Composer Gary Clark spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Flora and Son and working with John Carney over the years.
Flora and Son follows a single mother, Flora (Eve Hewson), who is struggling with what to do about her rebellious teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan). She takes advice from the police in finding Max a hobby. Unfortunately, he wants nothing to do with a beat-up acoustic guitar. He’d rather be coming up with beats. Anyway, Flora starts taking online lessons from Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a musician based in LA. Together, the trio discover just how powerful music can be. Orén Kinlan delivers a breakthrough performance but it’s Eve Hewson who delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the titular Flora. It is not an understatement to say how excellent the actress is in this film.
When Flora and Son premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, it was an instant crowd-pleaser. Whether it’s Once, Begin Again, or Sing Street, writer-director-songwriter John Carney knows what he’s doing. Fans were clapping along during the final song and gave the film a standing ovation when it ended. Unfortunately, Gary Clark was unable to attend the world premiere but he made it to the Gala premiere during TIFF. The composer/songwriter had seen it plenty times before as he told me last week. We didn’t discuss “High Life” during the interview but Apple is submitting the song for Best Original Song consideration.
Apple will release Flora and Son in theaters on September 22, 2023 before streaming September 29 on Apple TV+
It’s so nice to talk with you today. How are you doing?
Gary Clark: Great, thank you. I just arrived yesterday with a bit of jet lag and then had an early dinner and a nice sleep but I’m feeling groovy.
I was one of those who saw Flora and Sun during Sundance in January and it remains one of my favorite films of the year.
Gary Clark: Oh, I’m so glad. Thank you so much.
Did you have the opportunity to attend the world premiere?
Gary Clark: No, I didn’t go to Sundance. I couldn’t go and then obviously, I’ve seen the film a lot (Laughs).
You’ve worked with John Carney for a number of years now. When did he first reach out to you about working on the songs?
Gary Clark: My first thing with John was Sing Street and we kind of kept a working relationship and friendship going since then. We did some television together and stuff. I would say he showed me the script for Flora a few years back. I think it’s pre-pandemic and it wasn’t exactly as it is but it was pretty close. He called me, I would say it was—I mean, it was probably a month before they started shooting. But he called me and said—maybe two months—he called me said, remember that Flora script? We’re getting that made, we need to talk about music. He and I did a long Zoom call talking through the script and where the songs might be and what they had to say musically and lyrically. It all went from there.
How quick or long did it take to write the songs for the film?
Gary Clark: We were creating music all the way through shooting and that was the summer of 2022. John and I had started one or two songs, maybe three songs before the ideas, but they were constantly developing the thing. We sort of work in a very tag team kind of a way. John will quite often start a demo on his laptop at home on GarageBand, then he’ll send me that. I’ll put that in Pro Tools and play around with lyrics, melody and stuff, send that back to him. We just ping pong things backwards and forward. Sometimes, we will start an idea and it will kind of be in a germination period for—I don’t know—months sometimes, but sometimes it’ll just happen overnight.
How has the shorthand improved in your relationship with John over the years?
Gary Clark: I’ve probably got better at understanding instinctively John’s aesthetic, I suppose you’d say. My background is a record producer and stuff. I come from a place of far more perfection and John wants more honesty, rawness, humor sitting right next to pathos, and a kind of looseness and that’s taken me a while to really understand. If John pings things back to me, it tends to be that I’ve got to precise a bit something. He’ll say loosen that guitar up, it just needs to feel looser. He loosens me up—my musical massage therapist.
Was there a song that evolved the most during the songwriting process?
Gary Clark: Yes. I would say the working title we called for a long time “Rooftop Song,” which became “Meet in the Middle” was the real germane song. We had a musical sketch of that quite early on before the start to shoot. I did some lyrics, a friend of John’s called Robert Jonah drafted some lyrics and some melodies. We then played an early version to Joseph and Eve, who play our main characters, and they both had opinions about what their characters would or wouldn’t say. The first time, certainly in my experience and my life, we went into the studio with the actors. We just said, by the end of this weekend—we have Saturday and Sunday—by the end of this weekend, we’re gonna have figured out and recorded this rooftop song. Sure enough, by the end of that, I think by the evening, we had “Meet in the Middle.”
Did the pandemic have any impact on recording process, either for the songs or score?
Gary Clark: No, because even though the making of the movie was delayed because the pandemic, as I said, John had the script for a while. Once it started rolling, it was just all hands on deck. We were literally creating music while the shoot was going on and it had to be done pretty quickly. If anything, I’d say everything was just a bit slowed down by having to make sure that everybody was tested before they went into the studios and all that stuff that they had gone through but we were kind of used to it by then.
Is there a studio that you like to record at because of the way it sounds?
Gary Clark: I wouldn’t say so much the sound but yes. I have my own studio at home so I do a lot of it there. The bulk of the music gets done there. When I need to go out to do something bigger, like orchestrate things of brass, I tend to use a studio in Scotland called Beat Group. It’s got great engineers. I’ve worked with them a lot so I just know everything that’s gonna get done is gonna sound great. There’s a place in Dublin that we use called Camden Studios and it’s just a lovely private set-up by musicians. Everybody there is just so respectful and lovely. It was a nice atmosphere to work with, musically, but also with the actors and stuff. Everybody just felt really chilled. It feels like the 1970s when you walk through the door.
I know that the audience responded to the film quite well during Sundance but what do you hope the audience takes away from the film or music as Flora and Son goes into wider release?
Gary Clark: I just want them to go and tell all the friends and family that they have to watch this movie. I just want them to love it and really be moved by it in the way that I was because I was moved from the first script that John sent me. I’ve been moved many times in the process of making the thing and we’ve had a lot of laughs as you can imagine as well.
It was one of my favorite Sundance premieres this year by far.
Gary Clark: Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
Yeah. I’m so glad that the cast got to have their red carpet premiere.
Gary Clark: I know. Before the strike, John, Eve, Joseph and I, we booked a studio in London. We were going to all get together. There was a film crew and stuff. For promo stuff, we were gonna actually sit and talk about how we wrote some of the songs together and tell stories, swap guitars, and the day before we went to do the shoot, they announced the actors’ strike. John and I ended up twiddling our thumbs. It’s a shame but I stand by the actors and the writers and I hope they get what they want.
Yeah, me, too. Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the Toronto premiere.
Gary Clark: Thank you so much. Nice to talk to you.