Graeme Revell : the eclectic new-zeland-born.
Hello, Mr. Revell. Before beginning this interview, Iíd like to tell you that Iím a fan of your works since DEAD CALM and Iíve heard a lot of your film soundtracks and definitely think that youíre one of the best composer working for Hollywood today. First, could you tell me some words about your past as a musician in New-Zealand and how did you start to work in movie business?
Well first, thank you very much. Thatís very flattering. I wasnít really a musician in New Zealand. I started my career in Australia in about 1977 as one half of an industrial/punk rock band called SPK. I was in Australia for about a year or two and I went to England. We spent until about 1984 in England, went back to Australia for awhile and then, just by pure chance lucked onto doing Dead Calm. To cut a long story short, after about 3 months of experimenting with different directions with Dead Calm, I used something I had written for one of my SPK albums that I hadnít used earlier and everyone was very happy with it.
Your first score for DEAD CALM (1989) is considered as one of your best works. Why werenít any release of the soundtrack album and do you think that there is a chance that a film music label releases this score?
No, there isnít any chance of a release of Dead Calm because there was never a master recording of the music. At that time, George Miller was very interested in the new Harrison mixing board that came out so he multi-tracked the music in studio alongside the sound effects because he wanted to create an over all soundscape for the film where the music and the effects werenít really in different stems, as we call them. The only music mix that ever existed was what they did for the music where elements of the music sort of come and go in a very dramatic way so half way through one of the opera pieces the voice just disappears. So itís very unfortunate that the only recording I ever got of it was a ľ inch dub of that. I will one day go back to the whole score and build it into a broader work, I think.
You began in the movie horror world at the beginning of the ninieties with scores like SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, CHILDíS PLAY 2 and PSYCHO IV. These scores werenít released as DEAD CALM, but for some people, it was great soundtracks for bad movies. Is there also a chance to see a release of these scores?
I donít think so. Iím just the sort of person who doesnít like to go backwards in time. Iíve got so many things I want to do that I just donít have time for that. Even finding them if I did have them--and Iím not sure that I do. Those scores were a training ground for hopefully better things. I donít have a burning desire to release those.
Recently, you came back to horror music with such movies like BATS or BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Do you have a particular interest for this kind of horror music?
I like genre films and horror is part of that. The palate is usually very broad. You can experiment with the most bizarre sounds, even if itís an acoustic instrument thatís treated in a very strange way. Bats was created, I think, largely from a solo cello. At least that was the primary experimentation I did on that film. And then, Bride of Chucky I loved it because I love the fact that horror movies have become spoofs of themselves now. Itís so much fun to have a chuckle.
In 1991, youíve also worked with Wim Wenders on UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD. In 1993, you met Wenders again on FARAWAY, SO CLOSE! How did you manage to work with such a great director like Wim Wenders?
I suppose that it was a great experience for you to work with this wonderful director when you started in movie music business?
I was very excited to work with Wim Wenders. I love his work, especially Wings of Desire, which I think is one of the all-time great films. I was very familiar with his work before that as well. It was a great experience. The thing I think about Wim is that his film, his life and his passions are really completely connected. There is no differentiation between his life outside of film making and his life as a film maker. I regard that very highly. In a way, his films are a diary of everything heís thinking in his life. To be part of that is a lot of fun. And in those films, the breadth of what he was trying to do was inspiring.
In 1992, you composed one of your first thriller score for THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE from Curtis Hanson?
Iíve noticed some bits of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS from Howard Shore in some parts of your score. I suppose that this music was in the temp-track of the film.
What do you think of temp-tracks?
Is it a problem for you or a good tool in order to stimulate creation?
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, youíre quite correct. The temp was largely little bits of Silence of the Lambs and, I think, Jerry Goldsmithís Sleeping with the Enemy. I did have quite a lot of trouble. It was my first sort of middle of the road Hollywood film. The director was very enamoured of temp scores. It was extremely difficult for me to vary from it. Even a note going up or down when the temp went in the opposite direction became a question. That was the only time, though, Iíve had to deal with that and I learned a great lesson from that. Now I donít have any problem with listening to temp tracks and varying from it. The only thing I donít like is when my own music is on the temp track. What tends to happen is if itís working and I wrote it, thereís a really strong tendency just to write it again and Iíd definitely would rather not do that.
