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Chosen One: Colin Stetson

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And I don’t imagine that there is ever a time when you simply say: “Ok, that’s it, this is the end of the hole that I’m digging and this mine is all bored out”; I don’t imagine that life and art works that way. So, I just continue to search and enjoy it.”

 Colin Stetson

Words: Mark Carry

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Colin Stetson’s utterly captivating score to Ari Aster’s debut horror film ‘Hereditary’ marks the latest instalment to the Montreal composer’s groundbreaking songbook and storied career. The gripping intensity of Stetson’s intricately-layered compositions serves an integral character to the film’s depiction of self-destruction and (spiralling) depths of the human condition.

The vivid textures and beautifully crafted soundscapes interject a pulsating energy and tension to the looming darkness that gradually takes hold of the Graham family. But as ever Stetson’s sound explorations maps the full spectrum: from the deepest of fears, anguish and loss to fragile beauty, hope and undying love. The soaring pieces encompass melancholic ambient excursions; genre-defying, cathartic sound worlds that unleash raw emotion akin to infinite swells of ocean waves.

A parallel could be drawn between ‘Hereditary’ and the artist’s latest solo work (last year’s incredible ‘All This I Do For Glory’). Across the album’s six exploratory compositions, Stetson examines the concepts of the afterlife; similar to the aftermath of destruction that crazes the skies in Aster’s film. The striking narrative of the world-renowned  composer’s musical endeavours forever take you in deep and far with a force and intensity that rarely is captured to tape to such masterful effect.

Tom Waits once described the creative process being like translation. “Anything that has to travel all the way down from your cerebellum to your fingertips, there’s a lot of things that can happen on the journey”. I imagine Stetson – a kindred spirit – and the vitality of the resonating sound waves travelling down the bell of the ancient saxophone, in turn, capturing the soul of all natural things. This fascintaing journey of Stetson’s continues to uncover new ground with each and every fork in the road ahead. Onwards. Always, onwards.

‘Hereditary’ OST is out now on Milan Records.

Colin Stetson’s forthcoming Autumn European TOUR.

http://www.colinstetson.com/
https://colinstetson.bandcamp.com/

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Interview with Colin Stetson.

 

First of all I’d love for you to discuss the making of the incredible ‘Hereditary’ score. Something that strikes you immediately is just how good a match it is for your music in the horror genre and indeed the plot itself? It must have been a very interesting process for you?

Colin Stetson: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been talking to Ari [Aster] for actually a couple of years about this project. He first contacted me two or three years ago and we started talking about the prospect of me scoring. When he contacted me, he was just in the finishing stages of the first draft of the script and so had reached out and told me that he’d been inspired by some of my solo work in the writing of the script and was asking if I’d be interested in scoring. So he sent me the script and as soon as I read it and I realized if he had got the thing made and pulled it off it was going to be a really unique and fantastic picture. And just from the get-go Ari and I had a really good rapport and so I felt comfortable about it from back then.

It’s been a few years and because of that – because we had so much lead time and I was in the loop as things came closer to fruition in terms of getting distribution, getting funding and getting casting and everything and when pre-production started – I was able to actually start scoring well before filming even started. So we were able to get to jettison some of the normal protocol: in the film-scoring world where you have to be scoring off temp music primarily and for this (since I had written a lot of material beforehand and before there had been even shots made or any edits made to picture), they could use a lot of what I had written specifically before the movie as a temp which was great. So, to some capacity I’ve been working on this film since January of last year and finally finished on January 12th of this year.

It’s not surprising in one way that your music was created in response to reading the script itself from the director so it’s interesting how it’s more your reaction to getting inside this story. And there’s a lovely parallel also – thematically and the particular world the film exists in – between your solo works and the themes of ‘Hereditary’?

CS: I think that because we were of such a like-mind and because he knows my solo music so intimately and at the same time understood that we weren’t going to approach this as though it was a solo record and we were able to seamlessly find a continuity and well agreement as to what the character of this score should be early on so there really weren’t any major disagreements or anything which is rare and the working relationship had been throughout the whole process just completely positive – not saying that it wasn’t collaborative because certainly there were things to go back and forth on from time to time – but in terms of the major theme ideas, sonic ideas and the general arc of the whole film, I was very pleased to find we were on the same page throughout in our inspirations and our ideas.

