Scoring HBO Max’s Peacemaker

January 28, 2022

Kevin Kiner: Scoring PEACEMAKER with Clint Mansell

Interview by Randall D. Larson

PEACEMAKER (also known as DC’s PEACEMAKER) is a 2022 American action-adventure comedy superhero web television series, a spin-off from THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021), based on characters of DC Comics. John Cena reprises his role from THE SUICIDE SQUAD and stars in the new series; his character is known for his slogan, “I made a vow to have peace, no matter how many people I have to kill to get it!” Also starring are Steve Agee, Danielle Brooks, Robert Patrick, Jennifer Holland, Freddie Stroma, Chukwudi Iwuji, Lochlyn Munro, Annie Chang, Christopher Heyerdahl, Elizabeth Ludlow, Rizwan Manji, Nhut Le, Alison Araya, Lenny Jacobson. The series is directed by James Gunn, and premiered on HBO Max on January 13th, and is hysterically over the top, as anyone who has seen Gunn’s THE SUICIDE SQUAD will understand. Composers Clint Mansell and Kevin Kiner (known for their collaborations on DC’s TITANS and DOOM PATROL series) have composed the score. WaterTower Music will shortly release a digital soundtrack of their music.

Kevin Kiner

I had a recent chat with Kevin Kiner about his collaborating with Clint Mansell and their scoring of PEACEMAKER. Kiner has scored all seven seasons of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, which earned him the 2021 Annie Award for “Best Music – TV/Media” for the series finale episode “Victory and Death.” He is also known for his scores to both STAR WARS: REBELS and the new Disney+ spinoff series STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH. His other diverse credits include Netflix’s NARCOS: MEXICO, HBO Max’s TITANS and DOOM PATROL, Showtime’s CITY ON A HILL, AMC’s hit series HELL ON WHEELS, CBS’s CSI: MIAMI, and CW’s JANE THE VIRGIN. From his intimate, soloistic guitar music to his grand orchestral music, Kevin has transported audience from deserts to metropolises – and even to a galaxy far, far away.

Watch the PEACEMAKER Trailer from HBO Max:

RDL: How did you and Clint Mansell get involved with James Gunn on this project?

Kevin Kiner: Clint works with Peter Safran, who is the executive producer, so I think that was the connection.

RDL: How did the two of you work with James Gunn as far as spotting the series and the kind of music he wanted for the show?

Kevin Kiner: As you know James is so steeped in his knowledge of music and on this show he chose late ‘80s/early ‘90s hair metal. The early discussions with him and Clint and everybody were about how much of the score would have that as a foundation. On THE WRESTLER (2008) Clint had used an element of the source cues as part of the score, which worked out; so that was part of our initial conversation. James really talked a lot about the emotions, as you watch the show you see that Chris Smith [Peacemaker] is a messed up dude and he’s going on a pretty deep emotional journey, especially with the relationships he has on the team, dealing with his father, and all of those things. Clint and James and myself were very intent on the emotional cues having a resonance, and that was kind of the key to the show, in a way. Even though the show’s fun – it’s got action and all these things; we have a pet eagle! – but the real foundation of the show is in the emotional journey of the characters.

While Eagly looks photorealistic and is based on a real eagle, he is in fact a CGI character. Christopher Smith interacts with the eagle regularly in the show, and there’s no way to train a real eagle to perform on demand. (see “Is Eagly A Real Eagle?” at looper.com)

RDL: Along with working with Clint on TITANS and DOOM PATROL, what is your usual technique as far as working together and collaborating on these scores?

Kevin Kiner: Clint and I worked together before on a couple of films, so it’s been an involving process. On TITANS, Clint was really big on not having it be a normal superhero soundtrack, but keeping it more in the electronic vein – specifically with a late ‘70s/early ‘80s analog synthesizer sound. Then DOOM PATROL took that even farther. With PEACEMAKER you’ve got the added element of the hair metal and the glam rock going on, so there were a lot of moving parts. James is really cool with giving us a lot of playlists, and Clint and I actually independently came upon the exact same chord progression. It’s a chord progression that’s frequently used in the late 80s/early ‘90s, so I was listening to it and realized that it could really serve us well. Then Clint emailed me like a half hour later and I called him up and said “You’re not going to believe me, because I was just working on that same thing!” He had heard a different song in a different key, but it was still the same chord progression. So we connected pretty good on this project! It’s weird, we don’t work together in the same studio at all, but we trade sounds, we track licks, he sends me a guitar part, I sent him stuff. It’s difficult to describe exactly, but we’re pretty well connected.

Harcourt & Peacemaker (Jennifer Holland & John Cena)

RDL: What kind of thematic material did the two of you create for PEACEMAKER?

Kevin Kiner: There’s the main theme, which has played in the show a little bit so far, specifically in the scene in episode 2 when Peacemaker is jumping off balconies, one balcony to the next, and then at the very end of that episode he runs into the car and Eagly flies into the car at the last second and they speed away – that’s where you really start to hear the heroic Peacemaker theme.

Funny enough, it is also used in Peacemaker’s trailer, when he comes home for the first time to the trailer that he lives in. That’s all played on a solo electric guitar. It’s the same melody but played in an emotional, sort of bittersweet way. It’s a lonely cue there. Then on the soundtrack album that’s coming out, it gets its full due in a four and a half minute version, with choir and orchestra and tons of guitars and the drummer from Cinderella, Fred Coury, who’s a friend of mine. James really likes the source cues, and obviously the opening main title is one of the greatest main titles in the history of movies!

