As a founding member of The Beta Band, John Maclean directed many of the cult Scottish folktronica outfit’s music videos. When splinter group The Aliens split in 2008, he moved into filmmaking, winning a Bafta for 2011’s Pitch Black Heist, a short starring Michael Fassbender. Now he’s reunited with the ‘Frank’ actor for the musicians first feature film, ‘Slow West’ – out June 26 – a mesmerising western that follows an enigmatic Irish outlaw and an impressionable young Scotsman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a trek across 19th century Colorado. The film features a small cameo appearance from John’s brother, Django Django drummer Dave Maclean, whose band contribute an original song to its soundtrack. NME met up with the Maclean siblings to find out more.
NME: Where did the idea for Slow West come from?
John: “When I was touring America with The Beta Band, people would often tell me their great-grandfather was Scottish or Irish, and I’d read a lot about Scottish people travelling to America in the 1800s. But when you watch an old western, nearly everyone’s American. So when I came to write my first feature film, I liked the idea of making a western from a European perspective, full of migrants from over here.”
NME: Did you always want Dave to be involved?
John: “Yeah, I put lots of friends and family on screen including our mum and dad! Robin Jones, who played drums in The Beta Band, worked in the film’s art department and also appears on screen briefly. And the film’s minstrel is played by Bryan Mills, who was guitarist in The Divine Comedy.”
NME: Was it strange being directed by your brother, Dave?
Dave: “Well, there was one funny moment where I stood in front of the camera…”
John: “Right at the end of the take! Which we then had to scrap.”
Dave: “But other than that, my day on set was great. One actor did his best to make us laugh before each take, so I was desperately trying not to giggle throughout.”
NME: Did you find out if Michael Fassbender is a Django Django fan?
Dave: “Well, he’s been to a couple of our gigs.”
John: “Yeah, he’s a fan – the last Djangos gig he came to was at XOYO [in London] and he loved it.”
NME: What’s his taste in music like?
John: “Good, but different from mine. He’s a real rock guy, he’s into Metallica. But he loves music and he plays guitar, he’s got a real sense of groove.”
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Dave: “And he’s quite into the ‘90s hip-hop that me and John would play at our club night [Kick + Clap in London’s Dalston]. He was a regular.”
NME: Have you two ever made music together?
John: “No, we’ve talked about it but it’s never happened, purely because one of us is always busy.”
NME: But you’ve sort of collaborated on Slow West, with Django Django writing the end credits song. Was it written especially for the film?
Dave: “We had two tracks in mind – one that Jimmy (Dixon, bassist) was playing around with, and one Vinnie (Neff, singer/guitarist) was working on. Jimmy’s was quite European-sounding – almost like a gypsy waltz. Vinnie’s was more Americana crossed with Irish folk. We tried both demos on the end credits, but Jimmy’s track was almost too melancholic to end the film with. When we tried Vinnie’s track, it made sense straight away to end on a more upbeat note. So we recorded his track for the film, trying to make it live-sounding like a little campfire hoedown.”
NME: John, have you closed the door on music for good now?
John: “Yeah, and in a way that door wasn’t fully open anyway. I met The Beta Band at art school and joined them being interested in music videos and DJing and sampling, which I always felt related to collage and montage in filmmaking. So when The Beta Band split and then my next band [The Aliens] split, I felt like getting into film was just me going back to what I was always interested in. But I do miss being on stage with a band for two hours, I miss the buzz.”