You typify this incredible sphere of contemporary music that’s happening this past decade or so. I’d love for you to go back to your last solo record which was another incredible feat, ‘All I Do This For Glory’. As a listener, it’s always fascinating to realize there’s never any overdubs where it’s all very much in the moment and live.

CS: That’s the major parameter that I set for the solo recordings and which I set many years ago when I first started making them back in 2006 (when I started making Vol. 1). It was just this one simple rule that there wouldn’t be anything added and there wouldn’t be anything extra beyond the relationship between myself and the instrument. And what that does is it challenges you to use to a full extent everything that is there in front of you, to a degree that you wouldn’t have if you could look elsewhere for other avenues sonically – shortcuts and whatnot. But with that, it opens up in the context of something like a film score is that I have a whole host of sounds, approaches and musical aesthetic that I have developed over the years for this solo stuff that I can mime in the context of the film score.

So, for this one I used – although nowhere is there anything stripped down to a single instrument the way that I would do on a solo record – there are moments where the foundation of the cue is completely captured exactly how I would capture a solo piece and then simply embellish upon after the fact with overdubs and more arrangement just to put it in the greater continuity of the score as a whole. So, sometimes a score for me won’t be like that at all and I did some music for a film called ‘Outlaws and Angels’ which was very sax-centric; there wasn’t a whole lot of embellishing and arrangement on top of that so one that was very stripped down. And then other things like a score I did for ‘La Peur’ (a French film ‘The Fear’) where it’s basically a chamber orchestra ensemble with a bit of the flair of the characteristics of my solo pieces as more of an after-thought: an aesthetic and not foundational.

This one [‘Hereditary’] I liked doing to such a degree especially because we got to start so early and really get into the character of the score as an individual; as another member of the cast as it were; we really got to find an overall continuity that I don’t think you always get to find in a score, so I had a lot of fun making this one.

Another aspect to this score I love is how there are the more epic pieces interwoven with the shorter pieces and where – as always – there’s this light versus dark element with dark, foreboding, menacing segments in contrast to the achingly beautiful, fragile moments throughout as well.

CS: Exactly. The main challenge with the score was to – as Ari had put it early on – he simply wanted to avoid sentimentality at all costs and just create from the opening of the film, to create this sense of foreboding and an all-encompassing evil and how to do that without it seeming tongue in cheek or having it melodramatic to a degree where people stop believing you after a little while. So for me it was really just about making sure that everything was done as patiently as possible and being as minimal as possible with each cue in terms of an economy of arrangement and instrumentation but also an economy of motif so that things like you said the subtle moments can really play up and even those big moments there’s still like a central focus in them and the bombast doesn’t become like an intricate cacophony to a degree where it takes your eyes off of the propulsion through the narrative.

Being able to step away from the score as a whole and find a grand continuity throughout the whole thing; it’s hard to talk about this one specifically because there’s so much danger of spoilers because it’s one of those things where it’s hard to even watch a trailer because I feel as though so much of the movie is given away [laughs] by throwing up so many images and from scenes throughout it because basically the first scene happens and then everything is a spoiler [laughs]. There are a great many things that I did throughout all of it that I can’t discuss in their function or in their structure because even to discuss it musically would be to give away some aspects of the narrative.

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As a composer and having  a string of solo albums, scores and the many collaborations you’ve done too, I’d love to gain an insight into your compositional approach if you have certain processes that you feel serves as a constant irrelevant of what the specific album you’re working on? Or if you have certain philosophies in terms of how you score a particular work?

CS: Well, there are a few different levels or layers to the process. I guess the first step is what is the story? What is this narrative? What is the overwhelming and underlining theme or intention that’s imbued? So there is always a bit of an epic tale as it were through each solo record. The last one was probably the first one that I did where I was trying to scale back and make it more in terms of the character of it, it’s more of a character study of a fictional individual in a parable-type story that I had written as a side narrative to the continuity of the trilogy and its opposite and relative character will be coming out with the next record. So that’s the first step: to really abstractly figure out what it is that I’m trying to say; what is the basic emotionality that you’re trying to imbue everything with so that’s carried through to the listener. And that would be the same thing for a score as well: what are the parameters in which we can say it.

