David Holmes on Unloved Irish shows and how Killing Eve helped listeners take them to heart
Having recently been introduced to millions of new fans via the soundtrack of BBC hit Killing Eve, David Holmes's uber-cool group Unloved are currently preparing to kick off their latest tour with a pair of Irish dates. David Roy spoke to the Belfast-born band-founder, producer and award-winning Killing Eve scoremeister about their music
WHEN it was released in 2016, Unloved's debut album Guilty of Love received critical acclaim from reviewers who raved about the group's sultry, retro and highly cinematic sound.
However, it wasn't until last year that most people actually discovered the band, when their noirishly hip music became an integral part of the BBC's quirky spy drama hit Killing Eve.
Tasked with providing a suitable soundtrack to the Euro-hopping assassination antics of appealingly impish psychopath Villanelle (Jodie Comer), Unloved men David Holmes and Keefus Ciancia were delighted to discover that their group's music – and singer Jade Vincent's distinctive vocals in particular – made for an uncannily complimentary mood-setter for the female-led show, which also stars Sandra Oh and is based on the Villanelle books by Luke Jennings.
"I suggested Unloved and [the BBC] just fell in love with it," reveals Holmes (50), who joined his American pal Ciancia (who is also Vincent's partner) in collecting a Bafta TV Craft Award for their work on Killing Eve earlier this week and whose other recent score work has included all three series of The Fall (again with Keefus Ciancia) and the 2017 feature Logan Lucky from director Steven Soderbergh, with whom the Belfast man has regularly collaborated since 1998's Out of Sight.
"Unloved is a very female-driven project and our lead singer Jade is very much a part of that. They are her songs, and Killing Eve being a very female-driven show, it just fitted like a glove."
This remarkable case of belated sympatico has given the Belfast-based Holmes and co a whole new international platform for music which they actually made well before the show was even thought of: commissioned by BBC America, the Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) penned first series of Killing Eve was initially screened in the US in April 2018, generating a huge buzz which helped draw viewers here to its subsequent broadcasts on RTE 2 and BBC One/Three.
"A lot of that music we made seven or eight years ago, and then suddenly this TV series pops up with this perfect kind of chemistry," enthuses Holmes, who has just finished scoring the second series of Killing Eve, currently airing on RTE2 and featuring another slew of Unloved tracks taken from their recently released second album, Heartbreak.
"It just worked really really well, so I just kept dropping more and more [Unloved] into it and they just kept on loving it and it became a big part of the series.
"You kind of need something like that in this day and age to sell your music, to get people aware of your music. It's not exactly 'A-list pop music', even though I think it is – but in the world of radio and stuff it wouldn't be perceived as that."
Indeed, when Killing Eve then became a runaway success, Unloved tracks which had previously only reached a niche audience back in 2016 began to enjoy millions of streams from viewers rushing to iTunes and Spotify for a further fix of the programme's deliciously eclectic musical selections.
Co-curated with Killing Eve music supervisor Catherine Grieves, these range from obscure Russian folk ditties and 60s cuts from Brigitte Bardot and Anna Karina to hip modern sounds from Cigarettes After Sex, Julia Michaels and Pshycotic Beats, plus iconic 80s tunes by Debbie Gibson and Roxette (spoilers for series two in link).
Holmes explains: "Although Unloved get great support from 6Music, I think Killing Eve has now had 46 million plays on the iPlayer, which then sends people to buy our records or to Spotify – which I completely resent. I have still only received literally pennies from Spotify despite clocking up hundreds of thousands of listens.
"Having a show like Killing Eve means you get to earn a living in a slightly different way. It's not necessarily through record sales, it's licenses and general airplay.
"And it's a real fun show to work on, super easy. They give us so much freedom, and because of that we get to do all these crazy things and take all these bold chances and it's paid off really well.
"They just said 'you know what you're doing, we want to keep it weird and do interesting things – so here's a blank canvas and run with it'. That freedom instils the confidence in you to kind of do things that are a bit more left-field."
Birthed in LA as a studio project funded entirely by the band themselves – "We're still down quite a lot of money, even though we've since signed to Heavenly Records," Holmes comments – Unloved made their live debut in Belfast back in March 2017 at Holmes's alternative club night God's Waiting Room.
Since then, they've played only sporadically – five nights in Paris supporting Étienne Daho (another artist featured in Killing Eve) here, a pair of intimate sold-out London shows there.
"They are hard records to do live," comments Holmes of bringing the production-heavy Guilty of Love and Heartbreak to the stage.
"Even though most of the folks in the band also played on both albums, there's a lot of other stuff going on."
In fact, it seems that the Unloved shows often involve him personally supervising the band's live sound – which is as close to the stage as he likes to get these days.
"I don't 'play' with the band, so to speak," explains Holmes, who has recently completed work with Belfast musician Brian Irvine on the upcoming Liam Neeson drama Normal People – "the hardest film score I've ever had to do in my life" – for his director duo friends Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Baros D'Sa (Good Vibrations) and Steven Soderbergh's all-star new Netflix feature The Laundromat.
"I pretty much just make the records with Keefus and Jade – and that's where it stops for me. I'm 50 years of age – I've no desire whatsoever to go off on the road with a band and play all the small venues. I did all that with [previous live project] The Free Association and it was like starting again.
"I've been a DJ for 35 years, since I was 15. I've got so used to travelling the world with a record box and being picked up in a nice car and taken to nice hotels – the thought of being on a tour bus again is just frightening to me!"
:: Unloved, May 9, Whelan's, Dublin / May 10, CQAF Marquee, Belfast