Interview by Gergely Hubai

This article appears in the August 2014 edition of
Film Score Monthly Online


John Murphy reveals everything he can about his latest album.

Gergely Hubai’s new book Torn Music: Rejected Film Scores—A Selected History has caused much discussion in the film music community since its release last month (check out Steven Kennedy’s review) but there was a wealth of information and materials that couldn’t fit in the book. In this new column, Gergely shares anecdotes and stories torn from the pages of rejected film music history.

In the summer of 2009, I made an interview with John Murphy, composer of such popular scores as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, 28 Days Later, 28 Months Later and Sunshine. Both the scores and some of their highlight tracks are incredibly popular outside the hardcore film music community: "In the House - In a Heartbeat" from 28 Days Later and "Adagio in D Minor" from Sunshine are especially used often in trailers and YouTube fan videos alike. Even though he’d been a bit more quiet in recent years (his last major release was The Last House on the Left in 2009), John Murphy had just released a new album entitled ANO. To be issued on 16 August, ANO is actually short for anonymousrejectedscore, a subtle hint that this music was written for a project that never featured the music you’re about to hear.

John took some time from the pre-release hype to share some of his memories about that fateful project: "Six or seven years ago I had my first score thrown out. As you know this happens a lot in this town. The score, even though it was in a basic form, was written in it’s entirety and the director loved it. I’d worked very closely with the director, much more than I usually would, and even though it was only at the demo stage, we’d got it to the point where we were excited about it. We could see where it was going and we were convinced that we had a pretty original score that worked. We were distorting stuff you’d never distort, mixing in trip hop, filtering tracks down to their subs, playing stuff backwards… we thought it was the shit!"

"Anyway… every film ever I’ve worked on, there’s always been a moment where I’m convinced I’m about to be fired. Every film. The funny thing is I never once felt that it was going to happen on this film. And the director was that vibed up about it I couldn’t keep him out of the studio. Then of course the inevitable happened. The head of the studio heard it and he fucking hated it. It was dark and weird, a bit edgy… and the exact opposite of what he wanted. And that was that. The score was thrown out and me along with it. I was gutted. Especially as it hadn’t even got past the demo stage. But it’s happened to better composers than me so who was I to cry about it. I was now a proud member of the Rejected Film Composer’s Club. I haven’t seen the finished film with the new score so I can’t even say if it works better or not. Maybe it does. Maybe he was right to throw it out. One day I’ll watch it and find out."

One of the things that surprised me about John’s approach to scoring was his perfectionism that also allows him to move on from one project to another when he’s done working on a film. "To be honest, I can’t listen to most of the my scores. Some worked out good. I still like 28 Days Later and the Guy Ritchie films. And Sunshine had some cool moments, even though as a score it’s pretty flawed really. But most of the other stuff… all I hear are the compromises and the missed opportunities. I just can’t listen to them. But this was one I actually liked. I thought it was one of the braver, more original ones. Not so much the music necessarily, but how the music was used in the context of the film. There was a lot of juxtaposition going on. A lot of ‘wrong’ things that somehow worked you know? And in my head it became this kind of 'secret score’. The score without a film."

In this respect, ANO marks a special occasion as John revisits something he had done years ago – but apart from dusting off old tapes, he also decided to completely revamp into a sort of concept album that could conjure up images of the film had it been used: "A few years after the rejection happened I was looking for something and I came across some of the original demos. So I dug out the demoed score and listened to it. And I thought 'One day, when I’ve got some time off, I’m gonna open up the original sessions and finish it, the way I remembered it sounding in my head.' And now that’s what I did – but instead of just finishing the demos I thought it might be more interesting to take the themes of the score and pull them apart and mash them up. Just to see where they went." "At the beginning it was actually a bit eerie, working on this ‘score without a film.’ When you’re writing a film score there’s a lot of activity. Almost from day one there’s a hundred emails and phone calls a day. And even when they do leave you alone for a few hours you’re always aware that there’s a lot of ‘score related’ shit going on behind the scenes. And here I was working on this score… and the silence was deafening. No phone calls, no playbacks, no meetings, no test screenings, no ‘studio notes’, no one pissing me off every five minutes. It was fucking wonderful. But it was weird. But it was weird in a wonderful way. The only pain in the ass was doing it in bits and pieces. A few days here, a few days there. I’d have loved to have forced it out in one uninterrupted push but I had to still work so it was always having to wait patiently in the wings."

The new recording sessions were a real family affair as John got to work with not only his closest colleagues, but also his wufe abd kids: "One of the cool things with ANO was I could keep everything in house. Literally. Tyler Barton, my engineer for the last nine or ten films, produced it, Scott Somerville, my second engineer, did the sound design and some programming, and I somehow managed to persuade my wife Charlotte to do the vocals. I even had the kids doing stuff on it. So if something had to be changed or redone I didn’t have to ring someone’s agent, I just shouted into the kitchen. And apart from the drums, which Ty played, and the strings of course, I played everything else that needed to be played myself. We were like the fucking Partridge Family! Good times." "Me and Tyler are always messing with different ways to record and distort stuff and the thing we got into on ‘Ano’ was ‘radio re-amping’. We thought it would be cool to re-amplify takes through old valve radios and then re-record them with lo-fi microphones. You know the shitty ones you used to get with old cassette recorders or dictaphones? That kind of thing. So we hit the junk shops and bought some old valve bakelite radios and had them modded so we could play stuff through them direct from ProTools. Some of the tones we got were insane. Especially when we distorted the shit out of them… really aggressive and squealy but organic, and sometimes sad and distressed. You just never knew what was gonna come out of them. We started off feeding just pianos through them, but we ended up putting guitars, vocals and even strings through them. We went a bit mad in the end. The vocals on Ghosts are through an old 50s radio and the piano at the start of Boy is through an old 30’s radio. Old radios are mad. Loads of fun."

The lead single from the album entitled "1-2-3-4" already made its round and gathered rave reviews. "I am very curious what movie it may have been for, but they made the wrong call when they turned this down" wrote one fan, while someone else made the following astute observation: "This music would perfectly fit to a zombie-apocalypse movie!" Referring to John’s arguably biggest succes with 28 Days, the rest of the album paints a similar portrait with an epic but disolate soundscape filled with the composer’s trademark of weird effects and processed sounds – even though it was NOT written for a zombie flick! Oh, you want to know what film this was actually written for? Well, that’s one mystery John will keep to himself. It really doesn’t matter anymore, does it?


Gergely Hubai is the author of Torn Music, a book about rejected film scores. You can find out more about the book here.

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