Long one of the most interesting and constantly evolving story-tellers in cinema, Shane Meadows is returning with a documentary, The Living Room, which covers his relationship with frequent musical collaborator and friend, Gavin Clark (UNKLE/Clayhill). The movie sees its Irish premiere this Friday in the Button Factory along with Shane’s 2004 short, Northern Soul. The screenings will be followed by a live performance from Gavin along with Nick Hemming & Helen Whitaker (The Leisure Society). Ahead of the show, State spoke to Nick Hemming.
Tickets for the show this Friday, July 18th, are available from the Button Factory.
Nick, you’re coming to Dublin to perform as part of a screening of Shane Meadows’ film about Gavin Clark, The Living Room. You’ve composed music for several Shane Meadows films, including A Room for Romeo Brass and Dead Man’s Shoes, and you’re the lead singer of the Ivor Novello-winning indie-folk band The Leisure Society. What are you working on today?
Well, we’re working on a new Leisure Society album. I’m in the studio today, or I’m supposed to be in the studio today, but the house next door is getting work done, and the noise is terrible. It’s the price you pay for having a home studio, I guess. It’s just frustrating because all the songs are ready to go. You see I don’t really play them to anybody else until I feel they’re finished – then it’s time to get them recorded as soon as possible.
How did you start working with Shane Meadows and Gavin Clark?
It goes back a long way, actually. I used to be in a band with Shane and Paddy Considine. We all grew up in the same town. Then when Shane started doing his films, he used some of the recordings that I was featured on for the soundtracks. He tried to get me and Gav together a couple of times to get us to make music, starting when Gav’s first band split up. It didn’t work because we were both in completely different places – he was doing this dark folky sort of stuff and I was in an indie pop band. And so it’s only quite recently that I started working with Gav again, just because our paths keep crossing with this Living Room project. Even though the film was made quite a while ago and I’m only briefly in it, we’re all working together again.
What’s the difference between writing songs for the band and writing soundtracks?
Well I like doing soundtracks, because there’s less pressure, you know? When you’re writing a song, it has to be a complete package – a whole worldview in music and lyrics. Every element has to mean something and it all has to appeal to people. I don’t mean just hooks, it doesn’t have to be catchy, but there has to be something inherent in the thing that keeps people coming back. Whereas with soundtracks, it’s different… you can sort of just turn up, in a way. Like, I wouldn’t ever just say, ‘OK, I’m going to sit down and write a song today,’ but I can do that when I’m working on a soundtrack. It’s because it’s someone else’s vision, and you’re only underscoring it, after all. Putting the punctuation in. It’s more like a day-to-day job that you can just turn up and work at. Inspiration doesn’t come into it – not in the same way, anyway.
And was it something of a pragmatic decision, too? There was that bit in the news about you a while ago, when you got all that attention for your song ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ – ‘Warehouse Worker Wins Ivor Novello.’ For clearly quite noble reasons, you’ve sometimes had a hard time making a living from music. Are soundtracks simply just a more dependable source of income?
It’s something of a backup plan, certainly, or the closest I have to one, since I didn’t go to university or anything. I could’ve, I was good at school, but I started playing guitar quite young, and that was it, really. I just got hooked. The Ivor Novello was great, though, it bought me quite a bit of time, financially speaking. I had three years of being comfortable, and two more years that have been slightly less comfortable. But that’s five years without ever having to commit to a nine-to-five, which is a huge blessing when you’re working in music these days. Because even though I talk about soundtracking being a contingency plan, the money that’s in that is nothing compared to what it used to be. All the old moneymaking avenues are getting blocked up, one by one. Even doing music for ads, something that used to be a big earner – it’s all library music now, and all these soundalike bands and composers getting paid nothing just to do something that sounds like Coldplay or Philip Glass or whatever.
You don’t find your faith wavering in the face of this stuff, do you?
Not really, no. It’s like I said, as soon as I started playing guitar, I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Finally – what’s your favourite soundtrack?
At the moment I’d say it’s John Barry’s score for You Only Live Twice. It’s got this pseudo-Oriental sound that’s really strange and evocative, and a great, weird theme song with Nancy Sinatra on vocals. I’m a terrible insomniac, and lately I’ve been putting it on to help me get to sleep.