A Conversation with Rob Zombie
Mike Ragogna: Hey, Rob, how are you?
Rob Zombie: I'm good. How are you doing?
MR: I'm pretty good. What have you been up to lately?
RZ: Well, I've been up to a lot of things. Last week, I finished shooting a special for Comedy Central, starring my friend Tom Papa. It's his first stand-up comedy special that he's doing live in New York. So, I just wrapped that up last week, and a couple of weeks before that, I was in Vancouver to direct a commercial for, of all things, Woolite. Before that, I had just gotten back from Australia, where I was doing some touring with Iron Maiden--yeah, I'm busy.
MR: You have drummer Ginger Fish with you?
RZ: Yes. Ginger has not actually toured or played with us yet. He did a couple of warm-up shows a couple of months ago, right before we left for Europe, but our other drummer, Joey Jordison, who was on load from Slipknot, was our drummer at the time. The dates got crossed and Ginger was just filling in, but since that time--I don't know if it's just because Ginger had so much fun with us when we were on tour--he quit Marilyn Manson, and was free. Our other drummer, Joey, had to go back to Slipknot, so--1,2,3.
MR: You have this major European tour coming up, right?
RZ: Yeah, it starts June 1st in Germany.
MR: How long is that tour going to last?
RZ: It's not that long, only about five weeks or so.
MR: You tour pretty often, but you're also way busy. How do you fit in all--the recording, touring, film making, and commercial shooting?
RZ: Well, it's not easy. What's happening right now is that as soon as we're done touring, I'll start my next film. Since there is a long lead time, I've been working with the effects departments and stuff between my tours, so they're sort of prepping. Then, I'll go off and tour, and then I'll come back from a tour, do a little more prep and location scouting, then finish my tour and start full-blown pre-production on the movie. That will take me through the rest of the year. Once that is wrapped up, I'll probably go right into making a record, and by next summer, I'll probably be right back out on tour. As soon as one thing ends, I just start in on the next thing.
MR: The movie you were talking about is The Lords Of Salem?
MR: Can you give us any hints or clues about it?
RZ: Sure. That will be something that I will probably start towards the end of August. It's a horror movie, but it's a very different kind of horror movie than the films I've done in the past. Everything I've done in the past has been a very physically violent type of film, and this is more of a dark, psychological, sort of Roman Polanski-style film. It's very different for me, so I'm very excited about it. It's more of a ghost story based around the mythology of the Salem witch trials.
MR: When you direct, do you take your script and edit it to what you think you need in the film as you go along?
RZ: Not really because I've written all the scripts I've ever directed, so I guess I'm kind of doing that as I'm writing. I've never directed anything from someone else's material.
MR: Is that something you see yourself doing?
RZ: I would. There have been very few times that a script has come to me and I was like, "Yes, that's something that I want to do," but for whatever reason, it didn't work out. Most of the time, I get scripts that I'm just not interested in or I don't see the point of doing. A lot of times in Hollywood, they hire a certain director, but then put them with material that doesn't really showcase what is great about the director. I'm not opposed to it--I just haven't found the right project, I guess.
MR: I imagine you're one of those people that studios would have gone to over and over again because of the success of your films and also because of your visual style.
RZ: I've had a lot of meetings and a lot of dealings with people on different things, but maybe because all of my movies are written by me, they just assume that's the way it is.
MR: You also have the "Hell On Earth" tour, that's going to be hitting North America with Slayer, right?
RZ: Correct, yeah.
MR: Might you record that tour for a future live album?
RZ: Probably not. We put out a live record not that long ago, and I don't think we would do another one until we have at least another album's worth of new material. For some reason, over the years, I've never been that big on recording things. I should have been, but we never made a live DVD either.
MR: Now, you also directed that commercial for Woolite. How did that come about?
RZ: Just one of those things. I was in Australia, on tour, and the ad agency called my manager saying that they had this commercial they were pitching to Woolite and they were really interested to see if I would be the director for the commercial. It wasn't something that I had ever thought about or searched out, it was just something that came to me. I took a look at the material and thought it would be cool. I like the idea of doing different projects, like when I did the episode of CSI. You always want to get these different types of things under your belt for the experience, and I had never done a TV commercial, so I figured why not start now?
MR: What did you do with it?
RZ: Well, it was a very weird commercial to begin with. They wanted a commercial that seemed as if it was a horror movie trailer. Their plan was to play it in theaters also, so the beginning of the commercial sounds like a horror movie with this sort of mysterious guy in the woods and it seems like he's dragging a dead body around. You find out he's dragging laundry, and he's torturing clothes. Then, this whole thing comes in about, "Don't let detergents torture your clothes." At the end of the spot, there are these nice scenes of women shopping, doing yoga, and stuff. I actually had more fun doing the nice scenes because it was something really different and something I found interesting. The beginning part of the commercial is not that odd--it's very odd for Woolite, but it's not odd for me. I wanted people to see the back half of the commercial and think, "Oh my God. I wouldn't think that he could or would do that stuff."
MR: Let's discuss your friend's comedy special, Tom Papa in New York City. It seems like a lot of comedy specials are pretty generic or formulaic, so how did you add Rob Zombie-ness to it?
