We Spoke to Hollywood's Most In Demand Composer, Cliff Martinez

We chatted to the man behind the 'Drive' soundtrack about his newest collaboration with Nicholas Winding Refn.
June 30, 2016, 2:58pm

This article was originally published on THUMP UK.

When creating a soundtrack, a composer must compromise his or her artistic integrity to the film and the director's vision. More often than not, film music exists solely for the picture and is rarely considered to have any intrinsic value outside of a movie. The balance between creative expression is always harmonious to the picture with any score, but what happens when a soundtrack becomes as noteworthy and a powerful single aspect of the film itself?

In the case of Cliff Martinez, his scores are an exception to the rule. Since teaming up with Nicholas Winding Refn for 2011's Drive, the film's popularity and his profile rose outside the normal sphere of attention towards composers. Even though Martinez has scored films since leaving the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the late 1980s, his partnership with Refn now brings equal attention to his score as much as it does to the Danish auteur's fantasies.

Martinez spent the best part if May in Europe, joining Nicolas Winding Refn in the promotion of the forthcoming horror film The Neon Demon which competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival. Though Refn lost out to Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, Martinez was recognized as the best composer for his soundtrack, though he says he doesn't know too much about it and hasn't received a physical award, yet. If a #1 on the U.S. iTunes soundtrack charts wasn't enough to cement Martinez's stock, then recognition from his peers will surely suffice.

Martinez is speaking from a hotel in Krakow, Poland when I call him, navigating the way to his bedroom after eating breakfast. He reveals that he's still in Europe for an important reason: "They're going to perform some of my music on Friday night, and I have a couple of panels to attend," he explains, in what will be a first for him. "I'm going to be performing—for the first and only time—the music from The Neon Demon, Only God Forgives, and Drive." Following that revelation, during our call, I spoke to Martinez about the inspiration behind The Neon Demon, his relationship working with Refn, and the challenges of creating moods and characters in a film score.

THUMP: Tell me about the background to composing _The Neon Demon_**.** Cliff Martinez: Nicolas began talking about The Neon Demon before the script was even written and we had some discussions about the kind of film he wanted to make. When he had the script, he sent it to me, and after he had shot it, he sent me a rough copy of the film. Even though it's great to have some conversation about the film, I know better than to try to write any music to script or from a conversation. I didn't start writing any music until I had the rough copy.

The dialogue between Nicolas and I started early so I knew what was coming. He told me it was a horror film that's a little bit like Valley of the Dolls and The__Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He had a few references, but I didn't know what I was getting into until I saw the film.

Listening to the soundtrack, it's not beholden to one genre, but I hear elements of science fiction that echo your Solaris score, and the latter part reminds me of Isao Tomita's work on Apocalypse Now. Where there any particular reference points for The Neon Demon or was it a purely organic process based on Nicholas's script?
I'd like to think it was organic. We talked about Goblin and Dario Argento and maybe at some level those scores would have influenced it. Nicholas had cut in temporary music by Bernard Herrmann for the first half of the —which is not horror related—and those exerted some influence, although I don't think the score resembles the sound and of Herrmann that much. Nicholas and I both admire him a lot. Perhaps John Carpenter's synthetic horror music was an influence, but I'd like to think I can think for myself and that I'm not too reliant on copying other people. You can hear some of those influences in the score—like Tangerine Dream, Philip Glass, Brian Eno—I guess they are all in there somewhere.

I did pick up on a Tangerine Dream influence. I purposely avoided watching the trailer because I wanted to live with the soundtrack before seeing the film. Some songs I can picture outside of a score, "The Demon Dance' especially, I can imagine hearing that in a club.
Well, that's actually from a nightclub scene. But yes, I'm curious to see what the reaction is to hearing the score first and then seeing the movie.

The final song by Sia, 'Waving Goodbye' is something I'd like to hear on the radio, and seems like what could possibly be a chart hit. How did your collaboration come about and what did she bring to the process?
I had nothing to do with Sia or that song. It was selected without my opinion, and I don't have any choice in choosing the other songs by Sia or Julian [Refn, Nicholas's nephew].

Was that Nicholas's decision? How much input does he have?
Yes, it was. He's looking over my shoulder throughout the whole process. I send him most of the compositions, and he gives me his opinion which we then work through.

Is he a true auteur then?
Yes, he's pretty involved with the music —and it's a marriage that's worked well over three films so far.

What's the process for creating characters into songs? How do you bring in their moods into a score?
Sometimes it's scoring a situation, sometimes by the characters. Perhaps much of The Neon Demon isn't character driven; much of the music is me creating tension, suspense, or translating themes revenge and romance, but they're not always character-specific.

So what challenges does that bring to composition?
Well, I guess I'm trying to make myself useful and making a contribution.

The Neon Demon is out in cinemas on July 8th

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