Thursday, March 20, 2014

Junkie XL - Sitting on Top of the Movie World Right Now

Junkie XL talks 300: Rise of an Empire, Divergent and Mad Max: Road Fury

“I played with sticks and hammers and mallets and it was a little bit dangerous.”
Monsters and Critics was lucky enough to chat with Junkie XL about his work bringing the music to life in 300: Rise of an Empire, Divergent and the upcoming Mad Max: Road Fury.
Junkie XL was born Tom Holkenborg in the Netherlands. Music was his passion and then his vocation. His is a composer and renowned live performer but now focuses on scoring films, which he tells us, is exacting work unlike any other.
M&C spoke with him from his home in Malibu where he was taking a few days off from Mad Max: Fury Road to care for Julian, his newborn son.

Junkie XL's music helps capture the audience and make them care about the characters on the screen. @Photo provided by Costa Communications.
Junkie XL’s music helps capture the audience and make them care about the characters on the screen. @Photo provided by Costa Communications.
Monsters and Critics - You are the man of the hour having scored 300: Rise of an Empire, and Divergent. You’re working on Mad Max: Road Fury. At this moment, how are you thinking your career’s going?
Junkie XL – It feels good!
M&C - How much do you know before you start?
Junkie XL - It totally depends per movie and its funny we talk about these two movies quite differently. In 300 I got onboard really late in the process with only 5 weeks left to do it so the movie was already edited so I had a good sense of what it is and what needed to be done. Whereas with Divergent I was there early. The only thing I had was long conversations with the producers.

M&C –
Every assignment is new and different, what’s it like going in?
Junkie XL - Every time I start something new it makes me nervous. I used to be a performing artist and every time even for the later shows onstage in front of 10k people, I was always nervous seconds before but it disappeared when the music started. It’s similar in the movies, all these ideas make you nervous and can you do it and where is the inspiration and everybody who creates has that at a certain point in the process.
M&C - How far can music be an indicator of character, for example, for Shailene Woodley in Divergent?
Junkie XL - It’s super important and especially with Divergent because it’s from a first person perspective so it’s really important and it’s a sci-fi story. Once this girl finds out she is a divergent and a danger to society and that she’s going to be killed means she can’t trust anyone onscreen anymore. The audience need to root for her. It’s so important that the music really capture the audience and make them feel what she feels and follow her journey. It was a major challenge.
M&C – What was the central challenge?
Junkie XL - Divergent is so one with the person and so the music needs to reflect what a sixteen year old girl is. You can’t tap into a 16 year old girl with Ennio Morricone. What does his music have to do with a 16 year old girl? As a 16 year old, she goes to a ballad by Adele not an adagio for strings when she’s sad. That’s what I was going after. The movie opens with very small intimate score and throughout the process it gets bigger but I never leave the palette of pop music harmony because it fits with her as a person. She matures more and more and becomes a heroine and the music reflects that.
M&C – 300 was drastically different!
Junkie XL - 300 is third person perspective and we’re watching the story unfold and using different parameters to score the character. What happens with me is that I have brainstorming sessions with friends and we have wine and talk about these really weird ideas. So I turned a piano into a guitar. I bought one for $50 on eBay and they threw in a bonus chess set too. So we took the piano and got an axe and hit the whole piano to pieces and built a whole new case around it. We added guitar and bass pickups and the piano had turned into an electric guitar. I played a thing with sticks and hammers and mallets and it was a little bit dangerous. The tension on the lower strings is heavy so if it snaps it can wound you. And I found a company to security riot helmets and got one.
M&C – For 300, did you take into account historical accuracy?
Junkie XL - Yes and no. 300 is unique in its genre. Zach Snyder started in 2006 and what he did was unique; he turned a comic book into something alive and extraordinary. The look is great, but 300 is not your bread and butter historical drama. It’s a comic book that comes alive, if you keep that in mind that as a composer you can have more liberties at that point and exaggerate certain things and discard others. I did photo research on harmonies and skills by the Persians and some instruments so I used guitar and sitar for the Persians to play with typical rhythms in Persia and the kind of drums. The Greeks we gave bigger drums, the lute and harp and aulos which is a reed flute that’s very small, a kind of a bagpipe. I worked with a talented flute player who made his own aulos to imitate a sound that thing made. Because it’s not a 100% historical drama, it’s the aesthetics of cartoon coming alive with live action. I added synthesizers, drum, rhythms that are more modern and fit pop culture now. And the piano I built has no historic value but it gave me a really aggressive sound.
M&C – For Mad Max: Fury Road, are you remembering the sounds from the first one, the bullhorn and motors?
Junkie XL – Forgive me but I can’t really comment on that. It is a year away from release and I would disappoint the studio. What I can say is that the movie is directed by the original director George Miller and it’s an absolute blessing to talk to this man. It was quite an experience.
M&C – Does it cause anxiety taking on such huge films?
Junkie XL – I would say this. Fear is the worst disease on the planet but the right amount of anxiety keeps you on your toes and fighting for the ultimate results. A bit of anxiety is healthy, but you can’t be drowned in it. If you’re too anxious, you’re not on the right course and must make changes.
M&C – What do you listen to at home when no one’s around?
Junkie XL – I don’t listen too much to music when I’m home, usually just at the studios. There are three reasons, it is super worked related. You want to check out new talents and what’s great and fresh. But if I’m on my own, I would rather spend time cooking, which is my big hobby. For me it deflates my whole system and I get to relaxed place. Sixteen hours a day with music is a lot. But I do make it part of a day to discover music.
M&C - Do you listen to music you listened to when you were young?
Junkie XL – I am attached to the music of my youth. It’s impossible not to be and it’s interesting to see. I’ve tried to find that age with myself, at a certain point, when the adoption of music stops. I listen to new music and its fantastic but there is something about music between 6 years until 25 if you listen to it in that time period, it never leaves you.

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