Rael Jones, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I was exposed to many different forms of music as a kid, and was lucky enough to have a piano, and later a guitar and drum kit as an outlet during what was a very awkward, reclusive adolescence. I spent most of my time making music in a range of genres. Even in school break times, I’d work on music or play the piano rather than socialising. So if there was a way to make money and music at the same time, I was going to find it.

I was a weaker sight-reader and relied heavily on my ear. This strengthened my ability to improvised and create.

Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

A few key teachers and lecturers along the way, as well as the composers I worked for earlier on in my career. In particular, I spent many years working for Michael Price on Film and TV scores, which was developmentally crucial and perhaps the best education I had…and I was paid for it.

What are the special challenges and pleasures of working on film/tv soundtracks?

I think the challenges I have faced are universal in my field. Earning very little money early on. Narrowly missing out on projects – it is so competitive. The issue of styles is a big one. I love writing in a range of genres which is why this work suits me so well. However sometimes you are really at the mercy of the media and you can’t compositionally stretch your legs as much as you’d like. Also the politics, technology and administration can be a huge part of the job, though this varies from project to project.

Of which works are you most proud?

I like the period drama soundtracks I made for Suite Française and My Cousin Rachel. I am also proud of the classical chamber music albums I’ve made, ‘Mandrake’ and my new release ‘Mother Echo.’

Tell us more about your new album ‘Mother Echo’…..

Just after my mother died I decided to take some time off media work, but felt I still needed an outlet. The pieces I wrote around that time became this album. I’m trying to capture my feelings about childhood and death. My mum was deeply effected by a car crash when I was 6 – her death loomed over me from that age onwards in a way. This album is me releasing something I’ve been holding on to since I was 6.

The whole album is me on a piano, supported by a string quartet led by my wife Sara, who was heavily pregnant at the time of recording. Becoming a father myself has inevitably created further perspective on my own childhood.

How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?

I write in a range of genres but I think I bring certain traits to all of them. I’ve always been drawn to complexity in rhythm and harmony, without abandoning tonality or meter entirely. I spent a lot of time with late romantic music and progressive rock of the 70s – the musical DNA of these genres permeates everything I do – even if I’m writing in a wildly different style. I’ve always played a lot of instruments and this is key too. I tend to start a new one every year or so, which is great for my own musical renewal and also so useful in my work. Recently I’ve be learning to play the hand pans.

How do you work? What methods do you use and how do ideas come to you?

I use all kinds of approaches. I often write at an instrument, commonly piano. Sometimes I start with harmony, or melody, adapting one to the other. At times a piece starts from a beat or texture I’ve created. It really depends on the genre and what I want the primary features of the music to be.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

The late romantic composers (Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky). A range of prog bands and weird heavy bands. I admire anyone doing anything distinctive and different.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Exploration, play and freedom are so important I think. I worry about music being taught too prescriptively. Finding your own way is crucial.

What do you think needs to be done to grow and retain audiences for classical music?

As people are doing, I think being open to other media and approaches is key. Concerts with lighting, visuals and movement incorporated. Reimagining old works entirely. I think snobbishness and conservatism turns people off on the whole.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Writing or performing something, then coming back to it a long time later and still enjoying it.

That’s the real test of success for me – perspective on your own output.

Rael Jones’ new album, Mother Echo is released on 17th November, a date which holds special significance for the composer – it marks the 5th anniversary of his mother’s death, the inspiration behind the ten new tracks for piano and string quartet.

Rael Jones is a composer and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his Film and Television scores. He has been nominated for three primetime Emmys; a World Soundtrack award and won a Golden Reel Award. His liberal approach to music has seen him write for period dramas such as My Cousin Rachel and Suite Française, to collaborations with Oasis and Coldplay on the soundtracks for their documentary features. Recently, he scored BBC One’s The Salisbury Poisonings, viewed by 10 million people in its first week.


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