No matter how many occasions we have with good timing, it always seems to stir up a sense of pleasant surprise. This happened with Junkie XL album, Today, which I had brought it with me on my trip to Los Angeles. I had thrown it in my bag along with a few other CDs, which I planned to play in the rental car that week. As I made my way out of the airport and opened the sun roof, I made my way down the 405, B-lining for the beach. Aside from the lowered altitude, I could feel a lot more oxygen flowing with ease through my being.
The first notes of “Youthful” came through the speakers, giving me a surround sound, aural experience that seemed to sing with the tides of the ocean, which were in front of me now. And as the album progressed, that balanced blend of acoustics, organics and technical tricks of the trade reminded me why I was first drawn to Junkie XL, or should I say, Tom Holkenberg’s work some ten years ago when he released Saturday Teenage Kick.
This version of Tom’s work definitely presented another chapter in his life, having that sense like the ocean, which has always brought about feelings of both sadness and inspiration.
“This album is about change,” Tom explains. “That’s also why it’s called Today. It’s basically “here and now,” both musically and personally. I really wanted to make a personal record, and it is melancholic. But the thing with melancholy is, if you bend it to the left it becomes sad and emotional, and when you bend it to the right it becomes hopeful.”
It also was a bit autobiographical in relation to his move from Amsterdam to Venice. And not Italy’s Venice. We’re talking SoCal. “I was missing my friends, missing the city, missing my family.”
What helped to get him through that period of adjustment was the amount of career opportunities that came his way as a result of being in Los Angeles, where the concentrations of artists and music related business people are almost as great as the number of plastic surgeons. Plus, living by the beach didn’t hurt either. “It’s this paradox of emotions. This clash, you know?”
Tom felt that in order to write a personal album, as with past projects, he turned to his guitar, which was an instrument he considers to be personal to him. Even though he plays several instruments, having started in bands back in 1979, it is this strung instrument that can best convey his thoughts and emotions.
Having a musical background that goes beyond the board also helps him in a newer aspect of his career: writing film scores. “I have a traditional, classical background and I write complete pieces for a whole orchestra that you record and then mix it up with other stuff. You have to have that knowledge of being a traditional musician along with knowing how to use the electronic things and then blend them together in a happy marriage.”
One of his latest film scores was for the Dutch film “Blind,” which was released in February of 2007. With the time he’s spending on his next album, he may be holding off on new film projects. But then again, Tom has always been the multi-tasker, and his other business channel includes working with technology companies on various projects.
“Surprisingly, those big money-making-machine corporations, they have some really creative minds there. There’s a reason why Microsoft became so big. Of course, Bill Gates is a good businessman. But there are some amazing, creative people there. The same thing goes with the video and movie industry. Sometimes I feel that with the movie, or game, or commercial industry I have more creative freedom than with my own records.”
This actually makes sense. Under Junkie XL, there are certain expectations, even though what appears on Today is drastically different than what was released on Saturday Teenage Kick. At the same time, Tom can expand in so many more horizons when he creates for other people, as with the score for “Domino,” a 2005 film directed by Tony Scott, which stars Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke.
“It’s so dark, so underground and so sinister. If I would make an album like that, nobody would buy it and my record company wouldn’t even release it.” But once people have heard the music in a different paradigm that’s free of his moniker, such as in a video game, then people want to buy it. It’s all a mind game of sorts.
When Junkie XL hit the decks at Vinyl last year, he started out with a remix version of the Editor’s “The Back Room,” which was a fairly new release at the time and a fabulous way to get things rolling. He seemed to be enjoying himself as much, if not more so, than the crowd of people glued to the front of the DJ space. At times during the night, he would even stand on the top platform and dance with the boys and girls, rocking out to yet another stellar set.
This Thursday’s performance at The Church is expected to be as energetic, if not more so, as he test drives some of his new tracks for our listening and dancing pleasure.