And Now, An Interview With BABY DRIVER’s Secret Weapon, Kid Koala
Last night, I caught a very special screening of Edgar Wright's Baby Driver at the Alamo Drafthouse. Of course every new Edgar Wright film is a reason to celebrate, but this particular screening was extra festive: wildly-talented DJ (and, as it turns out, total sweetheart) Kid Koala was on-hand to discuss the work he'd put into the film - from training star Ansel Elgort to use the analog remix machines seen on screen to the assistance he provided on Baby Driver's absolutely incredible soundtrack - and to treat the audience to a kick-ass pre-show performance.
We sat in the Drafthouse's Barrel Of Fun bar beforehand, talking about Koala's role in the film and his experiences with the Alamo Drafthouse, and afterwards we watched him perform right there in Theater 6 (at one point, Koala remixed Breakfast At Tiffany's "Moon River" on the fly - he told us it was his mother's favorite movie song - and it was stunningly gorgeous). What follows is our conversation, interspersed with some photos from the event itself.
Birth.Movies.Death.: So, let's start at the beginning. Edgar Wright contacted you about working on the movie, and...well, what were your earliest conversations like?
Kid Koala: Yeah, he had sent me an early draft of the script years ago, just trying to get me aware of it. I didn't really know what he was fishing for at the time, but I was like, "Sounds fun!", y'know? This is a while ago, back when he was still working on Ant-Man, and he told me about this movie, which was obviously a passion project. And then it wasn't until about a year and a half ago that he got in touch, once it all started coming together, and he was like, "We cleared (the songs) we wanted to use" - because they didn't want to start shooting until they had those in place, the actual soundtrack...
So they were playing the music on set.
KK: Oh, yeah. Even the stunt actors had little speakers so they could hear the (beats of the) music. Y'know, a gun being cocked or a door being slammed - it was all lined up with the music. So they needed to have all of that in place. It was very tightly choreographed in that way. He didn't want to get working until everything was clear. But regarding the storypoint of Baby's tracks, he was like, "Well, we won't actually have that music, because it's music that Baby will have made himself. It doesn't exist yet." And that's what he approached me about doing.
Someone sent me the screenplay a while back and I tried to read it, and it was...honestly, I'd never read a script like that before, where so much of the action was explicitly noted as being timed out to cues within actual music cues. It was insane.
KK: You could tell Edgar had heard all of these songs a million times, and had the action percolating for a long, long time, sometimes right down to the 1/64th note of when something should happen onscreen. It's really a feat, what he's pulled off here.
And now you're here with it at the Drafthouse! Not your first time paying us a visit, right?
KK: No, actually! The first time was at Fantastic Fest a few years ago. I had scored a movie called Zoom, and Tim League and I met that night at an afterparty in the Highball. He's a great dude, we just hit it off immediately. He's just out there, making adventures happen.
Had you ever been to Fantastic Fest, before coming with Zoom?
KK: No, that was my first time, but I would absolutely come back. Whatever Tim needs, I am there. I think there's a kinship there in terms of wanting to make cool stuff happen.
Tim definitely seems to inspire that in people. You want to be involved in whatever madness he dreams up next.
Speaking of Tim, I haven't seen your setup yet, but I did read his post announcing this event, and I...well, to be honest, I have no idea what to expect based on his description. Can you talk a bit about what you used to bring your Baby Driver stuff to life?
KK: Well, there were a lot of devices. Edgar's direction was, Baby was basically off the grid. He wasn't online, kind of a recluse. A lot of the technology his character uses is very outdated - he's using, like, iPod 1's and 2's, y'know? Edgar said, "For the music Baby makes, think of 4-track cassette mixes." And I was like, "Well, that's how I started my career!" So, that really struck a chord with me.
And I guess Edgar knew that about you beforehand.
