Clint Mansell Interview

PWEI man turned soundtrack composer
Clint Mansell
He’s been described as “THE man”, “All clutch” and “That freak from the bomb squad who sits, pliers perched, waiting for the countdown clock to hit '00:01' before he starts snipping wires”.

The former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell is arguably one of the most sought after film score composers of today and he’s had quite a busy year. In 2009 alone, Mansell completed work on a six films, including another hugely successful collaboration with Darren Aronofsky for 'The Wrestler', and more recently the award winning 'Moon'. To top it all off, Mansell performed with a nine piece orchestra at London’s Union chapel in July, which was hailed by fans as “simply beautiful” and “breathtaking.”

So to celebrate the busy year, ClashMusic sat down with Stourbridge’s biggest export since Robert Plant, to talk all things 'Moon', solo albums, getting back on stage and how Trent Reznor turned him into a creative recluse.

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How are you?

I’m good! Though I’m a little tired from last night.

You were at the British Independent Film Awards, how was it?

It’s not really my scene ya know. I don't really want to go out there and shimmy about for a crowd it's just not me. I just want to record music and enjoy myself.

You’ve had a pretty hectic year, how do you fit everything in?

I suppose ya know when I first started working with directors like Darren I wanted to start writing as quick as possible because I thought I wouldn't get it done in time. But now I'm more relaxed about it, because I've got more confidence an I find that with a deadline left to my own devices, I'll soldier along an get it done in time. So it ain’t been so bad, I mean I get paid to write for a living so it’s a fucking holiday from day one really.

You’re year started pretty well with the success of Aronosky’s 'The Wrestler', but was it difficult reducing the whole score down into just one track?

Well it was new to Darren as well, but sometimes the film just didn’t need a whole score. I mean with Mickey Rouke, he was just so nuanced in the film and anything I did that tried to illuminate an emotion just sorta swamped the whole scene ya know.

Everything he did he had it covered plenty, an if I added anything it just made us all look like hacks, I mean you put an emotional piece over what he was doing an it was just always off the scale.

So we ended up with this sorta like melodic but atonal type thing with the guitar, but I think the hardest thing was like just not to judge him ya know. I mean the guy's living in the back of his van just so he could wrestle, so if we went and put a song over the top that just went ‘oh look at this sad basterd’ it would just undermine Mickey, the character and the film, so like we couldn’t do that.

Then there was just this end section, which we called 'Glory B' and you had it just as he’s about to jump from the top rope which I loved an ya know, he’s just doing what he wants to do whether he was gunna die or not, he’s just living the dream, it was great.

More recently you’ve been working on moon, which has been a big hit. How was it working with Duncan Jones, A.K.A. Zowie Bowie?

Duncan was fantastic because he just let me go about it and he trusted me, which was great considering it was the first time we worked together.

What was it about 'Moon' that made you want to score the film?

Well I read the script and I was thinking this is great, why don't I get more scripts like this because it has all the things I love; it's thoughtful, it's funny, it's emotional, it makes me think. An well it's easy to write for a film like that, unlike when you get a script which is crap that's hard to write for.

What was running through your head when you were writing it?

Well I really wanted to write something invocative ya know. An' I mean, I live alone in Los Angeles so I'm not exactly the world's most social butterfly so getting a idea of the characters isolation in the film and the theme of feeling alone was pretty easy. I just thought if I wasn’t working on this film what would I want to hear with those images.

What was the reaction to the new material from 'Moon' when you played at the Union Chapel in July?

Well I thought they went down pretty well ya know. I mean I don’t think we could have done any better because we had the original band who recorded the score which was the Sonus Quartet and the same guitar players drummers etc. An' we all hoped that the arrangement would deliver and yeah ... I think it got a good response.

How did it feel getting back out on stage and performing to a crowd of people since your days of playing with Pop Will Eat Itself?

Obviously its very nerve racking, an' there’s a lot to remember but its amazing and it’s so much fun. I’d wanted to do it for a long time but I never really had any impetus or a reason to do it, but after I won the world soundtrack award I had to, because part of the award is coming back the following year to perform. But It was great I really enjoyed it.