The next step is figuring out the overall character and what is the instrumentation. For me, because I do everything myself: I perform all the instruments myself and record everything myself, it’s always a question of do I have the instrumentation already or do I need something that I don’t have ; do I need to learn something new that I don’t yet know how to do in order to make this music the way that I want it to be. So then that can be a brief process of really just identifying what the sound structures and characters of instruments that I’m going to be using the foundation for will be. Or it could be complicated and a little bit longer process where I’m actually buying new instruments and in some cases completely learning new skills in order to accomplish something that I don’t yet know how to do. And then along with that is if I know the general abstract emotional narrative and the character and then I have the nuts and bolts technicality of what are the instruments and what are the machinations of how I can make this happen.

Then it’s the process of doing it: I start to listen or read or I’ll start to really curtail my intake and consumption of media be it music or books so that it’s emphasizing the things that I want to emphasize and making sure that I’m not distracted by things that I don’t want to be distracted by. So in the case of ‘Hereditary’ I specifically and forcibly didn’t listen to any horror film scores or try to really watch any horror in anticipation of this because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. But at the same time I did specifically go towards other things to get at the resultant emotional qualities that I wanted to obtain through different means because I think trying to implement different tropes but not in conventional ways and not in a way that mapped onto the regular world of horror scores (so that will be the case with every record). Something like ‘Judges’ I think that I listened to almost exclusively gospel music for like a year as I was preparing and writing music for that record. And something like the last record I was just consuming so much of a cross of 90’s electronica and metal; it was like a practice of nostalgia for me of that era of my early adulthood so that being a very specific motives for me wanting to take music from my life experience in that particular era of my life but also the particular music that I mimed from that era were intentional; so I would be imbuing this record with the spirit of that background I guess.

As you say that too Colin, the last solo record certainly had the textures and colours of the techno producers of that time throughout that record.

CS: Great. I feel like it always comes through. I think I probably consciously micro-manage everything to a degree that most people aren’t used to but it really just worked for me.

Thinking about your solo records or works in general, do you find yourself for an intense period during the recording stage in particular because as you do it all live, do you find yourself rehearsing for extended periods and going through things before you step into the recording studio?

CS: It would be impossible for me to even sum up how much time. So, by the time that I get to the studio: I’ll take the example of the last record which is definitely the record that I spent the most time making because I recorded it myself in my studio, I was able to take the kind of time that I always wanted to be able to take. So, sometimes you spend years writing songs, getting them to a place where you can physically play the things that you have imagined because sometimes you imagine a piece but I can’t actually physically pull it off until I do x amount of work and sometimes it’s years of practice to get to a place that I’ve envisioned.

So then you have it to a place where it’s adequate: you can see capturing the piece of music as it is finally whole but then the process of getting it into the studio is sometimes long and drawn out because I use an array of microphones; choosing where those microphones are going to go sometimes is a bit of trial and error; choosing what sort of gear – which microphones, which pre-amps, which compression. How I’m capturing the sounds is entirely paramount to the mix at the end and then just hearing how the songs themselves are being captured so there are certain things that I need to be played over and over again and listen to over and over again for me to see how the mics are responding to certain dynamic changes.

Sometimes a whole piece will have to be recorded massively quieter overall than I would normally perform it live or sometimes the dynamics have to be exaggerated to a degree that I would never have been inspired to do in a live context but in the recording it is really necessary. So this process could be just days in the studio going over and playing it like half a dozen times every day or more to get there and that’s just the last stretch (like the last week of recording) and not to mention all of the hours on end throughout the years of writing stuff. It all comes from a place of just an enormous amount of rigour.

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All your releases have this essence that your life’s work is contained within these songs; there’s so much borne inside the music. When ‘Sorrow’ came out, it’s such a special record and your reimagining of Gorecki’s third symphony. This is something you had in your head for many years and with the Sorrow Ensemble, it feels like this close family of musicians. I gather this must have been an amazing experience to fully realize a dream of yours and seeing it come to fruition?

CS: Absolutely. That one in particular because as you know I don’t tend to do too much in the company of others at this stage in my career – it’s not because I don’t ever want to; there’s just limited time to get everything done. But that group, as you said it’s put together first and foremost by who the people are in my life and our relationships together. And then it also is a fact of my close relationships in that they are with people who have this astounding talent and facility on their instruments and very specific sounds and characters. So something like the ‘Sorrow’ thing I’ve been imagining it for a couple of decades really almost, how it would change, what I would change, why I would change the things that I would. And then it really was just a confluence of this particular set of people that was the final piece of the puzzle: this takes it from being something conceptual and makes it into something concrete.

