Called “hilarious, bloody, unclassifiable” by Rolling Stone, the female-led Killing Eve turns the spy thriller cliches on their heads–and has a soundtrack to match. One of the most buzzed-about new shows of this season, the music has taken Tunefind by storm.
Killing Eve has all the hallmarks of a great thriller; the tension between protagonist and villain, the near misses and cliff hangers. Sandra Oh’s accidental assassin hunter, Eve is in an obsessive game of cat and mouse with Jodie Comer’s charmingly insane Villanelle. The story is based on the Villanelle novellas by Luke Jennings, adapted for the series by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the brains behind (and star of) the brilliant black comedy Fleabag.
The twists and turns in Killing Eve have left fans breathless, and the music has kept pace, reinforcing the nuances of its main female characters’ perspectives. The show’s action jumps from iconic European city to European city, giving lots of opportunities for changes of scene echoed in the soundtrack.
The first season concludes this coming Sunday, and the finale promises to be a big one. But fans can look forward to a second, already confirmed.
We checked in with series music supervisor Catherine Grieves (credits include You Were Never Really Here, Collateral) and composer David Holmes (credits include the Ocean’s Eleven / Twelve / Thirteen trilogy), whose electronic-noir band Unloved is heavily featured in the show, to learn more about the tracks powering the BBC America series. (But no spoilers here–Catherine and David are keeping mum on the story and the music involved in the last episodes and next season!)
Tunefind: This is a new twist on the usual spy tale, with lots of intriguing and fleshed out female perspectives, and a rare female assassin! How did that influence the music?
Catherine Grieves: We wanted a powerful female voice in the music from the beginning. Villanelle and Eve are strong, complex women, and we wanted the music to reflect this. David and his band Unloved captured this perfectly.
David Holmes: The thing Keefus [Ciana, fellow composer/songwriter in Unloved] and I knew from the outset was that Killing Eve had to be unique and not your usual score by any means, so that gave us a tremendous amount of freedom which was extremely liberating – everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet from day one!
TF: The tracks so far are wonderfully diverse. Did you choose particular musical styles or sounds to accent Eve and Villanelle’s very different characters? Is there a theme or song you’ve connected to each of them? Or is the approach looser?
CG: Different sides of each character’s personality are subtly picked out in different tracks, particularly with Villanelle. There is a sense of humor in “Roller Girl” and “Killer Shangri-lah.”
CG: And dark threatening undertones in “Durch dunkle Tannen” by Die Wilde Jagd, and an unnerving calm in Gnossienne No. 3 by Erik Satie.
TF: There are a lot of different settings and locations in the show, cities and places around Europe. How did that influence the music?
DH: The diversity came from all the different countries we visit. In France we were looking to people like François Hardy, Serge Gainsbourg, Anna Karenina and Pierre Cavali for inspiration, In Germany – Kraftwerk, Neu, etc… In Russia – Tarkovsky’s composer Eduard Artemyev. What brings all this together is the sounds Keefus and I were using and the influence we had over the source tracks I choose for the series.
TF: Let’s talk specific tracks. Pschychotic Beats’ “Killer Shangri-Lah” is in the show a couple of times, and been heavily featured in the promos. How did you find this track? Why did it feel a good fit for the show?
CG: I came across “Killer Shangri-Lah” shortly after reading the scripts, and thought it could be special. It’s sometimes hard to judge when a track is quite on-the-nose lyrically, but the tone and vocal fitted too, so it worked nicely in a couple of places.
DH: It was a great call from Catherine! It actually became a theme, like “After Dinner” and “Cry Baby Cry” by Unloved.
TF: David, what is one of your favorite moments when Unloved songs or some of the score you created really enhanced a scene?
DH: Too many to mention, but I absolutely love the use of “Sombre” in the hotel lobby and prison when the tone juxtaposes from what a lot of composers would create.
DH: And “Tell Mama” is the famous kitchen scene with Villanelle and Eve. On paper, that was a very hard scene to score but when we placed it against the picture it fit like a glove and the only thing we really had to do was to arrange it to picture.
TF: The show was picked up for a second season even before the premiere. Any thoughts about the overall process as you look back (and forward)?
DH: What can I say – we were given so much freedom that we just had so much fun! Keefus and I were defo living the dream! We owe that to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, [producer] Sally [Woodward Gentle] and [executive producer] Colin Wratten. They were all very supportive. Catherine was a dream to work with also.
CG: David is such a visionary composer and curator of music that it was a dream creatively, and everyone was on board from the start. My biggest challenge was tracking down and clearing some of the more obscure European tracks in time, sometimes made particularly tricky when artists had changed their names since releasing a track! But we managed to get almost all of our top choices to create a really exciting soundtrack.
TF: Thank you both for chatting, and we can’t wait for the finale!
〉Check out the full list of songs featured in Killing Eve
〉Other projects music supervised by Catherine Grieves
〉More by David Holmes
〉Listen to songs by Unloved