyler’s recent work has been heard in the Avengers movies and The Fast and Furious. His musical scores have also accompanied Formula One racing and numerous TV shows such as Hawaii Five-O, but if you’ve seen Crazy Rich Asians, you’ll have heard his music range as he uses big jazz sounds to create that romantic world, infusing hints of Eastern with West as Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) travels from New York to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s crazy rich family.
Tyler talks about mixing elements of classic, romance, and emotion in that incredible setting to come up with a score that throws back to old Hollywood. Yes, he did, as I learned when I moderated a recent Q&A with him, compose that big band jazz score that you hear rather than license it.
Read our chat below and be sure to check out the clips that Tyler has shared with Awards Daily as he takes us behind the scenes of scoring Crazy Rich Asians.
You’ve worked on Marvel movies, Formula 1, but this was different with the sounds. Talk about the soundscape and working with romantic-comedy.
It’s not something that I’m certainly known for. My biggest movies have been a lot of these sci-fi and action films. My roots are actually in comedies, romance, and dramas. Some of my earliest works involved jazz scores in independent and romantic comedies.
We’re talking 16 years ago. I did a movie Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2, Jon directed the second one and it had elements of comedy, fun, and jazziness, all these things that stood out from the modern movies that I’d done.
When Jon and I were talking about this movie, we wanted to do something really special and something that was classic. How he shot the film was very classic looking, it had a very throwback feel in terms of what is seen on the screen. It’s a very honest movie about identity and who we are. It’s honest about love wrapped up in all these incredible settings. The fact is you also have to take into account that it takes place mostly in Singapore. You have all these different elements and bringing them all in, I went for a score that could feel classic as if it were recorded in 1945 or 1950 where the romantic and emotional family scenes were all classic orchestra. I used strings, woodwinds, piano, and harps. For the really fun and wild pieces, really an echo of the past in terms of big band and jazz music which is rarely used to score.
The only time I use jazz and big band in a movie to score is when it’s a musical. It was doing this in the setting of Singapore which they have this really interesting assortment of instruments.
There is a lot of Chinese influence which is in the ehru, the pipa, and the dizi and all these different types of instruments. The idea of incorporating these into what would be an old throwback to romance Hollywood score and jazz was something that I’d never done. I’d never even heard. It just needed to be honest with the movie.
Singapore has East meets West, you have so much Chinese and Asian influence, but they speak English there. So, there are a lot of European influences. In essence, there are all these things, in theory, circling around the score, but what Jon really wanted was to do something that felt right at the end of the day. It felt true to the characters, it felt true to the emotion and the story of what was going on. That’s why the main melody in the movie sounds like old school Hollywood and a symphonic styled piece that is really hummable in the way a Chinese traditional song would be.
It’s something I spent a lot of time, by coincidence doing. I’ve conducted the Chinese Symphony, and it’s 100% with Chinese instruments so I’ve become familiar with transcribing music that I’ve written into Chinese instruments. The Western violin is different to the Chinese violin, so I’ve become and grown accustomed to doing that. With this movie, I thought it was a nice bridge between what I knew and what I’ve experienced outside of film music and just me working with orchestras around the world, into a beautiful story like this.
You talk about music and characters. Talk about scoring music associated with the characters. You have Rachel who is the fish out of water. You have Eleanor, the matriarch, old traditions and that contrast.
There really is another classic style, scoring the different characters.
Rachel’s character is brave and aspirational. She’s vulnerable and smart. That melody and love theme that emerges between Rachel and Nick is something that Rachel owns so well. When it’s playing with her, it’s done in a certain way that just makes her strong in the face of uncertainty.
With Eleanor, it feels like a cool breeze from the past. I wouldn’t use as much vibrato in the strings and warmth in her sound until the story moves on and Rachel begins to work her magic on Eleanor and you have both sides learning from each other.
Astrid is an entirely different character who comes from the traditional side, but a side that’s very different from Rachel. Rachel grew up very poor, a very pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of kind. Astrid, on the other hand, is this sophisticated character that really also has a heart of gold, but she’s also jazzy and has a style to it. That’s really when we realized we did need the big band orchestra. With her character, when she has her entrance and walks in, it really needs to feel the best of mid-1950’s style. It’s that era that she brings about her and it’s a classic thing.
When everyone is texting each other, I wrote this very old school big band jazz fun piece. It never is exactly on the surface what one might expect which is very contemporary and modern. The score was very counter-intuitively classic in a way.
I loved that texting scene because it works so well, you get the sense of the travel through that with the music.
Visually it had that soul-bass look and the design was so great, but it was a fun sequence.
What about the main theme that also plays at the end of the movie?
The melody is something by design was written in a way almost that you could sing. It’s almost like a mother singing a folk melody to their child. I think those melodies sometimes can be at a very human and honest level and somehow hit the hardest because I think we associate it with family and learning to communicate and memories of singing when you’re a kid.
It’s a waltz that could be sung, almost a Chinese folk melody style, to me, it’s almost like I was trying to channel the character’s experience and make it feel like it was real. When I see the movie, I still have tears. That entire section with the mahjong scene, her alone in bed, Jon really gave room, and with Myron’s editing, they allowed for the music to tell the story there for a good amount of that sequence.