RZ: That was Tom's thing too. Tom said he wanted to make a comedy special that looks how he remembered Richard Prior on Sunset Strip looking or an old Steve Martin concert. You can only do so much--it is a concert, and it's about Tom's performance. We were watching stuff and went, "Well, the way they shoot comedy specials now, they're so bright and so clean. They overlight the audience, they overlight everything, there is no mystery." We wanted it to look like the old days--the audience was dark, you could see them a little bit, it was smoky because everybody was still smoking, and he's in a spotlight beam--a big concert, vintage feel. We kind of went backwards in our approach to it and it turned out great. It looked like this big concert and it feels very old school. Even within that, though, we had these wraparound bits we did of Tom walking to the stage, passing these other vaudevillian performers--we wanted to make it feel like we shot it in the '60s or something. It was sort of a Broadway Danny Rose approach to the beginning part.
MR: Who are some of your favorite directors out there?
RZ: There are so many genius directors...I go through phases. You kind of get caught up on people. I love Werner Herzog, who is one of my favorite directors because the things he's done are so insanely out there. I love Stanley Kubrick because I think that there is nobody who is more meticulous in creating films. I love John Huston, I love Akira Kurosawa, I love Russ Meyer. I don't know--Fellini, Spielberg, Scorsese. I love so many different directors.
MR: Do you have a favorite film?
RZ: My favorite film is A Clockwork Orange.
MR: Beautiful. Rob, I have a radio broadcast journalist student in the room with me and he slipped me a question--feel free to answer it or not--he asks, "What was your childhood like?"
RZ: Pretty wide open question. My childhood was not unlike my movies, in a certain sense. I usually draw on the way I remember things as a kid. I had a pretty crazy family. All my relatives were pretty nuts, and the line of work that everybody was in when I was a kid in the '70s--I don't know if anyone's ever seen that movie, Carny, with Gary Busey, but that was essentially my childhood. My family worked on these traveling carnivals for a living. My parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles...they were all the people that ran the concession stands, rides, the gambling tents, and everything. So, that was the childhood that I remember in the '70s. As I got older, we didn't do it anymore, but as a kid, that's where we were spending all of our time. As a kid, I loved that movie because that is just what it was like.
MR: Terrific movie. The freakish moments of it aren't scary, just uncomfortable, you know?
RZ: That's what I like about it. That's just a weird snapshot of that time period. So, that's how I remember growing up, going on the ferris wheel a million times, or the haunted house because your family is who runs everything. Then, when I was in fourth grade, I had to work there, and stuff. You know, it was crazy.
MR: Rob, what advice do you have for new artists?
RZ: That depends what field they are entering.
MR: Well, how about a field like what you're doing?
RZ: Well, my only advice to anybody is don't quit, and f**k everybody else. Every single person will tell you you're terrible, that what you want to do is a bad idea, that it will never work, and that it will never happen, so why even bother? That's because everyone's biggest fear is that you will become a success, and they will try everything within their power to try to dissuade you from doing it. I think, for the most part, all the people I know who are successful are the ones who just sort of blocked that out and did it anyway. I know a lot of people who are super talented, but just never did anything with their lives because for whatever reason they just didn't do it. You know these musicians or artists, and they work in a show store. You just go, "Well, what happened?" You just have to have a bizarre work ethic to push forward.
MR: One more question, what's different in how you see Rob Zombie now and the Rob Zombie of White Zombie?
RZ: I don't know if there is a major difference. The more experience you have with things, the more relaxed you get with them because you've done it. When you're going through things, everything seems like the end of the world when you're going through your first video, tour, or other thing. You tend to relax and trust your instincts more as you get older because you've done it many times. Say you're shooting a movie. Someone who is inexperienced might be like, "Oh my God. I need to do another take, and another take, and another take," because they're so unsure of themselves. But once you've done it a few times, you get that feeling in your gut and you know. So, you go, "We got it. We're moving on." It's just sort of the basic feeling of that, you know?
MR: Beautiful. Rob, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
RZ: No problem.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Danny Elfman
Mike Ragogna: Danny, let's get into your new 16 disc box set, Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box. What does it include?
Danny Elfman: There are 13 CD of scores and three CDs of extra materials.
MR: The original movie scores are spread across 13 CDs?
DE: Each of these 13 scores have between one and 30 extra minutes than the original soundtracks would have had. There was so much extra stuff that it filled up three more CDs.
MR: I imagine you have some amazing outtakes, etc.
DE: Oh, yes, and really embarrassing stuff like funky sounding demos that I made of pieces going all the way back to Beetlejuice with really cheesy sounds and me making mistakes and even stuff with me experimenting with some noodling. It's all on there.
MR: Whose idea was it to put such a comprehensive project together?
DE: My agent, Richard Craft, this is his brain child. I wrote an opening letter explaining that this was not a project from an agent to the person he represents, this is a project put together by an extreme film music geek, which is why I started working with him in the first place. When I met him, he was this weird guy with the biggest film and music collection that I had ever seen. About two months into searching in the back rooms for old demos, cassettes, tapes, listening to hundreds of hours, I called him and I said, "I feel so sorry for you on this project." He said, "What do you mean? I am in heaven." So, this was the kind of thing he was born for--extreme minutia, hundreds of hours of searching for weird, unheard stuff. He really loved it. This is really his thing in conjunction with the people at Warner Brothers who got excited about it along with him.
MR: These scores and albums were remastered?
DE: Oh, yes.
MR: Did all the masters come from what Warners had in the vaults?
