An Interview with Junkie XL, the ‘Full-Contact’ Composer Behind ‘Deadpool’

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By his own standards, Tom Holkenborg (@junkie_xl) is reluctantly — and quite successfully — a composer.

“More than anything else, I see myself as a musician,” says the 48-year-old artist. “But if you end up making music for a whole movie, then I guess you can call yourself a composer.”

Tom’s scores have set the tone of dystopia for Divergent, breathed humanity into the criminal mind in Black Mass, drummed up the fight or flight instinct in Mad Max: Fury Road and, most recently, beat expectations and topped charts as the musical sidekick to Ryan Reynolds’ hilariously disturbed superhero in Deadpool.

“We worked so hard on that movie, and it’s just really mind blowing how good it’s doing,” Tom says, about the soundtrack’s debut at 30 on the Billboard 200 chart.

For Tom, that reward is even better than working with Britney Spears or being the first artist in history granted the right to remix an Elvis Presley song (“A Little Less Conversation,” which hit No. 1 in over 20 countries under Tom’s moniker Junkie XL), both of which he did before jumping into film scoring.

“I tried a lot of things, and I never felt really happy,” he says. “I felt like I had to move around and do something else — until I went into film scoring. Out of the blue, all that creative fire that I had started burning inside. I felt way more let out than I was as an artist. I’ve been able to create music for films that, if I would have made as an artist, nobody would even wanted to have listen to.”

Despite Tom’s early success as an electronic artist and pop producer, it didn’t mean squat in the film world. He started at the bottom like anyone else, taking entry-level positions as an unpaid assistant. He soon became an apprentice to some of the most respected names in the business, including Hans Zimmer, whom he credits with giving him the confidence and know-how to finally strike out on his own.

“I call myself a full-contact composer,” Tom says. “I need to touch something and have a physical connection with the instruments, whether it’s synthesizers, drum computers, guitars, bass, drum kits, Indian percussion, whatever.”

When he joins a project, the film is usually about 60 or 70 percent done. The next step is to mull it over until the inspiration of sound emerges. Then, Tom grabs every instrument he’s got to fit that sound.

“[For Deadpool], I looked around the studio and was like, ‘I’ve got all these ‘80s synthesizers and drum computers, maybe I can put these puppies to use for the film,’” he says. “I went off on this creative spree creating all kinds of ideas, and then finally, after two weeks I called the director, Tim Miller, and I said, ‘Tim, I found the mix between Michael Jackson, Miami Vice and Frankie Goes to Hollywood on acid!”

That’s a hard sound to imagine, but once the director heard it himself, he knew it was the right fit. Considering the soundtrack’s current spot on the Billboard charts, audiences seem to agree.

—Kat Bein for Instagram @music