Kid Koala Talks Working On ‘Baby Driver’ And How He Identified With The Title Character (INTERVIEW)

During one of the few quiet moments of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, the titular Baby (Ansel Elgort) takes a tape recorder from his pocket. After finding a soundbite, he records it onto a magnetic strip card, and proceeds to create a quirky dance remix with a hodgepodge of analog electronic gear. While it seems to be just an endearing, off-kilter moment at first, though it turns into a much bigger deal later in the film, it’s our first real insight into the otherwise quiet getaway driver.

The man behind that song is acclaimed DJ Kid Koala, who’s real name is Eric San, who was brought onboard Baby Driver years ago during the film’s long and storied history from script to screen. For Baby Driver’s opening night on Wednesday, June 28th, the Alamo Drafthouse brought Kid Koala in to perform two sets before two different screenings of the film, where he also showed off some of the equipment he used, as well as explained just how much he identified with the character of Baby himself.

We got the chance to talk to San in-between his two sets about his role in this summer’s high-octane heist movie.

How did you get involved with Baby Driver?

Edgar had, maybe a few years ago, sent me a draft of this passion project he was working on. He said, “Music’s gonna be a pretty big part of this movie.” And, I thought, “Okay, cool.” And then, you know, he got on other projects, so I didn’t hear from him for a while. Then all of a sudden he says, “No, no, no. It’s on now!”

I think his whole idea was that he wanted to have all the music cleared. He wanted to know what he was going to shoot today exactly — beat and music that was gonna be in the film — so, they spent a lot of the clearance stuff first before they even talked about going on set. Most of it was just in Edgar’s giant brain from the beginning. From the script, it’s already written in.

“The door slams to this beat,” and I’m like, “Whoa, okay, this guy has heard each of these songs a million times and has already mapped it all out.” And, I guess in a couple instances with regards to Baby’s character he said, “Okay, well, in his story line, there needs to be some new tracks.” Baby has, kinda “homemade music.” Kinda lo fi, 4-tracky, experimental, quirky, weird mix tapes that he’s making out of some stuff that he’s been [making]. So he wanted to have that track before he went to shoot it.

So, I think, that’s when I started hearing more about it [I thought] “I’m going to send you an anamatic of the scene and then, I want you to make that track that goes there, and then, we’ll shoot to your track after.” And his direction was he’ll be doing what you’re doing to make the track. So, make a track that we can film him putting together kind of in real time or in steps.

Did you have the audio from the actors speaking in character at that point?

Well, the first version, I think, was from the table read, and then did a demo with [that]. And then, the second, a few months later, he said, “No, no, no, we actually have the audio from Kevin Spacey.” He [told me] “Listen to some of the stuff, we’ll pop that to you. How would you put it together and make something funny?” Basically he said this is supposed to be a funny scene. It’s supposed to be slightly naïve music. You know what I mean? I took a swing at it and sent it to him. He wrote back, “I love it.” I’m like, what!?

I was used to being “Ah, it’s going to be at least forty revisions before we get there,” but, no, we did some minor tweaks, but he liked the direction it went. Then, same thing for a couple other parts where he sent me the dialogue in advance, and then, I would just make a track out of it.

Did Wright have the equipment in mind he wanted to be used?

No, he left that up to me, but he did say, “You know, from a character standpoint, he’s kind of like a pawnshop digger, he’s got a collection of iPods, and still listens to audio cassettes, and [uses] audio Dictaphones and things.” He was saying it would be cool if it wasn’t made in some sort of high tech way. Which is easy for me, because I love analog gear. Most of my studio is like a veritable landfill of machines in varying states of operation. But, they have at tone, they have a sound, or a fingerprint that they put on.

Were you able to dig through your own gear, or did you have to hunt anything down that you wanted to use?

You know, the first few takes, I did it on turntables, and it just came off a little too ‘in the pocket’, and kind of tight. Confident, in a way. Maybe, because that’s what I do? So, then I started trying to scratch, pretend like I just started scratching? And then, it still didn’t really have the tone until I said, “Okay, I’m going to try it on this magnetic card reader. And, that’s when it really clicked because you have to fight the motor of the tape.

The little rubber wheel that’s trying to push the card this way, and you’re like … It definitely had this naïve, kind of like a ‘This is fun and playful but it’s slightly out of the pocket.’ It made me giggle when I heard it. That’s when I said, “Ah, we’re gonna use that.”

Then, the other machine I used was, incidentally, the same sampler that Ferris Bueller uses to get out of school. The Emulator II, which is 8-bit. It saves on like 5 1/2″ floppy disks. So, for later in one of the tracks, I was chopping up dialogue that’s on that and then, do tuning on that thing. It was fun. But, basically, whatever gadgets I could find that could have this weird, kind of homemade sound he kept asking for.

Was it a challenge to create tracks as another character, as Baby?

Oddly, when he was describing the character, I did read the script, but then, when he was giving me more specific direction, he was almost describing my entire childhood. “ageagine a character who’s kind of shy and just lives in his headphones and has aspirations to DJ and makes weird tapes all night.” I’m like, ‘You just described my adolescence.’ So, yeah, I could relate to what that would sound like. And back then, especially in high school, the tapes I made were just stuff that would crack me up.

