Stephen Jones is the singer/songwriter behind the band, Babybird. He composed the soundtrack to the hit horror movie Blessed as well as releasing a new studio album, Between My Ears There’s Nothing But Music. James Whittington caught up with him to discover his influences and what its like to realise a long held ambition.
ZH: Stephen, how were approached to write the soundtrack for Blessed?
SJ: Blessed director, Simon Fellows, has known my work for a long time, and at first wanted to do a film through Elton John's film company and a gangster remake of Alice in Wonderland.
ZH: Did they know of your instrumental work from your Baby Bird (and Babybird) albums and singles as well as your chart success? Did they know about your multi disc compilations “1985 – 2001” and Plastic Tablets 2002” which featured instrumental tracks written for movies that didn’t exist yet?
SJ: Yep, he knew most of it. Was so nice to work with someone who likes your stuff. Like, The Polyphonic Spree/Elliot Smith and the director of Thumbsucker.
ZH: Your music has been described as being akin to nightmarish nursery rhymes; do you think this would have encouraged the producers to ask you?
SJ: For horror yes...I usually get offered horror films. I guess like Halloween and The Thing, the music is music for baby with a sinister undercurrent. An invasion of innocence.
ZH: Blessed deals with a very dark subject (pregnant women are being murdered etc) did the subject matter put you off at all?
SJ: I had just had a kid so it was not nice watching the smashing of the pregnant woman...but I didn't see that till after the fact. I do have a problem since having a child watching this type of violence. In a good intelligent film then maybe it’s justifiable, but otherwise (with pure thick-headed schlock) then no.
ZH: Did you look into your own musical archives for musical inspiration or are all the tracks written specifically for the movie?
SJ: With Simon, and most films, the director puts his favourite music to the film, and asks you to emulate it. Unlike writing your own songs, it’s a job, trying to simulate what the director, and producer, wants and sees. It’s such a different discipline. A skill rather than a creation.
ZH: Your compositions for Blessed are not the ordinary run of the mill horror fare, for example there’s no stark music stabs to emphasise some of the jumpy moments, your music is more subtle. Was this something you purposely stayed away from, so the soundtrack was less predictable and thus more eerie?
SJ: I was such a freaking novice on this caper. Piano at the end of one hand and a DVD remote in the other. Working without a computer which was film soundtrack suicide of a high degree. Partly because the film came along before I was clued up, technically, and because there was no money and only three weeks to do it. But jeez
no f*****g excuses, you have to do what was required. And Simon was a friend so that really kicked my arse into action.
ZH: How long were you given to write the soundtrack?
SJ: 3 weeks, and a couple of seconds, for big changes of course.
ZH: Were you given any musical direction or were you given free reign? Did the producers try and coax you into an Omen style or Rosemary’s Baby style soundtrack seeing as this is a Devil child story?
SJ: Yep, as I’ve said, there was in fact, The Omen music, as a template...but I have to say, it’s very difficult to get away from choral orgasm on such a movie. The subject matter kind of calls for it. Rosemary’s Baby was in my opinion, s**t. At the time, yes maybe, it shocked, but it hasn't survived the riggers, as the shining, for example, has.
ZH: What was the experience like? Is it something you’d like to do more of in the future?
SJ: Film scoring is a job of service. Unless your director is a friend and he/she wants your music, as collaboration, a la Thumbsucker, or a theme like David Holmes on Out Of Sight, you have to bend and limbo under the bar of what the director wants.
I have always known what I want with my own music, where it should lead etc, so its weird having to do what you're told, but as I’m so undisciplined in life, its good to get f****d in the arse creatively once in a while.
ZH: Did you meet any of the cast and crew?
SJ: No but I was told that Heather Graham liked my stuff. She’s worked with Johnny Depp, who's a fan, and I think he's passed on my delights in the past.
ZH: Was it as satisfying an experience as you were expecting it to be?
SJ: No it’s was extremely stressful...thrown in at the deep end. Using Neanderthal equipment, but totally my fault. Either you get the tools or you f*** off. There is such snobbery against musicians that write songs, in the film world, that you need to be totally ahead of the game, especially if you are not classically trained etc
ZH: What did you think of the movie itself?
SJ: Very hard to say. Haven’t actually seen it. Just the bits I worked on. Couldn’t get a copy off anyone. Would have to order it off Amazon if I wanted it. Which of course I do.
ZH: Are you a fan of horror movies?
SJ: F*****g massive. But only old things. No horror films come close...The Thing. Kurt Russell and the other fella. Immensely desolate and desperate. Shining. Great acting. No special effects getting in the way. The Thing had them, but it didn't spoil. Alien. Good directors/great actors...suspense...that special thing that's been lost to a quick thrill culture.
ZH: Your new CD, Between My Ears There’s Nothing But Music, is a return to the Babybird name and is very much a Babybird album in feel and tone. Did it feel good to record with a band again?
SJ: Its weird I have never recorded with a band with all members all at once like in the good old days of the Stones (i.e. Sympathy for the Devil film by Truffant) or Doo Wop one take wonders. Actually I think 'King Bing' (a track from the first Babybird album) was done with all of us at it at once...but would love to do that. It is great being able to sit back and listen to Rob (drummer) do his thing. With time so much comes out.
ZH: It’s a very upbeat release, tracks such as Dive, Shoutabout and Snails could have easily come from the Bugged album, was this a conscious decision?
SJ: Bugged (the third Babybird release) is my favourite band Babybird album. The Way You Are, Getaway are close to how I want a song to sound. If this new stuff sounds similar I think that's the way I work with Luke (guitars etc) and Rob. The demos are different and sound nowt like BB.
ZH: Did you record many songs for the album and how did you choose which ones to use? Will we get to hear some on the unused material?
SJ: About 50 but they were written for pleasure, always the way I used to write, for me and friends etc. We all chose favourites but worked on all 50, but we had limited time and the ones on the LP were the most finished and rounded. I hope the others will come out under another name, like 'Homesick'?
ZH: Stephen Jones, thank you very much