Former Radio One DJ discusses her film music podcast Soundtracking and her favourite interviews
'Living the dream, mate, living the dream.' Edith Bowman has been getting high on her own supply. It's been a year and a half since the erstwhile BBC Radio One presenter launched her weekly podcast, Soundtracking, and 'the dream' is getting to geek out about her passion for movies and music with filmmaking luminaries such as Luc Besson, Denis Villeneuve and Sofia Coppola. With the kind of cache that comes with such an impressive radio and TV résumé, and a smart podcasting niche, the guests and the listeners have rolled in.
Ahead of a live recording with Lynne Ramsay at Glasgow Film Festival, we caught up with Bowman to find out how it all came together, who is on her dream interview list, and got her to pick five of her (current) favourite soundtracks.
What was the genesis of Soundtracking?
The podcast started off the back of a show I did on 6 Music with Adam Buxton. We were only ever supposed to do four shows and we ended up doing six months together. Adam had to go because he was so busy with other stuff and they asked me to stay on for another six months. Whilst I was doing that we created this strand called Screen Six, getting people involved with TV and film to come in and chat. When I left the show they asked if I'd do Screen Six as a show that would pop up now and again, so we started off doing it about soundtracks. It was really obvious from the start that it was something no one else was doing and as soon as you scratched the surface there was a wealth of things to dive in to. I knew I could easily give them a show every week but they just didn't have the space. We decided just to do it on our own, make it ours, it meant the goalposts were wider and we could speak to composers and producers – it didn't have to conform to what fits a broadcaster's audience market.
For a while you were doing both breakfast radio on Virgin and Soundtracking, plus loads of other side projects – that can't have been easy
I only finished at Virgin in September , it was all right though, I got a pretty strong work ethic instilled in me from a young age working in a hotel. And because it's mine, it means something different. I can do it anywhere anytime, that's one of the great things about podcasts, how accessible they are to people – you don't need much to make one. For people who want to make shows now, they can. When I was starting out you needed to rely on a broadcaster to get anything out there.
The junket circuit isn't something filmmakers relish especially, but your interviewees obviously enjoy these conversations
It's a bit of light relief for them too. I grab people as and when I can. Cillian Murphy was a bit different, we ended up in being in the basement of a hotel trying to find a quiet corner. You can hear the door of the luggage room opening every 20 seconds, it's absolutely hilarious. What's nice is we're getting people coming to us and asking to do it. Edgar [Wright] was the first person to do that, I bumped in to him last Christmas in Soho. I've known Edgar for years and he was like, 'Edith, when can I do the podcast'? And I was like, 'whenever you want'! This was before anybody really knew anything about Baby Driver.
Sometimes [guests] are told in advance, some pay attention to their schedule, sometimes they're not told at all. Todd Haynes we already talked to for his upcoming film Wonderstruck, which is mesmerising, you could see his face light up when he realised he was going to be able to talk about something is genuinely enthusiastic about. Then you get Steve Soderbergh, where you discover he's been listening to the podcast and it's like 'shit'! That really threw me.
What's one of your favourite stories to come out of the podcast?
I was nearly in tears recently when Rian Johnson described to us going round to John Williams' house and sitting and talking to him about the soundtrack, then looking around and thinking he was in a library of books until he realised all these leather bound volumes covering the walls were every score he'd written, in the form he'd written them in. It almost brings me to tears thinking about it. Seeing that the score for his film was going to fit in this library with all these other scores was amazing. That really touched me.
Then people like Stephen Woolley, talking about going to David Bowie and getting him involved in film. I do as much research as I can, but I always go in there wanting it to be a conversation as much as anything. I don't want it to feel like an interview. That's what I love about it, every episode is so different.
You must have quite the hit list of dream guests...
Oh god yeah, totally. I'm already planning a trip to LA to get some of the people who don't travel really. John Williams is top of the list really. I want to go to his house and see his books. Cliff Martinez, I'd love to speak to him.
This is a lovely story actually, my friend Drew [Pearce], who I've known for years, he moved to the States and he ended up writing Iron Man 3. He's just finished shooting his first feature as a director, called Hotel Artemis. He sent me an email before Christmas just catching up and he was thanking me for the podcast because it was helping in decide how to do the music in the film and who with. That was amazing, and he's going to work with Cliff Martinez.
Have you done any episodes for live audiences yet?
We've done one: Lorne Balfe at the BFI before Christmas. We haven't put that up yet. Lynne Ramsay will be the second we've done. I'm a big fan of Lynne and am looking forward to that a lot.
Edith's five favourite soundtracks*
*'It changes depending on my mood'
One of Hans Zimmer's best. I spoke to [Christopher Nolan] when we were doing Screen Six and he went into great detail about how important the whole score was to the story and the script. He sent Hans Zimmer a paragraph description of the film without any genre, without any characters, just an idea of what the film was going to be, and asked for a day of his time for an idea he thought would fit. Hans came back with the pulsation of the organ, and that inspired how Nolan approached the script. I listen to that on a weekly basis. It's absolutely amazing.
That was a massive one for me of the most recent soundtracks. The combination of the score and the contemporary music used on that was just fantastic.
There's a little bit of controversy around Jóhann Jóhannsson and the soundtrack. But how [Denis Villeneuve] used that Max Richter track 'On the Nature of Daylight'... He said to Jóhann he didn't want him to writer something like it, he wanted to use that track, that can't be an easy conversation to have with a composer. That soundtrack is incredible. I love Jóhann Jóhannsson stuff, he's brilliant.
West Side Story
I'm not a big musical fan and I just remember watching that film over and over again when I was a kid. My nine-year old went to see it at the Barbican recently, to hear the score being played by the London Symphony Orchestra, and all the kids got to get up on stage and sing 'America'. It reminded me of how fantastic that score is.
Michael Giacchino, who also did Star Trek and Rogue One recently. It's so intertwined with the film, but if you listen to it on its own it is beautiful.
Soundtracking with Edith Bowman: Lynne Ramsay, Glasgow Film Theatre, Sat 24 Feb.