Why Songwriter Keegan DeWitt Couldn’t Write Songs for Nick Offerman in ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

OscarWrap Songs Special: “I lost a whole week before I called the director and said, ‘I don’t know how to do that,'” Keegan DeWitt says of tailoring his music to the comic actor

Keegan DeWitt
Brett Warren

Keegan DeWitt will be participating in TheWrap’s third annual songwriters panel on Monday at the Dolby Screening Room Hollywood Vine. A version of this story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Portland-born, Los Angeles-based composer and songwriter Keegan DeWitt has become one of the go-to composers for Sundance movies over the last few years; in 2018 alone, he had music in six indie films, including the documentary “Bisbee ’17,” for which he won the IDA Documentary Award for best music score.

He also wrote songs for Brett Haley’s touching and funny “Hearts Beat Loud,” starring Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons as a father and daughter who have unexpected success with a song they write and record together. One of those songs, the uptempo “Everything Must Go,” is the film’s entry in the Oscars’ Best Original Song category.

How did you get involved with the film?
The whole ride has been wild. I wrote the song “Hearts Beat Loud” years ago, when I was writing songs that didn’t get released but I would put them up somewhere and they’d sit on people’s iPhones. Brett had it, and he came to me and said, “I think we should make something based around ‘Hearts Beat Loud.’ I have an idea about a father and a daughter, and together they write that song.”

I thought, “Really? Don’t you think we should write a new song?” But I had to trust in his excitement.

So then you started writing new songs for the film?
As soon as he brought up the idea. I just started writing. I sent him maybe 30 or 40 sketches and said, “I don’t know if there’s anything good in here.” And he pulled out “Blink” and “Everything Must Go.” “Blink” was more finished, but “Everything Must Go” was just a steel drum loop with a bass under it. He said, “Whatever that is, go with it.” And so we built it all out.

Were you thinking about writing songs that could be performed by the actors, Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons?
There was a brief moment when I wasted a week trying to write songs that sounded like Nick Offerman could have written them. I met him, and he’s a great guy who has great musical taste, but he’s into rootsier stuff, like Wilco and Neil Young. So I lost a whole week before I called Brett and said, “I don’t know how to do that.”

And for the daughter role, we were having trouble finding somebody who was going to nail it. We really lucked into Kiersey. She listened to the songs and said, “These are songs I would never sing,” but then she did it.

These have to be songs that sound like relative amateurs could have written them, but are catchy enough to feel like potential hits.
I definitely felt pressure to hit the home run and make everything sound like a Top 40 hit. But then I realized, “You know what? This needs to sound like it was recorded on a laptop and it needs to sound like it was written by somebody who doesn’t normally write songs. This movie started when Brett took a sketch demo I wrote 10 years ago and wanted to shove it out into the world. And I thought, “Good – this captures what it was like as an inexperienced songwriter.”

To read more of TheWrap’s Race Begins issue, click here.

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