Tuesday, October 6, 2009

John Murphy Interview

After much delay, here's the full question and answer session I did with composer John Murphy. He's composed excellent scores for smaller movies like 28 Days Later and Sunshine. But he's on the rise.I listen to a lot of soundtracks and while John Williams is my favorite, Mr. Murphy is definitely in the top ten. His music is emotional and raw, which might have to do with the fact that he doesn't read music to score his music. He simply figures it out on piano. The resulting music is close-sounding, like it's pressing in on you. The movies he's written for would definitely have been second-rate without his score.
But enough butt-kissing. Here's the Q and A.

Where are you from?
Where did you live when you were a kid?
Bootle. Which is North Liverpool. I grew up practically on the Dock Road so I got to see the ships coming in every night from my bedroom window.
What was your first job?
Playing country lead guitar with my dad in the pubs and social clubs in Liverpool. I was 12 and my Dad sung like Tom Jones. They were good times. How many people can say their first band was with their Dad?
What was your earliest music-related recollection?
Because my Dad was in a band, there was always guitars and amps lying around the house, for as long as I can remember. I actually broke his Les Paul Junior, playing with it, when I was 3. He's still never forgiven me for it. But the first tunes I remember being very aware of where the themes in the spaghetti westerns and the early James Bond films. I must have been about five or six, but I never got over hearing that stuff for the first time. Morricone and John Barry. I had good taste in those days.
What was your favorite band/singer as a kid?
The Beatles. I started my own Beatles band when I was 14. We did all the local pubs for 10 quid a gig. I was John. We were s*** but we were kids so people clapped.
Probably... Radiohead.
Where did you go to university?
I didn't. I'd just left school when I got asked to join the Lotus Eaters and go on tour around Europe. They'd just had a big hit in England and were famous. So that was the end of my academic career.
What did you study?
Musically... nothing. I have no musical education whatsoever. I still can't even sight read. I hear it in my head and then work it out on the piano.
When did you know you wanted to be a composer?
I knew I wanted to write my own songs within 10 minutes of learning three chords on a guitar. But I knew I wanted to to be a film composer on the first day of working on the first film. It was a little British indie called "Leon the Pig Farmer" and it blew my mind that I could actually write music and not have to write lyrics or deal with a**hole singers any more.
What was the first thing you composed?
It was a trippy Penny lane rip off called "Daisy Street". I was 10.
What inspires you the most, musically?
Beauty. And non-cynicism. Like Bach and Puccini just wrote the most beautiful and simple melodies. And Lennon just wrote as he thought it. And Bob Marley just felt it, you know? That's what inspires me. I think when you think over-think music, it's already f***ed.
What was the first film you wrote music for?
Leon the Pig Farmer. I think I was 25.
What film was your "big break?"
Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels. That was about three years later. It was the first film where I got to do my own thing a bit, so it gave me a bit more confidence to be myself more. Up until then, I was still very unsure of myself.
Do people recognize you on the street?
Ha! Never... unless it's the postman.
What is the most recent film you wrote for?
Armored. Out in December. Jean Reno, Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne. Cool little indie heist movie.
What do you like about writing for movies?
Even though it can often be very constrictive... you sometimes get the chance to explore and experiment. Not just with what you write, but sometimes with structure... or how things can relate to characters and emotions in ways that maybe aren't the safe or the obvious way. Like on 28 Days... the score is almost like a negative of what you'd expect from films within that genre. Messing with the rules or the genre, and seeing what happens is always interesting.
Who do you look up to in the score-writing business?
If you mean guys who are still alive, for me, it's Ennio Morricone. By a mile. After that, probably John Barry. Of the Hollywood guys, I would say Howard Shore and of course John Williams. Though I like a lot of Clint Mansell's stuff. Of the dead guys, there are too many to mention... but probably Bernard Herrmann would be top of my list.
Why do you think that score-writing is important?
Just watch a film without music.
What's the best piece you've written, according to you?
For films?... I don't know. I can't even listen to most of my film stuff. I like the Adagio in D Minor from Sunshine. And I still have a soft spot for In the House from 28 days Later.
What's the worst?
Too many to mention. I wrote a punk song for a Reebok commercial in Britain called "Belly's gonna get you". It was insane but really funny. That would be high on the s*** list I think. I like it though.
What's the piece that's been the most mangled by the producer?
Most things get mangled to some degree. It's just part of the job of writing music to ever-changing picture. So it's hard to single out any one piece. But if you asked me what was the most mangled score, it would be Miami Vice.
How does your family feel about your line of work?
Proud but they worry about me.
So what are you working on right now?
I've got a film coming out in December... Armored, with Jean Reno and Matt Dillon. But right now, I've just started messing with some of my own stuff - something I've been promising myself for ages. Scoring films is great. But you can go crazy after a bit, just jumping from one film to the next and only ever writing to picture. It can actually get tedious if you don't take a break from it you know? And I don't want it to get tedious. So it's a good time to stop and do something a bit different. I'd forgotten what it felt like to just get up and write something, without stressing if it's gonna work for the scene or the character... or if the studio are gonna love it... or f***ing fire me! So I've given myself this a couple of months to just write for the sake of writing and not have to care if people like it or not. And that's it really... playing with the kids, watching the football... and writing a lot of uncommercial music.