Top Scores

18 March 2012 | 2:26 pm | Staff Writer

Johnette Napolitano may not be quite as intense as Nine Inch Nails, but she’s not the easiest person to work with. She fast talks to Samson Mcdougall.

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Remember the scene from Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 hit film Point Break where Lori Petty's character Tyler Endicott changes her bikini outside the diner with the sun getting all low on the horizon and shit? You deny it, but really it lives for all of us of a particular vintage, somewhere in the recesses of our subconscious. Given that you remember the scene, you more than likely recall the song that's playing, Concrete Blonde's I Want You…Ah, the nostalgia. It was about a year earlier that Concrete Blonde made their first and strongest foray into the mainstream charts with their smash Joey, from the album Bloodletting, for which I Want You was the B-side. While their subsequent four albums met with less commercial success, through break-ups and line-up changes their sound held fast – not succumbing to trend-based deviations or the allure of the buck, they maintained to their cultish appeal.

For singer and bassist Johnette Napolitano, the Point Break musical appearance was by no means the first or last venture into the world of film scores. Aside from Concrete Blonde's contributions to dozens of TV and film productions as diverse as Beverly Hills 90210, The Sopranos and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Napolitano's suitably emotive songwriting abilities have seen her working on the scores for Australian films West and the heartbreaking Wedding Theme from Neil Armfield's Candy. She's also collaborated on scores for Underworld, Wicker Park and Dead Silence with Nine Inch Nails' Danny Lohner, amongst a literal glut of other productions. But it's working with Lohner, she considers a highlight. “Danny Lohner from Nine Inch Nails, who I love with all my heart and is so amazing, to have someone like that be a fan you've just gotta go 'Wow, this is pretty cool',” she enthuses down the line from her Joshua Tree desert home. “I've done three films with Danny and one of them Charlie Clouser was the music director for, so I'm honoured to be hired by people to do things like that. The first Underworld soundtrack, that was Danny's words about his father and he trusted me to sing that. It was a high honour for me on a personal level because his dad had passed away and that was a big deal and it was a great track.”

Napolitano and Concrete Blonde always had a strong affiliation with Australia. It was here that they were awarded their first gold record and it was the first place they toured outside of the US. The film work she's undertaken for Australian productions, however, she believes stemmed more from the strength of artistic vision exhibited by the filmmakers than any lingering nostalgia for the band. “I don't go seeking film stuff really, it's not like that,” she says. “People think that there's a formula to the business behind it, but there isn't. If there's a director who's worth his salt as an artist, which I had on both films I worked on [in Australia], Candy and West, they really know what they want and know what they want to hear and why they want to hear it… Any time we've ever been in a film wasn't because we were or I was pitched, it was because a director or writer or some creative person really wanted us or our music to be in it. That's much better than having somebody's lawyer get me this gig.

“I'm not the easiest person to work with all the time and I do have very firm ideas… I'm a very abrupt person and I get very possessed, ADD-like, super focused on things and you really need somebody to understand that and not take it personally that you're intense. Luckily Danny's like this as well – he works with Nine Inch Nails for fuck's sake. I think if you look up the definition of intense in the dictionary you get a picture of Nine Inch Nails. With good direction and people who know what they want, [scoring films] is a pleasure and a privilege.”

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Focusing largely on writing for film and her dedicated commitment to volunteering in an animal shelter, Napolitano's creative drive for Concrete Blonde may not be as all encompassing as it has been. “I wake up in the morning wanting to do other things,” she says. “If I lived in a flat in rainy London I'd be inside writing all day, but when you live in Joshua Tree you can go hang out with horses.” But though the period between creative bursts may be much wider, she reckons the fire burns as intensely as it ever has. The difference is now, she knows when to rein it in. “If I'm really gonna work on something,” she continues, “like the soundtrack for Candy, Jesus Christ, I literally locked all the shutters and locked myself in for three days and did not answer the phone and did not do anything except watch that scene and live it and die behind that thing. I really do put a lot into work, but I schedule it like 'You're gonna go stark raving mad between 12-noon Monday and 12-noon Tuesday, you're going to completely lose your mind and not care about the world except for this'. I can schedule this now, whereas when I was younger I couldn't, I'd be bouncing around all over the place.”

Napolitano's upcoming Spiegeltent shows will see her reimagining much Concrete Blonde material and she sees the tour as the perfect opportunity to realise some ideas she's been toying with for a while. “Even though I panicked and thought 'What the hell am I going to do?'” she says of initially accepting the invitation, “I heard [about] the Spiegeltent [and] it upped the game. I've had so many ideas that I haven't been able to manifest and this is the perfect opportunity for me to do it. 2012 is supposed to be the end of the world – which of course it's not gonna be – but if you don't take stock that year… Especially for those of us that've had it drummed into us that 'Oh no, the Mayan calendar's fuckin' ending'. I think it's the perfect time for me to do it, for the perfect people in the perfect place and I think sometimes things just slam into place and I think this is just one of them.”

The visit also coincides with Concrete Blonde's rekindled love of releasing vinyl – their latest 7” Rosalie selling like crazy – and a fresh burst of songwriting for Napolitano and the band. “People love the vinyl and we love making vinyl,” she says. “The downloads are there so screw the CDs. It's a much nicer package and a nicer thing to have, it's a piece of art. To make a vinyl record again was joyous… I'm grateful to have made it through everything that I've made it through. Things can get so unbelievably dark but trust and faith is just amazing because it just gets better, it sounds corny but it really does. I'm liking it now more than I ever have.”