DE: Oh, no, very few masters came from vaults. They had to find and assemble everything from all over, the tapes going back to original mag tapes, master film mixes...it wasn't as simple as getting a master from a vault. Stuff was scattered all over the place and a lot of the old stuff wasn't easy to find. You have to realize that film music isn't dealt with with the same care as an actual print of a film. It's just reels and reels of old tapes piled away in old mine shafts and stuff. It was a huge undertaking finding the old stuff.
MR: Basically, this is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure through Alice in Wonderland?
MR: I would imagine the hunt for masters must have been pretty challenging, but these were previously released already as soundtracks right?
DE: Yes, every one of them has come out in some version of a soundtrack, yes.
MR: But on these versions, you didn't just mimic the LP release, but you also expanded the discs songs.
DE: It was the full take and all of these pieces of the score that weren't on the CD. You have to realize that in the old days, we were limited to 45 minutes because it had to fit on an album, and often, with union rules, we were limited to increments of time. We could only afford a record that was 45 minutes or 55 or 60 minutes, but it might be an 80 minute score. And sometimes, I just edited these CDs to make them more listenable. I would reject a lot of stuff. There are a couple of scores like Big Fish which had a bunch of songs on it, which limited the length of the CD. It was really only barely half or two thirds of the score was on the CD from the original soundtrack and the rest was never released. Some of the scores, there was not as much; others, there was tons. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure had never been on a single CD that way because we never really released that score. It was part of a double Back To School / Pee-Wee's Big Adventure redo done in London. I tried to reassemble that entire score. The Nightmare Before Christmas, I went back to the stuff that didn't make the album and played the entire thing with songs and score in real order exactly like it is in the movie. There is all the weird little source music--Beetlejuice, Waiting Room--kind of source music that was playing. Then, of course, my hideous demos.
MR: Danny, those "hideous" demos are beautiful. By the way, I've been a fan since the Oingo Boingo days, and I think most people associate Oingo Boingo, generally, with "Weird Science," right?
DE: I don't know. It seems like when I meet Boingo fans, "Dead Man's Party" was the most known tune that I read from people. More people have probably heard "Weird Science," but in terms of Boingo fans, I think they would say "Dead Man's Party."
MR: How did you first get together with Tim Burton?
DE: It was on Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and out of the blue. I was in Oingo Boingo and Tim used to see the band in LA. Pee Wee--whose name is Paul Reubens--he was very much aware of this cult film that my brother had done called Forbidden Zone. The theatrical musical troop called The Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo that I had previously been a part of did the music for Forbidden Zone. Paul knew me through Forbidden Zone. Tim knew me through the band Oingo Boingo. Why he thought I could score his film, I have no idea. He has never really given me a solid answer. Obviously, it was a huge gamble, and I almost turned down the project. I met him, I really liked him, and I came home and wrote a demo. I recorded it on an 8-track tape player, all the parts, and put it on a cassette and sent it to him never expecting to hear back. When I got the call two weeks later telling me I got the job, my first reaction was to tell him I can't do it. I'm just going to f**k up his film, I just don't have the heart to do that, he's a nice guy. But I thought hard about it and decided, well, if he is willing to take the chance, then what the hell.
MR: And the rest is film history.
DE: It was my first time in front of an orchestra ever in my life. It was my first time writing for film. I had done the Forbidden Zone but it was with an eight-piece group of musicians, so it was a whole different animal.
MR: Did you also play Satan in that?
DE: Yes, I did.
MR: So, you also have a theatrical background.
DE: I really owe the Mystic Knights to Rick, my brother. It's all been a series of accidents. Everything in my career has been a series of accidents. I never considered getting into music and never even considered it an option. It is a long story, which I describe in length in this incredibly long book that they put out. The short story is that my brother was in Paris playing with this theatrical musical group called The Grand Magic Circus. I had just picked up a violin four months earlier and was about to travel around the world for a year and was going to take it with me. I was practicing up in his apartment in Paris en route to North Africa and Asia. The director heard me practicing and I walked out of the room and he said, "Hey, you want to tour with us? That's how it started. I went on the road being the fiddle player barely having any knowledge of my instrument and that was my first performing. One thing led to another, but it was just a string of crazy accidents.
MR: Your musical influences are Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman...
DE: ...I was a massive film fan for sure as a kid, and then as a teenager, I became more of a serious movie buff. I spent all my free time in movie theaters. The idea of film music wasn't foreign to me as I was a fan. But it was more like being a fan getting pulled into a game, almost like somebody sitting courtside at a basketball game who is a fan, follows the players, knows the plays, the game, but he is a fan, not a player. Then, to suddenly get pulled onto the court, and they say, "Here, you're on." That's what it felt like for me. I knew the music of Bernard Herrmann and Nino Rota. I was a huge fan of those two. My interest in film music really comes from Bernard Herrmann, which started at the age of 12. By the time I was in my early 20s, I could pretty much identify a score from Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, and Dimitri Tiomkin--the greats. I was pretty good at knowing the different styles I was listening to, but as a fan, I never studied music.
MR: So, this is all self-taught.
DE: All self-taught, yes.
MR: When you arrange, do you write on staff paper? Computer?
DE: I wrote on staff paper for the first ten years because there was no choice. I do have piles of staff paper in my own pencil. I went through thousands of pencils and erasers. Then, it got to the point where I really did work 18 hours a day. I was writing the scores, demoing the entire score for the director and writing it all down on paper. It was killing me. When mini notation came out, meaning I could take the parts that I'd already performed, and print them out with my computer, I began doing that and it knocked my 18 hour days down to lean, short 10 or 12 hour days. For me, that was heaven and life changing. I'm glad now that I had to write out my first 25 scores because I did learn something from that, and there is a discipline from that that is really important, but I don't miss doing it.