Now we have performed this fifteen or sixteen times at this point over the course of the past couple of years and we continue to book more and it’s such a lovely thing to know that all of us just inhabit this music – we have it, it’s a thing that exists at all times and all we need is a call to get everyone in one place and this big beautiful and terrible thing can happen [laughs].

The live performance must be such a thrill especially as you say just to get everyone in the one room, it must be a special moment in itself to actually perform it live as a group?

CS: Oh absolutely. Again it’s one of those things where the majority of what I do has been – especially for this past decade – is solo performance so just having the pleasure and privilege of the company of all of those players. It is some of the most joyous backstage hangs ever is with that group of people [laughs], it is a beautiful band and I’m hoping to find the time and the circumstance so that I can have that group do something that lives on past the Gorecki reimagining and into other original work.

The physicality of the sound has long been one of the great hallmarks of your music and seeing you play live the listener can physically witness it. Your relationship and engagement with the saxophone instrument; I wonder looking over your discography you must find that you’re continually finding new ways and insights into your instrument because it feels like you are always covering new ground?

CS: Yeah I mean I’m surely trying; that was the purpose of the setting behind those basic rules in the beginning of the solo music was that if you just set up a few very simple parameters then you still have freedom – and music can be anything – but you have to find it in a certain source. And so then if you narrow down the relationship and the source of all sounds to particular instruments and your physicality then the challenge is what can you imagine and what you can think up and then figure out ways to implement with your body is the key. It all stems from that.

Some things will be immediately accessible and will just happen because already you have the ability to do it and some things will be more imagined and it will take sometimes years to get to the place where you can actually pull off the performance of a piece through a very specific and pointed practice regimen to get there. And I’ve just always really thrived on that structure and the thing that is thrilling is that I continue to find more: sometimes subtly and sometimes decidedly not so with the instruments, with the process of capturing sounds; sometimes there was a pretty massive evolution to the capturing of sounds between Vol. 3 and this last record where I’m given so much more time and experimentation with different mics and different placements and different mixing processes that I get it that those things have completely evolved from earlier renditions.

And I don’t imagine that there is ever a time when you simply say: “Ok, that’s it, this is the end of the hole that I’m digging and this mine is all bored out”; I don’t imagine that life and art works that way. So, I just continue to search and enjoy it.

In terms of your chosen musical path and the development of your own musical voice, did you have certain eureka or significant moments during your upbringing or even as you were a bit older where you really felt that you wanted to pursue your own solo music?

CS: Well, the earliest and biggest influence in my life was Hendrix, my dad used to listen to a ton of Hendrix so I defaulted and I just grew up listening and appreciating it. I had a huge infatuation with the music of Tom Waits and then continued to. And through that discovering Marc Ribot and really just becoming enamoured with his career and the way that he had not only been able to be such a  prominent figure as a sideman in different people’s careers but also as a soloist and bandleader for himself was very inspirational.

And Tom Waits, for that matter, learning how to play – in some part – through listening and playing along to his records. Working with him: that experience was pretty integral to me stepping outside the normal way of how things are done or in the way that I had been doing things compositionally or improvisationally and I started to look at things more narratively and more theatrically, more from a storyteller’s perspective. And so I wouldn’t have gotten to the kind of place as a composer or as a storyteller without that relationship for sure.

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It must have been a dream scenario working with Tom Waits? What records were you working on?

CS: That was in 2002 and 2003/2004. Most of what I did with him was the horns on two albums, ‘Alice’ and ‘Blood Money’ and then I did a few tracks that ended up on the ‘Orphans’ album box-set. Yes it literally was that dream come true situation because quite specifically I moved to the San Francisco Bay area in order to be near to where I knew he lived, so that I could – totally in a non-stalker kind of way – perhaps get onto his radar at some point in life and make some music for and with him. So it was one of those things that really seemingly comes out of nowhere but where it comes out of is entirely traceable and it’s really just having an intention, putting yourself in a certain position and being as prolific in the scene as you possibly can and ensuring that every time that you step up to playing with people you not only represent yourself as best as can as a player but also as a person and friend with them because it’s through those friendships and the performances that all the other relationships are going to come out of.

