For more than 25 years, songwriter Herbert Groenemeyer has enjoyed an unparalleled level of commercial success in his native land. A literate rock composer beloved and celebrated in Germany much in the way Bruce Springsteen is inAmerica, Groenemeyer has sold more than 18 million albums and frequently packs soccer stadiums. That his success has never translated to these shores has to do with his German-language output and the distinct, European sensibility Groenemeyer displays in everything from his melodic choices to his stage settings and concert attire.
So, in some ways, his decision to release an all-English album in the U.S. last fall came as a bit of a surprise. The album, “I Walk,” translated a number of his catalog cornerstones into English anthems, utilizing some high-profile vocal assists from Bono and Antony Hegarty. In addition, Groenemeyer recently capped his first U.S. tour, performing in moderately sized concert halls and clubs.
“I think playing smaller venues is much more special and difficult in a way” says Groenemeyer. “You have to convince the audience on that very night that you’re a good host and you make good music.”
Groenemeyer also has quietly developed a second career as a film composer, working with longtime friend and collaborator, director Anton Corbijn, for the score to 2010’s “The American” and on Corbijn’s upcoming thriller “A Most Wanted Man,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams and red-hot Daniel Bruhl.
Groenemeyer was forced to re-establish himself in unfamiliar territory with “The American.” “Focus Features, who produced ‘The American,’ had never heard of me,” Groenemeyer says. “So, in a way, I had to prove what I was trying to do to them, and in the end, they really liked the score.”
The melancholic, achingly beautiful score, emphasizing piano and orchestra, fluctuates between epic swells of sound and intimate respites. As a classically-trained arranger, Groenemeyer finds scoring to be a means of expression that challenges him in ways his typical writing process does not. “If the movie allows you to, you can really extend, you can really go beyond your normal, rock and roll songwriting arrangements and I like that,” Groenemeyer says. “It opens you. You have to find new areas in your own brain.”
Corbijn has worked on various projects for Groenemyer since the 1980s, directing videos, preparing stage sets and designing album sleeves for Groenemeyer’s releases. Corbijn credits Groenemeyer with helping to encourage him to make films — even co-financing Corbijn’s feature-length debut, the Joy Division biopic “Control.”
“Because he’s a good friend we both throw in ideas and we just go for the strongest idea,” Corbijn says. “He doesn’t mind if I say something or if I want to change something. It’s all very easy to discuss and I think that creates a very pleasant environment.”
The music for “A Most Wanted Man” was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the help of a 40-piece orchestra. Groenemeyer elected to use an accordion as the score’s central melodic instrument, drawing inspiration from the film’s setting in the seaside city of Hamburg, Germany.
“I would love to do more film scores,” Groenemeyer says. “It would also force me to learn new things and improve myself.” Corbijn concurs: “I don’t know if he’ll still want to do big rock concerts when he’s 70. I think with scoring, it’s not really about age, so I think it might be an interesting direction for him to explore.”