Working out of their famous Cardiff-based Faster Studios, Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield has created the original score for The Chamber along with long-time collaborators and producers Dave Eringa and Loz Williams. Drawing on the claustrophobic surroundings of the story, the score is a great new sound from Bradfield and adds to the dark and atmospheric mood of the film.
When a special ops unit commandeer a submersible to locate a mysterious item at the bottom of the Yellow Sea, the pilot of the sub (Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Force Majeure) is forced to navigate into dangerous, North Korean waters and when an explosion causes the sub to overturn and take on water, it becomes clear that there won’t be any rescue and not all of them are going to escape.
The Chamber also stars Charlotte Salt (The Musketeers), James McArdle (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Elliot Levey (The Lady In The Van).
James Dean Bradfield has always been a music fan. The singer’s interviews have forever been peppered with pop culture references, with nods towards artists, albums, and films that inspire him. As frontman with Manic Street Preachers he’s been able to achieve most of his ambitions, to embark on everything from plangent acoustic fare to visceral post-punk confessionals. Yet he’s never worked in cinema... until now. James Dean Bradfield recently sat down with director Ben Parker, a rising British auteur whose new film The Chamber required a score. A sharp, concise film, the subtle shifts in mood and tone are echoed in that ghostly, deeply affecting score. Clash got on the phone to James Dean Bradfield to find out a little more on the project, and what Manic Street Preachers have been up to this summer.
How did this project come about? Did they contact you?
It was pretty simple - just through some mutual acquaintances, someone we both knew. We just had a chat, basically. I met with Ben and really got on with him. If you meet with someone and it just doesn’t click then you don’t bother. It’s like being in a band, really - you want to be around people who you get on with. I’ve always lived my life by that rule: if you meet somebody and you get on with ‘em, and you share certain sensibilities, then it’s game on.
How advanced was the film before you came on board? This is quite a departure for you, who are your inspirations in writing for cinema? Are there any composers, or particular soundtracks you admire?
I go back to when I started playing soundtracks when I was young. I think the first one I ever really got into was Rumble Fish, by Stewart Copeland of The Police. Rumble Fish is a Francis Ford Coppola film, and that was just through actually loving the film. I went along and saw the film and I loved the film, it really grabbed me. That was probably my first soundtrack. After that, it was the Birdy soundtrack by Peter Gabriel - the classical nature of it, I thought it was a great soundtrack. And then… Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen, the guitarist, had an album called ‘Themes For Grind’ which was supposed to be an imaginary film - which I loved! I suppose when I was young those were my touchstones, and they’ve kind of stayed with me. I remember listening to ‘A Farewell To Kings’ by Rush, and there’s like this watery drum sound at the start of that track, and I always remember thinking: wow, that would just be amazing in a film! And that was one of the inspirations for a sound that runs through the film. So I think you grab things from where you can find them, really.
There are huge shifts in mood in the film, was that something you needed to capture in the music?
I remember watching… It’s probably silly, but one of the first times I was ever struck by how something can be quite powerful within a movie, and be quite minimalist but still work, was David Lynch’s The Straight Story. It’s very linear, and I actually think he did the soundtrack, so for me that was a little touchstone for the down moments, for the more reflective moments, where the emotions feel as though they’re decomposing, and you’ve got to try to take everything off the bones of the music.
Much of the film is set on a submarine, how do you go about reflecting that sense of claustrophobia?
You have the physical irony of having a short, slapback, metallic, reflective surface, where things are happening, but then you’ve got the Russian Doll-esque nature of then being stuck within a vast ocean. So you’ve got basically sounds that both trapped and feel as if they want to go further. And I suppose that’s one of the tricks that you’ve got to try and learn, I suppose.
This is entirely instrumental, did you struggle to switch off that instinct to write a vocal line?
No, not at all. I think it’s kind of helped that with the Manics we’ve got quite a lot of instrumentals in our back catalogue, with B-sides etc etc. And, to be honest, one of the hardest parts of being in a band - especially a rock band - is you over-track, and you get everything breathing the way you want it to be… because you’re dealing with lead weights in rock, you’re dealing with heavy substances, and you’ve got to try and make them float, sometimes… which is hard.
Did you work on editing the music to fit the scenes, or was that left entirely in the hands of the director and his team?
No, Ben was pretty much in charge of that. He was very much pro-active in terms of having his bullet-points in terms of the film, and then when we thought we’d finished he would say we needed something extra. And I think it’s the essential truth of doing a soundtrack, really. You’ve got to succumb to the director - that’s what I think, anyway. Everything within reason you’ve got to listen to the director, and really try to imagine the pressure he’s under, and try to imagine how attached he is to everything, especially since it’s somebody who’s built it from the ground up. So that is the bottom line. That was an interesting experience for me, somebody setting me tasks and really telling me ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Whereas in a band sometimes you can have a grey area.
Would you do this again?
Absolutely. If the Manics timetable allowed me to. There’s no way I’m looking for this to take over from my main job. I suppose as we get older the gaps get a little bit larger, and it’s nice to think that I could punctuate those gaps of Manic inactivity with this, definitely. I mean, I’ve got something planned already. So we’ll just see if I can not fuck up and get through it.
It’s intriguing to note that it’s been ten years since your solo album ‘The Great Western’ was released… so every ten years you have this itch to do something different?
(Laughs) Oh yeah, this is a gun for hire, though, this is not solo. I’m just an adjunct to the main event.