The reaction to the show has been really positive, people saying it was “simply beautiful” and “breathtaking”. But there’s also some clips on YouTube where people say you don’t look very excited or passionate. Your thoughts?

(Laughs) Well for a start next month I’m 47. So the things I’m doing now just sorta fits in with where I’m at. When I was 25 I wanted to run around being drunk out of my mind and jump up and down, it was brilliant but ya know now I’ve got this an it suits me. It’s been interesting last 10 years, I’ve changed a lot musically and personally ya know, plus I get to sit down.

Is it something you’d like to do again?

Well, yeah that’d be great. We was thinking of maybe doing some more next year, like maybe in New York and LA but it's all very ifs and buts at the moment ya know. I mean I’d love to do it but you gotta wait for the right time and it's also very expensive. But I don’t want to do this every week and I’d want to make sure it was still interesting for the audience. It might be eighteen months or so in the future, but I definitely want to do more though that’s for sure.

For years now it’s been suggested you’ll do another solo record, is that something you’d like to try your hand at?

Well I’ve thought about it but time is an issue and more seriously than that I would need a reason to do it and right now I can’t see the point of it.

Ya know in a pop format there’s nothing I have to write about, an' I mean I definitely don’t want to write about songs like "Oooh baby I love you". So left to my own devices to write a solo record, I just can’t see the context of it ya know. It’s not to say I wont do it, but right now I just don’t see the worth in it and I don’t get it.

Having said that I’ve been listing to this guy Glenn Branca’s who’s kinda like a New York avante garde composer who wrote symphonies for guitars. And the guy did this thing called 'Hallucination City' and basically he goes to a town an' he gets 100 guitar players from the town to play this music. Suddenly I understood how that exists in a world of its own an it’s so different and really interesting. You can see definitely see influences of his stuff in things like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. So that guy has given me a view I never saw before so I could try it but right now, I do so much work if you like with films, which to be honest satisfies my creative desires that I can’t see it happening. So the short answer is there’s a chance but I wouldn’t hold ya breath (laughs).

In the past you’ve helped your friend Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails with some of his releases and even played alongside him on stage. Now that the band have hung up their touring boots, is there any possibility that the two of you might record any collaborations with each other?

Well I doubt it ya know. I mean Trent and I, well maybe I learnt this from him I don’t know, but I’m very reclusive. Particularly in my work. I never really got into it when I was in the band and it's not like we ever use to jam or stuff. I guess I just don’t have that gene.

I mean recently I worked on a film called 'Tell Me', and there’s a guy called Peter Broderick who did a vocal on top of one of my scores. And it was the weirdest thing because they used a pre existing vocal from one of his songs and it fit just straight over, I mean obviously there was a little arranging but its as if the two had always existed together ya know. That’s my kinda collaborating really (laughs).

So there aren’t any artists out there that’ve caught your eye that you’d like to work with?

Well ya know. Now that you mention it I absolutely love Soap and Skin. That’s someone I think I could work with. She actually does a song using bits from my 'Requiem For A Dream' score but she does this thing with not the main track but the crazy mad stuff at the end of the film and she plays piano with it and it sounds just amazing. It's on YouTube so look it up.

But ya know, she’s doing her thing and it's fantastic, where would I fit in? I try not to think about it too much if im honest, you just see what happens.

Have you got many plans for 2010?

Well there’s 'Black Swan' which I’ll be working on with Darren and 'Tell Me' which has got Keira Knightly and Sam Worthington in. Plus I’ve got 'Farewell' coming out over here which I loved working on an' I think that and 'Moon' is probably my favorite work since, well probably 'The Fountain'.

Any plans to work with Duncan Jones again, maybe on his next film 'Source Code?

Well I’d really like to and I loved that on 'Moon' he had a team with him, which was all his mates if you like. But I suppose with a bigger project like that the studio might want to go a different direction. You’d like to think that whoever wanted him to make 'Source Code' having seen 'Moon', would offer him the opportunity to work with whoever he wants so that he can see his vision through ya know. But it won't always be so cut and dry like that. But yeah, I’d love to do what Duncan’s got lined up next, because I thought he was terrific to work with.

Words by James Wright

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