THE CROW (1994) was one of your biggest and successful soundtrack.
How do you analyse the success of this music? How did you work on this film?
What memories did you keep from this work?
The Crow was probably the first really completely open brief that I ever got. Here was a movie set some time in the future with no prescription on what it should sound like. So it was very much fun to bring in all the world music elements with a little bit of jazz trumpet and rock & roll all into the same zone. The thing I think I value most about it was that, unfortunately when Brandon Lee got killed, the movie became even more potent. It was most important to me to write a little string elegy to his character, which made it more poignant. I had to go spend my own money on that, but it was really worth it. I created a string piece with a female singer and an Armenian duduk. It was fun.
The mid eighties was definitively for you the era of action music and thriller/horror score. You did some minor scores like the suspensful GHOST IN THE MACHINE (1993), the serious with humoristic touches STREET FIGHTER (1994) or the big symphonic score for MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: THE MOVIE (1995). POWER RANGERS is certainly one of your first big orchestral musics written for a film. Was it really different to work on this film and how did you do to compose this great orchestral soundtrack?
Actually, Childís Play 2 was a big orchestra, but Power RangersÖmy kids were young at the time and it was a fun thing to do because they actually wanted to go to the premiere, I think. Or it could have been a friend of mineís kids, Iím not sure which it was now. It was no problem. I was a little disappointed in that one because we were asked by Fox to go to Western Australia to record. The orchestra wasnít used to film music and the room we recorded in was very sub-standard. I look back at that and itís a little disappointing in terms of sound quality. It was a good experience in order to learn how to work that way.
Corollary to this question, did you have an experience in orchestral music or orchestration before such projects? Was it a new world for you, knowing that you came from industrial music with SPK?
It was a completely new world. I had never worked with an orchestra. It was funny. When I did Dead Calm, I didnít know there was such a thing as an orchestrator or copyist so I did everything myself. I hand wrote everybodyís parts for the whole score. That was an interesting learning curve but things seemed to go okay. When I came to the States, I found out that was a job description. So I ended up doing some of it myself and ended up passing it on to my long-time collaborator.
In 1996, you met Robert Rodriguez on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. Iíve noticed similarities with POLISH REQUIEM by Penderecki. Can you tell me some words about this excellent horror score with these thunderous and powerful latin chorus, which was connected again to your horror music style that you seem to appreciate?
Itís extremely good of you to notice the connection with the Polish Requiem because what happened when I met Robert is I said Iíd really like to write a Mariachi surf opera. He said that would be cool and I knew I had a like-minded friend. He came to my studio and I showed him a cool way of working which is to take lots of different, really disparate elementsÖActually, I might have even played some bits and pieces from the Polish Requiem for him amongst other very Latin operatic kinds of material. I was showing him how you could cut it up and shift it around in little bits. Then we went up to Utah and recorded with a real choir and orchestra. He has told me since that he really responded to that way of working and incorporated it into his own style.
Recently, you worked with Rodriguez again on SIN CITY, with John Debney and the director himself, and on Rodriguezís new film, THE ADVENTURES OF SHARKBOY AND LAVAGIRL IN 3-D. I think that itís your first collaboration with other film music composers, like in Michael Mannís THE INSIDER (1999), in which you composed additional music. How did you work with Mr. Debney and Mr. Rodriguez? Was it a new challenge for you?
I didnít really work that closely with John Debney ; in fact, not at all. With Robert, I went down to Austin, TX and he showed me sketches of themes he had written. He wanted to incorporate those themes, which was actually the Sin City theme, into one or two cues of my segment of the movie. I was happy to do that. I really respect Robert in every way imaginable and as a composer as well. He said that he wanted the three parts of the film, apart from that one theme, to be quite separate. Later on, Johnís engineer, Wolfgang Amadeus who also works with me sometimes, called me up and said they were going to do some string sweetening. Would I like to come down and piggyback on the session. I said no, that I wanted it to be completely separate like Robertís vision. I really like Johnís work and itís nothing personal. I just thought in this case to stay completely apart. It seemed to work fine. I see some people are saying that we must have worked closely together because our work is seamless. Thatís a happy outcome.
