Richard Reed Parry: From Arcade Fire To Scoring The Iron Claw

Best known as a core member of the Grammy Award-winning art-rock outfit Arcade Fire, Richard Reed Parry is now increasingly building his name as a solo artist and film composer. Not least after scoring The Iron Claw, the Zac Efron and Lily James-starring film about the true story of the Von Erich wrestling family, a tragedy that is beyond words. Parry speaks with Headliner about creating his incredibly unique score for the film, his ongoing collaboration with director Sean Durkin, and he teases the upcoming Arcade Fire album.

Hailing from Ottawa, Canada, Parry grew up amidst a highly creative family, with his late father a member of the folk band Friends Of Fiddler’s Green, while his mother was a poet and musician. After studying electroacoustics and contemporary dance in Montreal, he formed Bell Orchestre in 1999, a six-piece instrumental group, notably with violinist Sarah Neufeld who also went on to join Arcade Fire.

Formed in 2001, Arcade Fire have released six studio albums since 2004, and the Grammy-winning band (the award going to 2010’s The Suburbs) are known for having around a dozen musicians on stage when performing. The alternative rockers were formed by the group’s co-lead singer Win Butler, while Parry was initially brought in to help record. He ended up collaborating on the music to the point where he shortly after joined as a formal member. 

Besides all the touring and recording, Arcade Fire gave Parry his first taste of film scoring, as the band were enlisted to create the score for Spike Jonze’s Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.

With all this in mind, it does feel logical that Parry has a pretty unique approach to scoring to picture, in that he mostly avoids watching the picture itself initially. He instead prioritises what he calls “the core” of the film, its ideas and his initial instincts. He’s speaking to Headliner from New Orleans, where Arcade Fire are recording their next album.

I started knocking out loads of rock ideas, thinking about wrestling and action.

“I tend to start working on films not working to picture,” he says. “I like letting the music go where it needs to go for its own sake. I'll maybe watch the film once, or even a few scenes, whatever they've got to show me early on if it's earlier on in the process. And even with just the script, if they haven't shot anything yet, which has been the case, a couple of times, now. I’m trying to find ideas and musical threads that connect to the ideas in the film, and the spiritual core of the thing.”

This would all eventually lead to Parry’s first solo score and collaboration with Sean Durkin, on 2020’s The Nest. The film revolves around Jude Law’s character, Rory, an ambitious trader and entrepreneur who uproots his family from New York to London, recklessly buying a Surrey mansion for them to live in that he can scarcely afford. Parry scored this story of an unravelling man who is putting on a delusional front to his colleagues and family with a very minimalist score, with melodic flutes and violins set against jarring atonal piano chords and menacing cello.

“It's just so stunningly soft spoken in a way that is rare in cinema,” Parry says of The Nest. “I think it's a very universal story, and speaks to the most hideous sides of capitalism and where that comes from a person and their psychology. Sean Durkin was a fan of my Music For Heart and Breath album. And he got in touch saying that as he was writing the script, he had that album on loop.”

he music was mostly pointing to something a little darker and a little sad.

The Iron Claw was released this year via A24, one of the most critically-lauded film production companies currently in the industry, having helped bring out movies such as Everything Everywhere All At Once, Lady Bird, and Midsommar. The Iron Claw tells the true story of the Von Erichs pro-wrestling family, so imbued with loss and grief that while watching, you have to keep reminding yourself these are real-life events and not a Shakespearian tragedy. Also directed by Sean Durkin, the film stars Zac Efron, Lily James, Jeremy Allen White, and Holt McCallany.

With the film revolving around the ideas of masculinity and mental health, Durkin was listening to a very particular flavour of music while trying to get into the alpha-male psyche as he wrote the script. “He knew that he wanted to use big drums, that was the only directive that he had at the time,” Parry explains. “He had been listening to all this ‘70s dude-rock and man-rock of that era. So I started knocking out loads of rock ideas, thinking about wrestling and action.

“We ended up only keeping one of those ideas in the film besides the song (I Wanna Live That Way with art-rock artist Little Scream). It became clear that there was a certain amount of scoring of the action in the ring that needed to happen. But the music was mostly pointing to something a little darker and a little sad, trying to connect to the emotions of the wrestlers behind the scenes and in their lives. Sean really likes to lean into scoring emotional landscapes of characters rather than scoring action, a lot of the time. He really wanted to focus on Kevin’s (played by Efron) sadness, so it was a challenging balance to achieve.”

It’s very interesting to learn that Parry’s early sketches were rock-orientated, because the bulk of the score is darkly minimal woodwind and brass music with percussive elements, which does the perfect job of portraying the wrestling family who are outwardly so macho, positive, and physically strong, but are emotionally at breaking point.

All of the characters truly bring their A-game to The Iron Claw, and Zac Efron in particular delivers a revelatory performance, as he is perhaps best known for more high-budget, mass-appeal films such as Baywatch and The Greatest Showman, following his teen breakthrough in the High School Musical trilogy.

“It’s such an excellent cast and such a good script,” Parry says when asked about how the acting performances in particular influenced the music he wrote. “The more cohesive the story is, the more cohesive the actors are, then the more of a real world that feels like. So you can really feel when you're touching that musically, and when you're finding something that really connects to the depth of the characters.”

Next up for Parry is a documentary that’s on its way to being released, meanwhile the next Arcade Fire record is “moving along, not much to report. It’s an ongoing process!” But to keep yourself busy in the meantime, The Iron Claw has completed its cinematic run, but is available to watch and rent online. It’s a brilliant achievement of music, acting and filmmaking, certainly one you’ll want to watch and grapple with. 

The Iron Claw images via A24