The sound­track king talks about his cre­ative in­flu­ences with nick Setch­field. “I’m in­spired by peo­ple be­ing bril­liant...”

SFX - - Contents -

The sound­track supremo tells us what’s in­spired him.

From Star­gate to Sher­lock, Lit­tle Britain to the global glare of the 2012 Olympics, David Arnold one of our premier sound­track com­posers. He’s won an Emmy and a Grammy while a run of five Bond films – tran­si­tion­ing from Pierce Bros­nan to Daniel Craig – saw him hailed as heir to his hero, the mas­terly John Barry.

Next month he re­turns to his score for In­de­pen­dence Day, re­viv­ing its flag-rip­pling melodies for a live per­for­mance at the Royal Al­bert Hall, in sync with the orig­i­nal movie. “It gives the film an ex­tra lease of life,” he tells

SFX. “It’s a dif­fer­ent way of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it, a dif­fer­ent way of see­ing it, a dif­fer­ent way of hear­ing it. There’s a cer­tain en­ergy.”

We meet at his base in Lon­don’s Air Stu­dios. He shows us how to make the per­fect cup of tea (“Look, no milk scum!”), shares the anatom­i­cal se­crets of the Sher­lock theme – never un­der­es­ti­mate the power of a ball­point pen bounc­ing on the bridge of a man­dolin – and re­flects on the forces that have shaped his mu­si­cal ca­reer.

“At one point I’m sit­ting there, Scott Walker’s singing a song I’ve writ­ten with Don Black, Don’s next to me, and it’s for a James Bond film. And I’m think­ing, ‘It’s go­ing al­right for a boy from Lu­ton…’”


John Barry’s film scores sound like songs. I don’t think it’s a co­in­ci­dence that a lot of them have had lyrics put to them. As dif­fi­cult as they are to sing they’re ex­traor­di­nar­ily melodic and in­cred­i­bly in­fec­tious. I re­mem­ber see­ing You Only Live Twice at a very young age, pro­jected on 16mm at a Christ­mas party, and notic­ing the colour of the sound as well as the melody, just the tone of it. Why would I be think­ing about it like that at the age of eight? You don’t. But I re­mem­ber think­ing, “This is amaz­ing, and there­fore this film must be amaz­ing as well.” What I liked about John’s writ­ing was that there was a sense of yearn­ing about it, a reaching out to some­thing just be­yond your fin­ger­tips. If only you could grab it some­how, ev­ery­thing would be okay, all of your ques­tions would be an­swered. I ac­tu­ally be­came quite good friends with him. But we never talked about mu­sic. We talked a lot about food and drink. Did I show him the teabag trick? I don’t think he would have both­ered with tea!


I thought Blade Run­ner, as a piece, was ex­tra­or­di­nary, just the sound of it. You re­alise that the sound is ac­tu­ally re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant – not just the notes that are writ­ten. I tend to get more ex­cited by things that are non-tra­di­tional. It’s a sad truth but if you got 10 peo­ple from the street and you played them a piece of orches­tral film mu­sic, usu­ally the

I be­came quite good friends with John Barry. But we never talked about mu­sic

first thing they’ll say is “Is it Star Wars?” They know that Star Wars is big and orches­tral so ev­ery­thing else is prob­a­bly Star Wars. The synths that Van­ge­lis used – and the way that he used them – they’re very idio­syn­cratic ma­chines. They’re un­pre­dictable – but the pre­dictable as­pect of them is that they’re un­pre­dictable! Be­cause it’s electricity run­ning through all these dif­fer­ent cir­cuits and valves they’re all go­ing to be burn­ing and heat­ing up at dif­fer­ent rates, and it does change the way that it sounds. That’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to me. If you play an E on a vi­o­lin for four bars you know what it’s go­ing to sound like, but if you play an E on a Yamaha CS-80 for four bars there’s a chance some­thing weird is go­ing to hap­pen, and it’s go­ing to get your ear go­ing.


It seems to be the re­quire­ment of film mu­sic now to be si­mul­ta­ne­ously fa­mil­iar and un­fa­mil­iar. This is what Hans Zim­mer is so bril­liant at, prob­a­bly most fa­mously on In­cep­tion – the big “Blam!” noise, which is now a part of ev­ery­thing, ev­ery­where. I was here at Air Stu­dios when he had like 24 trom­bones and 24 cel­los and they’re all play­ing at the same time, they’re play­ing the same note… He cre­ates this noise that you’ve never heard be­fore. Some­times that does the job of a thou­sand notes. If it’s the right sound then some­times sim­pler is bet­ter. He’s great at cre­at­ing these sounds that sit along­side an orches­tra and be­come part of the same pal­ette. And I think that’s what we’re used to now. In con­tem­po­rary film scor­ing, cer­tainly in Hol­ly­wood, our ears de­mand all those things at the same time.


By the time I asked him to work with me he’d

al­ready won an Os­car. He’d writ­ten Born Free, To Sir With Love, Thun­der­ball, Di­a­monds Are For­ever, The Man With The Golden Gun. He’d writ­ten mu­si­cals with John Barry, he’d writ­ten Sun­set Boule­vard with An­drew Lloyd Web­ber… Don is one of the last true great lyri­cists who has a mas­tery of words. I don’t think lyrics are just about telling a story. Don has a way of ac­tu­ally find­ing a word which might not look all that im­pres­sive on pa­per. When we were do­ing “Sur­ren­der” for Tomorrow Never Dies he sent some lines through and I thought, “Yeah, that’s pretty good…” And then I sang them and all of a sud­den I felt the shape of the words and the way that they stuck to the melody, the way that they came out of your mouth… You think, “Good god, this is in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing to sing!” And then the whole thing re­ally comes alive. It’s quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. It looks re­ally sim­ple, but like John Barry’s work, it’s re­ally not sim­ple. He has a way with the or­di­nary. An or­di­nary idea be­comes ex­tra­or­di­nary be­cause it’s stated in a cer­tain way. Go back to “Born Free” – “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows…” It’s sort of sim­ple, isn’t it? But then you think well, that’s it. That’s ev­ery­thing that it needs to be. These things stab home, and they just land. It helps that he’s pos­si­bly the nicest man in the uni­verse.


