Q&A

Not just the drum­mer for sta­dium prog­gers Ra­dio­head, Philip Sel­way has also re­leased a num­ber of solo al­bums un­der his own name – and the lat­est is his very first sound­track. Prog finds out more…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Emma John­ston Por­trait: Alex Lake

Ra­dio­head drum­mer Philip Sel­way talks movie sound­tracks and the day job…

Dip­ping a toe into un­known wa­ters is noth­ing new to the mem­bers of Ra­dio­head, and their drum­mer Philip Sel­way’s lat­est solo al­bum marks an­other new mile­stone – his first sound­track for a film. Di­rected by Polly Steele and star­ring Juliet Steven­son, Let Me Go is an adap­ta­tion of Helga Sch­nei­der’s mem­oir. It tells the story of Helga’s mother’s de­ci­sion to aban­don her child in or­der to work as a guard in the Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps of 1940s Ger­many, and their even­tual painful rein­tro­duc­tion to one an­other. Sel­way was brought on board by Steele and co-pro­ducer Lizzie Pick­er­ing, whom he knew from col­lab­o­rat­ing on a se­ries of ben­e­fit con­certs. As he ex­plains, tack­ling the sub­ject mat­ter came with great re­spon­si­bil­ity…

Let Me Go is a sound­track you can lis­ten to as a stand­alone record, even if you haven’t seen the film. Was that de­lib­er­ate? That’s what I wanted to do from the out­set, and I think that de­fined part of the way we ap­proached it. I had the Ra­dio­head sched­ule com­ing up at par­tic­u­lar points in the film­ing sched­ule, so it was a case of work­ing with the screen­play and how I re­sponded to that. And I’d seen the rushes as well, so I re­sponded to the cin­e­matog­ra­phy. But it was the ul­ti­mate thing in my mind that I wanted to re­lease a sound­track al­bum that had to work as a record within its own right.

Do you think this re­lease shows that you now have more con­fi­dence in your­self as a solo artist? Def­i­nitely. I’ve grown in that re­spect. I wanted to write for dance and I wanted to write for film. And I got the op­por­tu­nity to write for dance a cou­ple of years ago with the Ram­bert dance com­pany, and then this film project came along and it just felt like the right project, the right peo­ple to be work­ing with. It felt like an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful screen­play. I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been in a po­si­tion, in my­self, if you went back about four or five years ago, where I’d have felt able to jump in and say, “Yes, I can do that.” Do you have any favourite sound­tracks?

The big sound­track writ­ers I’ve al­ways re­ally re­sponded to are peo­ple like John Barry and Lalo Schifrin, Leonard Bern­stein, but none of them re­ally in­spired this one. It was a very dif­fer­ent kind of tex­ture to the film. Re­cently I loved what Geoff Bar­row did for Ex Machina. You have to get the tex­tures right, you have to get the emo­tional res­o­nance of it right.

With the sub­ject mat­ter, was it a big re­spon­si­bil­ity to set the right tone?

Ab­so­lutely. It’s based on Helga Sch­nei­der’s real-life story, and this meet­ing be­tween her and her mother ac­tu­ally hap­pened, so you’re very re­spect­ful of that. Some­body has shared that story, and then the wider story as well, the back­ground of what hap­pened in the 1940s, and in the con­cen­tra­tion camps. One of the things that re­ally drew me was the in­ter-gen­er­a­tional story, and the com­plex­ity of how gen­er­a­tional trauma plays out in all the dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. If you’re deal­ing with that in a real-life sit­u­a­tion, you’d tread softly. That played into how I ap­proached it.

Did you go on-set when they were film­ing?

I did! Just see­ing that come to life, that was re­ally ex­cit­ing, and that played into the process of mak­ing the mu­sic. Know­ing that Juliet Steven­son was go­ing to play Helga in­formed how I wrote Helga’s Theme. And it was great to meet every­body. It makes sure you’re all com­ing from the same place. I got to be in the film as well! There’s a scene in a night­club in Vi­enna and I’m one of the au­di­ence mem­bers in sil­hou­ette. It’s the scene where Lou Rhodes [singer­song­writer, solo and with Lamb] is per­form­ing her song. I think I make a good sil­hou­ette. That’s the ex­tent of my act­ing abil­ity.

How did Lou Rhodes get in­volved?

There’s a night­club scene and we wanted this chanteuse fig­ure per­form­ing. I ap­proached Lou and asked her if she’s be up for it. She came along in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous-spir­ited and very open-minded to it. I love Lou’s voice, and she’s an amaz­ing per­former and a great song­writer. What she’s done with Lamb and her own solo ma­te­rial, it has that emo­tional im­pact to it. If you’re think­ing of some­one to cast as a chanteuse, you can’t do bet­ter than Lou.

There seems to be a taste for World War II films at the moment, pre­sum­ably be­cause the world seems to be go­ing mad again. Was that a con­sid­er­a­tion?

What I liked about the film was ap­proach­ing it from a slightly dif­fer­ent an­gle – from the an­gle of Traudi, the mother who aban­doned Helga. She’s a very strong pres­ence. And you could see it would be a very timely film – what had be­come nor­malised to her in the con­text of Nazi Ger­many. You watch it and you have no sym­pa­thy for what she’s say­ing, you’re ap­palled by it, but you re­alise that was her nor­mal­ity, and see­ing how a char­ac­ter can get to that point. Par­tic­u­larly at the moment – look at Char­lottesville and the rise in hate crime, and in­tol­er­ance seems to be gain­ing trac­tion. It’s very timely, be­cause it makes you re­flect on your­self and what you’ve got to guard against in your­self. But it’s such a pow­er­ful mes­sage and les­son to put across.

Have you got plans for more solo records?

Yeah, I want to make an­other solo record. We’re go­ing to be tak­ing a lit­tle bit of time off from Ra­dio­head so I can start get­ting my plans to­gether. With Ra­dio­head it gets up and run­ning and then it goes dor­mant for a while, it’s how we work. We’ve all got dif­fer­ent projects we want to get on with, hav­ing had a cou­ple of years of tour­ing. I’ve loved this tour. What makes sense of a band con­tin­u­ing is when you feel like you’re al­ways im­prov­ing in some way, and I felt in terms of live shows, it stepped up an­other notch.

So what will hap­pen with Ra­dio­head af­ter your break? Ooh, we’ll have to see! It’s been the same for the past 30 years, so it’s busi­ness as usual in that re­spect.

Let Me Go OST is out via Bella Union on Oc­to­ber 27. For more in­for­ma­tion, see www.philipsel­way.com.

“I WANTED TO RE­LEASE A SOUND­TRACK AL­BUM THAT HAD TO WORK AS A RECORD WITHIN ITS OWN RIGHT.”

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