The EX-EYE record was another amazing release of yours. Again like what you were touching on before, it’s you with your close musical friends; I love the sheer wall of sound that you are able to conjure up and how it’s captured then on the album itself.

CS: For sure. The whole point of EX-EYE was to make a very specifically and intentionally virtuosic music – a friend just described it as “transcendent virtuosity”. I wanted to get this group together; Greg [Fox] and I were talking more and more about this idea of ‘maximalism’ (which I think is a misuse of how the term was initially quoted for), but the way we tend to think about it really is like a hyper-saturated virtuosic minimalism where you’re overfilling limited space with enormous amounts of melodic and rhythmic information but doing so in a way that unfolds in the same sense that minimalist music would melodically, harmonically and thematically. So the end result is this really heavy, very, very dense [sound] and through that, much bigger strokes are formed. It’s incredible to have music written with them and to perform with them and we’re starting to work on some new stuff.

‘Hereditary’ OST is out now on Milan Records.

Colin Stetson’s forthcoming Autumn European TOUR.

http://www.colinstetson.com/
https://colinstetson.bandcamp.com/

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August 21, 2018 at 2:00 pm

Chosen One: Warren Ellis

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Interview with Warren Ellis.

“I like to work and when I’m not working I find a lot of things quite difficult to deal with. And actually the more work I’ve got the better I feel in certain respects.”

—Warren Ellis

Words: Mark Carry

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In W.G. Sebald’s novel ‘Austerlitz’ – the German writer’s celebrated tale of one man’s odyssey through the dark ages of European history – a central question is posed: “Why does time stand eternally still and motionless in one place, and rush headlong by in another? And is not human life in many parts of the earth governed to this day less by time than by the weather, and thus by an unquantifiable dimension which disregards linear regularity, does not progress constantly forward but moves in eddies, is marked by episodes of congestion and irruption, recurs in ever-changing form, and evolves in no one knows what direction?”

Certainly an unquantifiable dimension forever lies at the heart of Warren Ellis’s singular, sonic creations that maps the rawest of emotions and ceaselessly traverses the human space. The Australia-born, France-based musician is responsible for some of the most mesmeric and profoundly moving music of the past two decades—across the many film soundtracks scored by Ellis & Nick Cave; the life-affirming records of Australia’s Dirty Three (alongside drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner) and as the longtime bandmate of The Bad Seeds (joining in 1995) and Grinderman.

The sacred songbook of Ellis reminds us that it is still possible to be outside time. Many cherished memories flicker to the forefront of my mind: witnessing the near-mythical live performance of Dirty Three—the larger than life figure of Ellis sprawled across the floor as the mournful violin melody of ‘Sue’s Last Ride’ graces the atmosphere, culminating in a sheer catharsis as an ocean of noise -and emotion – engulfs every aching heart pore. The ethereal sonic canvas to Andrew Dominik’s ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ remains one of Ellis’s most formidable artistic achievements. Equally, the majestic looped violin motifs of ‘The Proposition’ and brooding tour-de-force of ‘The Road’ and last year’s illuminating ‘Mustang’ soundtrack represent further crowning jewels in the Australian multi-instrumentalist’s storied career.

The Australian composer’s debut solo score, ‘Mustang’, a French film directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, saw Ellis deservedly winning ‘Best Music’ at this year’s César Awards.

‘Mustang’ is out now on Milan Records. 

 

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Interview with Warren Ellis.

Congratulations on your recent score, ‘Mustang’, it’s a really gorgeous film score. Please take me back to the period in time in which these pieces of music were created? It marks a departure too in the sense that it is your first solo work, which must have given you a new perspective too?

Warren Ellis: This is the first one [‘Mustang’] that I have stepped out on my own. It’s interesting because there’s obviously a lot of things I’ve developed through Nick [Cave] that I used— there are certainly aspects of the way we work together in there.  Something that I definitely noticed was the lack of another voice to bounce things off, which is one of the big positive aspects of our working relationship that we are constantly bouncing ideas off each other and questioning things—what the other person will do and that feels very healthy and fertile, at least until now. I definitely missed having that voice of question.

