In conversation with our Man of Steel: Hans Zimmer

By Jenny Shen

In the Summer of 2017, Hans Zimmer was in the middle of his World Live Tour, and it so happened that while I was in Boston doing a summer course at Berklee College of Music, he had a scheduled show at the Boch Centre. The timing was impeccable, and I decided to contact his assistant Cynthia Park and ask if there would be the chance to interview Hans for the Hurtwood blog. Our correspondence stretched over a couple of weeks, and the chance of me meeting with Hans looked pretty slim. On the day of the show, I received an email from Cynthia saying “We have had almost back-to-back concerts and are all a bit ragged around the edges. I still do not know if Hans can do the interview this evening, after the show.” Upon receiving this email, my heart sank, and I defeatedly marched through my morning classes. When evening came, a group of friends and I headed to the venue. We talked about our favourite Zimmer tracks and how excited we were to watch him live, then suddenly out of the blue I received a new email from Cynthia telling me to meet her in the foyer at the end of the show. As you can imagine, I was startled and incredibly grateful that Hans was willing to spare thirty minutes out of his busy schedule and started selecting the questions I wanted to ask.

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After the show ended, I headed towards the main foyer as Cynthia had instructed me and there she greeted me with two backstage passes, one for me and one for my friend Umut who assisted me during the interview. She took us down through some secret tunnels until we finally reached “The Greenroom”. Cynthia then informed us that Hans was still getting ready and asked us to wait in the, what I will call, the ‘socialising room’. Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised to discover all the band members drinking, eating and laughing. Until then, I only knew them as pictures and names from the program, but now I was among musicians of the highest calibre which felt surreal. As I walked around this room, I saw Lebo M. and his daughter, Refiloe Morake(who complimented my Beavis & Buthead T-shirt), the legendary guitarist Guthrie Govan and the equally legendary bass player Yolanda Charles. I greeted and had a chat with Nick Glennie-Smith as well as with Czarina Rusell while the one and only Satnam Ramgotra sat beside us socialising.

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Then midway, through my conversation with Czarina, the wonderfully funny Andy Page entered the room, exclaiming my name and hugging me. This was our second encounter, the first time we met happened accidentally when Hans did a show in London (that was also my first encounter with Hans). I say ‘accidentally’ because while I was desperately trying to find the “Green Room” (backstage), it was Andy who was sitting outside Wembley Arena that gave me the right directions. So, thank you, Andy! I was delighted to see Andy again and catch up before being taken away from the ‘socialising room’ and into Hans’ changing room. Hans was wearing all black tracksuit bottoms and top, and in front of him on the table sat a Chinese takeaway.

– Do you mind if I eat these f***ing noodles while we talk? He asked comfortably.

– No, of course not!

– I am all yours ask me whatever you want and I will answer honestly.

When a journalist asked Zimmer whether he would compose the score for ‘Man of Steel’ his initial reaction was ‘Absolutely not.’ However, when Zimmer asked Zack Snyder (director of ‘Man of Steel’) to tell him the story, they found themselves talking about things that mattered to the composer. What resonated with him was that like Superman, Zimmer felt like a “stranger in a strange land”. It took the composer six months to complete the score, but it was established early on in the process that for the heart of the story he wanted to do “something humble. It has to be simple, and it has to be honest.” 

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I sat down next to Hans (still eating his noodles) and asked him about the process of recording the drums in ‘Man of Steel’. He began by explaining how he got a guy in LA called the Drum Doctor who “tunes the drums for everybody” and told him to take care of the kits, “I don’t think he ever had to do so much running around than what we did that day” and here is why. Hans’ idea was to take “the twelve greatest drummers and melt them into one giant machine of energy”. They recorded over two days, and included musicians such as Pharell Williams, Satnam Ramgotra, Matt Chamberlain (of Pearl Jam), Josh Freese (of Devo, NIN, A Perfect Circle), Danny Carey (of Tool), Jason Bonham (of the late John) and Jim Keltner (just to name a few) who has played on all the Beatles tracks except for ‘Imagine’.  Initially, he was concerned that “it would be a fair shambles” because he expected that as soon as they stopped recording everyone would start “tapping and making noise” but in his words “they were the most disciplined lot”. Hans quickly realised that he couldn’t make anyone the leader because “they were all icons in their own rights” so he just said to Jay Robinson “you count-in which made him the defacto leader without me saying it”. Although everybody had told Hans that Keltner is “gonna give you trouble with this twelve drummer thing” during the recording process, Keltner proved the opposite. “He was just the coolest guy,” Zimmer said. “When we started a take he would know within half a bar if it was happening or not and as soon as he put his sticks down, within half a bar I’d say, ‘Okay let’s go again’. He would never waste any energy. You know, he just knew.”

The discipline, good leadership and incredible musicianship have certainly paid off in recording this “thunderous percussion”. So, next time you sit down to watch ‘Man of Steel’ pay closer attention to the detail and nuances of Zimmer’s film-score.

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