KK: Oh, yeah. We'd worked on Shaun Of The Dead together years before. He'd come to a show of mine in London called Short Attention Span Theater, where I had like eight turntables and was layering in spoken-word bits. I guess he really liked it, because he got in touch and said, "Hey, I'm cutting this film called Shaun Of The Dead, do you want to come look at some dailies and maybe see if you can do something for it?" And that was the first time we worked together. He'd cleared the song "The Gonk" and he wanted that remixed for the final credit sequence. Then on Scott Pilgrim, he and Nigel reached out about me adding a few layers onto some scenes. We've been friends a long time.
That's really cool.
KK: Yeah! And what I really love about working with Edgar is when he's like, "OK, now, this scene's supposed to be funny. So make the track funny." You don't always get that freedom, y'know?
How do you make a track funny?
KK: Well, y'know, that was a thing. My wife has a studio space next to mine, so she can sorta hear me looping sequences in there over and over again. And I'd yell over to her, "What'd you think of that (take)?" And she'd yell back, "It's too tight! Too confident! Make it a little more naive! And dumb!" So you've gotta make it a little looser, a little less confident. It'd be weird if the track just kinda tore it up, y'know what I mean? Like, I had to find a way to make it a little more quirky and amateurish.
KK: So, I had that in my mind, and I also knew that Edgar wanted Baby to have pawn shop equipment, just jankety stuff he'd just put together. So I found the Califone Cardmaster 2000, and--
Haha, the what?
KK: The Califone Cardmaster 2000! If you're my age, you might remember this as the company a lot of the school boards would buy their turntables and tape decks from. They also made this machine called the Cardmaster 2000, which I never got to use because English wasn't my second language. But in the language classes, this machine was used to create audio flashcards. So, there's a card about 10 inches long with a strip of magnetic tape glued to the bottom of it. And you feed this into the card reader and you can record onto this magnetic tape. You get about three seconds of audio, maybe.
I've never heard of this!
KK: Well, again, it was for audio flashcards. So the teacher could say "Alamo" and record that onto the card, and then it says "Alamo". Well, then the student can put that card through the machine (there are only three buttons on the machine, and one of them says "Student"), and then they record themselves saying the word. Maybe the student tries and says "Eelamo", and then the teacher can be like, "No, no. Try again." It was designed as an educational tool. But what I really liked about it was the tone, and the fact that it had this cheap, crusty plastic speaker and this weird magnetic recording device. This was perfect for what Edgar wanted, because there was some dust and nostalgia in there.
So Edgar sent me some audio from one of the table readings, with Kevin Spacey's voice, and he said, "Listen to some of this stuff and see if you can put something together". And that's how it came together. I remember scratching it - because it's not a turntable, the motor's on backwards, so scratching it's a little more awkward - but when it came out, it sounded cool. Scratchy but kind of awkward. It made me giggle! So I just kept pushing it. I used an Emulator 2, which is the sampler Ferris Bueller uses in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and that's like an 8-bit sampler from 1985. It's got a crunchy sound to it, so I put the Kevin Spacey sample through that, too. For me it's funny because that scene always made me laugh in Ferris Bueller. So, yeah, I just tried to find some of these cool little sound toys that Baby might have used to create his music.
Man, you really went all out.
KK: Yeah, and again, I just wanna say: usually with film work, it's already been shot and edited and you can maybe add some things to sting certain visual points, but that was totally not my experience with Edgar, and that was awesome. He was just like, "We haven't shot anything yet, so..." That was great. Another thing I really liked was going down to Atlanta to check out the set, and to make sure that Baby's apartment actually looked like a legitimately crappy home studio (laughs). I was like, "I can do that! Just gotta make sure there's cables everywhere." It was really cool to see that process.
Well, thanks so much for talking to us, man. Can't wait to see the show!
KK: No, thank you!
Special thanks to the great Kid Koala, the folks at Fons PR, everyone at the Alamo Drafthouse, and (of course) Edgar Wright for making this screening so damn special. Any of you Birth.Movies.Death. attending one of these screenings? If so, sound off in the comments below! We're excited to hear if you guys had as much of a blast as we did!