Junkie XL has been making waves in the film, TV and video game industries with a strong collection of soundtracks and scores already under his belt, despite starting his career as a touring musician beforehand. Forming partnerships with and assisting big-name composers definitely allowed the producer to step into the world of scoring, but we learned that his drive to reach higher levels in music is the main factor behind his success and talent. In our new exclusive interview with the world renowned producer and composer, Junkie XL details on two 2015 movies that he scored, Run All Night and Mad Max: Fury Road - two very different films with contrasting composing processes. Find out more about Junkie XL below!
How did you get into writing music and composing for film, TV, & video games? Was it always part of the plan?
Well it's somewhat of a long story. I started my artist career in the '80s and at some point in the '90s I saw a movie that used one of my existing tracks as a licensed track, and I saw what it did to the picture and I got really intrigued by it. From that point on, I started investigating step-by-step how I could be a part of that industry. For me, making music for a film has always been a higher art form and even though I really enjoyed my artist career and I had a great time touring all around the world and doing gigs, I still wanted to pursue that movie aspect and I started going to LA in the late '90s and meeting people to talk about it.
I started doing alternative movies back in Europe and my first break was that I did additional scenes for the first Resident Evil in the late '90s. So that was the first thing I did and I started working on more alternative movies and then after I had a number one hit worldwide with the Elvis remix in 2002, I decided to move to LA. And when I moved, I had already figured out the best way to get into film scoring and that was basically to assist successful composers as an assistant and that's what I did. I worked with Harry Gregson-Williams on a couple of movies and some European composers. And I had my first break in LA with Catwoman; Warner Brothers needed an additional 10 or 15 scenes in a very short time period. I was able to pull it off and people were happy with that. Even though the movie wasn't successful, but they were happy with the work flow. And then I started doing more movies in Europe and actually became very successful in Europe and then I met Hans [Zimmer]. With Hans I started working, bit-by-bit, more on films, so it was a little bit of Inception, and a little bit more on the Sherlock Holmes movie, and then more on Megamind. And then Madagascar 3 was very much more elaborate collaboration, and then Man Of Steel, we basically did together. Because of that I met Zack Snyder who then offered me [300:] Rise of an Empire, and because of that I got Divergent. Then I met George Miller from Warner Brothers, who was really intrigued by the style of music that I made, that he offered me Mad Max: Fury Road that I'm now done with and it comes out in a few months. Then I got to work with Jaume Collet-Serra on Run All Night and now it's like an ongoing thing where I get offered one movie after another.
Mad Max: Fury Road has been in postproduction for quite some time. When did you get involved in the project?
18 months ago. It took a really long time. There's a big difference between certain types of films. Run All Night, was a very short turnaround. They had some issues with the music as it were, and they hoped that I was able to solve it, and I only had 6 weeks to do it. Whereas, Fury Road, I came in 18 months ago and it became this really, really long, elaborate process with the lovely director George Miller. We constantly discussed and analyzed everything that I did and see if it worked. The best solution for the characters of one scene, but I think both scenarios are really lovely to work on and I think it's the mix between the two of them that makes it such an exciting industry.
Considering star Liam Neeson's recent background in action films, was there a constant mindset with Run All Night to keep the music different from the Taken films and his other thrillers?
Well, I'll tell you this much ... What's really interesting is that first the movie was explained to me by the Vice President of their music department, Darren Higman, before I even saw the movie or saw the script. He took 30 minutes, 45 minutes to describe the movie to me and the take away from that, to me, was it's not a standard action movie because there's an underlying story here about two dads that have been longtime friends that have done terrible things together in the past, but they've both had very strange and weird relationships with their sons. So that I already knew, and then I started to do a bunch of research and the research that I did was looking into movies that were made over the last 40 years, 50 years that incorporate mob bosses and it's very interesting that even if you go back to the early '60s, where the great movie I like Le Professionnel with Jean-Paul Belmondo and the music from Ennio Morricone. What's very interesting is that if you analyze those movies for years and years to come the main theme for all these movies were always very emotional, they were not action at all. They would underscore the cruelty and the results of their actions and also score the fact that these people are so lonely inside and have a really troubled background themselves. Then somewhere in the '80s/'90s, that changed and all these movies got really action-y themes, very fast rhythms and fast strings and dramatics, but before that it would be a very emotional piece. And I thought it would be an interesting approach to try to go back to what they did in the '60s and '70s by giving this movie a very emotional theme and trying to do a counter score instead of doing the standard action score. And it really worked for the picture and the audience picked up on it too.
