Life's A Blur: Graham Coxon On Soundtracks, Los Angeles, And More

Robin Murray Clash Magazine 20/01/2020

Graham Coxon is British to the core. A long-time resident of Camden, his role in Blur helped to birth one of Britpop’s most influential catalogues, breaking chart records in the process.These days, though, he wants to try something new. When Clash is connected to the guitarist for a quick phone call, we’re surprised to find that he now spends most of his time in Los Angeles. He’s becoming more and more involved in soundtrack work, it seems, following his sensational role in providing the score for two seasons of darkly comedic drama End Of The F*cking World.

He’s easing into his new home, and exploring this new role, one that allows him to chip away at established modes of work, learning fresh habits in the process. “I’m still learning about it,” he comments. “What was good about doing the soundtrack is that it’s a lot less like having a sketchbook that’s full of blank pages, and a little more like having a vague join the dots drawing to follow.”

“There’s a sort of a brief to follow, there are certain scenes where they’d say: oh, we’d really like something like this here! And then you do your best to create a decent sound or piece of music that suits the atmosphere but in its own way.”

Graham Coxon began his soundtrack work with contributions to 2014’s Riot Club, with End Of The F*cking World representing the fullest fulfilment of this creativity. He’s learned a lot along the way, but it’s also reinforced older modes of crafting music.

“It’s just about the emotional drive,” he comments. “It’s like being in a band and working with someone’s lyrics – you pick up on the emotional drive, but with the scene, and the actors, and the dialogue representing the singer. And then you have to come up with the music.”

Indeed, so successful have Graham Coxon’s contributions been that his soundtrack to End Of The F*cking World has received a full release in its own right. It’s a far cry from the initial pitch, when the Blur guitarist had only the original graphic novel and a text outline to focus on.

“It was just this odd, dark comedic drama that we thought would be fun to do. We had no idea that it would become popular or anything like that, it was really just because we all loved it that we did it.”

“I had never been involved in making music for a whole series, so I thought it was going to be a challenge,” Graham continues. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it. But gradually as we went along I learned how to react quickly and get disciplined in the way I worked. It led me to a routine – almost like a 9 to 5 thing where I would work, whether I felt like it or not, or whether I was inspired or not… I would just do it. I learned that you don’t have to be inspired or feel that real need to create to actually come up with decent stuff. It actually does happen if you just do it every day.”

“Some days you can come up with three or four nice little pieces of music and a couple of songs, and it’s like: wow, that came out of nowhere and I wasn’t expecting it! So that way it’s really wonderful because… maybe the last couple of years I’ve written about 200 songs or something. It’s all come out of just working 9 to 5, and a lot of them have been in TV shows and things like that.”

It’s also helped broaden his songwriting palette enormously. Graham Coxon has been able to build a sterling solo catalogue already – one that ranges from scratchy underground indie rock to lush acoustic folk and biting garage pop – but these projects have pushed him into remarkable places.

“Often they’ve got a template,” he explains. “Like, a song that probably everybody in the world knows, and they’ll stick that in a scene, and they’ll say something like: we’ve got this song by this rather popular band, and they made this song in 1979, it’s a post-punk / arty group, could you do something a little like that?”

“So I tried to suck the soul out of whatever song it is, and not replicate but try to come from the same angle. It might be something sonically that they like about the song, or it may have been the vocal sound. I tried to pick out what was really great about the song and put that in a new song. So that’s what I mean about joining the dots – as well as having a scene to inform you, you’ll sometimes have a temporary song in a scene that will inform you as well.”

“These songs could come from any era. I’ve had to replicate songs from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and the 90s. Every decade is up for grabs. What it’s actually made me do is think very carefully about how I record things, and how I treat things. Do I write a song that’s a little bit like Mississippi John Hurt? How do I want to make it sound like it’s been recorded on wax cylinder? Do I really go full on that, and make it sound really cruddy and old, and practice doing that? These things are decided as we go along.”

There is one notable difference between his solo work and these soundtrack projects, though – the ultimate decision maker isn’t Graham Coxon himself. “It can be kind of frustrating sometimes when you’ve been working all day like a bugger and it’s not quite good enough… but that’s life!”