More about: Hans Zimmer
"Good evening to you, while I sit here in the sun in Los Angeles," cackles Hans Zimmer, from what he tells me is in the garden of his West Coast home beneath a crystal blue sky. It's raining in London, where the only joy is the prospect of Zimmer's world tour arriving at Wembley. "I'm just saying that to make you feel bad. It's a beautiful day out here. But no, seriously - how are you?"
Fine - thank you, Hans. Especially now. In the short course of our conversation, I can't help but feel my spirit lifted. This is the man who put sound to the likes of The Lion King, Batman v Superman, Inception, Gladiator, Spider Man, The Dark Knight and Interstellar - winning Oscars and Grammys for his knack of completing the cinematic experience by painting with sound. He's inspired the worlds of classical music, rock, dance and beyond, and he remains restlessly creative, pumped at every turn by his lust for life. His laughter is rousing, and his energy is infectious.
We ask what else his day holds, and he casually beams "a lot of writing, there's always that pesky unwritten score lurking about. I'm multi-tasking, but it's all good. It's a lot better than not having these possibilities."
Ah, that pesky score. Indeed, comfort kills creation so it's best to be on edge all the time. His next challenge - take his lifetime of game-changing work on the road, inviting his good friend and collaborator Johnny 'FUCKING' Marr along the way. It's going to be pretty special, so we sat down with the movie score genius to talk about the live experience, his upcoming projects, collaborators and how are his roots have always been in rock n' roll.
So what are you working on at the moment?
"I'm just finishing a Sean Penn movie, called The Last Face, which he's directing. Oh and a Ron Howard movie too, but I'm really, nearly done. I want you to put that in so when Ron reads this, he knows I'm nearly do."
What kind of spirit and feel are you going for with those two projects?
"The Inferno score for Ron is probably the most abstract and electronic thing that I've done, it seems to be really working and so far so good. No one has told me to stop being experimental, and the laboratory doors are wide open. We're making some really interesting sounds. Then on the other hand, Sean's movie is about Africa and it's a big, grand love story, but I'm very minimalist on it. That has its own problems - you only get to play with a few notes, so you'd better get them right! But yes, they couldn't be more different in style.
"That's why I got into film music, though. If you were in a band, you have a sound and everybody expects you to have that down for the rest of your life. I couldn't do that. What if I wanted to do psychedelic, country and western, heavy metal? Nobody would let me. Film lets you tell a story."
With so many stories to tell and a tour coming up, that makes me curious. With such a vast body of work, how do you decide what makes it into your set?
"I came up with a setlist, but it was extraordinarily short - about 90 seconds long. I thought 'nobody wants to hear any of this', so to get around that I surrounded myself with all of these musicians I've worked with over the years. I got pretty cantankerous in places; I didn't want to play Gladiator, but people convinced me that I had to go and do that. I let everybody in the band chip in. There had to be a reason why we played things, and if someone could convince me that something musically great was going to happen, then it got into the set. Then we ended up with a vast amount of too much music, now we're at the edge of how far you can take this now. We tested it a couple of years ago at Hammersmith Apollo, and since then I've tried a couple of other things. Now I'm trying to figure out how to make Interstellar work without carrying a church organ around."
In terms of translating these songs, do you find that the songs take a new life or discover new things about them when played live on such a scale?
"Completely. There is a big difference between the energy in actually having to perform something live, and recording it. It took two weeks to record Pirates Of The Caribbean. That was a tour-de-force for the orchestra. You have to take a deep breath at the beginning of that and then have courage because it never lets up on them.
"Some of it is like an Olympic sprint, and other things are actually quite soulful. Whichever way you look at it, I have many different styles and they do come from storytelling. Where I think it becomes slightly different from your normal concert is that you've got to tell your story in some way. We just don't use words and images to do it any more. Now you discover something new, and I what i really wanted to do was show off the musicians that I've been working with for years. There are all of these eccentric personalities coming in and out of the show, and that makes it quite unique."
How would you describe the visual element of the show, and how do they lend themselves to your desired effect?
"Ah, hang on - there is one thing I forgot to mention. I have been friends with lighting designer Marc Brickman for many years. He's currently working on the Dave Gilmore tour and he's done a lot of Pink Floyd shows and things like that. I said to Marc a long time ago, 'you are part of the band, just try to figure out the colours and all of the things that you do - but leave the Pink Floyd pig at home'. You're not just talking about a band on stage, but I can't help it. Go big or go home."
So the visuals are very much a language of their own as well?
"Yes. I wanted to get rid of the convention and old-fashioned idea of this pompous composer who sits at a grand piano. That's not quite who I am. I come from rock n' roll. I can't help it. I have to do things slightly differently."
Speaking of rock n' roll, Johnny Marr told us that he was hoping to work with you on his next record. Have the pair of you made much progress on that?
