×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Zimmer’s Tale of Two Scores

Composer contrasts music of 'Rush,' '12 Years'

Hans Zimmer’s two late-2013 films couldn’t possibly be more different: “Rush,” a driving, in-your-face rock score for a competing pair of 1970s Formula One race car drivers, and “12 Years a Slave,” a quiet, melancholy string accompaniment for the tale of an educated, free African-American forced to endure the brutality of slavery in the antebellum South.

“‘12 Years’ was very privately and carefully thought about, while ‘Rush’ was really about adrenaline, a rock ’n’ roll attitude, let’s just go to a scene and see what happens,” says the nine-time Oscar nominee (and winner for “The Lion King”) in his Santa Monica studio.

Ron Howard’s “Rush” took Zimmer back to his late-1970s roots as a synth programmer and keyboard player in England (you can glimpse him in the background of the Buggles’ 1979 “Video Killed the Radio Star” video). “I wasn’t trying to ape ’70s rock, but there’s a sound, a spirit,” he says. “I was after the spirit.”

So he threw guitarists Michael Brook, Bryce Jacobs and Stephen Lipson in with drummer Satnam Ramgotra, asked one-time Brit pop star Peter Asher to consult, and added cellist Martin Tillman at key emotional moments. “I love the state of chaos that I usually operate in,” says Zimmer. “It’s really nice to throw ideas around and have somebody like Peter or Lipson say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, play that phrase again!’”

Recalls director Howard: “He kept writing and rewriting and trying to find ways to sustain the intensity, yet be very sensitive to who these guys were.” Howard was fascinated by Zimmer’s interest in racer James Hunt’s obsession with budgerigars (parakeets, in U.S. parlance). Notes Zimmer: “This wild guy could never form a proper relationship, but the one thing he was enamored with were these birds that needed true companionship.”

As for “12 Years a Slave,” Zimmer concedes, “It’s basically a cello and violin score. It felt appropriate to keep it as small and as specific as possible. We have a lot of period source music, and one of the things I wanted to do was to be anachronistic, but not in an overt way. I wanted to be the secret little bridge that would take the story from the past and move it into the present.”

Cellist Tristan Schulze and violinist Ann Marie Calhoun performed, although there are more strings and occasional percussion throughout. “It was not just getting inside the characters,” Zimmer says, “it was getting outside the characters and finding a bridge to the audience.”

Director Steve McQueen liked Zimmer’s moody music for “The Thin Red Line,” which became a starting point for discussion.

Most of the 38-minute score “creates a stillness, or a tension through the stillness, using very minimal means,” he adds, although the riverboat ride offers a briefly avant-garde musical contrast, including woodwinds and an unusual use of piano.

Says McQueen: “He was my refuge when I was in L.A. The first two meetings were about five hours each. Then I think we had three two-hour conversations on the phone. And not a musical note was played. After that, he said, ‘I think I’ve got something.’ Somehow, through the talking, he captured the atmosphere of the film.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Atmosphere71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Show,

    Emmy Viewers Not 'Feelin' Good' About Bizarre Music Choices

    It was known ahead of time that the Emmy Awards planned to dispense with a traditional orchestra or pit band for the walk-up and bumper music. What wasn’t anticipated was that the music choices were being outsourced to a bar mitzvah DJ in Des Moines. Or, very possibly, it was a local who had found [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Rob Thomas Sammy Hagar

    Sammy Hagar Joins Rob Thomas for 'Smooth' Performance (Watch)

    Who do you call when your pal Carlos Santana has plans on a Friday night? If you’re Rob Thomas, you recruit another famous friend, rocker Sammy Hagar, who turned up to help the singer close out the latest show of his Chip Tooth Smile tour with a performance of “Smooth” at the Fox Performing Arts [...]

  • US record producer The-Dream arrives for

    Top Music Publishers Come Together for Songs of Hope Honors

    The 15th annual Songs of Hope honors united songwriters, music industry insiders and more than a few preeminent doctors at producer Alex Da Kid’s Sherman Oaks compound on Thursday night. Jimmy Jam returned to host the event, which served as a fundraiser for the ever-vital City of Hope medical treatment center as well as a [...]

  • Monkees/Badfinger/Nazz Supergroup Takes Beatles' 'White Album'

    Monkees/Badfinger/Nazz Supergroup Gets Back to '68 by Touring Beatles' 'White Album'

    The 50th anniversary re-release of 1969’s “Abbey Road” may be just days away, but that doesn’t mean Beatles fans have been there and done that when it comes to celebrating ’68. Todd Rundgren, the Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz, Badfinger’s Joey Molland and several other name musicians of a certain vintage are teaming up to go out [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content