RDL: I love that opening and the way it introduces the cast members with that elaborately choreographed, dead-pan dance sequence to Wig Wam’s “Do Ya Wanna Taste It?” I’ll put on the YouTube video just to watch it over and over. Brilliant!

Kevin Kiner: That’s kind of what the comments are like on Twitter! Nobody fast-forwards or skips the intro on this show because it’s just so frikking fun! For the end credits James likes to use a song, so we haven’t gotten to play the Peacemaker theme in those spots, but it plays prominently throughout the show, especially in Episode 8, coming up.

Watch the opening main title sequence from PEACEMAKER:

RDL: What themes do you have for other characters?

Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks)

Kevin Kiner: We have a theme for Eagly and a theme for Vigilante. Judo Master has a theme, and we have an Adebayo and Peacemaker relationship theme, and then a theme for the Butterflies – not so much alien, but more of a horror vein. In both Vigilante’s and Judo Master’s themes there’s a little bit of Ennio Morricone, although it’s much more of a metal guitar version, though not too metal-y. We have the whistling that goes on in the Judo-Master theme, which my oldest son, Sean, who is one of the composers on this, came up with and I just thought it was brilliant. It plays really well. Vigilante’s theme is a little more of a guitar-based hardcore fanfare, with a low twanging spy/Ennio hybrid.

RDL: That fits his character really well because he’s such a poser, and also we realize, especially in episode 4, that he’s a pretty good fighter.

Kevin Kiner: He is a great fighter! It’s so funny because he seems like such a loser, and yet he can really kick-ass when he needs to. I mean, it could be argued that Peacemaker is the least-skilled and least super-hero of anyone in the show!

Peacemaker & Vigilante (Christopher Smith & Freddie Stroma)

RDL: What’s fun about Peacemaker’s character, he’s macho and he’s egotistical and he thinks he’s doing things right and yet he’s pretty incompetent about it, but at the same time we see he’s got a heart and he’s learning how to become a team player.

Kevin Kiner: That’s really what the show is about. The show’s about his heart and his emotional journey and his dealing with relationships after screwing them up pretty badly at first. Even the way he treats Economos.

RDL: How do you think Peacemaker fits in with other modern superheroes?

Kevin Kiner: I am not an expert on comic book lore or anything like that, so I would just say that, in the same way that James’ GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was such a fresh take on the whole genre, in a different way PEACEMAKER feels like its own incredibly fresh take on it. Even IRON MAN when it first came out, when you have the way Robert Downey Jr. did his magic with that character, it was just really nice to see that it wasn’t your Superman/Batman that you’ve seen before kind of thing. That’s when, to me, the comic books and the superhero and the fantasy films that are out today are at their best when they’re really innovative and sometimes not taking themselves too seriously. PEACEMAKER, really, is a comedy.

Peacemaker & Adebayo

RDL: With Peacemaker’s character, I’m wondering if you explored this musically when you created his theme, as far as all these different aspects of him, his attitude, his behavior, his almost childlike belief that everything’s right with the world despite much evidence to the contrary, and he’s trying to keep the peace by killing, but then you see these other sides of him when he gets to know his team better.

Kevin Kiner: I think Peacemaker’s theme is definitely something he could listen to and be banging his head on the steering wheel as he’s driving down the road. One of the things that Clint and I talked about was it’s being unapologetically melodic to the point of almost being syrupy, just absolutely as melodic as you can totally be. This is what was going on in the late ‘80s/early ’90s; you look at the rock ballads and all these different ones that play in the show.

RDL: You mentioned Sean, is he and your younger son Dean both working with you on this on a regular basis?

Kevin Kiner: Yeah, they are. They both contribute an incredibly great amount of work to the show. They’ve been part of the team with Clint for a long time; we worked on GHOST IN THE SHELL with Clint, they’re a part of TITANS and DOOM PATROL, and PEACEMAKER as well. I may be a little more involved in the guitar part because that’s just the most fun I could have, playing metal guitar. I bought all these amps and they never get used, I’ve got a Marshall stack and they’re all set up with mics in my studio ready to go, and I’ll go for a year without turning one single amp on! So it was nice to be able to blow the windows out with PEACEMAKER!

Nhut-Le as Judomaster

RDL: What’s been most challenging about scoring PEACEMAKER thus far?

Kevin Kiner:  I guess the challenging part was getting the hybrid part of the score right. The orchestra does have an element and there are action scenes and there are superhero scenes, and scenes of peril and all these things. The orchestra definitely needed to be an element of the score, and melding that with the kind of hair metal sensibility, being able to bring the metal guitars in and out and the big drums in and out with the big arena rock thing in and out of the score in a semi-seamless way. That was a very big challenge.

RDL: Is there anything else to add that we haven’t covered?

Kevin Kiner: It was a dream gig. Absolute dream gig. James Gunn is one of the most professional and creative and best directors I’ve ever worked with in my life, an absolute delight. There’s no negative at all about that show. I really hope it gets another season.

Thanks to Kevin Kiner for taking the time out to share his experiences on PEACEMAKER with me. Special thanks to Andrew Krop and Kyrie Hood of White Bear PR for facilitating this interview. For more information on the composer, see his website at https://kevinkiner.com/ or see my previous interviews with Kevin on STAR WARS: THE BAD BATCH (Soundtrax Sept 2021), STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Final Season (Soundtrax April 2020), and STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, HELL ON WHEELS, etc. (Soundtrax April 2008).

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