With THE SAINT (1997) and THE NEGOTIATOR (1998), you proved to us that you were definitively a great composer of action music. Hans Zimmer, who is generaly considered as a specialist in this domain, has also written some good action scores in the mid-eighties. The electronic rythmics in THE SAINT and THE NEGOTIATOR seem to have been influenced by Media-Ventures (the Hans Zimmerís music studio, founded in 1989 with Jay Rifkin). Do you personally know Hans Zimmer, who is a specialist in electronic music and synthetisers, and what do you think of his work in film music today?
I quite like his work. I like some of it more than others, but thatís what I say about my work as well. I definitely havenít been influenced by Hans Zimmer in terms of the electronic thing. I think that his work always sounds to me like something a little bit from the Eighties. I hope my work is a little more of the Nineties in terms of rhythmic, techno and electronica. In The Saint, Iím definitely trying to hark back to the Sixties with that score because it was a British TV series from that time. Otherwise, my aim is just to differentiate myself from other people. I try to avoid at all cost trying to sound like someone else.
Can you tell us some words about your bad experience on THE 13TH WARRIOR (EATERS OF THE DEAD) by John McTiernan? What was the deal? Why was your score entirely rejected?
What happened was John McTiernan, the director, who I had been working with not closely, didnít get involved in the music very much, and pretty much removed himself from the movie during post production. Michael Chricton took it over, and I donít think he even listened to my score. When he took it over, i think he just decided his friend Jerry Goldsmith should be the composer and that was the end of that. I never really counted that as a rejection and I donít think there was anything inferior about that score, and Iím quite happy to still own it.
Corollary to this question, did you hear the score by Jerry Goldsmith and what do you think of his soundtrack for THE 13TH WARRIOR?
It was good, it was a bit different, more old fashioned than mine, I didnít think the movie did either of us justice, but that was my final impression.
In 2000, you composed the music of PITCH BLACK by David Twohy. Youíve also worked with him on the 2nd opus THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK and the dark score from BELOW. I personnaly love your mysterious theme for BELOWís soundtrack, these 9 notes are absolutely perfect in the movie! You seem to have found a new collaborator with David Twohy, have you?
I believe so, yes, weíre very close and have a great communication. David being a writer-director, heís very clear in his communication skills and doesnít waste any words in telling me what he wants and when I deliver it, heís very happy. No indecision, which I love. Heís also very interested in science and getting everything accurate. Itís a nice relationship.
On the same year, you wrote the music for your first animation movie, TITAN A.E. Was it a new musical challenge for you to compose for a movie with no live actors? Is the musical creative processus different for animated movies?
Is there a chance to see a release of your score for this film?
Titan AE was pretty straightforward. I think when youíre scoring animation, unless when youíre what they call ę Mickey Mousing, Ľ which is a more childlike approach to scoring, itís the same as scoring for live actors.
Weíll speak now about your experience on LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER (2001). I know that the production rejected the first composer and give you few time to compose this score. I also know that itís more and more frequent in Hollywood today (like on EATERS OF THE DEAD). How did you manage to write the score of TOMB RAIDER and what do you think of these problems of incessant reject in Hollywood today?
The main problem with rejection is that theyíre often hiring the wrong person in the first place. Theyíll go down the list of people who have written the music for big box office movies or movies that have been nominated for an Oscar and just because that happened, theyíll think that person is better than another for a job, and sometimes you see some of the most ludicrous decisions being made and everybody knows that in about six weeks time, that job is going to come back on the block. Itís upsetting because you wish people could understand who to hire and why and what the chance might be that you could get a better score, a more interesting one. Thatís the main reason for it, and sometimes you can have communication problems where a director is fighting a studio or it gets political. And sometimes you get very little time to do something. In the case of ę Tomb Raider, Ľ it was ten days from start to finish. I just set up a scenario where we worked around the clock, where I had one studio where they were writing, and one where they were mixing, and another with a satellite link to London where it was being recorded at their studios, and uploading and downloading on T1 lines back to LA for mixing. It was an intersting technical challenge. I didnít sleep the whole time, so frankly I donít remember a whole lot about it. The movie did well, and when I listen back to the score, itís okay.
