Monty Norman, John Barry, George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Sera, David Arnold, Thomas Newman…the world of Bond music and Bond scoring can now etch another name in its Thunderball of fame – Dan Romer. With news that EON Productions and director Cary Joji Fukunaga have appointed the Los Angeles based tunesmith to take on the always much debated Bond baton, all ears are now on a new composer. And as a new guy takes on the precarious mantle of ‘Not Being John Barry’, the Bond sound has now been put in particularly accomplished, eclectic and informed hands.
In total keeping with the curveball casting of No Time to Die‘s director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Dan Romer is perhaps the first composer of a new era that is less about the gargantuan orchestral sounds of Barry, Arnold and Newman. Romer is about walls of lyrical sound, standalone instruments and the stand-out beat of a scene or character. A natural choice because of his past collaborations with Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, Maniac), Romer shares many traits with Bond’s newest captain. Both are marinated in cinema, but do not wear their movie geek credentials on their sleeve. Both have carved their own companies and ideals (Romer has his own recording studios and company based out of Los Angeles). And both are Eighties kids whose work is often tinged with those era-aware classics, synths and orchestrations. Maniac and its recent day-glo Atari minded world particularly has an Eighties pop DNA – a now/then sound that also marks out the likes of Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon and their work on Stranger Things.
Born in New York as Octopussy (1983) was hitting movie theatres and an alumni of the Conservatory of Music production programme, Romer initially lent towards pop production and his big love for Bowie. Well versed in mixing strings for the vocal tracks he has produced and engineered for the likes of Shawn Mendes, Jukebox the Ghost, A Great Big World, Christine Aguilera, Matt Simons and Ingrid Michaelson, Romer is no stranger to melodic suites and letting the expected timbre of a scene or orchestral section just do its musical thing. A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s ‘Say Something’ became a viral hit and later scooped a Grammy for Best Pop Duo Performance. Dan Romer produced and arranged the strings on the 2013 track. The pared down piano and mournful strings of ‘Say Something’ helped propel the piece to selling four million copies in the US alone. It has amassed multi platinum accolades across the globe and continues to be covered by artists from all genres and used in many a film or TV show since.
A one-time alumni of Elton John’s Rocket Music management umbrella, eventually fates and alliances saw Romer also scoring various short films. The score to the 2008 title Glory at Sea (directed by Benh Zeitlin) was later officially incorporated into Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. In this new golden age of television and streaming services, Romer is no stranger to the streaming TV era of Netflix. He has composed the soundtracks for The Good Doctor (2017), Atypical (2017), Maniac (2018) and Ramy (2019), as well as the feature documentaries Chasing Coral (2019), Finders Keepers (2014) and The Last Season (2014). Like Fukunaga, Romer has often edged towards works of real human fight, personal tragedy and geopolitical adversity. His score for Mediterranea (2015) underpinned the vicious plight of African migrants journeying to Europe. Jim: The James Foley Story (2014) looked at the photo journalist kidnapped and brutally beheaded in Syria. Tomorrow We Disappear (2014) marks the last days of a colony of artists living in a New Delhi alleyway. The comedy TV series Ramy looks at the experiences of an Egyptian immigrant settling in America – no bad thing for a Bond film starring a new villain played by someone not totally unfamiliar with that dynamic of origins. And the Emmy-winning Chasing Coral determines the eco-future of our world without holding back its blunt findings. All of these films were framed by a soundtrack hued with a current-day sense of sound, location and story.
Taking those blunt story worlds, 2015 saw Romer compose the score for Beasts of No Nation (2015). The hard-minded look at child soldiers and civil war in Ghana was directed by No Time to Die‘s Cary Fukunaga and is a fierce and raw project that demanded a fierce and raw score. It is a composition marked out by lengthy cold notes and reminds of the work of Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet). It was also one of the first Netflix original titles.
‘You talk to any composer and they’re still figuring it out’
However, the work that holds the best promise and for Romer to be taking into Bond is his superb score for Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – a work he produced with director Benh Zeitlin. It was Romer’s first feature drama. The tale of six-year-old Hushpuppy and her fantastical, but blunt search for a mother as her father is dying, Romer’s score was the Louisiana soul, bayou uplift and swirling signature of a film marked by a wholly contemporary zeal and sense of movie storytelling. Beasts of the Southern Wild went on to win the Caméra d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and Deauville and four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. That attention was because of two factors – the stunning performance from child actor Quvenzhané Wallis and the childhood-celebrating carousel of a score by Dan Romer. A leading spine of this work was how Romer infuses and steers the score with a real, lyrical grasp of the local musical flora and fauna of Louisiana, and – important for Bond – the internal mindset of the leading protagonist.
Taking that millennial melancholy of Thomas Newman and imbibing it with a modern, often restful sensibility, one of the traits of Romer is he does not overproduce his work. Simple, clear and often clean sounds are one of his tropes. Romer is more Thomas Newman and Michael Nyman than John Barry or David Arnold. Yet, he already has a wide scoresheet full of notes from a wide-ranging body of work, formats, artists, media and projects. When he writes the score for computer game Far Cry 5, it is not just a lucrative side gig to keep in with the kids. The score for Far Cry 5 is one of the best game-scores of recent years – and reminds of the movie character of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Cary Fukunaga’s own True Detective. Romer’s score here has an American folk quality that suggests a composer that does not oversaturate or over-dress. He creates aural walls – and doors – made up of Celtic strings and Montana-minded banjos for truly solid piece of composition. Some of Romer’s sounds do not even exist until some household items and improvisation nail a sound, a note, a beat and a punctuation.
In No Time to Die, expect cues that underline Bond as much as his surroundings. Expect Jamaican-skewed motifs that are not that tourist sound of the island’s past, but contemporary suites made up of local colour and sounds, and a definite non-commonwealth timbre. Expect quirky synths and layered aural landscapes for Norway. And maybe something a bit quirkier, left of field but wholly sumptuous for Italy. All in all, Dan Romer’s work so far suggests he is one of the most widely versed composers to take on that Bond baton. As the series enters its 007th decade, the new sound of 007 is in wholly capable and very different hands. This bullet catcher believes the results will be a new, dynamic, familiar and unfamiliar take on a leading icon of film and film music.
No Time to Die will be released across the world from United Artists Releasing, Annapurna/Universal Pictures and MGM Studios from April 2020.