Cliff Martinez is known for his work with rock band ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Captain Beefheart’ and as a Film Composer on feature films such as ‘Drive’ ‘Contagion’ and ‘Traffic’ Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 he has won numerous awards including a Grammy Award nomination for Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Traffic’ Recent compositions include Nicholas Jarecki’s ‘Arbitrage’ Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and a second collaboration with Drive’s Nicholas Winding Refn in ‘Only God Forgives’
Here he talks to Louise Leverett about his background to music, the inspirations around him and where he hopes his musical creativity will take him to next…
LL: In the beginning, what moment in your life did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
CM: It was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. That sealed my fate. Prior to that, I’d seen a bullfight in Mexico and wanted to be a matador. I went from one absurdly unrealistic career ambition to one that was only slightly less so at the ripe old age of 10 years old.
LL: You describe it as an absurdly unrealistic career but was there a point in the beginning where you thought it would be possible to make a career out of music. To focus solely on being an artist?
CM: Never with much certainty. I don’t recommend it to anyone. I still have my doubts.
LL: Has your process changed or evolved since the early days or noticed a change in the outcome of the work?
CM: I’d like to think I’ve improved with age like wine, cheese and Sean Connery. But sometimes I look at some of my early film work and wonder if I’ve lost my edge. My stuff is more polished and sophisticated now and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
LL: In terms of influences from the outside world, have you found that the different cultures inform or influence you and how does this make an impact on your work?
CM: Salvador, Brazil made a lasting musical impression on me. I heard a lot of amazing music there…most of it in the rhythm department. As a former North American punk rock drummer, I was humbled and inspired by it.
LL: Do you ever now go beyond the studio when making music?
CM: Yes, but mostly by way of the internet. I’m occasionally called upon to do an orchestral score. That usually gets me off the couch and out of the house from time to time.
LL: Has there been a person or particular influence which has made an impact on your creativity? Who do you look to for inspiration?
CM: Captain Beefheart…he’s number one. I played on his last album and the experience permanently reupholstered my brain.
LL: What still surprises you?
CM: Computer technology and it’s impact on how people create music. It feels like everything changes in substantial and sometimes profound ways every couple years now. I feel like I’m constantly uninformed and out of breath just trying to keep up.
LL: Do you see your own culture and background as a way of influencing your music?
CM: I grew up in LA’s punk rock scene. From that I learned two things: first, you don’t have to study violin for 15 years to be able to express yourself through music and second, discover and develop your own musical identity. Nobody wants to hear a watered down Justin Beiber.
LL: Do you use any other art form as a point of reference for your work and if so, what pieces inspire you most?
CM: No, but one of the things I like most about working in film is all the different layers of art within it: acting, directing, writing, photography, sound, editing, production design etc. All that stuff ends up affecting the music.
LL: Is there another culture around the world that your curiosity is drawn to?
CM: Anyplace with outstanding food…I like France, Thailand and New Orleans. I want to go to Italy next. I hear they take eating very seriously there.
LL: Is your studio the most productive place for you to be musically?
CM: That’s where the most yardage is created. But the inspiration to create music often comes from elsewhere…live music, driving, laying on the couch staring at the ceiling, singing in the shower, travel, hanging out with friends and other musicians or just fooling around on my computer.
LL: When you look to the future where do you hope to navigate towards professionally?
CM: I would like to figure out an interesting (and cost effective) way to present my music to a live audience. I used to dislike performing. Now I think I’m ready to try it again.
LL: And finally, if you are the centre of your world, what makes your world turn?
CM: I’m a collaborator. I like hearing the unexpected surprise of my ideas scrunching up against someone else’s.