OUT OF TIME (2003) was an amazing soundtrack. Itís the first time you wrote a music with these touches of cuban/jazz/south american music. I know that you have a passion for world music, like THE CROW (with the mysterious and beautiful armenian duduk), the oriental sound of DUNE or the samples of ethnic tribal voices in NO ESCAPE. I suppose that working on such exotic music in OUT OF TIME was very fun for you?
It was a great deal of fun. Itís also nice to be purely melodic in the score, because so often I have to remove the music from what I write, so that I can get back to the more soundscape, ambient more indirect style of scoring. So ę Out of Time Ľ was great. I wrote some demos for Carl Franklin, and the funny story on that one is when he got to the studio, I had five or six Cuban guys recording the score for real, he said ę Oh my God, can you do that ? Can you steal that music like that ? Ľ And I said, ę But I wrote that as a demo for you ! Ľ And he said ę Oh, I thought you had just found that on a record somewhere, and sent it to me. You wrote that as a demo just for me ? Oh man ! Ľ He had this panic moment, and Iím thinking heís going to approve this piece, and heís looking at me like itís a disaster. It was great working with those kind of musicians. Thatís the best part of the job, actually, working with amazing musicians all from over the world. You get six Cubans in a room, and the big problem is trying to get the to stop playing, actually. They get in a groove, and there they go.
Iíve read somewhere that you have began to work on a script. Can you tell me some words about it please?
Itís called ę The Tear Garden, Ľ itís the story of starting my band when I was an orderly in a mental assylum and it was set up with Working Title for a year, although unfortunately they changed their focus and had to drop the film. Weíre out shopping it again. Iím working with some people at MTV right now, it might actually be suitable for them.
Youíve signed on the remake of John Carpenterís THE FOG from director Rupert Wainwright. Did you start to work on the music and what kind of score will it be?
Itís a reasonably standard horror movie, with a lot less melody than I would like. Rupert Wainwrightís vision was for it to be kind of natural. The fog is such a natural phenomenon, so I just fit in with the sound effects. The fog is all musical, rather than sound effects, so I took a lot of their space on the overall soundtrack.
Iíd like to speak now about your new project, your first score for a video game, CALL OF DUTY 2: BIG RED ONE. After horror, thriller, comedy, drama, action, adventure and animation movie, youíve written a score for a video game! It proves your wonderful eclecticism. What kind of score did you write for CALL OF DUTY 2 and how did you work on this video game?
Is there much liberty for musical creation on this new media?
Yes, itís a little bit confusing in fact it took me a little while to figure it out, and Iím still not sure how they looped the music cues that I write, because it all depends on how fast the player is playing the game and how fast he hits the key moments in the scene as they go through at different speeds. But otherwise, particularly because this is ę Call of Duty Ľ it is big, epic, World War 2 kind of action music. Nothing ultra-orignal, but hopefully very competent.
To finish with this interview, Iíd like to tell you that Iím always surprised by your eclecticism and the quality of your music. How do you manage to find energy in order to compose all these musics for such different projects?
Itís just notes, writing music. Itís always a challenge whenever you see a new video or picture, the ones that do well in this job have a kind of synesthesia where we hear something when we see something.. When I see blank video with no sound on it, I instantly hear the score and each time for me itís a different score because itís a different picture. The other thing is that I enjoy music of all kinds, pretty much bar none, and I find a reason to put it into whatever movie. For example, Iím working on Aeon Flux right now, Iím the third composer on that one. Itís set in the year 2400, so you have to just project yourself forward into a whole different realm and try and come up with something that doesnít betray the film.
More than a decade in the film music business...You have acquired a great experience! So, the ritual and final question, what are your dream projects for the future?
Dream projects are more of the kind of quirky, really interesting dramas. Maybe even a little intellectual, I love the films of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. I was a little disappointed when I worked on ę Human Nature Ľ with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, and that film didnít do a lot of business. If it had, I would have been chosen for more of those kinds of films. That or comedies are the ones that I actually choose to go and see when I go out. That would be nice.
Thank you Mr. Revell to give me some of your time. I hope that you will continue to offer us great film scores!
Interview by Quentin Billard
Thanks to Tom Kidd from Ray Costa Communications.