Words by Tina Edwards

When Composer asked if I would interview living legends Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, I had to exercise restraint, not to WhatsApp the school friends that I’m no longer in touch with - the ones that I listened to Nine Inch Nails with as a teenager, whilst we drank on the beach and watched the sun reach towards the sand.

I avoided falling into the humble brag trap, but I still want to tell someone about what a dazzling experience it was to interview two of the greatest living American rock stars. So dear reader, I will tell you. 

Allow me to take the fourth wall down. Two days before talking to Reznor and Ross, I was invited to a private screening of Bones and All at Warner Bros’ offices in Central London. It was my first time at a film preview, and I sat in the unfamiliar but inspiring company amongst critics and industry buffs. I will give you a warning that I didn’t have; the movie - soundtracked by the pair of them - is as gory as they come. Shocking images still remain in my mind, two weeks after watching it. But to my relief, what I saw wasn’t a cheap slasher movie. On the contrary, Bones and All is a road movie and a marriage of romance and horror. Reznor and Ross draw from the film’s barren locations in eighties America, and successfully emphasise the narrative’s tenderness as well as its terror.

We follow Maren (Taylor Russell) on a coming-of-age journey, as she tracks down her mother in hopes of understanding her own unexplained urges. Along the way, she falls for loveable loner Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and she also meets Sully (Mark Rylance); a disturbing outlaw who has dark plans for Maren.

Reznor and Ross are as critically acclaimed for their contributions to the film world as they are for their band, Nine Inch Nails. As film composers, they boast scores for Pixar hit Soul (2020), Gone Girl (2014), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) and many more. Their new score came by invitation from the director of the moment, Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name, 2017).

“We didn't know Luca prior to this film - we became acquainted over the magic of Zoom in the pandemic”, explains Reznor with his instantly recognisable deep voice. Just as Reznor and Ross spoke to Guadagnino, we’re also online. Except for this time, the musicians are staring down the lens at me as they lean back into their white director’s chairs, with a Bones and All poster in the background. Multiple publicists are sitting silently on the call, their cameras off, and their timers are ticking against my long list of burning questions.


Luca wanted the music to be a character in the film - he didn't want the music to overpower the film.

“We were intrigued by the scripts and we met an incredibly articulate, generous, descriptive collaborator [in Luca] that gave us pretty much an ideal amount of things that we need to start our journey of composition”, says Reznor. “[Luca] explained that he was going to shoot the film in a very understated way, and that to him, it was a great romance and a tragic love story, first and foremost. He wanted the music to be a character in the film - he didn't want the music to overpower the film. And he had a number of very descriptive words that were perfect seeds for us to plant in our minds with an addition that, maybe an acoustic guitar provides a melodic anchor for the theme of their love. And maybe it isn't an acoustic guitar”. Spoiler: they ran with it.

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Still from 'Bones and All' (Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

“Before a camera was picked up, we began composition on maybe eight to ten different themes. We got positive feedback and continued noodling around in that space. It was a fairly quick shoot - and then a very short amount of time afterwards a cut came to us; it was over four hours long. We put it on and had an important, revelatory experience where the story that we're familiar with became real, through the talent of the actors making these characters transform from the page to your hearts”, says Reznor, his tone serious and sincere. 

“I felt suddenly the magnitude of [Maren and Lee’s] relationship come to life and we both were pretty stunned. It became very clear why Luca was attracted to this film; it felt like something from his canon. It felt like his film and we didn't detect that in the script necessarily. As fans, it was impressive to witness that. Our focus initially was on supporting Maren and Lee’s romantic relationship. We knew how to make you feel uncomfortable, we knew about tension - we felt we could do that. But getting the temperature right and being able to contribute to the relationship’s tenderness and seeing the actors bring that vulnerability… like I said, as a fan of film, it was a great privilege to be part of that process”.


Before a camera was picked up, we began composition on maybe eight to ten different themes.

There are two moments in the score that have been ingrained in my mind - for very different reasons. The first is a droning layer of chords that soundtrack a terrifying conflict; a culmination of emotion and desperation, with exceptional gore. A quick scene change takes us away from the horror indoors, to a pan of the house - and silence. And just as we think we are moving on, we are thrust back indoors, with the shocking violence and abrasive wall of sound.

“That scene is really the culmination of the film, right?”, says Ross, his well-spoken English accent contrasting with Reznor’s Pennsylvania dialect. “Everything needed to come together at that point. To get specific, during the process of this film we developed a technique that involved a live performance that was… let’s call it, two simultaneous live performances. Trent’s got a mic and he might have a violin and acoustic guitar - something that’s strung. That mic is being fed into some loopers and modular [synthesisers] that I’m performing [with]. We then improvised for an hour and edited that recording into sections. We'd already established the language of the instrumentation in the film; what went into that improvisation were all the instruments that made up the score, previously”, explains Ross. “There's that kind of distorted noise that gives you the shock value. I think what’s important about that scene is just being totally lost in the tragedy of their love”. 

