If you know rock music, you’ll likely think of Radiohead when you hear the name Jonny Greenwood. But if you’re a cinephile, your mind might start playing some of the eerie string melodies from the Phantom Thread score.
Nearly 20 years after founding his iconic rock band, Greenwood started composing for film.
Since There Will Be Blood in 2007, Greenwood has composed the score for every one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies (up to and including this year’s Licorice Pizza). He’s been Lynne Ramsay’s go-to on her past two films. Jane Campion tapped him for The Power of the Dog. And now, he’s in with Pablo Larraín—and the two have made something really special for the unconventional Princess Diana biopic, Spencer.
Greenwood isn’t the only mainstream musician to cross over into the world of movies. In fact, he’s not even the only member of Radiohead to do that: Lead singer Thom Yorke composed the music for Suspiria, bassist Colin Greenwood contributed to Twilight: New Moon and drummer Philip Selway appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a member of a wizard rock band. As we wait to see Spencer this weekend, we’re thinking of a few more films with scores by talented musicians whose names might make you do a double take.
Spencer is now playing in select theaters, and the soundtrack will be released on Nov. 12.
Film must be a good fit for rock musicians in particular, because Karen O, lead vocalist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, has made the leap too. Together with Carter Burwell, she composed most of the original music for Spike Jonze’s fantastical Maurice Sendak adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are. The high-energy performer made the children’s book-inspired soundtrack appropriately playful: A lot of the barks, yelps and hoots in the music are hers.
We’ve also seen O perform on the Oscar stage in 2014 (“The Moon Song” from Her was nominated for Best Original Song) and heard her voice in Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin covers on the soundtracks for I’m Not There and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, respectively.
For that Dragon Tattoo project, Karen O worked with two other rock band crossovers: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails.
As with Greenwood’s relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson, Reznor and Ross have something special with David Fincher. The Oscar-winning score for everyone’s favorite Facebook origin movie, The Social Network, started a fruitful relationship, and the duo has taken lead on music for every Fincher project since: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, yes, but also Gone Girl (which we recently learned was inspired by elevator music Fincher heard at his chiropractor’s office?!) and Mank. And they’ve got legs beyond Fincher, too—Reznor and Ross are the ones behind unique scores from Mid90s, Waves and Soul, which just won them another Oscar this year.
Shortly after “Sledgehammer” topped the US Billboard Top 100 in 1986, Peter Gabriel tried his hand at something totally different: composing a movie score for Martin Scorsese. You might not guess it from the funk and dance-rock sound of his hit single, but Gabriel was simultaneously exploring an interest in world music during the ’80s. He brought that to the task of scoring The Last Temptation of Christ, and the resulting tracks are a mix of styles from the Middle East, Africa, Europe and South Asia. Gabriel got so into it that he kept working on the music for months after the movie was locked, and he released Passion as his own album the next year.
While Passion is one of just a few film scores he’s done, he and his work have made other appearances onscreen: He sings “That’ll Do” on the Babe: Pig in the City soundtrack and his “In Your Eyes” plays from John Cusack’s boom box in the iconic Say Anything… scene.
When Wu Tang Clan frontman RZA decided to get involved with movie scores, he got off to a very strong start. Soundtracks for Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino films were some of his first projects in the early 2000s: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and both volumes of Kill Bill. For each, the hip-hop artist did some extra credit. He had a cameo as a camouflaged samurai in Jarmusch’s movie, and he asked Tarantino to be his mentor during production of the grindhouse classic. While on set, RZA took extensive notes on Tarantino’s approach to directing—notes that came in handy when he later directed his own martial arts homage, The Man With the Iron Fists.
Another musician turned movie director: Questlove. There’s no original score in Summer of Soul (his debut as a director), but you don’t really need one when your movie features long-forgotten performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and other artists from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. So while he’s not a composer here, Questlove’s own experience as a Black musician is part of what makes him such an insightful director for the hybrid concert film and documentary.
He’s been in charge of movie music elsewhere, too—as composer for Chris Rock’s comedy Top Five and for the crime thriller Vincent N Roxxy, and as musical director at the 93rd Oscars. (You can revisit all the tracks he played from behind his DJ mixer on Spotify.)