Interview: composer Clint Mansell discusses music making ahead of his first UK wide tour
Ex-Pop Will Eat Itself frontman talks about composing for Darren Aronofsky and how he made it in Hollywood
Thanks to his acclaimed film scores for Darren Aronofsky, Clint Mansell is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after composers. As he prepares for his first UK live tour, he tells Henry Northmore about the journey
Grebo punk becomes the most celebrated film composer in modern cinema. It’s an unlikely story, for sure. In the late 80s / early 90s, Clint Mansell was the lead singer with Pop Will Eat Itself, an industrial electro-rock band famed for piling samples onto grinding techno beats and heaving guitar riffs. Early singles 'Beaver Patrol' and the call to arms that was 'Can U Dig It?' throbbed with energy, and featured Mansell shouting out his venomous satirical raps. It’s a complete contrast to his sweeping, haunting scores that have soundtracked the likes of Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Moon and The Wrestler.
After releasing their final record, Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, PWEI split in 1996. 'We just ran out of steam,' explains Mansell in his soft Midlands burr. 'I was 33 then and just didn't want to play the same songs over and over again. You start to feel like the oldest swinger in town and it seemed like the time for a change.'
Moving to New York, Mansell admits he found himself in a creative slump while working on a proposed solo record. 'Then I met [director] Darren Aronofsky through a friend of a friend. He had a script for his first film, Pi.'
Originally commissioned to provide its title track, the trials and tribulations of low-budget filmmaking eventually worked in Mansell's favour. 'He wanted to use a lot of pre-existing electronic music,’ he explains. ‘I wrote a piece on spec from reading the script and everybody loved that. Then, because the film was totally independent and he didn't have any industry backing, it was very difficult to get those pieces that he wanted. He didn't have the money to license them. So every time a piece fell out I had to write something to replace it.'
It was the start of a long and fruitful collaboration with Mansell supplying the original music to every single one of Aronofsky's films since. Mansell's most celebrated piece, the beautiful but ominous 'Lux Æterna' (from Requiem for a Dream), has gone on to have a life of its own, appearing again and again in film and TV. ‘It's like having kids: they grow up and do their own thing,' he says. 'You can only watch and hopefully smile.'
Now one of the most in-demand composers in Hollywood, Mansell's music can be heard on myriad movies including Sahara, Doom, Stoker, Smokin' Aces and Filth among others. For most films he usually comes on board during the rough edit but he has a special relationship with Aronofsky. 'I read the script to Noah six or seven years ago so I got involved pretty early.'
Mansell is now embarking on his first UK live tour. 'It’s a nine-piece band: string quartet and piano, bass, guitar and drums, and I play keyboards and guitar. It's a boiled-down version of what I do.' He's also enjoying the opportunity to share his music in a gig setting. 'Being a lead singer, you’re always performing. When you open the fridge, the light comes on: you never lose that ego,' he laughs. 'It's been very cool to find a way of doing it that's, shall we say, age appropriate. I sit down for most of it: it's in keeping with my 51 years of age.'
Clint Mansell, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Glasgow, Tue 29 Mar.