Music

Matt Johnson from The The: "There’s an orgy of greed going on..."

The The's Matt Johnson on creating the Hyena soundtrack, the ‘ravaging’ of London’s skyline, and who is behind the rise of Isis

Matt Johnson

The The have recently released the soundtrack to Hyena, the award-winning police corruption thriller directed by Gerard Johnson. The album is the latest in a series of film soundtracks released by The The’s Matt Johnson (brother of Gerard), who moved away from the pop world in the noughties to concentrate on soundtrack work…

Hi Matt. Given that your brother directed Hyena, did that make it easier to create the soundtrack? We’re pretty close in our aesthetics and the films and music we like, so it’s a smooth process working together. Gerard is 11 years younger than me, and heavily influenced by the ’70s and ’80s. He wanted the soundtrack to echo the early synth stuff from that era, and I actually had a lot of that old equipment locked away in storage. So I got it all out, got it working. It was really enjoyable. I compose and perform everything myself on soundtracks, but it’s a collaboration with the director. It’s their vision, they have to be happy.

Do you enjoy that kind of collaboration? Yeah, I like working with directors I know. I have worked on Hollywood films, which I didn’t particularly enjoy – the money’s better over there, but composers are treated as an afterthought. I like to get involved right from the start.

Although we all lived above pubs, and associated with criminals, we were always encouraged to be creative

In fact, the film is quite a family affair, since it stars your cousin, Peter Ferdinando… It’s funny, because as well as The The and the Cinéola soundtrack company I’ve set up, there’s also my book publishing company, 51st State press, and the first book I edited and published was my dad’s memoir. My older brother Andrew used to illustrate early The The record sleeves too, and we’re about to publish a book of his artwork. I come from a big working class East End family, and although we all lived above pubs, and associated with criminals, we were always encouraged to be creative. So it’s a very comfortable thing for us to collaborate with each other.

You’ve focused on soundtrack work for past ten years. Why did you leave the pop world behind? I got disillusioned with the music industry. My last tour was 15 years ago, and I was trapped in a lot of really bad contracts – as most bands are. As a medium-sized band, The The generated millions of pounds, but I didn’t see much of it. I needed to make myself financially independent of the music scene, to be able to operate on my own terms, rather than for someone else’s profit. I also needed a break, so I went away a lot, lived in America, then Sweden and Spain. And I decided to sort of reinvent myself. I’ve always loved film soundtracks, so I formed Cinéola, and started out on smaller scale stuff, releasing high-quality products, CDs in deluxe booklet packaging. Now I can really satisfy myself creatively. Which is leading me back to a new The The album.

Aha! That’s exciting news… Well, I’ve just started to write it, so I don’t know when it will be released.

Any thoughts on who else might be involved? It’s too early to say. Although I have been inundated with emails from ex-band members – and I’ve worked with hundreds of musicians over the years. I’ve got an idea about the sort of subject matter I want to cover. There’s a lot to talk about with the political situation in the world. Geopolitics has always been a real passion of mine, and I want to try and find new ways of fitting that into my songs without being preachy. To try and inspire people rather than lecture them.

It all originates from the CIA’s meddling in Afghanistan

Yes, your previous work has addressed subjects – Islam, multiculturalism, international conflict – that are currently dominating the news agenda. What do you think about Isis? With Isis, you’ve got to trace who’s really funding that. It all originates from the CIA’s meddling in Afghanistan, when it was funding and training armies of the Mujahideen. There’s a big geopolitical game going on here. Isis isn’t all what it seems, it’s actually like a proxy army of elements within the Western intelligence services, because it’s funded by the Saudis, the Israelis, the Turks and the CIA. It’s all about destabilising the Middle East and seizing the resources. You’ve got to look beyond the headlines in terms of what’s going on there. Unfortunately people just swallow the propaganda.

How do you view the rise of Ukip? It’s a tricky one, cos we all talk about freedom of speech, but we only really cherish that when it subscribes to a very narrow viewpoint. My own feeling is that all these arguments have to be smashed on the anvil of public debate. We might not like Ukip’s message, but you’ve got to get these things out there, otherwise you start to push them underground, and that way fascism lies. If we supposedly live in a democracy, I think the healthiest thing is bringing everything into the sunlight, to really engage the entire population, and that’s how divisions are healed. As uncomfortable as it might be, I think it’s the only way to have a harmonious society.

Hyena is set in London. As a born and bred Londoner you’ve been quite vocal in recent years about overdevelopment in the capital. Yeah, a lot of that is to do with the London Plan, brought in by Ken Livingstone in 2004, which deregulated planning law and gave veto power to the mayor of London. This has meant that even if a local authority sides with the local community against an inappropriate overdevelopment, the mayor of London can overrule in favour of the corporate developers. Boris Johnson has gone on record as saying that ‘developers are my friends’ and all of his actions basically back this up.

Nobody with any integrity can get close to the leaders of power any more

Do you feel that communities can win these battles? Well, I’ve been involved in all sorts of campaigns and protests about this over the years. At the moment we’re fighting a big one at the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, which is this terrible development of several skyscrapers up to 48 storeys high. It’s obscene, and it’s happening all over the capital, ravaging the London skyline. More and more people are waking up as they’re starting to see their light disappear, and buildings they love just being ripped down. Now Denmark Street – Tin Pan Alley – is apparently all going to be demolished, which is staggering. These are the things that draw people from all over the world to London. It’s pure, unfettered greed – there’s an orgy of greed going on, and its aided and abetted by our politicians who are bought and paid for by corporate interests. Nobody with any integrity can get close to the leaders of power any more. What we really need is an independent mayor of London, somebody to show up and revoke the London Plan. That’s the only thing that can save the architecture of London.

As you say, getting close to these people seems to be increasingly more difficult. Yeah, we’re pushed further and further away from the political process. This decentralization is undermining democracy. What sort of democracy do you have when the local community and the local authority are disenfranchised?

So apart from a The The album on the distant horizon, are there more soundtracks in the pipeline? Yeah, there’s a whole series of Scandinavian soundtracks which will come out as one compilation album, and there’s some Turkish and Lebanese ones I’ve done as well. Plus, I do a radio show on my website, Radio Cinéola, and we’re filming a political documentary this year too. I’ve always sort of been my own boss, but now I’m not a performing monkey on behalf of a corporate master any more, which is very exciting.

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm
Music

Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm

Travis frontman Fran Healy on unfinished business and why being working class is a superpower
Travis (l-r) Andy Dunlop, Fran Healy, Dougie Payne and Neil Primrose
Music

Travis frontman Fran Healy on unfinished business and why being working class is a superpower

'The Jazz Bar is too important to fail' says the couple who saved an Edinburgh institution
Venue Watch

'The Jazz Bar is too important to fail' says the couple who saved an Edinburgh institution

RuPaul's Drag Race star Thorgy Thor on injecting stuffy symphony orchestras with big queer energy
RuPaul's Drag Race star Thorgy Thor
Music

RuPaul's Drag Race star Thorgy Thor on injecting stuffy symphony orchestras with big queer energy

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

The Big Issue

Sign up to get your FREE Doctor Who Archive Special

Celebrate the 14th series with your FREE edition of the Dr Who Special Archives