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Soundtracks to stardom

Jon Brion: Interview Part Two

[Part 2 of 2]


Here is the second part of the interview with Jon Brion ...



 

[more:]Prefix Magazine:
I know you also worked with Michel Gondry on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Were you sort of apprehensive about working with directors other than Anderson?

Jon Brion:
Initially, yes. I had no intention of working with anyone else, quite honestly, because I haven't been looking for a career in film music. I preferred music to be made as music and judged on musical merit only. But there was the hook of getting to write for an orchestra and that suckered me in. And then once in, getting a call from Michel Gondry and that it was a movie Charlie Kaufman had written and that I was already a fanatical Michel Gondry video fan, how could I not go see them?
And Charlie Kaufman -- anybody who gets away with being an individual, I'm just so impressed with, and I think it makes life better for the rest of us. Same with David. I had to follow up on these things, 'cause most people just call because they want me to do a movie and various people would like me to do it because there is money involved and everything else and just having "the gig" isn't interesting enough for me. Somebody doing work that makes the gears turn in my head. I want to be around those people; I want to see what makes them tick. I want to be part of the experience of it, and if it is something really good and instead of one more thing in the pile of records in the world, or movies, it is actually something that is different enough that it makes its contribution, however small.

PM:
Recently, there has been a movement of pop icons into film scoring. It started with Danny Elfman, obviously, and then you and Mark Mothersbaugh and RZA, all of whom have been pretty successful artistically. Do you think there is any connection and do you see more of that happening?

Jon Brion:
Yeah, and I'm sure there will be a lot more of it happening as the record industry is collapsing. Because there are people who are careerists and just want to make money making music are going to want those jobs, 'cause the film stuff still pays well. Also records are looked at in an ageist way. If you aren't eighteen or making music for eighteen year olds, why would you be making and releasing records?
Which in truth is shortsighted, because what they aren't saying is that the people who are buying records are between the ages of 25 and 45. That's why record companies are shooting themselves in the foot right now. If they started looking at selling lower numbers of things and looked at a wider demographic, they might actually have some longevity. But instead, their longevity is based on catalogue. The catalogue is selling, too. To everybody. All my friends who have kids that are five and six, they are all like, "It's crazy; my kids just love the Beatles." So the kids are buying catalogue material along with Good Charlotte records. And older people are re-buying stuff that comes out. It's like "they found some more nirvana stuff," you know, great. It's gonna sell in a wider demographic.

PM:
I just bought the new London Calling reissue and I already own it in two different formats.

Jon Brion:
Right. The truth is it isn't that much of an ageist business, but the record companies think it is. And because of that, you will continue to see these people who think, "Well, I guess my career over here is over and I'm going over here." So I suspect that in the next two or three years, you will see a lot of it. I also suspect you see more of it because there is going to be a change in what constitutes film music, and I'm certainly trying to take my little chink out of that armor.

PM:
In the movies you've made, I think you are getting more and more personal with the scores that you're doing.

Jon Brion:
Yeah, I think that's true.

PM:
The Magnolia score, even though it was superior to its contemporaries, was still a basically conventional arrangement with strings and an orchestra.

Jon Brion:
Very much so.

PM:
But then with Punch-Drunk Love -- the percussion in particular -- that wasn't like anything else that was coming out at the time. I would group it more in with the Ghost Dog score RZA did than with the Danny Elfman-penned Spiderman score that sounds like his Batman score from ten years ago.

Jon Brion:
Right, yeah. Well, it's certainly a conscious thing on my part: Can I do here that isn't being done by other people? A lot of the stuff in Huckabees is a reaction against what I see as this thing of having songs that are shoved in to make the soundtrack album sell and then the more typical orchestra score and these things aren't joined together. Huckabees was an attempt to give everything a more songlike feel, like you're listening to records. But there aren't vocals and there aren't lyrics that are on the nose being sung to you about what is going on. And it isn't that orchestra, but it's not the pop records shoved in there, either. It is an attempt to have both things: listening to the record, but its score, and instead of having the score be emotional wallpaper, having it be tuneful. Those were the notions driving it that got David and I really excited.

PM:
Which works well with the movie, too, which is actually kind of about not having things shoved into unnecessary packaging and all things being connected.

Jon Brion:
Right. One thing I do try to do both as a soundtrack creator and a producer is look at the work as a whole and go: "Is there anything that is missing or that might keep people away from this and how can I help that?" In Eternal Sunshine, it is a very intellectual ride, especially the first time you see the movie, when you don't know if it is going forward or backward. I wanted stuff that is very slow moving and didn't address the picture changes directly, so that for somebody that it was too choppy for, there was something for them to ride on going at normal pace. In the case of Huckabees, we are dealing with all these heavy issues. But David kept saying he wanted it to feel light. It was supposed to be a fun movie, so pushing the stuff that did that always helped and always made it add up with picture. And with Punch-Drunk, Paul wanted something not only rhythmic but building in Adam Sandler's character.

PM:
That's interesting. I think the Punch-Drunk score is one of the few soundtracks that you can listen to and it seems like you are watching the movie over again.

Jon Brion:
Oh, good. I'm glad you feel that way. Even while we were making it, Paul and I were talking about the record, and he was saying, "I really want something you can listen to. And I spent a lot of time editing it and making mixes specifically for the record, and we really thought about the order of things. I'm so glad you say that; that was the intention.

Jon Brion - Soundtracks to stardom Explosions in the Sky Infusing moody instrumental post-rock with positivity
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