MR: And there are so many other scores you've composed such as Midnight Run, the original Batman, Dick Tracy, Army of Darkness...
DE: I did four films between every one of Tim's, and that's while writing and touring with the band. Pee-Wee was number one, Beetlejuice was number 5, Batman was 10, and then I got a little off. Edwards Scissorhands wasn't quite 15, it was now 14 or 16. But in the beginning, it seemed that every fifth film was Tim's and he once made a joke, "You're doing four films between each of mine," and I said, "Tim, I wouldn't be able to do your scores and learn how to do this as a craft if I wasn't squeezing in four scores between each of your movies."
MR: What is your relationship with Tim Burton personally?
DE: It's hard to say exactly. He is like a brother, and a kindred soul. We don't go on vacations together or hang out a lot. He is like part of my psyche. His first film was my first film. Our careers are almost synonymous. The year he had his MOMA show in New York, I was playing in Lincoln Center with the Twyla Tharp Ballet. It seems like my growth and career I owe to his growth and career, I can't really even separate what I have done over the past 25 years from Tim and what he has done.
MR: Would you say he is the director you have worked with the most?
DE: Yes, 13 times, and the next most would be four times with Gus Van Sant.
MR: You also have music from the MOMA score on your 1985 through 2010 oddities discs.
DE: I was in the middle of some other score, and he called me and said, "Can you do this really quick?" I spent a couple of days doing all these tunes, and finally, I had to stop as he only needed two pieces of music and I think I wrote about 20. But I was loving it so much, I would have kept going, but I had to get back to work. It was kind of like being on hiatus from boot camp.
MR: Are there scores that you listen to and you say to yourself, "Wow, this was really pretty cool."
DE: It's interesting because I never listen to anything I've done, I never go backwards ever, and with this project, I had to go back in and edit all 13 scores. It was an interesting thing because the only one that was fresh in my mind was Alice in Wonderland, and going back from there it was, "Oh my God." Listening to the entire score for Pee-Wee... was a really strange experience for me. It's not that I don't want to pick, but it's hard because parts of certain scores have a lot of meaning. Overall, if I had to look for an overall score, Edward Scissorhands was quite unique in my life in terms of how I felt about it, feeling very cut loose from all restraints, and yet still, somehow, feeling like I was doing a poor job at the time and have it be the most imitative score of my career. That one stands out the most for sure. But just having been at a Halloween performance of a The Nightmare Before Christmas in LA with my five-year-old, I could say that is one of my favorites. It's really hard.
MR: As prolific as you are, it's sad, in a way, that you can't just chill and enjoy what you've accomplished.
DE: It's not because I can't, it's because I don't. It makes me think, "Why haven't I ever cataloged or archived anything I have ever done?" The reason why it was such a difficult project is that I have never kept anything. Once I am done with it it's like it never existed. I have been almost a little psychotic about it. Now, it has forced me to really change my whole way of thinking, and I am beginning to go back and look for original film masters on all these early scores and create more of an archive. I was aware of how much I would love to have the original multi-tracks to Batman and Beetlejuice, but they are gone now, history, and I am paying a little bit more attention to it now.
MR: Are there any composers out there whose work you admire?
DE: Oh, yeah, there are a lot. Right now, his talent makes me miserable because he is even more prolific than me but I can't dislike him because A, he is a great guy and B, he is a great composer, and that is Alexandre Desplat. I think he is the motherf**ker on the street that has to be reckoned with for other composers right now in my mind. Not the most successful, but that doesn't define who the best is.
MR: Any artists on the pop scene that you would like to have sing on one of your scores?
DE: No. I have never collaborated. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to collaborate with an artist like that, but having never experienced it, it's hard to go, "Oh, that's the one I would want to collaborate with," because I wouldn't know what to do with them. I have no idea how I would take another artist's work and incorporate that into a score. I hope that it does happen to me because I would like the experience, but I can't say, "That's the person I would like to collaborate with," because it all depends on what the film is.
MR: What is your advice for new artists, composers or musicians coming onto the scene right now?
DE: I do give talks to composing classes every year. I will be giving a talk to a class in Chicago in a few weeks. I never really know what to tell them and I don't mind answering questions. The best advice isn't necessarily the best advice because I tell them what worked for me may very well not work for you. The thing that worked best for me when I started composing was not giving a s**t what anybody thought, I didn't care whether I had a career or not. I composed for ten years, and I was in a band and had a day job that allowed me to never think about will that score get me more work, how will it be perceived by others, will studios or producers like it. I really didn't care. I only cared if the directors were into it, and if the director was into it, I never thought about whether or not it would advance my career. So, I never did anything to try and advance my career, only my skills. That's what worked for me, but it may be the worst piece of advice ever for an up-and-coming composer. I can say this is what I did but I will always say you can't necessarily try this at home kids. That also could have let me end up with no film music career and, at that point, that was fine.
MR: What is your creative process?
DE: They send me something to look at and for weeks and weeks, bang around fretfully on a piano and other sounds. On other things as well, like strings for example but mostly piano, I might get a feel that this is a brassy or a string score, and I have a lot of sounds at my disposal now. But it's still experimenting and trying, it's always the same thing in the end. You are always trying and I use this metaphor a million times--it's the same with writers. I was with Aaron Sorkin just last week and we were both saying this exact metaphor. Lowering a bucket into the well, you just don't know when you are going to hear a splash. You go through moments when you think you won't hear a splash. Every time, I go through the same thing, I never know if I am going to find it or not. It's the really exciting and terrible thing about this job no matter how many times you do it. I still feel like I am starting from scratch each time, and I still go through a moment when I could completely fail on this project. Nothing's telling me I am going to succeed.
