Billie Eilish and her brother/songwriting partner Finneas O’Connell had long fantasized about writing a James Bond song, but also practiced it. “We would make up Bond melodies and chords that felt like Bond,” says the Grammy-winning singer, who traces this goal to her love of Adele’s iconic “Skyfall” ballad, “one of my favorite songs ever,” Eilish says. The dream is now reality with the pair’s moody scorcher for Daniel Craig’s farewell as Bond, “No Time to Die,” which the siblings are seen writing and recording in the documentary “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry.” Their theme has already added another Grammy to their collection; it now may earn them an Oscar.
How did you get the gig?
Eilish: It wasn’t like, “Hey, guys, guess what you get to do?” It was, “Here’s an opportunity, you have to audition for it and they may or may not use it.” That was unbelievable to us, and so exciting.
O’Connell: They did not come to us on bended knee, and I respect that. I think they’re like, “Why would we commit to anything we don’t know yet, when we have this movie we’re pouring an island nation’s budget into.” It was definitely a little more nerve-racking, but I respect it. I think it’s standard practice for them. I think Amy Winehouse recorded a Bond song that was never used. I would bet money they begged Adele to do it, and she said no.
Eilish: [Laughs] We met with [producer] Barbara [Broccoli] in Ireland. She sent the first bit of the script so that we knew the beginning. I’m sure everybody that was writing a song got that. At the time, we were just so excited she was interested at all.
So when we see you in the documentary creating the song, it’s your pitch?
Eilish: Yes, and it took awhile because, oh my God, did we have rules we felt like we had to follow in our minds. The main thing was, I really, really needed the melody to be strong. It’s got to be a powerful, melancholy feeling. I wanted the whole song to be good melodies. We would start to write and I’d immediately shoot it down, “Not good enough!”
O’Connell: This often happens with Billie and me, where we’re writing and we realize how we feel about something as the song is being written. And with James Bond, we knew exactly what we wanted to hit. I remember when Billie came up with, “I should have known I’d leave alone” as the first line, I thought that was so cool. Such a sad, James Bond thing to say. We were pumped.
Are you role-playing when you write?
Eilish: We wrote this song from James’ point of view of [love interest] Madeline, rethinking his entire life and trust in her. It was a great thing to write about. We’ve all felt betrayed, and I liked that it was higher stakes than, “She told on me, and I didn’t want her to.”
O’Connell: (exaggeratedly warbling) “She-e-e-e-e told on me…”
O’Connell: (still singing) “…I didn’t wa-a-a-a-ant her to …”
O’Connell: It was also very important for me to have the chorus have almost a double [meaning], “I’ve fallen for a lie.” He has fallen for a lie, but that line’s reinterpreted as the movie progressed. It wasn’t the lie he thought he fell for.
Also, on a practical level, you had a more amenable title to lyricize.
O’Connell: We didn’t have to put “Quantum of Solace” into a song, yes, but then Jack White and Alicia Keys didn’t even try to do that. I love [that theme song] more and more as I get older.
Billie, in the documentary, you express concern for how people will react to you belting. Have you had a change of heart about that kind of singing?
Eilish: Absolutely, thanks to “No Time to Die”! The thing people don’t realize is, when I started out, I had an undeveloped voice and range. I was 13! There are people that when they’re young have a very loud singing voice, and I had a quiet singing voice. And when you get older, you learn to sing in different dynamics. But when you’re a preteen, then teen, trying to figure out what you’re capable of, you stay in your comfort zone. Stepping out is important, but it’s really scary.
O’Connell: I think what’s stunning to me is that she’s just gotten better. She had an incredible voice at 13 years old, and everybody thought so. But I listen back to her recordings from then and I think, “Oh, what a young version of Billie’s now incredibly sophisticated instrument.”
Eilish: I could barely do runs! So thank you to Bond for getting me out of my comfort zone and exploring my voice, and realizing that I can sing a lot more than I think I can.
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