He’s written the music for five Bond films, the BBC’s Sherlock, the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony, Independence Day and Casino Royale. David Arnold talks us through his six favourite pieces, and shares stories about Benedict Cumberbatch, Will Smith and the Muppets.

PLAY DEAD (WITH BJÖRK) FROM THE YOUNG AMERICANS (1993)

‘Young Americans was my first film. The director, Danny Cannon, wanted an end title song, so I put together a rough track in my bedroom. I wanted to work with bass player Jah Wobble, because of the stuff he’d been doing with Sinéad O’Connor, so he came round and we started playing around with bass lines. Danny and I talked about who we’d like to sing it: the great voices of the time like Kate Bush, Liz Fraser from the Cocteaus, and Björk. She actually lived around the corner from me in London, so we put a cassette through her letterbox, with the rough track on it. The next day she came round.’

‘There’s a certain energy about Play Dead: that was a pretty low-budget film, and we only had three minutes left at the end of the session with the orchestra, so they didn’t have time to prepare it, learn it, rehearse it – this was the first time they’d seen it, and they knew it had to be right. The record became such a big thing, and opened a lot of doors. Björk is such a raw and natural talent, so instinctive and brilliant that I once recorded her vocal warm-ups in the studio as I thought you could make an amazing record out of just those.’

OPENING TITLE FROM STARGATE (1994)

‘One of the producers of Young Americans was setting up a new Hollywood production arm. They were interested in Danny and that led to me meeting with them. Roland Emmerich was directing Stargate and they asked me to write the music. At the time, I didn’t have an agent or a manager. I never really felt I knew what I was doing as far as the business side went: I’d worked on lots of student films and then Young Americans. For Stargate, I went to America, just taking the equipment I had in my bedroom and putting it in another room, this time in a hotel in West Hollywood. It was six months of watching cut after cut, and adapting the score as I went. I remember playing the studio the main themes on the piano. The music was very in-your-face. Stargate was a big hit, which nobody really expected. It spawned a TV show that went on for 10 seasons, and the music found a life of its own – you still hear it in trailers sometimes.’

END TITLE FROM INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)

‘After I finished Stargate, Roland Emmerich asked me to work with him again. One of the great things is that his ideas always begin with ‘What if…?’ and for Independence Day, it was ‘What if you woke up one morning and a 25-mile-wide spaceship was hovering above your city?’ He had a childlike fascination with that idea, and he knows how to make things look good when they break.’

‘With the teaser trailers showing the White House blowing up, the interest in that film built to a fever pitch. I was working on it in Santa Monica, and outside there were buses going past advertising the film, and helicopters dragging banners, and I hadn’t even written half the music! That movie is just a great big heap of fun: a rollicking Hollywood space saga. It’s funny and exciting and everyone salutes in it – there’s a huge amount of saluting. I wrote big themes: this massive, old-fashioned kind of score.’

‘During breaks in shooting, I used to go to Will Smith’s trailer and watch boxing and mixed martial arts matches with him. My dad was a boxer and I think Will was very interested in the sport. When he wasn’t doing that, he played a lot of chess. The energy and charisma that came from him was quite something: you definitely knew when he was around and it was no surprise when he went on to be such a huge film star. He was always a lovely man though, which is my principle requirement from anyone: be nice!’

SURRENDER, WITH K. D. LANG (FROM TOMORROW NEVER DIES, 1997)

‘This was another first – the first James Bond song I’d written – well, the first for an actual Bond movie, rather than just in my head. I’d actually made a record of Bond covers, and they were using that while they were cutting it, so they knew I was someone who had a huge interest in Bond. When they asked me, I was ecstatic but also trepidatious. I started it with David McAlmont – who had just done the amazing record Yes with Bernard Butler from Suede – and finished it with lyricist Don Black, who had also written Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever, so it was a tremendous combination.’

‘k.d. lang was amazing, she’s such a fantastic singer. She did ask: “What does ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ mean?” I said: “It doesn’t really mean anything, you just have to sing it as if you mean it.” I told her it could have been worse, it could have been Octopussy.’

OPENING TITLE FROM THE STEPFORD WIVES (2004)

‘I ended up writing the theme two days before we were supposed to record it. I’d written a score and I thought it was working pretty well, but it wasn’t the easiest of shoots, and I don’t think anybody was really paying attention to the music. At the last minute, Scott Rudin, the producer, sent me a fax with a big red line through everything, and ‘no’ written next to most of it. I remember being parked in my car, looking out to sea, thinking ‘I’ve done this score once, I don’t know if I can do it again.’ As I was driving back, this tune just popped into my head. I sang it into the tape machine I had, then when I got home, I went straight to the piano – and that was it, the main theme and the key to a new score. Usually it takes 4-6 weeks to write and record a score. We did this in just a few days. No-one slept. It was the right call though, it meant that the work was better. Scott will make those tough calls if he knows the results will benefit the movie.’

‘Frank Oz directed and after the shoot I asked him if he’d do an answer machine message for me. He said he would, and ended up doing every Muppet he ever voiced. I walked into the office one day and he was screaming into my iPod, which I was using to record him at the top of his lungs, “LEAVE MESSAGE! LEAVE MESSAGE!” in Animal’s voice. He wouldn’t stop until he’d done it correctly.’

TRIUMPH FROM AMAZING GRACE (2006)

‘This is the project I met Benedict [Cumberbatch] on, prior to Sherlock. He was playing Pitt the Younger, with Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce. Michael Apted directed, who’d also done The World Is Not Enough. It was a lovely movie to do. I get asked to do fantastical films – not that they can’t be worthy, but it’s nice to make a film about something meaningful that had real-life consequences. The story here was more emotionally resonant, so the music needed to be incredibly honest and completely sincere. It seems once you’ve done Bond, more often than not it’s the big action stuff you get asked to do, though I’ve done some comedies too: Hot Fuzz, Zoolander, Paul, as well as Little Britain and Come Fly with Me on TV. On Amazing Grace, it was great to be on set, to absorb the atmosphere. If you’re brought in at the last minute, you get to look at the film but your sense of belonging isn’t quite the same. Generally, my approach to writing has music has never really changed, you just get a bit more equipment.’

‘Benedict used to pop into the trailer when we were talking about music and always seemed really very interested in it. He’s subsequently turned up to a lot of my recording sessions on later projects, and in return I go to see him at the theatre. It’s handy as he lives close to me so he gives me lifts home on his motorbike.’

SETTLING THE SCORE
Friday 18 October 2019

Experience eighteen classic scores by Michael Giacchino and David Arnold at this one night only event! Settling the Score will feature all your favourite movie music as well as storytelling, challenges of wit and friendly competition between two sensational screen composers.

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