It wasn’t about, ‘Oh, I’m trying to make something that sounds like a radio single,’ or something. It’s just like the more odd you can make it, the better.

So you were already kind of in Baby’s head going in, then.

Yeah, it just made sense to me. I was like, ‘I think I can imagine that.’

Is any of this gonna factor into the set that you’re going to play tonight?

Well, that’s the thing. It would be kind of strange to just hear me, kind of, jam. I’m basically going to do a show and tell with some of the gadgets. Because some of the stuff, I guess people have never seen before, at least. Ansel hadn’t seen some, because some of the machines are older than he is.

But, even for me, the stuff that I dig for in terms of gear is quite esoteric sometimes. I just collect things that make interesting sounds. So, there’s a bit of that, and I’m also going to do some signature DJing on three turntables. So, a little bit of that, too.

Have you seen the film?

Just last night, actually, was the first time I saw it front to back, the whole film.

I’m excited to see it again tonight because it is so intricately put together that even last night I was, like, ‘Ah, I just missed the set up for that.’ Or, ‘I barely caught it, and I’m gonna be ready for it tomorrow and catch that.’ But even then, it’s just so many levels of jokes that he’s written into some of the scenes that it’ll be definitely worth multiple viewings, you know.

How was it seeing your work in the context the first time?

It was great! I didn’t know it would be so early in the film. In my mind I still think chronologically, and we were there late. I was maybe the third to last day of shooting. But, understandably, the real technical stuff is with all the car stunt stuff, and so they had to get all that first.

So, my scene was almost like a vacation for the shoot team. It’s just like being a home studio with Ansel and trying to put [it] together.

So you were on set when they were putting that scene where Baby creates the track?

Yeah, they flew me down there for that — to consult on how the studio would look, [and] how we would put it together.

Did you coach Ansel on any of the moves? Like pulling against the magnetic card reader?

Yeah. He’s a great musician, I don’t know if you knew that.

I didn’t know that.

Yeah, he can sing, play piano, make beats and stuff. I don’t know if I really needed to be there outside of [making] the tracks and what order to do things. Like, we’ll do this beat, then I made the bassline on this, then we did the chromatics on this, and then we can, you know, whatever. But it was just fun to see and be a part of that for that day, more as a consultant.

The one funny thing, was that Ansel was late that day. He was tied up somewhere. They were on a pretty tight schedule, and they said, “Ah well, we’ll just get Eric to do it. And, I said, “WHAT?!”

It was just a top shot with hands and stuff. I said, “My hands look nothing like Ansel’s hands! What are you talking about?” It was almost that, but then, luckily, he showed up. I mean, I would have been fine with doing it, but I guess I missed my shot being a hand model.

Well, there’s always the sequel, I guess.


So, did you just do the one track or were you involved on the soundtrack on a whole?

No, it was, “Was He Slow”, and then they asked for other stuff. I think the other thing in there was one of the tracks he made for Deborah (Lily James).

Oh, right, later in the film.

Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, it was really just you know, he wanted that analog kind of homemade sound.

Was it intimidating at all to come into a production like this? You’d mentioned that Wright had everything worked out to a tee, and the songs on the soundtrack are written into the script, and into the stage direction. This is an idea he spent years, decades, putting together.

I think there’s a kinship there. Even in the way that I approach making records is kind of like that, kind of microscopic and mosaic in style and finding little bits and putting it all together. So, I understand his thought process there, and I think knowing that he knows exactly what it is is actually less stressful because he’ll just tell you if it’s wrong or that’s not the tone he’s going for. So, I trust that that was the case. So, I, again, I submitted a couple options of that first take, even from the table read thing, and he said, “Nah, I love this. This is great.” And I said, “What? Really? Okay.”

I said, “Seriously, let me know if there’s anything,” and he said, “No, no, no. It’s working. We’re gonna put it in and we’re gonna shoot [it].”

So, it’s one of those things, making a movie is a lot [like the] human energy working in concert. But, Edgar, as a captain of that ship, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Because, he knows, you know what I mean?

That’s true.

I just wanted to do well. Even if it’s you’re responsible for thirty seconds of the audio. I spent a good two to three days working on that thirty seconds because he told me, “It’s kind of a pivotal scene, but we need it to be funny.” And, I said, “Okay.”

Then he said, “No, no. Just imagine you were making a mixed tape, and you found some cool spoken word, and you put it together in a way that cracked you up.” Then, I thought, “Ah, yeah, I can do that.”

Are you gonna take anything from this whole process and incorporate it into your music going forward?

Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s funny now that it’s in a film now. More people are gonna hear that than buy my albums, but, you know, you learn things about those instruments when you’re putting them into tracks. That’s the range of that, [it’s] pretty cool. That does that to the sound, that’s cool. You know, I kind of remember all of that for future projects. Absolutely.

Well, and your sound has always leaned a little bit toward analog anyway.

I love it. I love the fact that, timing-wise, you’re not quite certain where, when it was made. Is this off records? Is this off tapes? But, that sounds like a modern drum or is this some modern drum beat but then there’s something like a record crackling with some dust on it? From an anthropological perspective, I’ve always liked music that kind of looked forward and backward at the same time.

All photos provided courtesy of Heather Kennedy via the Alamo Drafthouse

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