Besides its stylish cinematography and engaging plot, BBC America's award-winning Killing Eve TV production also appealed a cult following for its eclectic soundtrack. Getting hooked is evident. Because what's featured isn't your typical wallflower instrumentals, but intricately crafted original scores that fleshed out both deep characters and climatic moods.
On the eve of Killing Eve's Season 3, we caught up with its music supervisor Catherine Grieves who tells us how she defines the Killing Eve sound and the importance of music juxtaposition.
ESQ: Describe how you conceptualise the sound you wanted for Killing Eve and its respective lead characters.
Catherine Grieves: We'd always wanted to show a voice that's compatible since Season 1. So the soundtrack to be a big part of it, almost having a third voice for Eve and Villanelle. Like an interesting female vocal and a bold sound. We pulled together a lot of different playlists of vocalists we loved and sounds and found a classic 60s influence and timeless sound really worked with the show.
Regarding Villanelle, the music we use tend to score her inner thoughts—she’s so fun to play with because there are many sides to her character. You got the dark side and then humour, which we try to bring that out with music played against what’s happening on-screen.
David Holmes (composer) and I, before the series, will start thinking about ideas and songs we love. We then play them and watch the narratives in each episode before setting aside what matches for each specific scene. It’s a lot of fun!
ESQ: The soundtrack features an eclectic list of musicians and genres. What made you decide to curate an off-kilter selection of artists ranging from the past till now?
Catherine Grieves: It was an organic process to discover what was works. Our main vision for the soundtrack is using music that people haven’t necessarily heard before. We like to dig through our records collection and find some B-sides on singles from the 60s and songs that don’t have an association with something else.
A part of the success from the Killing Eve soundtrack is that because we’re using music from more obscure artists and different periods, it allows that music to become Killing Eve rather than Killing Eve becoming that music.
Sometimes with famous music or familiar music and sounds, you will always be very conscious of a preconceived association as an audience member. Whereas our slightly more left-field ideas allow the show to really have its own identity.
ESQ: Tell us how the music selection process is like for Killing Eve. Do you match scene sequences with tunes selected beforehand?
Catherine Grieves: Holmes and I will make various music playlists before shooting and editing. We’ll send them to the show's directors and editors. When they start casting those episodes, they can use music that we love and think will work really well. They then start working with that music by placing it in those episodes. Once the episode gets to a point where everybody is satisfied and the pictures are locked with that music, Holmes and I will get those episodes and we’ll go through it.
Sometimes we stop and think we can find something better or if the track would work better elsewhere. So, David will place Unloved's music and process it. It’s kind of a two-stage process and pushing to where we can’t seem to better it.
ESQ: Who are your musical influences and how do they affect your selections when curating soundtracks?
Catherine Grieves: I listen to all sorts of music. On the whole for Killing Eve, we really tried to pick out rare songs and things that people haven’t heard before. Again, it depends on what show we’re working on. I try to listen to as much as I possibly can.
Growing up, I listen to a lot of 60s Folk and Progressive Rock. It depends on the show whether my influences can be felt. Thus, we try to pull music from as many different places as possible.
ESQ: Unloved’s songs appear often in the show. How did you discover them?
Catherine Grieves: When we started on Season 1 [of Killing Eve], we explored having artists with a feature female vocalist. Also, we discovered a really brilliant score composer. We were looking at various people—different composers, different artists to match up and we thought that David Holmes, who I previously mentioned, was ideal to approach regarding the score.
Holmes’ a brilliant composer and a very brilliant record producer and we knew that he had all these artist connections. We had that conversation with David about scoring and suggest working with. He then brought Unloved to the table, who had released one album independently a couple of years before Killing Eve which had a lot of interesting sounds and totally matched with what we're looking for. It meant that both Unloved songs and the scores that he writes fit the bill with that sound so we had a really cohesive soundtrack interconnecting each other.
ESQ: Fans and viewers are equally invested in the soundtrack and cinematography. What do you think contributed to the success of the former? Was it intended to place importance on the soundtrack too?