But I actually had that with the director [Deniz Gamze Erguven] because the score was done very quickly – it was done in six days – in my shed in the back of my house, I have a little studio. I actually said that I couldn’t do it at the time because I had a big tour coming up with Nick and I had to get prepared for that. And then I eventually changed my mind after a couple of people persuaded me to try and make an effort, which was really good for me to try and do something like that. So then I did it but it was done in like six or seven days I think in total and the director was very proactive, she was very amazing, Deniz she was really incredible because she knew what she wanted, what she didn’t want. She also knew when I sent things—if the majority of it was good but if something had bothered her – she could explain to me what she wanted to be taken out which is not a skill a lot of directors have. So she had a flexibility with the musical lexicon that I really appreciated.

I’ve since done two more scores on my own but haven’t been released yet. I’ve done a manuscript for a film on Django Reinhardt and I’ve written a manuscript that he wrote a dedication to the victims of the Holocaust; the Romanian gypsy victims and it was a piece of music that is real and did exist but it was lost after a performance (the manuscript). I was asked to re-write it so I have done that for five organs, strings and choir with Romanian Gypsy language dialect, it’s a Mass Requiem kind of thing.

In January I did a horror drama Australian film – a very small budget – but again I had a set of rules to work with and I wanted to see if I could so a score while I was on tour. Doing ‘Mustang’ in such a short space of time and being on such a shoestring budget really gave me a hunger to do more things outside of my usual comfort zone. So I did this other score and I had to do it on tour because I didn’t have access to a studio, so it’s been done in hotel rooms, apartments, on my laptop only and I used synthesizer and bits and pieces I had lying around and I mixed it on the airplane coming home, I’ve got a tiny speaker. I wanted to see if I could do that and I think I have. I actually enjoy the challenge of stripping it back and with limited tools and limited resources what that can do. And then I just did a score with Nick as well called ‘Comancheria’.

As you say Warren, it must be very refreshing when the limitations for you as a composer and musician that they become the liberating factors and gives you the freedom to create?

WE: I think anything that allows you to find a new way into something that you’re very familiar with has to be good and sometimes it’s about having more things at your disposal, trying to find something. I know this with records when I go in, I might have a whole lot of stuff and I’m looking for different sounds: I’m bringing in instruments I don’t know how to play but I’ll try and get something going on; I’m not playing violin this time, I’m only playing synthesizer or I might say ‘I did that with the score, I’m only going to play synthesizer’. I try and set myself things to do but that would be the way that you can find a new way hopefully back into something that does not have a lot of parts to it really.

Listening to the different pieces of music and the many scores, it’s amazing to hear the endless amount of ideas – all these little motifs and details – that are always present in the work.

WE: I approach score work like I do the music in the bands whether it’s The Bad Seeds, Grinderman or Dirty Three. I mean the last thing you have done is your launching pad and that’s what you don’t want it to sound like and then whatever has come before you try to navigate around that as well. So with the score work, I’ve done something like ‘The Proposition’ which was very lean and muscular and very atmospheric and then we did a kind of stringy score for ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’ and ‘The Road’ and to see how far we could go with that idea was appropriate. And again with film work, it’s whatever is appropriate for the image, I mean there’s not much point putting a hard rock song on something that doesn’t need it or whatever and so it’s obviously with that in mind. The approach that I have to my score work is definitely the same as I write to any music that I create, I’m looking for something different each time with the limited skills that I have.

All those John Hillcoat scores are incredible too and how the relationship between sound and the visuals work so well together. 

WE: I don’t think we’re everybody’s cup of tea to be honest. It’s not just by chance that the films that do work are by people who actually like what we do. I mean the problems we have had in the past with scores has generally been because other people involved in the film – be it producers or financers – they don’t really get the way we work.

We don’t work in the traditional sense: find the score in the studio and then put it on there. Most composers present a temp score and then they mock it up and they get to hear it and they go ‘yes I like this I like that, oh can you change this melody? etc etc’—we don’t do that and that makes a lot of people nervous. Unless they know what our potential is which John [Hillcoat] and Andrew Dominik do, they know what we can do and they like what we can do. And it actually poses a real problem I think for a lot of people outside of the directors because we don’t work in the usual way.

