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John Murphy is a bit of an enigma in that he’s recognized for a sound that inarguably made some of the most popular films by Danny Boyle and Michael Ritchie successful with audiences.

Whether it’s music for hip or slightly daft criminals, astronauts trying to stop the sun from killing the Earth, or bloody annoying zombies running fast marathon stretches to eat you 28 days or 28 weeks after a plague assault has wiped out the world (or London, at least), you’ve heard his music, and would recognize his fusion of British trip-hop and classical, or rock, or anything he feels works best for a film.

He’s a down-to earth artist whose music traverses diverse genres, but in recent years he’s become familiar to horror and action films, and his latest score – Armored – suppors Nimrod Antal’s film about a $42 million heist that goes very bad for an Iraq War veteran.

In our lengthy conversation, Murphy describes his early years as a composer, his sound, and his craft. In addition to Armored, Murphy also talks about working with Michael Mann on Miami Vice, which alongside Danny Boyle’s 2001: A Space Odyssey riff Sunshine, is among his best work to date.




Composer John Murphy



Mark R. Hasan: How did you get into film scoring, because you’ve been at it for almost twenty years?


John Murphy: Is it that long?


MRH: Your first credit is around 1998.


JM: Yeah. Oh my God, I didn’t realize it was that long. To be honest, I was in a lot of terrible bands in the eighties in England as a session player. I was a bass player, working on peoples' albums and stuff, and I ended up writing songs for some bands, so I kind of fell into songwriting when I was 24 or 25.

Then I got asked to write a couple of songs for this low-budget, little British movie that we didn’t even think would come out called Leon the Pig Farmer (1992). I’d done a few songs for that, and the co-director/co-producer, Gary Sinyor, just liked the style of the score I was doing for the film... It was very literal. I had no idea how to write underscore or anything, but I was just writing these little songs, these little vignettes as to whatever was happening on the scene.

I had no clue as to how to write a score, but he liked it, and he said ‘Can you write a few more?’ in the end [and] probably because he didn’t have the budget to get a grown-up composer to come in and write the score, I ended up kind of writing all of the music.

I was with Dave Hughes in those days, so we ended up writing these little songs. It’s funny, because we won some awards for the music in Europe because people thought it was very original… I was only 25 or 26, I had no musical training as such, so I just wrote these little songs in this film…The film did quite well in Britain, and once you’ve got one out of the way, it was a lot easy for people to twist you to do another movie, so that kind of started it. It was really by luck, you know; just a chance meeting with a friend who said the other friend was making a movie, and then it just kind of took off from there.



MRH: And after that you worked on a number of independent films – comedies, horror films, and a couple of shorts.


JM: Well, early on you do whatever you get offered and you’re just so thankful, you know? It wasn’t like I was set up to do any type of film, it was just anyone fool enough to trust me to work on their film in those days.

Whatever it was I would do because the one strange thing about being a film composer is there’s no real way of learning how to do it without actually doing it, you know? Even though there are film schools and music schools where they specialize in film music, there’s no replacement for actually being in the field and throwing yourself in it and doing it.

Whatever came in, I just did... I was going from horror film to Jilly Cooper mini-series to whatever. It was just very exciting to actually be doing it. I have no kind of snobbery about any of it; it was just great to be actually getting paid to write music on films, because as soon as I’d done the first movie I knew sort of within seconds that this is what I wanted to do.

I was already touring with bands by the time I was 17 or 18, so by the time I got to my mid-20s I was just bored with it all; it was all the same thing. I had enough, so when this came around I’d always loved film music anyways, but you never think you’d ever get a chance to do it. Suddenly there I was and I was doing it. I appreciated the good luck, if you like, of just being given a chance, so I made the most of it. I worked my ass off and kind of tried not to let anybody down, tried to learn as much as I could as I was learning…. and it took care of itself after that.



MRH: It also provided a good training ground because you worked in every idiom - rock, synth, electronic, orchestral, and it was pretty much everything in your early years.


JM: In a way it really helped because even within the first couple of years I’d done maybe 5 or 6 films, and they were all different from each other... To be honest, I think that kind of eclecticism wasn’t just in the early years; it channeled right through to now.

I don’t see myself as being ‘the guy who does this.’ I think in Hollywood... a lot of people see me as ‘the edgy guy’ because of certain films I’ve done that have probably become more prominent, but there’s actually quite a lot of different films I’ve done, and there’s a lot of different films that I enjoy doing.

Read the DVD review!

Leon the Pig Farmer (1992)

Proteus (1995)

Jilly Cooper's The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous (1997)


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