If you have been a gamer for the past 13 years, then you have heard of Junkie XL -- or at least his music. Junkie XL first appeared in the videogame music scene on EA's Need for Speed game in 1995. From then on, Junkie XL has invaded your eardrum with his electronic scores and remixes on such games as SSX 3, Grand Turismo 3, Test Drive and many more. One of the last projects to come out of his Venice Beach studio was a remix for Lisa Miskovsky's Still Alive for Mirror's Edge remixes soundtrack (which I reviewed recently). I stayed up all night to chat with Junkie XL about his work on the Mirror's Edge soundtrack, previous work and what are other passions in his life.
So you're in Europe! What you are doing there?
Well, I have a couple of gigs here. I am booked for the rest of the year, but will be back home to spend Christmas with my family.
Ah! Five years ago you made your move to Los Angeles -- why?
I fell in love with the city since my move here, but it wasn't my first choice. It's where the video game, music and film industry is - it was almost an automatic choice. But as a city, I like New York, San Francisco and even Seattle. I live in Venice so it's very close to the beach and it has a great mix of everything as well as a walking and biking culture. I barely drive since everything is centered for me -- it's almost like Amsterdam. I really liked living there.
Next time I visit Venice I'll make sure to try to spot you! You have to come out of your studio at some point, right? Speaking about your studio, audio snobs like to know who uses what equipment - do you have a favorite in your studio?
It's really hard, there is so much I use. I play guitar, drums, bass, use synthesizers and other software programs so it's really hard to pin it down. Eventually everything ends up in Pro Tools and Logic, the two programs I use to shape everything.
That seems like a lot of fun. I have a broke turn table with a broken mixer sitting in my living room next to a keyboard. Maybe that's why I decided to write about music instead! How did you start doing remixes? Was this something you wanted since the beginning or did you start off being more of a traditional artist?
I started off as a traditional musician when I was younger. I am 40 now, so I started playing in bands in like '78 when I was 12, 13. Back then, there where no computers. It was not until the mid-80's when I started working in a music store and the first music computer became available. That's when I got really interested in that part of music. From that point on, it became a combination of what I learned as a traditional musician and adding the computer technology to create music -- I knew this was the future for me.
The mid 1980's was the time of new emerging technologies in all fronts! One of them being videogames. You have been pretty heavily involved in music for videogames - are you a gamer yourself?
I used to be. [Laughter] I played a lot of videogames up to '93. Until that point I couldn't combine it anymore with my career as a producer. I used to follow everything that was coming out and played a lot of videogames. I still follow them and I am aware of what is new, but not like before. Obviously, if I am creating an original score for a game, I will play it. I go to the EA offices where the games are being developed and see the ins-and-outs of the games. But, I can't play games anymore for fun, unfortunately, I don't have the time.
Have there been any games that have recently come out that make you want to game again?
Yeah, there are so many! I got this really good friend who is totally into videogames. I go by his house and he shows me all the new things that are coming out. He showed me Fable 2, it was amazing! I see all these games and see all the new things you can do with them - its amazing.
Fable 2 can be a life suck, but it is so much fun! Earlier you mentioned creating original scores for videogames. You released a remix for the Mirror's Edge theme song, Still Alive. Aside from that, did you create any of the original scores for the game?
No, for this game I just did the remix. There are three ways to get your music into a game: One is through licenses which happens a lot with my music. They take a song from your album and just use it in a game. Secondly, they license a track for a game and want a remix done for the game, which is what I did for Mirror's Edge. The third way, which is the most extensive and interesting, is where you create an original score for a game.
Your Mirror's Edge track-what inspired it? What was your process?
When I do a remix for a game, I just talk to the company and see what they are looking for and what they want for the game. From that point on, I approach the song and see where can I take the song and what do I want to add to it. It's not something you over analyze. It's just something that comes as part of the craftsmanship. You start and see where it feels good and where you want to change things, you know. I wish it was that easy, if you could know how it would turnout.
With this track I used the chorus vocal and played along with guitar and bass until I figured out what I wanted to do melody and chorus structure wise. Then I started recording a bunch of those things, started programming some rhythm and started shaping the song. I tried different intros and rhythms which eventually lead to a finished remix.
*Take note readers!* You would say videogames is your favorite industry to work with?
It's one of the things I really like. On one end I'm an artist going on tours and making albums. On the other end, I produce and remix other artists and make music for video games, commercials, and movies. The bounce between all three things is what makes it really interesting for me. The thing I like the best is to do the full original score for a game. That's where you make an hour and half of music specifically for that game. The last one I did was for Need for Speed: Pro Street. It's a lot of work but also a lot of fun, because then you really get to put a big stamp on what that game is going to feel like.
The age old debate: Are remix artists REAL artists? Sometimes, some remixers don't add enough to of themselves to a song to make it their own. In my opinion, I think that is where the issue begins. Taking a song and adding to it, dissecting it and creating something new is an art form.
Right. Originally, it started as re-doing a mix when an artist wasn't happy with a song. Over the last 40 years it has become into a marketing tool. When an artist wasn't popular, they had someone make a remix. Sometimes I work on remix projects that have 20 artists creating a remix of a song. Remixers get a bad name, because some just slap something together. But the same goes on in other parts of the industries and where not even a handful are worth-while listening. What you have as a remix is like a misplace arrogant. At least every time I do I remix, I try to put as much as possible in there that is me.
EA does a lot of music licensing for their games which have exposed me to tons of new artists. Are there any artists you're in to right now? Do you have time to keep up on the industry at all?
Well, I use a lot of Myspace Music to scan for new bands. You know, It's funny to have known these bands a year ago and be like "Wow that's really great", and now see that those bands are blowing up. You know, bands like Justice and MGMT. It's amazing where MySpace can take you -- the music industry has completely changed. A lot of interesting music is being made and through the Internet it just comes out and it captures a bunch of fans worldwide and develops into something completely unique.
I totally agree. We can now experience music from anywhere, anyone, and at any time. What other mediums inspire you? Do you enjoy movies or going to museums?
My favorite time period, specially architectural and interior design are the 40s, 50s and 60s -- I get really inspired. I see lots of expositions in Los Angeles, plus this is a great town when it comes to mid-century works. Other things from that time that inspired me are the first Bond films.
Ah, the good kind of cheesy. What about the new Bond? Yay or nay?
I haven't seen it yet, but I've been gradually disappointed throughout the years. It's not the same statement as it was 30 yeas ago.
Aside from music, do you have anything else you love to do?
Cooking! My friends call me "Chef". I love to cook, I do dinners at home -- up to ten course meals! I make my own pasta, pâté, etc. When I have the time I spend two, three days in the kitchen. It helps me get out of my music world and puts me somewhere else. It's a wonderful way to relax, although it may seem stressful from the outside in.
Staying up late for this interview was all worth it. Thanks to the EA music team for setting this up as well as my "Sweet Baboo" for the Starbucks card. Other off the record facts about Tom include his love for South Italian food, his dislike for reality T.V. and his passion for cooking, which simply cannot shine through enough in text format. So if you happen to stroll down Venice Beach and catch Tom buying some fresh ingredients, express your interest in cooking and be ready for an earful of information!