Composer Clint Mansell Uses Rock Band Roots to Bridge the Gap Between Film Scoring and the Live Arena

And when it comes to creating the scores themselves, do you have a process that you usually follow or is it different with each project?

Well it’s essentially the same, which is watching the film; talking about it and just starting to see what ideas it leads me towards. I ultimately just start jamming to film really on either the piano or guitar, just to get a feel for the pace of the film, any movement that might work. But all films are different so there’s always like a few days or a week of just having the film re-working your ideas for you because you might go into it with a whole set of things that you’d like to try to do and you do a couple of those and the film instantly rejects them because it’s just not right and that forces your brain to think in a different way. It’s just really getting in there and start swimming.

Are there certain things that consistently inspire you or sources that you routinely draw from for inspiration?

I don’t know… I’m sure there probably is, but if I could be as understanding of how I found inspiration I think I would be firing on all six a lot more than I do. I think that often things that you have rejected as inspiring before can take on a whole new light when you see them under difference circumstances, or hear them under different circumstances. Things that you had not considered 3 months ago might now be at the forefront of your mind and leading you down a completely different path. I’ve sort of, over the years I guess I’ve just never really forced how I feel, I try to be honest with how I feel and connect with myself in that way if you like, without sounding weird.

But to understand where I’m at at a certain time – that sometimes might not coincide with the sort of music you’re needing to write that day – but that doesn’t worry me too much because I just think that you should be honest with where I’m going with my emotions. But if you’ve got enough time on a film, over the course of two or three weeks you’ll go through many different emotions while you’re sitting in front of the computer, or whatever you’re using to write with, and you can mine these different emotions and different periods. And if even today I don’t actually achieve much, but I may have jammed out a few pieces that come tomorrow I’ll look at it in a fresh light and think, “Oh well that’s pretty interesting.” So I just kind of go with it really, it’s not exactly like the opening or parting of the clouds, there’s actually no real replacement, there’s no substitute for just getting in there and working at it.

You can’t always be inspired, you can’t always be at the top of your game, you know, you’re just doing it.

Definitely. And you had joked during the show that in order to be a good composer you just need to surround yourself with talented musicians, but those musicians are performing the music you have written and created – do you usually write for each instrument or is it more of a collaborative effort with the musicians themselves?

Requiem for a Dream

I don’t get too involved in what each person plays, I mean we’ll obviously talk about it, but they sort it out amongst themselves what their parts are because the music was obviously already written. We just sort of put it together with these basic instruments and everybody takes a part that’s relevant to them.

But then it becomes more about the execution and the performance – the string players working their bits out between themselves and then blending in with us. To some degree it’s a little bit more like a rock and roll band at that point – I mean if there’s something I don’t like I’ll say, “I’m not into that,” but by and large, I think I said one of the nights that I love the way these guys play the music, but they also imbibe it with themselves and it becomes a whole new experience and I like the way they do that. Like the guitar player figures out different elements and textural stuff that really works with what I’ve already done, it’s bringing more to the table and I think that comes from just having the right people there who are receptive to what I’ve done and know how to bring it to life.

And it clearly worked – the performances were so successful they ended up adding a third night. Do you see yourself doing more performances like this or was this more of a “once-in-a-life” experience?

No! No! I ‘d love to do more because it’s fun basically. We all get a couple of nights out, which is pretty rare for me, so I’m totally up for doing more. I’d love to – there are some great venues here in LA and wherever. I mean I probably wouldn’t do that many, but it would be nice to do one like in the summer and then again in the fall.

How did you choose the Largo as the venue for these performances? Did you seek it out or did they approach you?

When we doing the gigs, the first one we played in Belgium was in a beautiful fourteenth century theater that was all renovated and refurbished so it was beautiful. And this next gig we did was at this place called Union Chapel which is a church in London and it was beautiful, a proper, working church and we played there and it was just great playing these special venues rather than when I was in a band – you just play any shit-old old club you can get and that’s kind of the vibe of rock and roll!

But we wanted something that spoke a little bit more to the atmosphere. Obviously I had been to the Largo many times, both the new place and the old one, and we also had no idea if anybody would want to come, you know, so we just thought it was this lovely theater and it’s got a big stage, and there’s nine of us [in the band] and we needed that, and it’s seated and every time I had been there it’s just got this great atmosphere about it and JC at Milan Records reached out to the guys there and they were up for it and it went really well.

Is there a project or type of production you haven’t created music for that you might want to? You’ve done films, you’ve done video games, obviously you can put music to anything so is there something that you’ve ever seen that you thought, “That might be cool to make music for”?

I would like to do something in the live theater or something world –I’m not entirely sure what yet, but something with a live performance within a dramatic setting would be interesting. But I have no idea what shape or form that would be, but I’m sort of open to interesting ideas, see what’s out there, you know?

Of course. And final question, how do you go about selecting the different projects you work on? Is it something where things come your way and you pick through that or do you seek things out that you would want to work on?

A bit of both really. Just keeping my ear to the ground if you like, but I do get approached a lot as well. You know it’s just trying to sift through things that feel right for me. I think I have a pretty good gut instinct on things and I usually get in trouble when I ignore my gut instincts, but you still sort of go, “Well, you know, I’ve never done that before, I should try it” because if you don’t try something, you can’t say that you don’t like it.

So there’s always a certain gamble that a project will turn out the way you hoped it would, but that’s also part of the enticement of it. You just don’t know where it’s gonna end up and when that ends up in a good place or a great place, it’s brilliant.

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Allison has always been fascinated by the power music has when paired with an image – particularly its effect in film. Thanks to a background in recording and her days spent licensing music to various productions (including, of course, movies), Allison can usually be found sticking around to see all the songs noted in a film’s credits and those listening to her iTunes inevitably ask, “What movie is this song from?”

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