I’m ex­cited by the pos­si­bil­i­ties of sound with tech­nol­ogy. George Martin was fa­mous for his creation of odd sound ef­fects and tape loops, slow­ing things down and speed­ing them up, play­ing things with dif­fer­ent bows and ham­mers, fly­ing things in back­wards, trick­ing your ear into think­ing some­thing’s hap­pen­ing. He had a to­tal dis­re­gard for con­ven­tion in terms of record­ing mu­sic, and in do­ing that he cre­ated the idea of the stu­dio as an in­stru­ment.

When­ever I see a bril­liant per­for­mance, I still want to be a part of that


I worked with him on “Only My­self To Blame” [un­used end ti­tles song for The World Is Not Enough]. I think it might be my favourite Bond thing I’ve writ­ten. His voice is so rich and so ex­pres­sive and so unique and so pow­er­ful. I think peo­ple re­spond to a pow­er­ful voice. Like Shirley Bassey, the big note at the end of the songs. That’s kind of what you’re there for. It’s al­most like watch­ing a foot­baller score a bril­liant goal – it’s hap­pen­ing in front of you. Tom Jones is the same. Pavarotti. They hit the big note and you know they’re do­ing some­thing quite bril­liant in front of you. Scott had a way of de­liv­er­ing a song which made its way into the core of you. When he sang Jac­ques Brel they were sad songs, songs that were dif­fi­cult to lis­ten to – you had to re­ally con­sider them and you had to let them in. His work is be­com­ing more and more internal, go­ing into the things that are im­por­tant to him, mov­ing be­yond just notes and words. They’ve be­come more of a pure art thing, rather than what you might ca­su­ally call a record. Peo­ple know he’s for real, and no mat­ter how avant garde or strange it might be you know it’s ab­so­lutely gen­uine and ab­so­lutely heart­felt. There’s a man who’s do­ing it re­gard­less of whether he sells one or a bil­lion. The only thing that mat­ters to him is the work. When you have that sort of pu­rity you know it’s not fraud­u­lent. There’s no hid­ing from the truth­ful­ness of it.


I’ve seen him loads of times. I love his lyrics, I love his singing, I love his play­ing. He’s an­gry about things that I’d be an­gry about. I think there’s a tra­di­tion in his song­writ­ing. His dad was a singer and did cabaret stan­dards and sang around the coun­try – and my dad did the same. His song­writ­ing feels like it’s built on the same ex­pe­ri­ence of songs that I knew. He came up through punk, in the look and the at­ti­tude, but then he would write a song like “Ali­son”. I thought, “Some­thing else is go­ing on here – it’s not like The Damned!” There was some­thing much more mu­si­cal and in­tel­li­gent and for­ward think­ing and in­ward look­ing go­ing on. Here was some­one who was a sim­i­lar age to me, maybe a lit­tle older, who was tak­ing all the great things about great songs but some­how mak­ing it for 16-year-olds rather than 45-yearolds. He was fash­ion­ing these songs that felt like they had their roots in the great Amer­i­can song­book but were com­pletely con­tem­po­rary and com­pletely es­sen­tial and rel­e­vant, with that in­cred­i­bly dis­tinc­tive voice as well.


I find the most in­spir­ing thing is ac­tu­ally watch­ing peo­ple be­ing bril­liant. If I see a great co­me­dian, I want to be a great co­me­dian. If I see some­one score a bril­liant goal I want to be that foot­baller. I love to see a per­former con­nect with an au­di­ence, with a song that you know has come to life through in­spi­ra­tion or per­spi­ra­tion. It might have only taken 20 min­utes to write or it might have taken 20 years, and ei­ther way is fine. Ul­ti­mately you know when these things are great. I re­mem­ber when we did the John Barry memo­rial con­cert. It was a two and a half hour con­cert and every tune you knew, every tune was a stone cold clas­sic. I went to see Burt Bacharach, same thing. He starts off with three songs in a med­ley. I think, “I know all of them, they’re all mas­sive. Why’s he blow­ing it all in the first three min­utes?” Then you re­alise you know the next one, too, and the one af­ter that… You come out at the end ei­ther want­ing to give up or get bet­ter. I al­ways think I want to try harder. I want to get bet­ter. So when­ever I hear a bril­liant record or see a bril­liant per­for­mance, I still want to be a part of that. That’s why I like films – I was in the au­di­ence and I went wow. That opens some­thing up in you. You think, “I want to be a part of the thing that makes you go wow.”

In­de­pen­dence Day Live is at the Royal Al­bert Hall on 22 Septem­ber. http://bit.ly/sfxin­de­pen­dence

Blade Run­ner: not just about the vi­su­als. Sean Con­nery gets with the birds in You Only Live Twice.

He charged a mil­lion a shot, you know. Di­a­monds Are For­ever, un­like those side­burns.

Leo BLAM gets his feet wet BLAM in In­cep­tion BLAM.

Sir George Martin and some group he worked with. – pos­si­bly – his stunt­man in Tomorrow Never Dies.

All-round great Elvis Costello. Burt Bacharach, a fella with a CV bet­ter than yours.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.