Killing Eve: Music supervisor Catherine Grieves on how the BBC show’s killer soundtrack was put together for Villanelle’s craziest murders
“That sounds kind of nice”
Movies and TV shows aren't just seen; they are heard. Music helps tell the story, set the mood, complicate plots, and manipulate the audiences' emotional responses. In the case of BBC's hit show Killing Eve — which had just concluded its third season — the soundtrack has held its own from the beginning, igniting rewinds and Shazams from fans as they follow MI5 agent Eve (Sandra Oh) and assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) track each other around the globe.
Ahead, we speak to Catherine Grieves, music supervisor of Killing Eve, on creating the show's eclectic, gripping soundtrack, her favourite scenes, her creative process, and what she's listening to right now.
Hi Catherine! Tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you ended up working on Killing Eve?
I have worked in the TV and the music industry for just about over 10 years. I studied sound engineering and I got a job at a company called HotHouse Music. I learnt my stuff there and took on a lot of their television work and then built up from there. Basically, I worked on a Sid Gentle production before on a TV drama called SS-GB and I was a fan of Fleabag and Phoebe Waller-Bridge so I dropped them a line and it went from there. It was a combination of connections and generally being a big fan of TV.
As the Head of Film and TV for Faber Music, can you tell us your role and what you do?
For my role I kind of wear two hats: I am a music supervisor for some TV shows like Killing Eve and a lot of other TV stuff in the UK. I also oversee the roster of film and television composers at Faber Music, working with them on their projects. I work with composers and I work as a supervisor so it's kind of across both sides of the coin.
Can you share with us your movie-music journey so far?
I started by earning a Music and Sound Recording degree. I really loved film music and had the opportunity to work as an intern at HotHouse music agency. I started working there and built a network with the composers that were at that agency. I started doing TV work as well — on a lot of BBC shows.
TV music has changed quite a lot in the past few years especially with companies like Netflix and British television is becoming a big part of the international success. Suddenly the budgets got better and the standards went up massively. So that's all starting to change. People and productions now want their soundtracks to be matching those standards so they are really pushing it in different directions. I think there will be more and more opportunities in music supervision on television and I have been lucky to be working on some really exciting projects. Killing Eve has been an absolute huge success and it's really nice to have the soundtrack as a recognisable part of that so it has been a really amazing journey.
What is your favourite moment or scene-specific syncs in Killing Eve?
I love "This Strange Effects", a cover of The Kinks' song by Unloved, that is played over a big kissing moment in Episode 3. Everything about that scene is brilliant and that song is just such a good fit. The cover is brilliant and the vocal delivery is brilliant so I think that's my highlight.
How did you choose the soundtrack for the show?
At the beginning of the show when we were at pre-production of the first series, it was always in the discussions that the producers wanted a really big soundtrack — something interesting and different and has that extra character level. I worked really closely with David Holmes: he is the composer on the show and he was also my co-music supervisor. Each episode is often set in different countries so we like to match the music to the country but within a Killing Eve sound. So, a lot of the music that we use is either from the 60s or 70s or has that feel — the European 60s sounds. We try to pull music from everywhere and anywhere that fits and we like to try to find something that is interesting but bold.
Unloved's music played a huge role in the series. Why is that so? How did you discover Unloved?
When we started on Series 1 of the show, we explored having a featured artist involved — a female vocalist. We also noticed a really brilliant score composer. We were looking at various people - different composers, different artists... We also thought that David Holmes, who I previously mentioned, was a good person to talk to regarding the score.
David's a brilliant composer and a great record producer and we knew that he had all these artist connections. We had that conversation with David about scoring the show and who to work with. He brought Unloved to the table. They had released one album independently a couple of years before Killing Eve and it had a lot of interesting sounds. It totally fitted with what we were going for. Unloved songs were working really well — the scores that he writes fit well so we had a really cohesive soundtrack with connecting sounds.
How much does lyrics matter?
That's quite an interesting question because when David and I are looking for music, I would say that lyrics can be wrong, and we don't put something in just because the lyrics are right, if you see what I mean. Once something is played against the scene, you can read something into those lyrics that you may not have picked up from the first time you listened to that song. So, we are obviously very aware of the lyrics but it's more of the energy and the feel of those songs that attracts us to them in the first place.
If we get that lyrical fit then that's an added bonus, but it's more of a deeper feel that we go for and I think we've been quite lucky with some of the songs and having those lyrics match. With Killing Eve because we use vocal music throughout the whole soundtrack, there's so much going on in each episode — from the actual storyline to the deeper psyche between Villanelle and Eve. I think pretty much in every song that we use there's going to be something in those lyrics that resonates with what's going on either to the character or the storyline.
Describe some of the most dramatic scenes that require the most support from your choice of music.
The way we use music is we often play it against just what's going on in the scene. There are so many murders in the show. I think what the music does or what we're trying to do with the music is play against the darkness of the murder scenes. Jodie Comer is brilliant as she enjoys murdering so we have that really extreme humour to it, but without it being crass. We try to do that with the music, so often we use a big song after the murder that brings the darkness out of the scene of an episode.
We often use an upbeat song after (a murder) rather than something dark and matches what's going on the screen. Again, there were certain moments that were really fun — the kissing moment was a big, big point of discussion in this series. That was such a key spot so to get the right song for that was really important. Is it a love story or obsession? Getting a song that captures exactly what's going on with Eve and Villanelle is quite difficult because it's not an out-and-out romantic love story. So, getting that poem was important and that was definitely a fun moment and one we were pleased with.
How has the pandemic changed your career and has the virus changed your perspective and approach to music?
I've been quite lucky that the projects that I'm working on are in post-production so we do carry on working remotely on them. I think this pandemic has made people really start evaluating the arts and what they bring to everybody in the society. I just hope that people support them when they can so we can continue making stuff, because unless musicians can keep on making money, we won't have this music to work with so I hope some good comes back as it is a worrying time.
What do you have plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
In the current COVID situation, we are a little bit at the mercy of when productions can start filming. I've had some conversations about some quite exciting new TV shows that are coming up — it's just a matter of time. I'm working on some other TV shows at the moment as well that had finished shooting before we went into lockdown. There's some more episodes that will come out hopefully before the end of the year but yes, we shall see.
What are you listening to right now? Who are you obsessed with?
I listen to loads and loads of different music all the time. My album of the week is BC Camplight's new album which came out a couple of weeks ago on Bella Union. It's a really good indie album. I listen to a lot of 90s and 80s music as well. On Killing Eve, we use a lot of period music so I listen to a lot of 60s and I listen to a lot of 70s, across all genres. A lot of the time it depends on what show I'm working on and how my music choices and tastes change. I love the radio station FIP, a French radio station which we can get digitally. They play the biggest range of music so that's my go-to put on to get some new ideas.
Killing Eve Season 3 is now on BBC Player.