The closing scene follows close behind and continues to drive the tragedy home, with a highly emotionally-charged vocal from Reznor - the first and last time we hear his easily-recognisable vocal in the score.


We wanted to be able to watch the film in its entirety, to be able to know where you wound up emotionally.

“Right from the beginning of our work on the film, Luca wanted a song to sit in that spot”, shares Reznor. “He had some suggestions; it could be a cover song or it could be its own new track. It needs to lyrically summarise Maren at that point in time, but it should reflect the feeling of the whole film. We knew it was of great importance because it’s going to influence how you feel getting up and walking out of the theatre when you realise “Oh, this is the end and not everything was resolved”. Knowing that the stakes were high, we naturally put that off for a while because we wanted to see where the score was landing as the film was coming together. We wanted to be able to watch the film in its entirety, mostly with the score in it, to be able to know where you wound up emotionally”.

Talking to Ross and particularly Reznor, I’m struck by their sensitivity. They have plenty to say about the technical aspects of scoring Bones and All, but they’re keen to demonstrate the emotional currency that they spend when writing for film. 

“We watched Bones and All last night, with an audience for the first time. And I felt like that [final] scene, whatever we were trying to do, delivered in the cinema”, says Ross. “Juxtaposing that insanity with the song is particularly kind of devastating. We really did come to care deeply about the characters. I think that's reflected in the score. I know you want to talk about technical stuff, but it's really about emotion. Every moment of the score is guided by emotion. At that particular point, yes, it needed to be violent, it needed to be scary, but it also needed to be tragic”.


Every moment of the score is guided by emotion.

“We had some very good singers sing that song, but I knew when Trent sang it, nobody would be able to sing it like that. A couple of other people had sung it at that point and I just felt - no disrespect to them - but it's not about how good you can sing. What's encapsulated in Trent’s delivery is the story of the film. Watching it last night, it was so devastating and moving that when that comes in, I think it couldn't have been done any more effectively”.

Ross reflects on the score at large. “If someone was to spend the time with the album of Bones and All, what they’d notice is that there's a certain discipline within it - in the way it's thematic. I think we've become more accomplished in that discipline. What you'd find is a very cohesive, narrative piece of storytelling through a record; it's not a bunch of tracks thrown together. It's from the heart, but there's also an awful lot of thought that's gone into why it should be what it is”. 

That talent for cohesion has been developing since Reznor and Ross were approached to score their first film, which was 2010’s biographical drama, The Social Network. The music reflected the electronic-tinted, dark and emotional rock sound of Nine Inch Nails, which in turn has been a marker - but by no means a limiter - for their film scores to date.


With the album of Bones and All, there's a certain discipline within it, in the way it's thematic.

“When I first started with The Social Network, fear played a big role because neither of us really knew what we were doing”, shares Reznor. “We had an incredibly great mentorship under [director] David Fincher and a protective environment that did encourage experimentation and trying stuff. We made an important decision; let's go with our gut instinct, even if it's not traditional or the proper way to do it, to see what happens. We had little time to course correct if it didn't work - and that worked out! It taught us a lot about how we operate and how our brains work, what we're good at and what we're not as good at - trusting that emotional instinct is what we're good at”.

And then Reznor says something that surprises me.

“We still have crippling insecurity”, he says, without any hint of sarcasm. “But we're not as intimidated to start a project; we kind of know what to lean into. [With] every project we take on, it feels different enough that we come out having learned a significant amount - even if it's what not to do. The moment that matters is when we finish the film and we look at each other feeling like “this is the best work we can do”, says Reznor.  The anonymous publicist sends me a direct message, warning me that I have two minutes remaining with the pair. 


We still have crippling insecurity. But we're not as intimidated to start a project; we kind of know what to lean into.

“It's been a privilege and an incredible journey”, adds Ross, reflecting on film scoring between then and now. “I mean, between us and between the filmmakers that we've been able to work with as Trent mentioned, our strength is in being able to reach inside and turn that emotion into sound that is appropriate to the story being told. And that's the most important thing”.

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Still from 'Bones and All' (Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

What’s next? “We hope people like it”, says Reznor. “We hope it resonates, but it's that sense of accomplishment that we know we did our best, that draws us to want to keep doing it. When we consider what projects to take on, we approach it like “who would be an interesting person to immerse ourselves in their camp for six months to eighteen months, in an intense situation?” We're going to take on fewer projects as we move forward, to have a little more time to not let this feel routine in any way and feel special”.   

Seconds after Reznor tells me about slowing down, I’m on my own in a dark room, with the distant booms of Bonfire Night piercing the silence. I sense the scent of salty air and fading sun, and somehow, something feels full circle.

'Bones and All' is showing in cinemas now. The Original Score can be heard here.