"It's very simple: I'm going to finish the tour, then I'm going to be working on Johnny's album. That's the plan for the year, it's very important to me. When the two of us get into a room, we can chat for a long time but there always comes a point when he picks up a guitar, I go over to a synth, then the next thing you know it's four o'clock in the morning and we've done some tunes. We can't help it. Johnny has a very strong idea about what he wants to do on this next album, I'm just going to serve Johnny Marr. We're making his record great, just as he helped me make Inception great."
So have you heard any tracks, or are you going to wait and see what happens?
"I know where we're going, but I'm going to wait and see what happens. We're both Chris Nolan-trained, which means never talk about the project until it's done. Don't you want a bit of a surprise? I remember when we were doing The Dark Knight, everybody knew we were making a Batman movie, but when the movie came out, nobody figured out it was going to be THAT kind of Batman movie. That was part of the joy. In the digital information age, there are very few surprises left."
He also told us that when the pair of you are in the studio, you often shout 'JUST BE JOHNNY FUCKING MARR' at him. What do you think it is that he brings to music that others just can't?
"Yeah! But he does the same to me. Hang on, just let me put the blame firmly where the blame belongs. I had a perfectly good life, sitting in a room with no windows, writing those film scores one after the other, never getting out - not even at weekends. Then comes along Johnny Marr and he says 'hey, Hans - how about we do a couple of gigs? The next thing I know, I'm all over Europe for a couple of months and my film career is basically in the bloody toilet. So yes, let's blame Johnny Marr.
"When I was writing Inception, there was a three day period when I had this tune and this piece and I kept hearing a sound in my head, but I couldn't figure out what it was - then I finally figured it out: it was Johnny Marr. It wasn't 'a guitar' - it was Johnny Marr. Everybody plays guitar, but then there's Johnny Marr - there's a singular personality that shines through every note. I remember calling Chris Nolan and saying 'this might sound a bit dodgy, but if I said electric guitar and orchestra, you would shudder - but if i said Johnny Marr and orchestra, what would you say?' And he instantly said 'call him up, let's get this going'."
When we interviewed him, he praised your 'pop sensibility'. Do you recognise that in your work and would you like to move more into a pop realm?
"Yes. A year ago, Johnny was over just visiting and Jean Michelle Jarre popped by as well. I was just listening to the two of them talking about electronic music, and their influences were impressive. As Europeans, they both had classical sensibilities. They didn't want to play the blues. That was left for the first wave like the Stones, but Johnny Marr was trying to find a new language, Jean Michelle Jarre was trying to find a new language, Kraftwerk were trying to find a new language - the language was of course to draw on Europe. If he says I have a pop sensibility then he's absolutely right, but I think he has a classical sensibility.
"We don't talk about it, but we just naturally spend days and nights listening to music and watching obscure bands and classical pieces on Youtube. He's flare for knowledge and discovery is vast. That's what you want. The answers are usually boring, the answers should always ask the next question - and that's why you want to work with Johnny Marr. He always pushes everything forwards. What's the most successful thing he's done? He's managed to stay relevant for all of these years, he's a true original."
Artists like Muse have listed you as an influence. Do you often hear your influence on contemporary rock and elsewhere in music?
"Weirdly, I was trying to do something with Muse and it didn't work out - it was just timing. It was of the moment and not in the pipeline. The great thing about my life is that I go from project to project and each is vastly different. The opportunity for something unexpected always exists. One of my favourite moments, which is a bit naughty to say, is when I'm in my studio and looking out at Johnny sat there playing and writing a song with Pharrell Williams and thinking 'oh, Johnny used to be in The Smiths - not the happiest of bands. And he's sat there with the man who wrote 'Happy' and they're writing a song together! What an extraordinary contradiction, and because of the contradiction, it's great.
"We are all influences on each other and the job is to invent and try to push this thing called music forwards. Sometimes you do better than others, but you're forever trying to figure out who to do it with. There are so many amazing people out there. I influence people as much as they influence me. Johnny and I can geek out on 10 hours of talking about Kraftwerk or Nile Rodgers. There's that Duke Ellington quote: 'there are only two types of music, good music and bad music'. This is not a job. You ask anyone 'when did you first become a musician' and they lie, by putting a date on it - but the truth is that you're a musician from the moment you're born. They were banging things and people called it noise, then it turned into an obsession and became their life. We're a peculiar bunch, but certainly not boring. "
Hans Zimmer's upcoming tour dates are as follows, with the ones featuring Johnny Marr marked with an asterix*. Buy tickets and get more information here.
Wed April 06 2016 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley*
Thurs April 07 2016 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley*
Tue April 12 2016 - BIRMINGHAM Barclaycard Arena
Wed April 20 2016 - BERLIN, Mercedes Benz Arena*
Thu May 26 2016 - DUBLIN 3Arena*
Sat May 28 2016 - BOURNEMOUTH BIC
Sun May 29 2016 - MANCHESTER Arena*
Sun Jun 5 2016 - ORGANGE, Theatre Antique D'Orange*
More about: Hans Zimmer