The Flight

Composers Joe Henson and Alexis Smith are The Flight – they’ve worked with the Lana Del Ray and Bjork and are now branching into video game scores…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 13 Nov 2014
  • min read
As music producers Joe Henson and Alexis Smith (aka The Flight) have worked with many of the musical world’s heaviest hitters.

Lana Del Ray, Coldcut, David Gray and Bjork are just some of the duo’s past clients and an good indicator of the kind of esteem their abilities are held in. These experiences have helped them polish their approaches to songwriting, production and composition. They have since branched out into video game composing, working on soundtracks for the Alien: Isolation and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. We unpick the thinking behind their creations…

What are your first musical memories?

Joe (J): My earliest musical memory is laying on the floor of the kitchen listening to Donna Summers’ I Feel Love on the radio. I was four years old and I remember the synth arpeggio making me feel dizzy. The first record I ever owned was Atomic Dog by George Clinton. I played it so much I wore out the record.

Alexis (A): My mum used to play guitar and sing folk songs in the evening, I would join in and act out what was happening in the song.

What inspired you to compose for the screen?

J: When I was a teenager I really got interested in film soundtracks. I used to get stoned and listen to Roger Rabbit or Batman, not the Prince songs but the score … it was mind blowing.

A: Working on Moulin Rouge with Marius de Vries, as his programmer/assistant. I loved seeing how music and visuals can affect each other, and also being part of a large team creating something that so many people could experience.

How did you begin working together?

J: Alexis was hired to co-produce my band Seventhsun and we got on really well. After that we just kept on working together, making it permanent soon after.

Youve worked with the likes of Lana Del Ray, Coldcut, David Gray, Bjork - what were the challenges with these projects? Who was the most exciting artist to work with?

A: When I was working with Marius I got to meet and work on a lot of artists, like the above. I already loved their music. It was intimidating at first, but you grow in confidence when someone you musically respect likes something you’ve added.

J: Working with Lana was pretty exciting. It was before she got signed, but we knew from the moment we met her that she was going to be a star. We worked with her on and off for about eighteen months. She is the real deal.

As well as working with artists, youve also gained a growing reputation as composers in the video game industry, working on some of the biggest titles including Alien: Isolation and Assassins Creed. How did you end up working in this world?

J: Alexis and I are from the first generation of people who grew up with gaming. Once the technology allowed real music, and wasn’t restricted by hardware, we were very interested in getting involved. A promo director introduced me to Lydia Andrew when she was working at Electronic Arts. I pestered her for about two years until she finally succumbed and asked us to pitch for a game she was working on at Ubisoft.

A: Part of what attracted us to this world was that it is such a young industry, still developing and changing at a very high speed. There is lots of room for innovation and nothing is ‘set in its ways’ yet. There are also some fascinating briefs for composers, and when we heard about Alien: Isolation, we were determined to be the ones to score it!

How does composing music for video games differ to more conventional songwriting?

J: The main difference is that it has to work interactively.

A: But in the end it is all just music. You have to keep the game’s music system in mind when composing, but we try not to let that hinder our initial writing. Obviously the music is there to do a certain job, but there is lots of creativity around that.

Where do you start when composing video game music? What elements do you think need to be in place for a score to work?

A: If there is not a playable build of the game available to us, we try and get the developer to send us video captures, concept artwork, historical background - anything that lets us get inside the overall atmosphere and feeling of the world.

J: Alexis and I then try and play as much as we can on anything we write. The use of real instruments is a key part of our sound and for us gives an all important human ‘heart’.

Any tips for new composers looking to get into screen composing?

A: Find your own sound - don’t try and copy other composers. Also, don’t necessarily try and be a jack of all trades, all sounds, however tempting that is at first. Concentrate on what you’re good at and want to be known for.

Whats next for you guys?

J: We are in the early stages of some very exciting projects. Unfortunately if we told you what they were we would have to kill you!

Visit the Flight’s website for more information on the duo.