Catherine Grieves: Yes, it was, which has been a very exciting thing on Killing Eve. Sometimes, music the last thing that people think about when watching a TV series. So, you’re matching it, finding the music at the end that fits, rather than Killing Eve really kind of informed. We made that decision quite earlier on with the ambition of the soundtrack.
Everyone working on the show really wanted to make sure that the music shone. Everybody was bearing it in mind from the beginning and we weren't scared to make it quite interesting and bold. We had the support of the whole production team and all the creatives. Everybody kind of went with it, so we got that freedom to do something interesting.
ESQ: Any musicians would you have to create original music for Killing Eve?
Catherine Grieves: Unloved. Because they are artists and write the original score which is so brilliant. They have new songs and write songs for their band as an album. But obviously, with three series into Killing Eve, a lot of the songs are written with that in mind. It’s quite hard to imagine for another artist to write something original but maybe we can explore guest vocalists. However again, we do love interesting female artists with interesting dark left field vocals.
ESQ: How do soundtracks and backing music instrumentals help to enhance the mood of particular scenes?
Catherine Grieves: It’s quite interesting if you ever watched TV episodes or a film without any accompanying music. It feels really slow and almost stop-motion like.
You need music to help push along any tension, drama, or emphasize light moments. With Killing Eve, we try to push against what’s going on in the picture. So in 'darker' scenes, we’ll sometimes have the energetic, almost happy, piece of music on top of that. With that kind of juxtaposition, it often makes the scene more dramatic.
We attempt to get that balance. Holmes' score is brilliant in the series. He really pushed some of the more interesting sides— there are fashion scenes, fairground waltz scenes which are used quite a lot this series. Konstantin scenes with Konstantin’s daughter too. I think that gives a whole new dimension.
ESQ: What are some memorable or unique songs you’ve encountered when curating for Killing Eve?
Catherine Grieves: In in this series we’ve got some quite interesting and fun songs. One of my highlights, I think it’s difficult to think of any other track than that is in Episode 4 when Villanelle was in the rose garden. We had 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' by Tiny Tim which is a really bizarre track is roughly from the early ’70s where it has that balance of humour. It’s pretty creepy and worked so well. When we saw that scene, we’re like, "This is completely unbeatable with the track”. That’s definitely a standout moment.
We tend to match whichever country the episode or scene is in. For example, some European songs that we’ve used often such as in Season 2. We like to use music from that country, preferably in that language. Which can be a lot of fun trying to find excellent songs that we might not be as familiar with.
When we’re in France, it’s very easy to find brilliant 60s French music—like Brigitte Bardot. Whereas in certain countries, it’s harder. We went to Amsterdam in Season 2 and that was a real challenge to find music that works with Killing Eve that was represented in Dutch.
A lot of Dutch music is sung in English, but we came along a captivating cover of 'Angel of The Morning' by a Dutch artist that fitted well. That was a eureka moment as well.
ESQ: Tell us your favourite song from the soundtrack you’ve curated so far and why?
Catherine Grieves: There’s so many that I love! One of my favourite moments was in Season 1. It was a song by an artist Psychotic Beat called 'Killer Shangri-Lah', which was used across all the trailers and was used in various scenes in Season 1.
In Episode 1, the first big murder scene where Villanelle stabbed the old man with her hairpin in the eye, became such an iconic scene. That was the first big commercial song moment where it wasn’t an Unloved track in the show. It had that nice balance of humour.
It’s very on the nose lyrically but it worked and set the tone. Once we got over the first episode and decided this was the vibe we’re going for, everything else fell into place quite easily after those moments. That song for sure is one.
Also, 'Expectations' by Unloved, which was the end credit, encapsulates the whole vibe too. When we heard that over the opening ice cream scene, it really made us feel really confident that we got there and we knew where we were heading.
The finale of Killing Eve Season 3 will premiere 1 June on BBC First (StarHub Channel 502) and BBC Player.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.