Interview: Junkie XL / by Charlie Brigden

jxl Junkie XL is a true renaissance man, putting out Elvis remixes and producing as well as composing music for Superman and Mad Max. We caught up with Junkie to talk about his latest score, action thriller Run All Night.

Charlie Brigden: How did you get involved with Run All Night?

Junkie XL: The Vice-President of the music department (Darren Hickman) said that this movie might come up for me to score and he explained to me the story of the movie, and I got so inspired I had a week off and I just started writing music, almost like half an hour or so, and then I saw the film. Strangely enough, the music that I'd written felt like it would sit really well with the picture and I continued writing for a few days more, and then I met the director for the first time and I said "I wrote fifty-five minutes of music for you, see if you like it" [laughs]. And he really liked it, and then after that I got the job and I basically did the movie.

CB: When you were creating that 55min sketchbook, what kind of thoughts were going through your mind?

JXL: Well what was interesting was when Darren told me what the story was about, I felt there was an underlying story as well. And when I saw the movie it strengthens that idea, I mean yes it's an action movie and people are chasing each other but there's an underlying story that's way more interesting and that's the story of two dads that have a troubled relationship. And they both have issues with both their sons, and that became very clear to me when I saw the film and I also did a lot of background research on movies like that and how they were scored in the past. I went back as far as Le Professionnel with Jean-Paul Belmondo which was scored by Ennio Morricone and what was interesting was that in the 60's, the 70's, and the 80's to a certain extent, all the themes for these type of movies were very emotional themes. And I thought it was very remarkable, like after that all these movies had like fast sequencers and dark brass and aggressive strings and you name it, and I thought it was interesting to approach a movie like this from a more emotional perspective and it became a character score instead of just normal action scoring.

CB: On the CD there is the sketchbook, is that verbatim for what you had composed prior to scoring the film?

JXL: Yeah, I was so inspired and that came out of it, and a lot of the music that was used in the sketchbook got used, all the emotional themes got into the film.

CB: It's quite nice that this seems to be a trend - I guess Hans is the person that started it - but it's nice to see the creative process included on the album instead of hidden away on a DVD somewhere.

JXL: Yeah, I mean one of the many reasons that me and Hans are close is that we have a somewhat similar way of working. Let's say you have four weeks or six weeks to write a score, instead of start writing immediately we take a weekend off, and it's like "why would you take a weekend off? You have work to do!" but it's so much better to let conversations with directors and whoever to sink into your system, so go to the beach, walk your dog, do something fun. And by the time you start working everything is more crystallized in your head. I mean, I have tackled some movies where I've started on the first scene and gone from there, but it means you're three reels in and you get a new idea and now I need to go back and change the score for the first two reels. It's so much better to write for a few scene and call it a sketchbook or whatever you want to call it, and then on you have that to grab from when you work on a scene level.

CB: I can imagine as well working in a non-linear way probably helps it in terms of connecting the score and developing the themes?

JXL: You're totally right, but it's also if you write the theme for a person or an event you tend to write it in long form so it needs to be a proper composition with an intro, and then if you write for a scene that gets fifteen seconds longer or shorter, you have to write some extra stuff on the spot, or you just go back to what you had in your sketchbook and it's like "Oh wait a minute this is how I harmonically continued this theme", and even if you go back to older times and one of my favourite movies Once Upon A Time In America, there's this great documentary of Ennio [Morricone] and Sergio [Leone] talking about what they're going to be doing and there's no movie shot at that point, the only thing there is the script. And Ennio is playing all these themes on the piano and they get into a very engaging dialogue about how to use these themes throughout the movie. It just makes sense.

CB: How did you get into the film scoring business after being successful in the pop world?

JXL: Well people started licencing my music to be used in films, and I saw it and step by step I got more interested and involved in how it works, and I started working on several films like Blade and the first Resident Evil, and I got invited over to LA to work on the Matrix trilogy with Jason Bentley, who was a music supervisor and a funny thing happened. I had a number one hit worldwide with 'A Little Less Conversation', the Elvis track, and then I decided to move to LA and I was the assistant for Harry Gregson-Williams chopping up samples in the basement while I had a number one hit worldwide. And I decided on purpose to take a backseat in the film scoring process and I had no interest in waltzing into LA and saying "I'm here, I want to score movies". I knew it was a very fast process with lots of different angles and difficulties that you need to master one by one. It was very interesting to go through this and see the dynamics between the established composers and directors and to be part of it and learn every aspect before I got into the work myself.

CB: How did you find working on movies like Man of Steel with Hans Zimmer?

JXL: I would say that the Man of Steel score is the most elaborate collaboration between me and Hans to date, the next one will definitely be Batman V Superman. We found ourselves talking about so many ideas, what we could do, and what themes could be written. I mean the drummers, I mean the whole idea to design this whole rhythm thing was something that I came up with Hans, and then I eventually designed most of the rhythms and I conducted the whole session. It was a very inspiring thing to do, with all these very, very talented drummers.

CB: Speaking about Batman V Superman, as I understand it you're doing Batman and Hans is doing Superman, is that right?

JXL: Yep.

CB: Can you share any insight?

JXL: [laughs] No we're still like a year out before that thing comes out, a year and a half actually. No I can't say anything about that yet.

CB: And soon you're doing Mad Max [Fury Road]?

JXL: Yeah. Mad Max is done, they're still tweaking the final mix a little bit and I'm very excited to see that movie come out. It was fantastic to work with George Miller over the course of eighteen months, it was very intense but very impressionable.

CB: Can you say what your score is like at all for that?

JXL: I'm not allowed to talk about it yet.

CB: Well, good luck with Run All Night.

JXL: Thanks man.

Thanks to Junkie XL and Albert Tello at Costa Communications. Run All Night is out now.