There are other composers that work in that way now like Trent Reznor and Jóhann Jóhannsson —I don’t know how they work but I would assume that they do a lot of stuff and they stick it to the image and they probably have surplus of music left I get that feeling as opposed to the traditional composer who just by the cue by cue has their things already in place. These days they want to hear something mocked up on a computer and all that. And just to back-track, the people that we work with is generally because they like what we do. I think that a film director who just got us based on who we were and didn’t really know what we do would be in for a rather unpleasant shock.

There’s that lovely trust between what you are creating and what John Hillcoat is creating.

WE: Yeah I mean having said that we have stepped away, John’s got a new film [‘Triple 9’] that Atticus Ross is scoring, which is really good he has a different composer on board. We’ve done ‘Loin Des Hommes’ we’ve done this new film ‘Comancheria’ with David Mackenzie who has done ‘Starred Up’ and we’ve done a lot of work with Amy Berg on documentaries and that feels good for us too to move in different circles. It’s important for us to have other projects coming up. For me, ‘Mustang’ was important: I didn’t know the director, I saw the film, I loved the film and once I engaged in it I wanted to see what I could do with it. And also not knowing the director was really good – and some of the others I didn’t know the director – and that made it instantly a different kind of world that took me out of my comfort zone.

You must always have a number of different projects going on at the same, and these different avenues you’re thinking about?

WE: I like to work and when I’m not working I find a lot of things quite difficult to deal with. And actually the more work I’ve got the better I feel in certain respects. At this point in time I have five things on the go at the moment and little things keep appearing from them and I like that they are out there slowly coming together. I mean when you play in a rock band you make one record every two years – you write twelve songs every three years – that’s not really very much, I don’t think the average rock band is very ambitious or far thinking in that respect in terms of creating music and you hear about that struggle about making it and all that.

I actually like the idea of having too much to do so that you keep moving through it. I like the idea of making stuff. When I was younger I didn’t really but now in the last fifteen years since I’ve started doing score work, things changed for me, I really enjoy having that possibility to make music that I wouldn’t normally make in a rock band setting and to be asked to do things that was outside of what I would normally do. I really enjoy that challenge about it and I like the fact that the film score has somebody saying to you ‘Hey I don’t like that’ and you might really love it and you have to let go of it.  There’s something incredibly liberating about that and when I was younger I just would have told the person to get f**ked and walked away because I wasn’t interested in that and you need to have that attitude in a band I think to protect you from the rest of the world and to protect your idea about the band.

But I think there’s a point also too where it becomes stagnant and you stop moving and you need other things. For me, I needed other things to do and I didn’t look for it, the film stuff just came along by accident when Nick asked him to do ‘The Proposition’ with him and it just developed from there and we found we had this great way of creating things together and it was something we both really enjoyed. So actually I really cherish having those things to do.

dirty three press_web

Dirty Three are one of those truly special bands for so many people, and for me, has been my favourite band for many years. You must have so many cherished moments with Jim and Mick over the years and across the many records?

WE: I don’t tend to look back. I don’t really have a sense of nostalgia about things. We have started re-releasing the vinyl records right back to ‘Sad & Dangerous’ and they’re doing an extended issue, double-vinyl with Record Store Day coming up and that gave me a chance to look back on stuff. Unless I’m trying to remember how something went I don’t go back, I don’t listen to the stuff I do, it always feels counter-productive in a way. I do like to think of this as something moving forward so if I do have any nice ideas: probably from long ago or when we were touring America when we started our or in Europe.

But having said that, I got together recently with Dirty Three in Australia and we hadn’t played together for about three and a half years for various reasons. We did two shows in Australia – one in Sydney and one in Melbourne – and they were genuinely moving to play the songs again and to play with Jim and Mick again was genuinely really emotional and I was really happy for that because you never really know if it’s all going to kick back in again, you hope it will. I think it’s certainly the thing with that band and it’s a similar thing with the Bad Seeds too where it starts up and you just feel this thing that is outside of everybody’s control and outside of the people that’s in it. It’s the amazing thing about playing in a band that’s known each other for a long time and that has worked together for a long time and have developed this way of communicating. And you hope it’s going to kick in each time but you can’t just take it for granted. I was genuinely moved to do these shows and to play these tunes that I haven’t played for a long time; it was very moving.

