Can you tell us a little bit about your life as a touring musician?
In theory, touring as a saxophone player is an amazing experience. In my twenties, I was lucky enough to play in amazing venues and festivals around the UK and Europe in jazz, fusion and afrobeat bands. European audiences, in particular, are so full of energy and I have great memories of standing backstage at a French TV show after soundcheck and watching Lady Gaga rehearse her solo piano set. On the other hand, touring is brutal: you arrive at airports at 4am for a 6am flight, dump your things in a hotel room (which you’re probably not going to sleep in) and head to soundcheck. After the gig, you only have a few hours before you have to head to the next airport. Although I loved the bright lights, fun costumes (hello turquoise feather eyelashes) and applause, that life just wasn’t for me!
When did you first fall in love with composing for film?
I fell in love with film music as a teenager when I played the finale to Empire Strikes Back in a youth concert band. Sitting in the middle of the ensemble hearing those melodies and textures genuinely opened my eyes to the magic of film scoring. I wrote so much music as a child: when I was 14, hundreds of teenagers sang a song I had composed at the Royal Albert Hall in London… and yet I didn’t have the self-confidence to pursue composing as a career. Somehow I thought it was for ‘other people’, not me. It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I realised that the image of a composer we were taught in school is so laughably far away from the reality of being a media composer, where you collaborate with directors, editors and musicians. The collaborative nature of working with other storytellers is what brings me the most joy.
How did starting your company Two Twenty Two come about?
My partner, Tom Nettleship and I met in 2013 and bonded over a love of Weather Report and Chick Corea. He’s a guitarist, bassist and drummer, and we began writing together for a fusion project before realising that we both harboured a deeply rooted obsession with film and film music. Then around the same time, two things happened: we read an article in the Guardian about a film composing competition (which pushed us into composing in a DAW together) and a photographer friend asked us to score an Instagram / Mercedes-Benz collaboration. Everything fell into place and Two Twenty Two was born! As a company, we made a choice to pursue socially conscious projects like Ask For Jane, which is about the Chicago-based Jane Collective before Roe v Wade, and Shanti Khana, a documentary about the women-friendly safe spaces in the Rohingya refugee camp, narrated by UNFPA Ambassador, Ashley Judd. Just over a year ago we expanded and brought in a third partner, Dom Lancaster who does post-production sound. Now Two Twenty Two is a full service music and sound team.
What are the benefits and challenges of collaborative composing?
Everybody should have a composing partner! When you hit that wall of writer’s block, having a partner who can sit down at the desk while you go and make a cup of tea is a godsend. Our different skill-sets and ways of creating mean that there is always room for unexpected inspiration. I love that I can sketch something in Logic, walk away and come back an hour later to find the cue has gone in a magical new direction. It’s also a daily lesson in letting go of ego: by the time we are getting feedback from producers and directors, we’ve already been brutally honest with each other – there’s no room for being precious in this job! I think the most important benefit is having someone to share the emotional load. Writing music for someone’s story can require a deep connection and this is not always easy to leave behind at the end of the day, not to mention dealing with the highs and lows of the career, itself. I don’t know how people manage this alone.
Of course there are challenges, too, like sometimes you just have to let musical ideas go no matter how much you want to fight for them – the composer equivalent of ‘kill your darlings’. Trust and communication are key, and Tom and I know that we both have the best interests of the project at heart, however much we may disagree on that chord progression. We’re only human so there are going to be disagreements but would you really want to partner with someone who didn’t care deeply about your work? Passionate differences have often led to surprising new musical directions.
Can you tell us about a recent project that you really enjoyed scoring?
Last summer we scored an indie feature film called Clay’s Redemption, which is described as a “neon-soaked indie flick, inspired by 80’s cult movies and hard-edged graphic novels”. We’ve just finished mixing and mastering the score album, which is being released in September to coincide with the premiere at The Drive In, London. Scoring it was such an incredibly fun process: we started by creating a library of weird and wonderful saxophone sounds, which were then processed and reversed and manipulated into new ‘instruments’. With a film like this – about a body-swapping enforcer on the run from immortals – we were sonically world-building and it was very much a ‘go big or go home’ scenario. The score is bombastic, energetic and doesn’t shy away from bold character themes. When we returned to it at the beginning of this summer to prepare the score album, there was one unfinished track which had originally been destined for the closing credits before being replaced with a sync. The track, called “Since When Were You Afraid of Death”, is like a deep-dive into the mind of the character ‘Oona’, who is a joyfully psychotic villain. We just weren’t ready to leave her world without finishing it so we’ve added it as a bonus track on the album. It’s a mishmash of electro synthwave jazz fusion – essentially, Tom and I have come full circle to create a fusion film track!
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