Concrete Cowboy’s Kevin Matley on composing for the Netflix film

Kevin Matley. Photo credit Jeff Marsh
Kevin Matley. Photo credit Jeff Marsh /

As Netflix welcomes Concrete Cowboy to its lineup, audiences will get to hear the unique score that Kevin Matley crafted for the film. A modern Western drama requires something different than traditional movie music, and Kevin explained to Netflix Life just how he created it—including using things that are most definitely not instruments.

It’s adventurous music for an adventurous movie, and it’s like nothing Netflix users will have heard before.

Get to know more about Kevin and the music of Concrete Cowboy before the film starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin drops on Netflix this Friday. You can also visit Kevin’s website for more information.

More from Netflix Life

Netflix Life: Many of your previous films are documentaries, so how did you become involved in scoring Concrete Cowboy?

Kevin Matley: When I first started in film score, I was cold-calling directors, producers, and editors. I came across Neighborhood Film Company, which is the production company founded by Ricky Staub, the director of Concrete Cowboy. I got an email back from them saying they wanted to collaborate and I was thrilled!

I did a project with them and Ricky and I instantly connected. We went on to make a handful of advertisements together and then a short film called The Cage, which did pretty well in the festival world. About a year later, he told me that he had the script for Concrete Cowboy, which was a film about cowboys and horseback riding in the city. I was like, “That’s awesome. That sounds very odd, but awesome.” I read the script and I was just instantly in love with the story, and we went from there.

NL: You utilized an orchestra, which we tend to think of as big things making big sounds. Why did you choose to use a smaller orchestra on this film?

KM: I think right away, we all wanted a smaller orchestra sound. For example, I don’t think any of us wanted the giant John Williams sound. There’s something raw about removing the number of players and getting a more delicate sound that brings out a lot of humanity in the playing.

Ricky’s storytelling style is amazing. It’s very visceral, surreal, but it’s also very gritty and human. I felt like I really wanted to match what I was responding to visually, with music that had this lush ambiance but with this raw, human, organic feel on top.

NL: You also had outside elements in the score. What’s the weirdest object that we can hear in the Concrete Cowboy score?

KM: I think that’s a close tie between beer bottles and the musical saw. (laughs) There’s a scene where they’re underground in a tunnel and there’s just some trash around. I thought it would be really cool to use [objects] that you see as just backdrops in the film, and turn them into musical instruments in part of the score.

NL: Is there a particular favorite scene for you from a musical perspective?

KM: There’s a scene when Cole, [played by] Caleb McLaughlin, the young man in the film, falls asleep on his father’s couch [Harp, played by Idris Elba]. That piece is one of my favorites. It’s a recurring theme in the film and it just came really naturally and quickly.

Concrete Cowboy
Kevin Matley. Photo credit Jeff Marsh /

NL: What Netflix viewers might not notice is that you weren’t just the composer on this movie. You had multiple job titles on Concrete Cowboy. How much work did you do, and what was that like for you to take on?

KM: I’m a one-man army right now. I was lucky enough to have an assistant for the majority of the work on that, but I still ended up working 75-hour work weeks towards the end there. It was nuts. I was the music editor on the film. I was the composer. I also did certain work that you usually hire other people for, like mixing the score and orchestration and whatnot. And I was able to get some help with that, but it was pretty intense.

My wife flew her sister out so that we would have help with my daughter while I was working towards the end there when it was really busy. My wife’s sister brought the flu with her, so they both got sick while I was working, and then my daughter got it. There was no way I could get sick so I basically moved out to my studio and slept on my couch.

I’d wake up in the morning, I’d start work, I’d go to sleep around 2:00 AM, and then I’d wake up and do it all over again for three weeks. I didn’t see much of my family during that time, and that was all before we went down to Burbank for the final weeks of mixing.

NL: How would you describe your creative process in the studio?

KM: My studio has to be clean. I cannot work with a mess. As far as the creative process goes, I usually like to be in as early as possible in the process. I love to get the script, especially when the script is being tweaked, and just seeing the different iterations so I can understand the thought process and how they arrive on the final script. I love to be on set, if I can. I love to just gather as much information as I can going into it. Then I generally storyboard and I just have a ton of notes.

I’m very tactile. I like to have a whiteboard with all of my thoughts and just random theme ideas written down to start.

NL: What’s the next Kevin Matley project people should check out after Concrete Cowboy?

KM: I wrote music for a documentary called Kifaru. Kifaru is Swahili for rhino and it’s a documentary about the last male northern white rhino who died on, I believe it was March 19, 2018, in Kenya. His name was Sudan. I just posted the score to my website and it’s on Spotify, and I love it. It’s a very ambient, ethereal, textural score with East African instruments and Kenyan vocalists.

NL: Do you have favorite artists of your own or other things you love?

KM: I get super passionate about Queen, ’90s R&B. I love contemporary classical composers. I love following Jonny Greenwood’s entire musical catalog—from Radiohead to his scores, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Phantom Thread, etc. I just think he’s a genius. As far as hobbies go, I love spending time with my family and getting outside as much as possible.

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Concrete Cowboy will be streaming on Netflix starting this Friday, April 2.