24 Mar 2017

Hans Zimmer, revealed

From RNZ Music, 3:00 pm on 24 March 2017
Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer Photo: Ed Robinson

Hans Zimmer has written music for some of the biggest blockbuster films of our time - 'Gladiator', 'The Lion King', and the Batman franchise amongst the list of hundreds. Zimmer speaks to NZ film composer Rhian Sheehan, ahead of the Auckland leg of 'Hans Zimmer Revealed', his live concert experience.

"I'm playing the banjo, for Christ's sake, you can't get any lower than that" the self-deprecating Zimmer says of his traveling stage extravaganza. Enlisting 22 band members and a small orchestra, Zimmer leads the 70 odd musicians through excerpts from some of the most iconic film music of the last 25 years.

Hans Zimmer Revealed - the opening medley

Hans Zimmer Revealed - the opening medley Photo: supplied

Zimmer took some convincing to take his scores out in front of a live audience, as he has always suffered stage fright, which he acknowledges as part of the reason he went from playing in bands in the 70s to film composition.

"Going on tour, I think people are coming just because they want to see me quake in my boots, and mess it up on the first note. It's a bit of a circus act - will I pull it off? It's like a gladiator battle. When I look down from the stage, I see a lot of hungry lions!"

"For me it was, if I am going to do this, I want people to go and see these musicians. It's really about them, so I tried to pick pieces that showed off somebody doing something hopefully pretty amazing."

Amongst his band is South African vocalist Lebo Morake, who provided the memorable opening Zulu chant in 'The Lion King'. Zimmer says he still gets goosebumps when Lebo does his song live.

The secret weapon of the stage show is Pink Floyd's longtime lighting designer Mark Brickman. "Once you unleash Mark," Zimmer says, "things start happening. He likes blowing things up a lot, but I told him 'it's not that sort of show' but he's come up with some pretty great things."

Zimmer has scored for over 120 films, including Thelma & Louise, The Thin Red Line, Gladiator, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and The Lion King, for which he won the Academy Award. He worked with director Christopher Nolan on Interstellar, and all of the Batman films. "Enough superhero movies for a while" says Zimmer.

While you'll often see references to 'The Hans Zimmer sound', his body of work is incredibly diverse. He says he was drawn to the profession for this reason: "I get to shift styles, try new things."

The German-born Hans Zimmer first found success as a member of London new wave band The Buggles, whose 1979 song 'Video Killed the Radio Star' became a worldwide hit. Largely self-taught, Zimmer found himself going from writing radio jingles, to being taken under the wing of prolific film composer Stanley Myer, who he worked with on several scores. His Hollywood breakthrough though was the score for the 1988 film Rain Man.

Zimmer has a knack for evoking extreme emotion, with minimal movement - sometimes as few as three chords for a cue. "I used to write these really elaborate things with a million notes. And I got a bit bored with that - I was more interested in just honing in."   

Zimmer says that scoring is 'emotional problem solving'. "What inspires me, is the human conflict. The great thing about being a film composer, is that every film starts the same way. You get a phone call from a director, who says 'I'd love to tell you a story.' And there's something incredibly wonderful to spend your life with people telling you a good story." 

Hans Zimmer Revealed: April 29 2017 - Auckland - Vector Arena

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer Photo: supplied

Related stories

Get the RNZ app

for easy access to all your favourite programmes