How much creative freedom did you have?
Completely. Absolutely completely. I had complete freedom. I got explained the story by Darren Higman then I saw the movie and then I got so inspired I wrote a 55-minute sketch book that would become the themes for the movie. And then eventually I met the director for the first time and I said, " I love your film, I think it's great directing, great acting, and by the way here's a USB with 55 minutes of music on it, I think this could be the blueprint for the film, let me know if you like it." And that was before I even had the job. Then he called me back later that night saying that he loved it and they tried it out on people in the film, and that's how I got the job.
You said with Fury Road the director was more involved with everything you were doing ...
Well George is a completely different person than Jaume. Jaume really wants to put together a team for a film with people that he trusts completely, and then these people should do the best that they can, and then it all comes together and it miraculously all works out. Whereas George is a micro-manager on every level and he wants to know absolutely everything at all times.
Even in the micromanagement world you have all the freedom. It's not like a lot of these directors would say to you, "oh I think you should be using woodwinds here" or "I think you shouldn't be composing a theme in C major, but you should go for A minor or F sharp." They never get into territory like that, they always speak very general, global terms in what these characters want to do or the situation it is. Both were actually really nice. If you're dealing with the director that puts the responsibility of the music a little bit more on your shoulders, it means that you have to be so on the ball, right from the start. Whereas, if you have a lot of guidance from your director, you could allow yourself, every now and then, to do a very rough version of the demo, say, "this is kind of what I thought, what do you think?" and then take the discussion further. It's a different way of working, but no matter what, in both scenarios you will set the initial tone for the score and then with feedback from the director, you will take it somewhere else.
Is there anything you can tell us about you work on Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice?
There's not really much I can tell you about it right now [laughs]. . But I know they have been saying a couple of dates recently on another interview, but at this point I don't really have that much to say about this. The movie comes out not until a full year from now.
Does your approach to film composing differ from your work with video games?
There's a different approach. With video games you usually get a lot of creative freedom. You deal with somebody that is leading the creative team and they will give you feedback of what they're particularly looking for, but it's definitely different than film where you have a director who sits with you every other day to go over the film, to go over the music and also because video game music is interactive and it has a different impact. You need to compose completely differently because you're thinking in dynamic layers, you're thinking, the movie's a linear experience where you're talking about an arc that's perfect after two hours or two and a half hours, whereas a video game could be very short, could be very long depending on how the long the player is playing, what level he's at. So it's a completely different process all together.
Do you have any advice for anyone trying to get into the film composition world or the music world outside of that?
Well these are two different things. To get into the music world all you need, depending on what kind of music you make, is a great guitar or a great drum kit or great keyboard ... If you want to be more a producer type of person then you'll have a leg up with some good speakers or a good headset and some plug ins, etc. You start making music. And I think it's very important, and it's always been my goal is that, the music that you make should give you goose bumps. It should hit you in the stomach. Because if that is not the case, then you cannot expect anybody out there to feel something similar and if you try to be something else or try to be somebody else then you might still end up making something cool, but if it doesn't hit you in the stomach then you cannot expect other people to hit them in the stomach. So that's one very important thing, for me at least.
In the composition world, once you've achieved all that that I just explained and you want to move into the video game composition world or the movie composition world, then I think it's important to think the same thing that I did: try to assist a composer that you like or admire or somebody that you feel you're close to when it comes to sound or a certain way of working. Then see how the dynamics are as a manager, how to be regarding your network, how do you manage the scope of a movie project from beginning to end, how do you deal with studio, how do you deal with orchestrators or conductors or engineers and things like that. So it's very important to see that from a point-of-view where you don't carry the full responsibility yet, but you want to know how it's being done. And it's usually fairly easy to get in contact with composers of music, you send your reel, and they listen to it and if people feel like you're really talented and you're willing to work really hard and to basically say goodbye to the life that you have then there's a serious opportunity there and you just work your way up.
For more on Junkie XL and his upcoming projects, check out his official website right here!