Bruce Hornsby: Cinematic Cues

After a chance introduction by Branford Marsalis in the early ’90s, director Spike Lee and Bruce Hornsby’s initial connection and collaboration on music videos sparked a creative partnership spanning three decades. Hornsby has scored music for several of Lee’s films, including the song “Love Me Still” with Chaka Khan for Lee’s 1995 film Clockers, through more present-day projects, including the 2009 Kobe Bryant documentary Kobe Doin’ Work, the 2018 drama BlacKkKlansman, and the Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, based on Lee’s 1986 debut film. Revisiting some of his composed cues, Hornsby began crafting songs from the abbreviated passages, releasing Absolute Zero in 2019, the 2020 follow-up Non-Secure Connection, and the newly released final installation ‘Flicted. 

“I had amassed all this music that I’d written for him for over an 11- to 12-year period, and a lot of them sounded like they wanted to be turned into songs,” says Hornsby of his work with Lee. “This is the third and last because I feel like I’ve mined that area enough. My next record will be completely different, with chamber music.”  

Tapping into some of the scores he composed, ‘Flicted is the most experimental capture of Hornsby’s trilogy of compositions. Fused around folk, hip-hop, synth, and R&B, ‘Flictedmirrors certain unsettled societal states of hysterics and other afflictions, some surfacing around the pandemic.  

Although ‘Flicted is a little less harmonically adventurous than Non-Secure Connection, according to Hornsby, it’s one that’s more accessible. “They’re all informed for the most part by the films,” he says. “The genesis, the origin story for most of the songs, comes from the film cues that I wrote. As far as sonics, I would describe this more on a sequencing level, because frankly, this is a little disparate stylistically so I decided to have little sections.” 

Walking through the 12 tracks, Hornsby says the first two—“Sidelines” and “Tag”— are based around “guitar indie-pop,” while “The Hound” is more modern minimalist chamber music with some blues elements, featuring members of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.  

“The next three —‘Too Much Monkey Business,’ ‘Maybe Now,’ and ‘Bucket List’—are much more groove-oriented,” adds Hornsby, calling the latter two more EDM blues.  “Those three songs I call a palate cleanser, a breath, so ‘Days Ahead’ falls in the perfect spot.”  

The second half of ‘Flicted gets the dulcimer treatment on “Lidar” and “Is This It.” 

“Then it just moves on from that to other areas that are not necessarily stylistically related, which constitutes the last three songs,” adds Hornsby, cueing the more experimental springs of “Had Enough,” the piano-led “Simple Prayer II,” featuring singers Z Berg and Ethan Gruska and a follow up to the first “Simple Prayer” (featured on Levitate in 2009), and the bigger band close of “Point Omega,” a track Hornsby originally wrote for Absolute Zero, featuring Jack DeJohnette playing with a string orchestra. 

“This song felt like the fitting final piece to close the trilogy, bookending with its spiritual and textural cousin, the first song on the first record,” says Hornsby. “It’s a rumination on string theory, theology, ornithology, and the invisible forces that rule our existence.” 

Co-produced by Hornsby and  longtime collaborator Tony Berg, ‘Flicted features a collection of hand-picked artists, including a duet with Haim’s Danielle Haim on the slower waltz of “Days Ahead.” 

“When Tony [Berg] heard the song, he instantly heard it as Brian Wilson-esque,” says Hornsby. “Tony was an apprentice for producer Jack Nitzsche in the 1960s. He had fun ideas for this, and I love all the production flourishes, the ’60s Wrecking Crew pop aesthetic.” 

Vampire Weekend’s  Ezra Koenig  and  longtime collaborator and guitarist Blake Mills  join on opening “Sidelines,” a song Hornsby says gave him chills when Koenig first  started singing it. “I thought it had something unique,” says Hornsby, “so I asked Ezra to be a part of it because I liked the way he was singing the choruses.” 

Co-written by Mills and co-produced by Ariel Rechtshaid, “Sidelines,” along with “Tag,” are the two songs Hornsby says were most reflective of life during the pandemic. The former track shape-shifts around the Salem witch trial of the 1600s and takes cues from the dystopian setting inspired by Don DeLillo’s book Underworld, where the road signs transform into a driver’s reality, continuing on through the present-day hysteria around the virus—Open up hysteria / Fear at a fever pitch / Fever streets walk don’t walk / Crowded sky of ventilators /Antennas out, under the moving sky.  

“Tag,” meanwhile, subtly connects to the game of playing tag and the flip side of not touching. “It’s fun and games and pestilence,” says Hornsby. “This record does relate to our time now. I’m hopefully trying to do it in an artful manner and I may fail, but that’s my goal.” 

Even the album title relates to these stranger times when “the world is basically, well, ‘flicted,’” says Hornsby. 

View the entire story at American Songwriter

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