British composer Joby Talbot on bringing Illumination’s new animated film Sing to life (EXCLUSIVE)

It’s not often you wonder about a composer after you watch a film, but British composer Joby Talbot is certainly the sort to warrant that reaction. Joby has helped bring the Minion-crazy animators over at Illumination Entertainment their new film Sing to the big screen with his crafted musical genius.

Previously, Joby Talbot’s works have been an assortment of wonders including composing the theme song for the famous BBC Series League of Gentleman, bringing smiles into our lives with the film soundtrack for 2005’s Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy and more recently working with The Royal Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada on the now renowned musicals The Winter’s Tale and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Not long before the film scored two Golden Globe nomations, I was lucky enough to speak to the man himself ahead of Sing‘s release in Australia on Boxing Day, to talk about the anticipated new animated film, reflect on some of his past works and more!

You have had such an amazing and diverse career, from films such as Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, to the Royal Ballet with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and now the upcoming film Sing. What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?

Well, I’d have to say that working on Sing has been one highlight for sure. It’s such a lovely film, and with the focus particularly on music I really felt I really had the opportunity to express myself. I love collaborating with my great friend, director Garth Jennings, with whom I feel I have so much in common musically and of course working with this brilliant team of animators (Illumination Entertainment) was mind-blowing, not to mention getting to meet Stevie Wonder at the premiere of Sing.

Universal Studios & Illumination's SING

Did you always want to follow music or were your passions originally intending you to lean towards something else in life?

My two interests growing up were music & the natural world. For a long time I wondered if I might be an environmentalist, but once I started playing in orchestras and rock bands and performing my own compositions in public, my mind was made up. I just feel so fortunate that I am able to pursue my first love for a living.

Working with such big names on Sing such as Matthew McConaughey, Seth Mcfarlane, Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon all in one big animated film must have been exciting and stressful, as a composer did you spend time with them and have any crazy stories behind the scenes we would love to know about?

Well, although I felt like I was spending every day with these actors when I was watching the film over and over again during the scoring process, I actually only met them at the premiere. That’s one of the stranger things about working on a film. You are so close to it that you really feel a kind of friendship grow up with the characters without ever having actually met the actors behind them.

Do you know of anybody that couldn’t actually sing before you got on board with the movie Sing?

I wasn’t actually involved with the recordings of the vocals for the songs, that was all down to the brilliant executive music supervisor Harvey Mason Jr and his team. But chatting to Garth about it, I understand that they were all cast for their vocal excellence as much as for anything else. Garth always came back from the recording sessions with a huge smile on his face. Unsurprising given how great the song performances all are.

Creating music for some amazing shows in your past must be something to be proud of, but a lot of hard work, has there ever been a moment you wanted to give it up and just go ride a bike?

Well, I do ride a bike as it happens. I get all round London on my battered old bicycle and don’t even own a car anymore. However, falling off said bike and breaking my arm the day before we started recording the music for Sing wasn’t maybe my best idea! Yes, it is very hard work composing (or at least I find it so) but it’s also something I love! However, agonising it sometimes (mostly) is, I still wouldn’t swap it for the world.

What do you do when you’re not in a studio or writing music? Such as hobbies?

Cycling as I’ve said, hiking, low-key bird-watching (by which I mean I love watching birds but am not a hardcore twitcher), food, wine, reading, and hanging out with my beautiful family.

Do you play video games or any mobile apps you love to use?

I couldn’t be less interested in video games. Seems like a total waste of time on planet earth to me, but clearly I’m missing something. I do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trawling endlessly through Wikipedia on my phone though.

My all-time favourite work of yours had to have been the Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy Song ‘So long and thanks for all the fish’ What has been your most favourite of songs to write and produce? 

Thank you! I am very proud of that song too. I particularly like the version that Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy sings at the end of Hitchhikers. It was nice to bring my old bandmate on board for that one and he did a great job. I haven’t actually written that many songs as such, unless you count my opera Everest, of which I’m very proud, or my a cappella choral piece Path of Miracles which I also love.

EVEREST: Joby Talbot's Opera Blockbuster
EVEREST: Joby Talbot’s Opera Blockbuster

Have you ever experimented outside of the norm? Using objects to produce sound rather than proper instruments? For example, rocks, plastic bottles etc.? If so what have they been?

Indeed, yes. There’s a whole cue in Son of Rambow for pots and pans and a drawer of knives being tipped out onto the floor. In the version of The White Stripes song “Who’s A Big Baby” which we recorded for the album Aluminium there was a part for smashing glass which required the percussionist to put on a welding mask and pummel away at a dustbin full of broken bottles.

The French horn player has to blow down a rams horn in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to provide the strangulated, Great Gonzo-like screech of the White Rabbit’s trumpet and for my ballet based on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale I had an onstage folk band of African drums, dulcimer, accordion, and Indian bamboo flute.

The Royal Ballet's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
The Royal Ballet’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The Royal Ballet bring ‘A Winter’s Tale‘ to Brisbane in July, and Australian Ballet are performing ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ in Melbourne in September & Sydney in December if anyone over there is interested to hear and see it for themselves!

Sing hits Australian cinemas on Boxing Day 


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