The Tindersticks’ mini-tour for their new box set of soundtrack work for Claire Denis films graced Los Angeles Saturday night for a show at the little-known Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The band will be completing the tour tonight at the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival. I was able to catch the show and keyboardist David Boulter earlier in their tour for an interview.
Kalvin Henely: Do you have any favorite soundtracks or scores?
David Boulter: I wouldn’t be making music if it weren’t for soundtracks. After punk, it became my biggest influence. I’m a big John Barry fan, who passed away recently, so I’ve been revisiting some of my favorites of his. The emotion of The Midnight Cowboy theme has always made the tears well up inside me. His score for the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is wonderful. Follow Me and Walkabout are constantly on my record deck too.
That music made for movies doesn’t usually prompt a separate theater booking for fuller appreciation is an understatement. It’s also a testament to how memorable and integral the Tindersticks’ music is to Denis’s films that they’ve booked four shows so far. Waiting for the show to start, enjoying the sun setting behind the San Gabriel mountains in the distance and observing the mostly middle-aged crowd, looking dressy by L.A. standards, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the professionalism of the venue and the never-played-in-public “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground coming out of the lobby speakers. Getting to my seat, I think I hear a Lee Hazelwood song come on only to be confirmed by a couple in front of me using the Shazam iPhone app. Then I remembered this event was sponsored by KCRW, an L.A.-radio staple that’s able to play independent music thanks to donations from its largely liberal audience.
KH: How does it feel to perform the music you made for Denis’s films on tour in front of an audience? How is it different than when you tour for a new album?
DB: It’s hard to say how it feels at the moment. We’ve played one show and the concentration and nerves overshadowed the enjoyment. But the reaction was good and we did relax our way into it. It’s very different. We’re guided by the images. If you miss a cue, or it goes wrong, you have to hope you find your way back in. In a normal concert, you can stop songs and start again. Also, we tend to change set lists around. The film concert is fixed. Having said that, it is very nice and exciting to be doing something different—and the music comes alive on stage.
The show reinforced the idea that the Tindersticks and Denis are natural collaborators whose work together is greater than the sum of its parts. The way the band nonchalantly but soulfully let the captivating, sometimes provocative visuals of Denis glow behind them while they eloquently played in near darkness gave one the feeling of a connection between the two pregnant with deep artistic understanding and chemistry.
KH: There’s a sensuousness and intimacy to both the Tindersticks’ music and Denis’s films. In this sense, your artistic outputs feel like a good match, almost like good dance partners.
DB: That’s a very good way to put it. It can also feel like boxing, which is also a form of dancing…with a few punches. Some of the work is so intense, you do feel a little bit “out for the count.”
As they worked their way through a dreamy scene of a girl floating in a pool and pornographic displays of pastries from Nénette and Boni and the melancholic train rides of 35 Shots of Rum, Denis’s more intimate and cannibalistic side began to reveal itself with Friday Night and Trouble Every Day, positioned in the show’s running time like the climactic scene of a movie. While the scenes for White Material had some people squirming in their seats, Trouble Every Day incited most of them to prattle out of an uncomfortable curiosity as the white, soft skin of a passionate love scene dominated by Béatrice Dalle turned red and messy and the lovers’ sounds, audible beneath the live music, went from excitement to horror. Likely more people were there for the Tindersticks than Denis, but the surprise at the quality of the visuals accompanying the music gave way to the magnetism of the sensuous images soaked in the red wine of the music.
KH: If you can detach yourself from the work you’ve done on Denis’s films for a minute, I was wondering what you think of her films? Are there things about them that you relate to or feel inspired by? What feelings do you get from them?
DB: They’re beautiful. Yes, there is violence and ugliness. And the story can sometimes be hard to see. But the colors, the characters, the feelings are all as important. And I really feel Claire when I watch them. And Claire, in many ways, is the inspiration. She has her own way. You like it or you don’t. It’s very similar to Tindersticks music.
While the images were most salient, sitting underneath them the band was romantically lit with purples and reds. Stuart Staples was positioned in the center, switching between melodica, guitar, and glockenspiel, but oftentimes lit with less visibility as the eight instrumentalists. A bassist was perched high on a stool, at least half his body entering the bottom of the images, and at times members would stand to delivery their performances. Staples, in his hangdog manner, here displaying the expressionism of Joe Cocker arm movements, sang on a few songs, including “Tiny Tears.” On some tracks, especially those for The Intruder, in which the music can become heightened, the volume of the performance refreshingly, for benign respite, shifted the attention away from the screen and to the band.
KH: You’ve previously stated that there’s been a certain amount of freedom when working with Denis that you enjoy. Can you describe that freedom and your artistic dynamic with her?
DB: Most film music is added at the end. The film is edited, the director or producer say we want this music, fast, slow, sad, whatever, here, there. I can understand that sense of control. And it’s very important for some filmmakers. It’s also very important for Claire. She knows what she wants. But she allows us to find our way there. We are involved from the beginning, from the script. We begin from there and it grows with the film. So the music becomes like a character, a part of the dialogue. We’re not describing emotions or underlining action. We’re a part of the story.
In the band’s only address to the audience, Staples thanked everyone for coming out and Denis for providing inspiration. The audience, hooting and clapping throughout the show, awarded the band with a standing ovation after they closed with a piece from Nénette and Boni. Though the scenes from the movies being shown were formally far from those being manufactured at the movie studios nearby, at least one Hollywood celebrity showed up, and no, it wasn’t Vincent Gallo.
KH: It seems like many musicians take up doing soundtracks for the money, but that doesn’t seem to be a motivating factor for you. What keeps you coming back to doing film scores?
DB: It’s a relationship. And, I think, we’re still in love. Claire and her films are an important part of our lives.