MR: Is there a score where you thought, "Wow, I wish I had nailed that a little better?
DE: Yeah, about 70 of them because I have done about 70 of them.
MR: You know, people know your works to push boundaries and therefore, they're pretty important to the art form. In your opinion, are there any of your works that maybe several generations down the road might look upon as phenomenal or seminal?
DE: I have no idea...people tell me I am supposed to be complimented by that, but it's always kind of weird.
MR: How do you react when you hear that?
DE: Well it's like I say, "It's ugh." I don't know what to make of this, it's definitely what I was doing in this score two, five or one year ago. It's different. Now, I can't do that thing myself again. It's always odd when something that you did earlier comes back later and another composer co-ops that and makes it their sound. Well, good for them, I can't do that anymore. It's part of the game. You can't fret about it.
MR: Is it sort of comparable to pop music or maybe the tradition of singer-songwriters, where one might say they were influenced by Joni Mitchell or Paul Simon?
DE: It could very well be, and there are certain instrumentalists over the years whose style became part of the cultural pop language and then you always wonder how they feel doing their own thing now that half a dozen guitarists are bringing that into their own sound and making it theirs.
MR: That is a similar thing, and, of course, you have your distinct signature sound. But then you hear your signature sound in other works. It must be alarming in the beginning.
DE: Well, it's alarming, but I think at a certain point, you have to take it as a compliment and move on.
MR: If it were inspiration as opposed to a blatant rip off, then, in a way, you've achieved yet another mission that maybe you didn't even know you were on.
DE: Maybe, and then, occasionally, you hear the blatant rip-off and it makes you angry and you move away from it, and, occasionally, there are lawsuits. Once a year or two at the most, there is another lawsuit--that's the irritating part because often, it's not even the composer, it's the director or producer beating it out of a composer. I blame more where film scores are heading than any particular individual. There are a lot of producers who "temp" a movie with a certain sound track and they want that sound. So, a composer, if they are trying to keep their lives together and earn a living, stay working, and very often, they just do it. Oddly, I don't hold it against them. I know what it's like being under that kind of pressure. So, I find myself kind of weirdly sympathetic to those things when I am being ripped-off. But I do want to send the producers and the directors a message, I don't appreciate that.
MR: It's unfortunate, and like you say, the poor composer is stuck in the middle in some cases.
DE: It's hard. No matter what any composer is going through, even if it puts them at a crossroads with me, I still feel for them. It's a brutally hard art. You have to balance so many things, you have to be a psychologist and a diplomat, still trying to be an artist at the same time. All the while, you are under incredible pressure from people who are holding all the strings to providing what they want. It's difficult to say no. So, I have had a certain luxury early on to be able to say no--fire me, I don't care. But I understand not everyone can do that, and I understand why. It's weird. It's kind of warfare, it's art, it's beautiful, and it's bloody all at the same time. It gives me a huge sense of empathy even with people I find myself crossing swords with in weird ways towards the whole process that we all go through, and there is nobody I hate out there. There is not another composer that I hate their guts.
MR: Although the lesson to be learned is don't screw around with Danny Elfman's music.
DE: That is true for any of us. (laughs)
MR: Is it tempting to go on tour with this Elfman-Burton box? Maybe conduct some of the score at the Hollywood Bowl?
DE: No, no. I have avoided concert music of my scores for years, and I know that it's something I have to address. It's a huge amount of work to create a concert version of a score...you really have to put a lot of effort into it. You don't just play a cue right out of the book, and, I learned early on, when I heard an orchestra playing Batman, how easy it is to play it all wrong. The rerecording of Beetlejuice in London where it's like, "Oh my God, it's the same notes but it's all wrong." It kind of made me gun shy all the way back from Beetlejuice and Batman. At some point, maybe I will take some time and get into it. I know there are a lot of composers who love doing that. I have never been that big on it and, again, it would be going backwards and putting effort into an older score, and I have an incredibly hard time doing that although I know, at some point, I will have too.
MR: Even for the different kind of experience that might throw you.
DE: I know what kind of experience it would be to take something and disassemble and reassemble something in a way that will work for a concert orchestra or on stage. You have to do things differently. John Williams is the best at doing this, of course, and he loves doing it. He gets great pleasure from it. For me, I would rather not think about it and think about it next year. Maybe at some point, but I haven't been able to fit it in this year.
MR: What is the major difference in Danny Elfman from the kid who grew up in Baldwin Hills to now?
DE: Well, I don't know. I don't like to use the clichéd "the child is still alive inside of me" because that just sounds so stupid. Anyone of us who became artists from those little kids, that little kid is still alive in them. I still love horror movies, and I got to relive them with my daughters who are grown, and now I am reliving them with my five-year-old...the same movies I grew up on. I have been watching Jason & The Argonauts and The Voyage of Sinbad. Here, I am enjoying them again and he is really into them, that doesn't really go away, so I don't really know what the big difference is other than I got a lot more responsibility now. I can sum it up in one word--the difference between little Danny Elfman and current Danny Elfman? Deadlines.
