Killing Eve: How the hit BBC show's killer soundtrack was made

By Paul Glynn
BBC Music

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Jodie Comer (l) and Sandra Oh star in Killing Eve

There's arguably only one drawback to watching Killing Eve, the rip-roaring Phoebe Waller-Bridge TV adaptation of Luke Jennings' Codename Villanelle novella series which concludes this weekend.

And that's the amount of time spent rewinding each episode to Shazam the many sublime songs played out as MI5 agent Eve Polastri and psychopathic killer Villanelle track each other across the globe.

More often than not, these moments come courtesy of Unloved, a band featuring David Holmes - "the best producer in the world" according to Noel Gallagher - who were commissioned to score the darkly comic drama.

The group's singer Jade Vincent and partner Keefus Ciancia, as well as series music supervisor Catherine Grieves, have been sharing their top tips on how to create that killer sound.

Book a band who make cinematic-sounding music

Image source, Unloved
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Unloved: Soundtracking Eve

David's composing skills were brought in on the advice of Catherine, who was then delighted to discover that his band's style "just totally worked within our Killing Eve sound world."

"We wanted some power and darkness and quite a lot of humour, and Unloved had that but they also had a really classic sound," she says.

"David and Keefus are totally from the film world as well so you can tell that influence and I think they were just the perfect fit."

Holmes previously wrote film scores for the Ocean's Eleven movie series, Good Vibrations and his own debut album was entitled This Film's Crap Let's Slash the Seats, while Ciancia composed soundtracks for the likes of True Detective and The Fall.

So when they formed their own band the sound was never going to be anything short of cinematic.

"We all kind of gravitate towards having chapters in our music which often makes it free for us," Keefus explains.

"Every song can be a completely different sort of mini-film in a sense, which means the music and Jade's story character can be totally different."

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Unloved's 2016 debut album, Guilty of Love, was not written for any TV/film soundtrack - but it might as well have been.

Tracks like I Could Tell You But I'd Have To Kill, Xpectations and When a Woman Is Around fit so well that they were all woven into the fabric of the Killing Eve script, alongside new pieces of bespoke music.

"It was strange," adds Keefus, "there were so many great situations that the lyrical content would match in the right way and other times just the perfect instrumental pieces to fit the mood."

Use the lead vocal as an instrument to guide the story

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"We wanted to make sure that a female voice was used in the soundtrack," reveals Catherine, "as obviously it's a female led drama and we wanted to reflect that in the music.

"But we always wanted an interesting voice, a very strong voice and we weren't after a John Lewis advert type wispy singer-songwriter!"

Cue Jade, who views her role on the show as being a subliminal narrator as much as a singer.

"I loved doing it," she says.

"We're into the second season now and it's very exciting because my little voice becomes the voice inside their head, either to sooth or maybe a warning or some sort of empowering thing.

"Because I don't know if you have it but I have it myself too."

Ensure the music fits the landscape of each scene

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Villanelle: From Russia without love

When Villanelle is not off murdering for money in Austria, Italy or Germany, the Russian killer is often found 'relaxing' in her flat in the French capital, Paris.

As the first series moved from country to country it was important that the music moved with it.

Catherine points out: "There's a couple of Serge Gainsbourg songs in the first episode which totally sets the tone when they're in France, then some really dark German electro in the third episode when they're in the Berlin nightclub.

"There's a Russian track that Villanelle dances to when it's [her boss] Constantine's birthday and that's kind of a classic Russian folk song called The Dark Eyes.

"We use that as her kind of theme tune."

The assassin herself has a penchant for national anthems, just one of the many quirks that make up her character.

"I love that about Killing Eve," adds Catherine, "those little bits of detail that make it so fascinating.

"Because with a normal serial killer you don't get that depth, which made it so fun with the music as there's so much to bring out."

Pick tracks that haven't been used loads before

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For every thrilling on screen scene that contains The Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, there are perhaps 20 other average ones.

With that in mind, the Killing Eve producers were intent on finding source music - anything not made by Unloved - that would stand out.

Artists like Cigarettes After Sex, Julia Michaels and The Pshycotic (sic) Beats were all selected from David and Catherine's own personal treasure troves of tunes.

"Killer Shangri-Lah is about 10-years-old but it's one of those situations when you just come across little gems and then one day you're working on the project that they're right for."

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Now with the first series having been considered a success, their email inboxes are overflowing with song suggestions (and inflated price quotes) from bands to use their music.

For Catherine, though, "originality" remains the key.

"Killing Eve has a very specific sound and people will send me songs saying 'this is perfect' and I listen to it and go 'have you heard it?'

"Other times you go 'oh my gosh that's so bang on, that's definitely going forward.'

"Try and find music that hasn't been used a million times before and try and really tap into what that show or film is about and what it's saying and try to create that musically."

Save the best tunes for the baddies

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It's good to be bad

As kids we're all taught that it's nice to be nice and that good girls and boys finish first.

But like many situations in life, in the world of drama soundtracks, does it sometimes pay to be bad?

"Possibly," says Catherine.

"With Villanelle in particular, she has more of a defined sound and often the key tracks are played over the big scenes where she's murdering someone."

Jade agrees, reluctantly, that the bad girls do have more musical fun.

"I'm excited by Villanelle because of who she is, the danger and the interest of her finding this first love with Eve and that's how I look at it.

"It's such a destructive love story. It's love at its height with the insanity and there's completely no rules to what's happening between them.

"I can't say which one I like the most but most days I romanticise about Villanelle's character and I find that I feel a little more free when I'm working with scenes to do with her.

"I don't know what that says about me!"

Keefus thinks he does: "Jade was tied up by Villanelle in the studio for six months until all of her character was properly recorded!"

The final episode of Killing Eve is broadcast on BBC One on Saturday at 21:25 GMT (if you haven't already binged on them all via the BBC iPlayer) and Unloved's second album, Heartbreak is out on 1 February 2019.