It takes a village, especially when trying to procure the soundtrack for an indie road trip movie costarring Shia LaBeouf. For American Honey, Andrea Arnold’s coming-of-age trek through the American heartland, producer Julia Oh, music supervisors Earworm Music, Arnold herself, and the film’s cast of newcomers and non-actors worked in unison to compile the sprawling soundtrack, which features everything from E-40 to Kevin Gates to Bruce Springsteen to Rihanna.
“We all made the music happen and I couldn’t be more pleased how it turned out,” Oh tells EW. With American Honey out now, and the soundtrack available on Spotify (with physical copies to follow), Oh walks through some of the film’s key tracks.
Rihanna, “We Found Love”
The Rihanna classic plays twice in American Honey, including when Star (Sasha Lane) first encounters Jake (LaBeouf) and the magazine crew that will soon become her de facto family at a local Target.
“Andrea had quite a lot of songs picked out in the development process, when she was writing the script,” says Oh. “She had done a bunch of road trips to get a sense of the country. While she was doing that, certain songs played as she was in her rental car that really made and impact and sort of stuck with her.” One was Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” To secure the track, Earworm Music used its relationship with producer Calvin Harris’ manager to help move the process along, while Arnold made a plea directly to Rihanna.
“Andrea wrote something that was really just magical and talked about how much the song meant to her and what the movie was about and how we cast non-actors and where the kids were coming from,” says Oh. “We don’t know if Rihanna actually read it, but it was a really beautiful letter. At the end of the day, it also comes down to how much are you willing to spend? For us, that song was important enough to put money against.”
Lady Antebellum, “American Honey”
The film’s namesake track plays in the third act, during an impromptu cast singalong that recalls Almost Famous.
As with “We Found Love,” Lady Antebellum’s 2010 single was in the film from the beginning. But the singalong wasn’t always planned.
“We filmed chronologically. That’s at the very end of the film when people sort of bittersweetly know it’s going to end and they’ve been on this journey together,” says Oh. “We were supposed to have the one actress, Kaylin Mally, singing it first. She was nervous and she didn’t want to sing it. But the other kids who all know that song by heart anyway chimed in. It wasn’t written there. Andrea probably helped guide it, but it’s such a special moment because as a van they were feeling the emotion [of the ending] to express it in that song.”
Bruce Springsteen, “Dream Baby Dream”
As a local trucker gives Star a brief ride up the road, they discuss his family and her dreams as Springsteen’s cover of this Suicide song plays on the radio.
“Andrea loved that song and asked that it be in that moment. We played it live. I think that’s what she does really well: as much as it’s a youth movie with all of them listening to trap, she also put in these songs that were more universal,” says Oh. To clear the track, the production had to hit up both Suicide, which wrote the original, and Bruce Springsteen, who performed the cover. “Which is so cool,” says Oh. “He might know about our movie.”
A push to reach Springsteen came from Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife and a co-owner of Amazing Pictures, one of the film’s financiers. “She generously helped put a note in to Bruce’s managers,” says Oh. “Eventually you just try every angle. I would give huge props to our music supervisors as well.”
Mazzy Star, “Fade Into You”
As Star and Jake’s relationship flourishes, the ’90s classic plays over a montage of their exploits.
Arnold had wanted “Fade Into You” to appear in the movie, but worried it would sound “too ’90s,” says Oh. “She tried Smashing Pumpkins in there, all this other stuff,” the producer adds of the 1993 tune, which was added during the editing process.
Raury, “God’s Whisper”
As the film comes to a close, the cast dances around a bonfire accompanied by “God’s Whisper.” The track has been used in marketing for American Honey as well as at events for the cast.
“That one came from Andrea as opposed to coming straight from the kids,” says Oh. “Because it’s a little more indie than they would probably hope for. It definitely suits Sasha’s personality, our lead, who has eclectic taste. But it became anthemic and now the kids know it really well. When we play it at our screening parties, everyone is dancing. It sums up that moment.”
Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”
The 2015 hit was one of a handful of songs that didn’t make it into the movie.
Despite the sprawling soundtrack, there were some songs the American Honey team could not get into the movie. “I have no problem calling these people out,” says Oh with a laugh. “This is a great movie, you should be in here!”
“Trap Queen” was one such track, “because at the moment when we were shooting in the beginning of May it was probably taking off, but just fans were listening to it.” By the time production was over, however, “Trap Queen” had become a humongous hit. “It had just blown up to be the hit of the summer,” says Oh. “Humungous, we can’t have it.”
Another hoped-for track was “I’m Goin’ In,” by Drake. “Just a busy guy, I guess! Can’t get back to a little movie,” says Oh. “It’s hard because those songs have 10, 12 different people you have to clear from. If you can’t get one of them to do it, you can’t use that. So we replaced it but I think it’s even better and made it into ‘Uber Everywhere’ by Madeintyo. It’s fun to find those tracks.”
American Honey is out now in New York and Los Angeles.