MR: (laughs) Well done. Are the deadlines getting more crucial or does celebrity and success allow you a little more leeway with the directors these days.
DE: People don't believe this, but it doesn't mean anything when you work on a film. You may have a meeting to work on a film and the director will tell you, "Oh, I am a big fan." The day you start work with them, you are anybody, they can't control their desire to get something squeezed out of their head that's nonexistent and completely abstract and put it into a concrete form. And whatever form it takes, it takes, and they can't make themselves less picky or less concerned or less frightened of the entire process. It is what it is, even with Tim after 25 years. It's not easier. In fact, in interviews, it offends him when people say, "Oh, you guys must have some kind of shorthand, it must be really easy." Not at all. It's still a big difficult process and success and celebrity mean nothing in film composing. It's way, way, way unlike pop, rock or jazz. When you become a pop star, you produce a piece of work and people are dealing with, "Oh wow, a new album of so and so." You don't have to please anybody. As a film composer, you do not create your own work. You still have to get through the brain, psyche, psychology, the eyes of another human--a director. It's a challenging process, and at that moment, your celebrity means absolutely nothing, and your past means nothing. In fact, it haunts you. They say, "Come on, can't you give me something like Milk? Can't you give me something like Beetlejuice. I really want something like Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands." I can't do that. I already did it. Sometimes, your past can work against you.
MR: Are you and Tim happy with how this box set turned out?
DE: If there is one thing I have learned to never do, it's speak for Tim...I don't know what to make of it yet. I am insecure about it because I put a lot more of my personal s**t into it than I imagined I would when Richard came to me six months ago about it. So, I am still feeling like I will look back years from now and say why did I put those funky photographs or early manuscripts and early demos on the records in there. I hope it doesn't happen. He thinks it's good for me to open my process up for other people to peer into. But when you are about to do that and it's about to come out, I feel like I am about to go into surgery and I'm feeling okay. The anesthesiologist is smiling and saying, "Hey, it's going to be fine Danny." But I still don't know if I am going to have 150 stitches and half my organs missing. I don't know what to think right now other than it's a lot different than six months ago. Now that there is 240 pages of interviews and all this extra stuff that is personal that I thought no one would ever hear, I am feeling a little bit lopsided and queasy.
MR: I bet there are many people who have enjoyed your works over the years who will say, "Thank God they put that out," and it will be their favorite thing in the world.
DE: There is an argument that put me over the top. Richard put it to me like this" "Isn't there an artist out there that, if they had a compilation of 16 cds and a book, you would want every detail on it?" No. Then I thought what if I imagined a state of Bernard Herrmann working with Alfred Hitchcock but they worked together for another five, six or seven films over another decade, and they had scored 13 films together, instead of five or six. But if that had happened, I would kill for every scrap of every detail of how they worked together, what Herrmann did on the side and if there was a recording of him singing into a tape recorder and playing piano. If that were the case, that's what I would want. I don't consider myself on the level of quality of Herrmann or the stature of Herrmann or the genius of Herrmann. I have always had a problem with this and why I never kept stuff, I just don't see my stuff as having this value or worth, but I tried to use this argument on myself. If that existed, it's what I would want, and I would want every little thing. I had a hard time with that in the beginning--what are all these extra things, out takes, interviews, this is too much. Who would ever be interested in this? Richard convinced me that there would be people out there who are, so let's make this project for them, not for you who never collects that kind of stuff. So, that's what I did.
MR: Danny we have covered so much today, I really appreciate your time.
DE: My pleasure, I enjoyed talking with you.
Transcribed by Erika Richards
A Conversation with Devo's Gerald Casale
Mike Ragogna: Gerald, how are you?
Gerald Casale: I'm great, thanks for having me.
MR: My pleasure. Can we discuss your new video "What We Do," which was filmed in a 360 degree style?
GC: Well, in the past, we were always known for being first adapters and technological junkies, but that kind of leveled off because technology caught up with Devo and became so expensive that only bands like U2 got the opportunities to utilize those resources. But this time around, we came back with our usual style, and it was exciting for me as a director to be able to use this technology. It's nine cameras mounted in a circle pointed outward, they shoot in sync, and a computer stitches the images together creating a 360 degree uninterrupted band of visual information, and that's only the beginning. You, the user, can then use your cursor or mouse to navigate the video in real time. You are the editor, there are no predetermined edits. We let you go where you want--you can go left and right and zoom in and out. Knowing that that was how the video was being shot, what I did was stage 10 events in a circle--almost like hours on a clock--of people doing things that we all do, and they're all doing it to the beat for the full length of the song. So, if you want to see the girl in her bra and panties in the nine o'clock position, you won't see the guy taking off his boxer shorts in the other position. You have to navigate the space over and over because whatever you choose to look at causes you to miss something else since it's all happening in real time during the song.
MR: So, it's like a scavenger hunt for plots and people can just navigate their way through it?
GC: Yeah. There's a really great male model and a female model on opposite sides of the room taking off and putting on things as fast as they can and their private parts are masked by flat screen videos that are showing computer graphics that we use live on stage behind us. Then there's the boogie boy with two girls in maids outfits painting his nipples. There are two macho arm wrestlers competing against each other with a referee. Also, an overweight girl eating Jell-O as fast as she can...all kinds of things.
MR: What was it like assembling all the video footage?
