One of the many amazing elements of Mad Max: Fury Road is the incredible score, a riot of “an insane rock opera” according to composer Junkie XL, AKA Tom Holkenborg. One that at times fuses with the immense drum / guitar rig that powers Immortan Joe’s Warboys on their chase after Max, Furiosa and the five wives, like an overseer with galley slaves. The score also switches to powerful strings and woodwinds for the moments of human connection with our heroes later, and rises to a crescendo when the stakes get ever higher.
Holkenborg told Nell Minow:
“I said to George, “Let’s do this insane rock opera where everything clashes and there is like choir and there’s sound design and there’s mad drums and mad electronic sounds and over the top strings and very small strings and very emotional little things and he said, “Yeah let’s do it.”
And so “Escape” was one of the earlier cues that I started on and it needed to be crazy. Max in this case is a very troubled character. He’s not the stable, funny guy that we know from the earlier Mad Max movies in the 80s. He’s been through this so many times and he’s got post-traumatic stress and whatever he has, he’s very troubled. And so the music needed to be very troubling too.”
“The sound that you hear right at beginning of “Escape” is coming from my dog. You need some electronic treatment, and then you get it pretty far. He’s the sweetest dog in the planet. But if he barks and you treat that a certain way, yeah it becomes really scary.”
Holkenborg is classically trained, and teased unusual sounds from the orchestra’s classic repertoire of string and bass instruments:
“They have to get really out of tune. There’s that whole string section in there with a really haunting motif which was very inspired on the great late 40s, 50s, 60s, the golden era of Bernard Hermann and some other classical composers.”
For the emotional moments of connection, the quiet respite from the madness, “That’s when we need to go to that musical language (of classical composition) and again we discuss the 50s, late 20s, 50s early 60s and we took best elements out of that era and we use it in a very modern film score.”
The score mirrored the film’s world, in that pieces of junk were adapted to tease unusual sounds by Holkenborg:
“It’s like there’s a lot of sounds used in the score that actually come from a metal cans, oil drums, all kinds of metal objects that I sampled and did some sound design on that are being used. I mean, generally, in music, I come from a world where you sample bits and pieces from other records so you compile it together into what then becomes a dance track. That’s the world that I come from, so when George starts talking about creating objects out of other objects I was like, “Oh I know that world.”
And that crazy guitarist who shoots flames from his axe on top of a moving vehicle? He’s Australian musician / actor / writer iOTA, AKA Sean Hape, and his character has a name – Coma-Doof Warrior (Doof is Aussie slang for “doof parties” — electronic music events where house or techno beats go “doof doof doof.” ), and his rig is the Doof Wagon.
He auditioned for the part, dressed in Mad Max gang gear. The part was sold to him as “a mix between Keith Richards and a scarecrow.” He and director George Miller created a back story for Coma-Doof Warrior. He was a child music prodigy who watched as his mother, also a musician, was beheaded. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) found him, clutching his mother’s severed head. Joe took him in, and he grew up to be Joe’s troop-rallying rocker. The mask he wears is actually his mother’s skinned face – gross!
On location, he just jammed. “It’s a double-neck guitar, so it’s a bass and six-string electric, but there’s a base that I’m standing on and below that is a partial amplifier, so it’s blaring, and it’s totally squealing all the time. You’re just thrashing on it, and making noise. I’m playing Zeppelin or Soundgarden or AC/DC or whatever I was feeling inspired to do.”
The music he seems to be playing in the film was added in post. By the end of very long days he was just thrashing and slamming the guitar. Axe to the Max…