JONNY Greenwood, lead guitarist with the UK's most successful rock band, Radiohead, is an unassuming kind of bloke. He doesn't give interviews very often and has a reputation for extreme shyness, partly because of the way he hides his face behind that curtain of dense black hair on-stage.
This week, though, he was forced to step out of the shadows to receive the Evening Standard's Best Film Score Award for the strikingly beautiful music that he composed for the magnificent There Will Be Blood. The film is out today, following extraordinary critical acclaim, a clutch of awards already, and anticipation of further success at the Baftas on Sunday and the Oscars later in the month.
It's hard to imagine Paul Thomas Anderson's masterly tale of oil prospecting in 19th-century California without Greenwood's haunting soundtrack, a vital ingredient in the film's remarkable atmosphere of underlying unease. Still, the idea of writing the soundtrack for such a major film starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the maniacal prospector Daniel Plainview was a "hugely daunting one", and Greenwood says that he got seriously cold feet.
"Whenever I thought about all the hundreds of people who'd already been working on the film, and then it was finished, and it was up to me to do the music ...." He gulps, even now. "At one point I tried to wriggle out of it. But Paul Thomas Anderson is this amazingly enthusiastic person and he had this blind assurance that I was going to do the right thing.
"So I kind of hid by throwing lots of music at him. In the end he had two hours to plough through, and, you know, edit out all the ones with banjos or the bits with the harmonium. He kept saying 'I want more stuff like this and lose the banjos'.
Which is always good advice." The result is an intense 40 minutes of at times spooky and deeply uncomfortable, at others rather joyful, orchestral composition.
It's a weird mix of horror-movie eeriness and full-blooded neo- romantic strings. At the centre of this seemingly orthodox period movie lies a black heart, revealed in cataclysmic violence at the end; mistrust, greed and hatred course through it like an underground stream.
"When people hear strings in a film, they find it familiar and comforting. When it's not like this it can be an enjoyable confusion," Jonny says. "When I watched the film, what I saw most was that implied malice. People are sort of being polite to each other, but there's this real violence not far beneath the surface. So I started to think about music where something is kind of wrong. It's still conventional music in a way but some of the quartets, for example, have got little mistakes in them, or awkward pauses. On one track the players have all detuned their lower string so it's all slack and the harder they bow the higher in pitch it goes." Day- Lewis's performance, he says, "astounded" him. "You just believe it.
What makes it even more impressive is that he's playing such a big character it's a natural rather than naturalistic performance." The actor came to the soundtrack recording in Abbey Road, with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Robert Ziegler, and stayed, a quiet observer, all day.
"I got the impression he didn't just do his filming and leave, but that he and Paul [Thomas Anderson] were talking all the time and very much working together right until the film was finished." If Day-Lewis is a shoo-in for this year's Best Actor Oscar, Greenwood recently discovered that his soundtrack isn't in the running, despite industry bets on its nomination. It has been disqualified on a technicality (a proportion of the music in There Will Be Blood comes from pre-existing works; the Academy Awards will only consider wholly original soundtracks).
Greenwood is disappointed but not hugely. "The implication is that it came really close, so that's weird and nice," he says. …