GC: The truth is nothing was edited together. We had to have all of those people doing that in real time and all of them had to do it right for three minutes. If anybody screwed up, the take was no good. We did about 12 takes. The whole day was just these actors doing what they do over and over, just like the song talks about, and we finally got a take where no one made mistakes and that's the one we used. It wasn't easy.
MR: Was it the band that scripted this, or was it you?
GC: It was me, and I worked with a great art director whose graphics were all over that set. Behind everyone, there are these huge graphics made by a guy named Kii Arens, he even helped with the casting. Then, Jason Trucco, who owns the nine camera system who is a technical genius sort of acted as our director of photography. I worked with those two and staged all of this with the actors over and over, then we just kinda went for it.
MR: Though 360 has been used, is this the first time this kind of video has been done?
GC: I think so. I am pretty sure someone had used the 360 degree camera system, but until now, I don't think anyone used them in a way that fully exploited the possibilities of it. So, really, the fact that they used it at all is sort of arbitrary. I thought that staging it in the round and making the entire thing real time was a way to bring out the potential of this system because nothing else would do that, and then you get to decide what to look at rather than having an edit to watch.
MR: Let's talk about some of your other videos for those who may not know about some of your other directing endeavors. You've directed for The Cars, Rush, A Perfect Circle, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, and Silverchair. Do you feel that each of these artists brought something new to the table?
GC: Oh, yeah. You know, it's really an interesting problem to be a director for someone else's songs after you've done your own songs because you're not the primary creator anymore. You're trying to solve a problem, you're attempting to help a band do what you've already done many times for yourself. So, you have to mess with their mentality, their group of people, their manager, their lead singer and his girlfriend, whatever, and find what it is that's great about them and bring it out. Each time, it's a brand new world that you're stepping into, and I have to say that the most fun people to work for were Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle because they are very much into their videos, they're very visually oriented, and they're trusting. They let the director go with it. That's always a good thing. When people approach the process with a lot of trepidation and paranoia, you're going down the rabbit hole.
MR: Are you the brains behind all of the visual aspects of Devo?
GC: Yeah, I directed the videos and staged the shows and conceptualized the costumes and everything. Then, I collaborated with Mark on all of the graphics, posters, and record and CD covers.
MR: That's great, and it's amazing to me to see that after all these years, you guys have no only retained your musical style, but you've also retained your sense of humor and your prowess as performers and visionaries.
GC: Well, we still have the energy. Sometime when people make an album after years of being off the grid, you wish they hadn't because it sounds really boring and you always know when you're listening to the new material because they sound half asleep, and I don't think we had any less energy on this album than we did on Freedom Of Choice. Unfortunately, this record didn't get a lot of airplay, which is a typical problem for so many bands today because the radio can be so narrow. But when we play live, the crowds can't really tell which songs are the new ones. We mix up our set and they think the new songs are just songs from our legacy era. It's great. I wouldn't have wanted to put out a record now that didn't have the Devo spirit.
MR: Can you tell us about the 5-track, digital EP of "What We Do" called The Electro-Devo Remix Cornucopia?
GC: It's great. A DJ by the name of The Static Revenger did a great dump mix of "What We Do." Then, we held a contest through Beatport and we chose a couple of people's remixes of our stuff out of about 100 entries, and the remixes are all on there. Carlos Chaivez of the Mexican band Kinky and who is also a remix artist did a mix that's on there. So, there are four different versions plus the single version on there, and soon, we will be releasing a version in Spanish with the help of Carlos who taught us the song in Spanish.
MR: Jerry, this may be a bit out of left field, and if you're a Devo fan you already know this, but you were attending Kent State University at the same time as the shootings and were personally involved on the scene, is that right?
GC: I was in the middle of it. On May 4, 1970, students that were anti-war or just activists in general gathered on the commons at noon, which was a common thing to do. That was the place that everyone gathered if there was a protest. This time, we were gathering because Nixon extended the Vietnam Camp into Cambodia by bombing Cambodia over the previous weekend and May 4th was a Monday, the day that everyone came back to school. Of course, we felt that that was an affront to the Constitution. He hadn't done that with an Act of Congress, he did it unilaterally. Back then, the students knew the law, they knew how America was formed, they knew the Constitution, they knew the Bill of Rights and the branches of government, and how it was supposed to work. So, they were pissed off.
We all gathered and started a peaceful protest, and there were speakers and everything. Suddenly, the National Guard showed up because the governor had gotten wind of the protest, so he sent the National Guard to campus. Then, they surrounded us and started shooting tear gas at us, and, of course, we ran and people chanted back at them and gave them the finger. Suddenly, we looked back and they had stopped chasing us and the first row of officers knelt while the second row stood and they aimed their rifles at us. We thought it was a game, we thought they were trying to scare us, and then they shot. They shot 30 rounds straight into the crowd like a duck shoot. Random. They killed four students and wounded nine others. Two of the students who were murdered were friends of mine--Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause. That day completely changed me. I was more in sync with the popular culture. I was a peacenik and a "live and let live" kind of guy, and that day made me snap. Seeing true violence and people getting shot and also seeing the aftermath and how the right-wing media spun the event to make it seem like the students instigated the entire thing changed me.
Seventy percent of the nation thought that the students deserved to be shot and stood by the National Guard's actions because all of the information they received was controlled. It made me realize that whoever is telling the story and how they tell it determines the way that it's perceived in history. And today, it's how they spin historical events. That's why we have these 24-hour news cycles on cable stations full of so much disinformation designed to manipulate a gullible public with sound bites and twisted facts, so much so, that smart comics like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and on down the line have begun noting it and making fun of it. It's shameless. (laughs) Some networks don't even attempt to maintain any objectivity in their reporting. It reminds me of a new kind of high tech version of McCarthyism in the '50s.
