When Sam Smith hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts with his Spectre theme song “Writing’s On The Wall,” he not only beat Adele’s previous effort, “Skyfall,” which reached No. 2, but it was the first No. 1 Bond theme in 30 years and second ever. Of this achievement, Smith says, “It was very, very, very, very surreal to get that. It was absolutely great. I was so proud that this song even got on the charts, because I remember when we first did it, I was like, this is not a pop song.” The effort even got a Twitter nod from Bond favorite Roger Moore, a moment Smith calls “unbelievable.” The 23-year-old has collected numerous Grammys in his career, and this song already won him a Globe, but this is Smith’s first Oscar nom. Up against Lady Gaga and Diane Warren’s “’Til It Happens To You”–from The Hunting Ground–he says, “It’s a very surreal moment to me, actually being next to her and being up for it.” He discusses what went into penning a song for Bond, working with Barbara Broccoli (“one of the loveliest women, absolutely incredible”), and why Sam Mendes changed the lyrics to make Bond seem “less vulnerable.”
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You’ve said this was the fastest song you’ve ever written and it only took you 20 minutes to write. How did you get into a headspace where you could do that?
I f*cked up because I kind of, I made up I had written the song in 20 minutes, which was not the case. I didn’t word that correctly. The initial idea to it came so quickly, like the melody and stuff. I was just surprised at that because I always thought if I was going to write a Bond song, I thought I would have overthought it so much, and it would have taken so long to do. But the vocal in the song is the demo scratch. I was just really, really shocked at how it felt like it came quite naturally, but that’s kind of the way I write as well. My music is almost like vomit! It’s a horrible way to put it, but I feel it, I say it, and I doubt myself all the time throughout my whole life, but when it comes to music I just don’t. I don’t doubt myself. I run with it, and I feel like what comes out is natural to me and it feels right, so that’s what we did.
What was the process of working with Barbara Broccoli and Sam Mendes?
I never saw the film. I read the script. They gave me the script and they told me the overall feeling to it. When I write music it’s very strange, maybe it’s normal, but I see things in songs in different colors. It’s really strange, so when Sam was talking to me about the song, he had just started the title sequence and they were doing something with an octopus and the colors were very purple and that immediately made me go to the studio and want to write a song that sounded purple. So it sounds a bit haunting and dark and it’s scary. Barbara Broccoli was so supportive and just lovely through the whole process.
And Mendes changed the lyrics?
He did. My whole thing with this song is I wanted to make it a vulnerable Bond song. When you listen to Bond songs they’re not vulnerable. They’re very powerful, and the lyric content is strong. I really wanted to inject a bit of myself because my music’s vulnerable and it’s like a diary. I wanted to do that a little bit for a Bond song. I thought it would be really interesting to do. The sounds of the song, the way it’s produced is very classic, I felt, and tireless and simple, But I felt like doing the lyric like it was my brave thing to do. That was my thing where I thought this is going to be different, and some people f***ing hate it, but I think some people like it. Hopefully, some people like it, because I love it and I love just the way it sounds and the way it fits with the film.
Making this film was a beautiful thing, because with Sam Mendes coming in and changing some of the lyrics so they were a bit more masculine–not masculine, but a bit more brave and a bit more strong, it felt like when we were taking this risk and releasing this song, I felt like I was releasing it with Barbara, with Sam and with Jimmy (Naples). It felt like a real group thing, and that meant that no matter what people say, the people that don’t like it, Barbara Broccoli read over my song and she chose it, and that’s what really mattered to me–the Bond family were feeling it.
Are you a fan of any of the others in your category?
I’m a huge Gaga fan. I have been since I was a kid. I actually camped out overnight to see Gaga when I was 17 years old in London.
Did you tell her that?
Yeah. I did, actually. I feel so lucky to walk into this world, this movie world in this way. All of them are just amazing. It’s just my first ever song in a film was a Bond song, and I’m just soaking it all up and trying to enjoy every single moment. Then hopefully I’ll be here again in terms of making music for films because I really love it.
What’s up next?
Obviously, the Oscars have changed stuff a little bit, because I was meant to just have the entire year off. I’ve learned some stuff about myself in the past few months, and the truth is, I can’t take time off. The day after New Years Eve, even though I was insanely hungover, I just went straight into the studio. But I haven’t got a plan to release anything as of yet, and I don’t think I want to release anything for a bit. I just want the music to be right, so at the moment I’m just trying to get back to a comfortable place, and actually, the last few days I’ve had a massive breakthrough with a few songs and the place that I’m writing them with Jimmy Naples, it’s amazing.
I’m just trying to get to the bones, to the core of what I want to say in this next record. That’s my plan. I’m trying to live as well a little bit, and I think next month I’m going to force myself to just stay at home and see my mum and dad and my sisters, because I feel like I’ve missed out on their lives a bit the last few years, so that’s my plan. When I go to these big events it’s amazing, but you know, this year for me is my time to just pretend like all of that never happened and then walk back into it.
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