Music

‘Back to Black’ Music Supervisor Iain Cooke Opens Up About Capturing Amy Winehouse’s Musical Essence: ‘She’s a Classic Forevermore’

Amy Winehouse was portrayed by Marisa Abela in the much-buzzed about biopic, Back to Black, which hit theaters back in May. The film is now heading to streaming services, and is available to watch on Peacock beginning on Friday (July 5).

The biopic follows the life of the beloved Grammy winner, who is best known for her groundbreaking sophomore album Back to Black, which included the Hot 100 hits “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.” Winehouse, who battled drug and alcohol addiction, died in 2011 at age 27 from alcohol poisoning.

The Studio Canal film directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (A Million Little Pieces) and written by Matt Greenhalgh (Nowhere Boy) was made with the support of the Winehouse estate, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Publishing and features a number of the singer’s most beloved hits.

Iain Cooke, the film’s music supervisor, worked closely with Abela as well as Winehouse’s former band and her estate to capture the late superstar’s unique musical essence on film. See below for Billboard‘s chat with Cooke on all things Back to Black, and catch the film on Peacock now.

Bring me back to when you got the call to be the music supervisor on the biopic. What was it like?

It was it was really exciting. I also saw it immediately as a challenge, and one that would be sort of a journey to bring to life. I actually came on board 10 months before we shot — a long, long time before and there was only really the director, the producers and the writer. They hadn’t crewed up because it wasn’t officially greenlit. The first thing I was tasked with doing was to actually negotiate the rights for the Amy songs in order for the film to get greenlit and that was that was quite an intense few months negotiating. Once we got the approval, we began to prep.

We put Marisa in with a team, a vocal coach and a guitar tutor to work on the material and then we brought on our music producer, Giles Martin, who did a wonderful job. It was really an amazing process from pre-prep through the shoot, through the post production and the edit and on all the way to the final mix. It was about two years work.

What was it like working with Marisa to capture Amy’s unique essence?

She honestly was phenomenal. I’ve got nothing but praise and admiration for her because she works so hard. She was a complete joy to work with and really positive and she just immersed herself in it. She had phenomenal pitch and timing and she just really studied Amy as an artist and also studied some of her influences. She was great.

How do you preserve the authenticity of such a sensitive and widely told story?

All the filmmakers and collaborators involved just felt really passionate about the story and wanted to be the guardians of that authenticity. It was really important to preserve the integrity of her legacy and we all wanted to do the right thing by her. One of the things that we did was we approached her old live band early on — and we would have completely understood if they didn’t want to be involved — but we approached them to see whether they would like to come in and pre-record the live backing tracks and they did. It was just incredibly special and incredibly moving. It was her real band that played that those gigs who pre-recorded the music, and you can’t get more authentic than that.

Is there a scene in the film that you’re excited for people to see?

There’s a moment very early on in the film that Marisa sings ‘What Is It About Men’ — she’s just in her bedroom and it’s just a one-shot with nothing to hide behind. We knew that if we got that moment right, that the audience would be really in the film with us and in the journey. Marisa just did incredible.

I also absolutely love Glastonbury. You know, credit to the sound team. They did an amazing job in the mix. If you watch it, you get that spirit. You know, it’s wild and free. Chaotic, but just the energy of it is magic. Amy was one of the most important recording artists of all time, and she’ll stand up in history alongside the greats that influenced her. She had lyrical wit and one of the greatest recording voices and most distinctive recording voices on record. I hope that we’ll go back and listen to her again, and rediscover and keep listening to her because she’s a classic forevermore.

Lastly, what’s your favorite Amy Winehouse song?

“Love Is a Losing Game.” It’s a timeless, beautiful song.

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