MR: Seeing how the skewed reporting by the media affects the nation, how do you think we survived the Bush Administration?
GC: Well, you know, I don't think we really survived all that well. America is now a sort of invalid. I really think he did a job on us. After he was done, America resembled a pug fighter who had been beat up for 12 rounds. (laughs) We're reeling from the effects of a diminished presidency and a public who was as gullible as before just doesn't know what to believe at all. When you get people so traumatized that they don't even know when to believe things and if they are true, you have a public that is really easy to manipulate. The one half of one half of one percent that own 96% of our wealth just really have to go for it--you know, feed at the trough. There were no raids and protests in the streets because we no longer have a nation that remembers where our moral compass used to point. In other words, to be pissed off about the way things are, you have to first have an idea about how things should be. You have to have a sense that there is justice. But if you eliminate that, there's no compass left, and I think that's where we are. People are just so beaten down that they're passive. That's where I think we are. And de-evolution is real, don't you think? If someone showed you in 1980 a picture of 2011 you wouldn't have believed it. You would have thought it was a really bad cheap sci-Fi movie of a dystopia and that we couldn't possibly be this dumb. (laughs)
MR: One last question. Do you have any advice for new artists?
GC: Uh, yeah. Wear some "No Rear Entry" shorts because you gotta get ready for the way the corporate world works. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) So true. So, where can folks watch your 360 degree, interactive video for "What We Do."?
GC: They can find the video at mashable.com because iTunes and Youtube don't show the interactive version.
MR: Thank you, once again for your time and congrats on the new video approach.
GC: Thanks Mike.
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with The Bewitched Hands' Sebastien Adam
Mike Ragogna: How did you enjoy playing at SXSW this year compared with last year?
Sebastien Adam: We really enjoyed playing there this year and last year. Last year was a really big experience because it was the first time we were playing in the United States. Despite our apprehensions, we discovered American people can be receptive to our music in a quite simple and natural way, and we were really amazed by this festival. We loved going from one stage to another to see bands we never hoped to see in the same place. This year, we didn't have this feeling of discovery towards this festival, but we still loved to go and play there. We didn't always play before (large) crowds of people, I remember one day they were about ten. But it worked each time.
MR: You also played CMJ, what was that like?
SA: It was a bit different, as we only saw the festival in the night we played, and it was a french evening, so we only played with french people, it was more "familiar" to us...
MR: What is the French music scene like? Who are currently some of the more popular acts?
SA: In France, the 2000s marked the beginning of something new as bands like Daft Punk or Air began to emerge and export their music out of the United States. Today, bands like Phoenix or musicians like Sebastien Tellier follow this path. Few french bands really did that before, but I think today, French bands are less about rock and pop music and more about the heavy influence of English and American musical culture.
MR: Your new album Birds And Drums is popular in France and you've been trying to establish yourself in the U.S. How popular was your debut album in France?
SA: The album had been very well-received in France, we had a lot of good returns from french press, and we had the time, before the album was released, to play a lot, to constitute a public, and to win a growing popularity.
MR: How did The Bewitched Hands form?
SA: We were friends living in Reims, we knew each other for a long time, we had different musical projects, and one day we decided to gather ourselves to play and sing altogether and to have fun. The band really started as a recreative side-project for all of us. Things changed very fast after that, we all stopped our other projects to concentrate on this one.
MR: How did you hook up with your Yuksek?
SA: Pierre Yuksek is a friend of ours. He lives in Reims, it's a small town, so musicians know them. The collaboration between us began when he asked us to make a cover of his song "Tonight" for his album, which was a big step forward for the band's evolution.
MR: How did you approach recording Birds And Drums?
SA: It was recorded by ourselves in our studio. It was a real choice we made, as we're used to working this way, to follow our own rhythm, to be independent on that point.
MR: It seems you were inspired by American and British bands. Is that true, and if so, which ones were have been.
SA: We have a quite large field of musical influences, as we all listened to a lot of music over the years. If we had to sum up the musical movements which contributed to define the band's state of mind, we could talk about American indie rock from the '90s--Pavement, Pixies--and psychedelic/progressive rock from '60s and '70s. And in actual bands, we love Ariel Pink, Jim Jones Revue, Harlem, The Drums, Smith Westerns...
MR: What was the creative process like for Birds and Drums?
SA: Some songs have been played a lot of times onstage before being recorded, like "Happy With You," and some songs have really been created and arranged in the studio, like "Saharan Dream," so we can say that the album is the result of different approaches, it's a kind of summing up of the first three years of the band.
MR: Tell us about your new video for "Work"?
SA: It was realized by Seb Caudron. Contrary to the "Sea" video, the idea was to show the band as we are, to see us playing altogether. We went to Los Angeles, the video was made on the rooftop of the Rosalyn Hotel. We did it in a single day from the afternoon until the night as you can see on the video. It was fun.
MR: Will you be touring the U.S. extensively to support Birds And Drums?
SA: Yes, it's in prevision...
MR: What advice would you have for new artists?
SA: Don't follow advice!
1. Happy With You
2. Birds And Drums
4. So Cool
7. Hard to Cry
8. Out of Myself
9. Kings Crown
10. 2 4 GET
11. Staying Around
13. Sahara Dream