Would you have moments of inspiration that you can recall from your score work, Warren?

WE: Well not so much by the end but during the process of making it there are certainly moments I can remember with each of the scores but particularly ‘The Proposition’—it was extraordinary doing that one because we didn’t really know how to make a score and we just made a load of music and started sticking it to the image. It was amazing to see when something would just work with the image and it hadn’t been even made for the image. That was genuinely thrilling to see that with ‘The Proposition’, it’s a very strong memory I have working on that one and it was done very quickly like in five days.

Also, I have strong memories with ‘Jesse James’ particularly because I do feel if there is like a finest hour in someone’s creative life that would be one of them. It felt like in respect to the film and the music that everything came into alignment with that and I am very proud of that film and my work on that and I’m very proud of the score Nick and I made for that. And I remember certain aspects of making it where it felt like we weren’t going to succeed and being terrified that we may not realize this one so I have strong memories of that one and also the turning point where it did start to work just by sheer determination.

I have in many ways probably a stronger dialogue with the soundtrack work than the band work; the band work is a collective thing and everyone comes in with what they do and then it gets spread amongst the band and it becomes this band thing. I probably have a stronger opinion about the soundtrack stuff in many ways.

Going back to ‘Jesse James’, the music was so powerful and those magical scenes of the train coming in, the trees, the lights—in terms of what you were working with in order to create those sounds, did you have the script and stuff like that?

WE: For that film, we made the time to see a cut of it and we booked a studio because that’s how we work: we start going in February, we need to cut by then and they go ‘yes we’ll have it’. So we go into the studio but we’re not very flexible because we go touring as well so we can’t just chop and change things. We got in there and they had nothing for us so we composed and we just started improvising like we would do and ended up getting a lot of the main themes, probably forty percent of the music was recorded in four days without even seeing anything. For me, my logic I have always had with film scores is that we very rarely make specific cues for certain moments, it feels like the things you discover by accident—by putting them on and seeing what they do it creates a different kind of dynamic with the image.

There’s also a sense of an accident that happens and that also creates a sense of a purpose and it creates its own meaning. I guess it’s what happens in the rock ’n’ roll world too where you think you’ve got a good idea and it’s bullet proof but it’s actually not bullet proof and it doesn’t really work. And then you have a really simple idea that you think won’t fly at all, it’s one that comes through. I think certainly from my point of view there’s too much control and there’s too much manipulating going on, it feels like they’re the kind of ideas that very rarely get through. Sitting down and making cues to image has never been appealing at all.

For ‘Jesse James’ a lot of that was done without ever seeing the film and then we saw the film and we started to fine tuning it. Obviously there’s a point where you’ve got to start to fine tune it, ok they need something for here so what can we do. Even then when we had done it, Andrew just changed everything around and did what he wanted with it, which was a fantastic thing about that film, you know you never really know until you go see the film in the cinema.

I love how the soundtrack work is like a document that work so well as just records so you see them as records more so than just soundtracks.

WE: I think because of the process that we do and I’ve spoken to other composers and they mention that about our scores that they actually work on their own. And they actually pointed this out to me that the problem they have is that they just do the cue and it might be a thirty second cue and they have no time to build around it whereas we make pieces and then find thirty seconds that work. So mainly the ideas that we have are fully realized and then we see if they fit with the film. So that’s why we end up having pieces that in their own right stand alone. It’s not just a bunch of incidental music joined together in the attempt to make something which a lot of soundtracks feel like that.

In terms of films and composers, would you have long term favourites that you come back to?

WE: I like Ennio Morricone; I like Popol Vuh and all the scores of Herzog like ‘Aguirre’ and ‘Nosferatu’, I really love their scores. I really like ‘Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid’ I still think it’s one of Bob Dylan’s best records. I really like John Carpenter’s scores, I think they’re just fantastic. I really like Artemiev who does the scores for Tarkovski’s films, those electronic scores—I really love those scores, I think they’re so bold and they’re so far-reaching. I love Hans Zimmer’s scores for ‘Thin Red Line’ and for the Batman films. Also, Mica Levi’s ‘Under The Skin’ soundtrack is just incredible and really blows my mind when I listen to it.

‘Mustang’ is out now on Milan Records. 

http://milanrecords.com/