Piano driven and almost jaunty, the score for 28 Hotel Rooms brings you right into that moment of falling for someone for the first time ‐ the excitement and giddiness that come from getting to know someone new who lights you up inside. An ironic feeling from a track titled “I’m Never Gonna Call You,” but 28 Hotel Rooms is not your average love story ‐ it is the story of an affair.
The almost dangerous and daring piano refrain starts to hint at this truth, but it is “Elevator” that dives right in to this feeling of a different world, one that can only live in the various hotel rooms our two leads (played with fire and passion by Chris Messina and Marin Ireland) constantly find each other in. But in the same way we never learn these character’s names, their love story is also doomed to ever be fully realized because they are each tied to relationships and lives outside of their few nights here and there with one another with the score working to take us through their various feelings and emotions.
I spoke with Will Bates, one half of Fall On Your Sword and the composer behind 28 Hotel Room’s vibrant score, to find about more about his process and what inspired him to create the music for this unique story in which neither lead is painted in the most favorable light. Messina and Ireland each deliver raw and stripped down (both metaphorically and physically) performances as two people inexplicably drawn to one another despite their “real lives” and I asked Bates if his stripped down score (a far cry from his more electronic work) was a conscious choice or something that developed naturally as he worked on the music.
“In our first conversations about the score, Matt [Ross, director] and I talked about how the bulk of it could be fairly minimal but when it’s there it really needed to be felt. There is a large emotional arc in the story, from the thrill and excitement at the early phases of the affair, to the anguish as things become more complex. There are some great emotional performances on the score that I think reflect the performances onscreen. I called on cellist Eric Jacobsen for some of the cues; an amazing musician who I also used on Another Earth. He really pours out the emotion. I played a lot of woodwinds on this one, and from the outset it was clear that 28 Hotel Rooms would be primarily an acoustic score.”
Filled with instruments from driving piano to a robust string section, I wondered if the process of creating a score like this differs from that of his more electronic efforts and Bates told me,
“I guess the tools that I use may be different, but the process is much the same. I am inspired by sounds. Themes and tones tend to evolve naturally out of the choices of instrumentation. Whether it’s a cello or a synth, in the end it’s still about getting the right emotion and telling the right story.”
Seeing as the film focuses on the honest (and maddening) truth of engaging in an affair, the need to keep such a relationship a secret from the outside world forces our leads to stay confined within the walls of the various hotel rooms they meet at. While the score is full of life with tracks like the energized “Running Through Hallways,” the film gives a very real sense of confinement. This choice of keeping the story bound within four walls was actually one that developed after Bates’ had created the score, explaining,
“The film was pretty different when I first saw it. There were a lot of interstitial moments; short little sequences that signified the passage of time and some exterior scenes that required a lot of music. As the edit progressed however, Matt and his editor, Joe Krings, decided to lose those sequences which made the movie much more focused and intense. One casualty of that decision was a lot of that music was no longer needed. That’s one reason I’m so thrilled to have the soundtrack come out on Milan Records as it was an opportunity to have some of that unused music see the light of day.
I think that Matt and Joe’s editorial choice really focused the score differently as well. In a way it made the cues much more powerful. It was interesting for me to have things thrown into a new context like that and then adapt to it.”
Not solely a composed effort, the soundtrack does include two songs, one from Lindsay Haun titled “Looking At You” and one from Kirk Ross titled “A Dash of Pixie Dust,” who’s lyrics and vocals are incredibly poignant and telling of the story being depicted on screen, giving the audience a peek into what may not be said, but is certainly felt by these characters. These placements were done after Bates’ score was completed, but Bates’ agreed that,
“Kirk’s song is indeed really poignant; that’s Matt’s brother. I could be wrong, but I think he may have written that song for the movie.”
Coming into the project on the heels of Another Earth, Bates found the process creating this score taking him away from his typical practices and instead turning towards rich instrumentation which can be heard (and felt) throughout the entire composition. Because the story does not take us outside these various hotel rooms, the audience is just as trapped as the two leads in this push and pull, taboo relationship where the score was necessary to add levity and a breath of reality and sense the outside world to this almost claustrophobic situation. Bates worked closely with Ross on the development the score, saying,
“Matt was keen to have some haunting textures and ambient beds in some of the cues, and creating ambient textures using real instruments became key in the early stages of the writing. This movie came right after Another Earth, and at first I tried to use some of the techniques used when scoring that movie; using the guitar textures of Phil Mossman [the other half of Fall On Your Sword] as a starting point and building from there. But it was quickly becoming too “other worldy.” It was clear that it needed to be created using more organic tones. So a lot of the beds were created using woodwinds, looped bass clarinets, bowed water phones, my wonky old upright piano. Stuff like that. I think the big lesson there was that every movie has its own unique voice that as a composer I have to discover; capturing its unique essence whilst trying to never repeat myself.”
Seeing as the film’s main relationship is sparked by (and continuously comes back to) the act and intoxication of sex, it is no surprise the score is populated by eye brow raising track titles such as “The Blowjob Chronicles” and “Five Night Stand.” Bates explained the reasoning behind these titles, saying,
“The titles are named after a certain line at the start of a scene where the music would come in. Some of those scenes are no longer in the movie, but like I said, I’m thrilled to have the music get out there via Milan. There’s some stuff on there that I’m really proud of.”
28 Hotel Rooms takes viewers inside the stimulating world of an affair, but also shows the ugly and awful side of getting caught up in another person in this way and the guilt that comes with such a choice. Ross succeeds in creating a narrative that leaves audiences to their own opinions on the questions it raises, allowing the discussion to continue long after the final hotel room door is closed. Seeing as he had to get lost in such a world to be able to create the music to accompany it, when I asked what Bates opinion was after seeing the film, and whether that opinion affect his head-space when composing the music, he explained,
“When I first saw the movie I was so struck by how it never diverted from the relationship. For better or for worse, they never give up on each other, despite how desperate the situation becomes. Like any tumultuous romance, the highs are really high and the lows can be pretty damn low. That’s something I thought about a lot when composing this one.”
Relationships are rarely a simple matter and an affair complicates their precarious nature all the more. Bates has created a layered score that mirrors the various emotions that come along with such a relationship from the initial excitement to the inevitable guilt, the moments of happiness to those of great sadness. 28 Hotel Rooms and its score certainly take you on a departure from everyday life, but you may have more questions than answers once you finally check out.
The soundtrack for 28 Hotel Rooms is available through Milan Records.
1. “I’m Never Going To Call You” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
2. “Elevator” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
3. “Fireworks” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
4. “Between The Sheets” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
5. “The Blowjob Chronicles” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
6. “Running Through Hallways” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
7. “Time-Lapse Weekend” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
8. “First Night” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
9. “Over The City” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
10. “Naked On The Balcony” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
11. “Five Night Stand” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
12. “Reconciliation” ‐ Fall On Your Sword
13. “Looking At You” ‐ Lindsay Haun
14. “A Dash of Pixie Dust” ‐ Kirk Ross
28 Hotel Rooms will be released in Los Angeles this Friday (11/9) and you can check out my review of the film when it premiered at Sundance back in January here.