Interview David Fleming
WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT FILM MUSIC?
Ever since I was really young, I was always drawn to how music helped tell stories. I would wear out my family’s Phantom of the Opera cassette tape, listening to it over and over. I’d steal my Dad’s Bruce Springsteen or Meat Loaf records, always noticing how those albums were cinematic and dramatic, somehow conceptually bigger than the average pop song. As a teenager, I played in bands and worked in a video store (when those existed), immersing myself in as many movies as I could. I started to really take notice of what a powerful effect music and image can have on each other. When you’re a musician playing with other musicians, sometimes there’s a moment where everything just “clicks” and it’s a really wonderful feeling. Seeing the right piece of music match with the right image is no different. I’ve always found this kind of musical storytelling to be incredibly exciting.
HOW DID YOU JOIN THE REMOTE CONTROL TEAM?
I was interested in Remote Control even when still in New York, going to music school and moonlighting at recording studios. I had learned about RCP and the “campus” of composers but didn’t have any idea of how I might actually end up there. I found my way to Los Angeles by winning BMI’s Pete Carpenter fellowship, which led to six weeks working with the legendary television composer, Mike Post. Mike was incredibly encouraging and introduced me another former winner, Atli Örvarsson. Coincidentally, Atli was working out of Remote Control at that time and was looking for help. I started out as his assistant and after a few years went freelance. I’ve been lucky enough to have my own space at Remote Control ever since and I’m grateful to still be a part of this community.
ATLI ÖRVARSSON (THE FOURTH KIND, THE EAGLE), STEVE JABLONSKY (TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 2), JUNKIE XL (DIVERGENT) AND HANS ZIMMER (X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX, SON OF GOD): WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM ALL OF THESE COLLABORATIONS?
I’ve been lucky to work closely with a number of extremely talented composers and learned different things from each one. Atli was really my mentor and the person who helped my early development as a composer, giving me a chance to build those muscles. Through my work with him, I was sought out to work on projects with composers including Steve Jablonsky, Lorne Balfe and Junkie XL, all of them uniquely gifted. It’s a great experience because you start to pick up little tricks from each one, find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Finally, working with Hans has been incredible. He is the common denominator between every composer I’ve worked with previously, having mentored each of them. It has been interesting to recognize facets of Hans’s style and craft that have been absorbed by others, but at the same time get to discover this primary source of knowledge for myself. You learn things from Hans that can only come from someone who has been executing at such a high level so consistently for such a long time. Also, he’s great at reminding me to always have fun and keep experimenting, because he’s never stopped!
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS AN “ADDITIONAL MUSIC COMPOSER”? WHAT EXACTLY DID THAT ROLE ENTAIL?
The role has been different with everyone I’ve worked with, but essentially, you’re a trusted collaborator. It all about getting in tune with someone’s vision, and helping them define that vision. In that way it’s no different than the relationship between a composer and a director. I’ve always felt it works best when there is enough trust established that whoever you working for is really excited for you to do your thing, and bring some of your own unique perspective to the table.
ON HILLBILLY ELEGY, YOU’VE WORKED WITH HANS ZIMMER AND RON HOWARD. HOW DID YOU DEFINE TOGETHER THE MUSICAL DIRECTION THAT THE SCORE SHOULD TAKE?
There were a lot of conversations early on with Ron, Hans & myself about how “regional” we were going to get with the score. Appalachia has a rich musical heritage and we didn’t want to make a caricature out of this authentic, beautiful culture. During a conversation about whether or not to use banjo (we didn’t) Hans interjected saying “It’s not about that. It’s an emotional epic.” The idea being, the story of this family could be a story of any family, anywhere. It’s a universal struggle. From that point on it became less about worrying about the minutia of instrumentation and more about finding the right players and the right musical approach to help express this family’s story.
HOW DID YOU GET INSPIRED FOR THIS SCORE?
It wasn't hard. The performances, especially those by Glenn Close and Amy Adams are so compelling. The characters are complex because even in their worst moments, their ties to each other as a family are so strong and bound by a deep love. It was great to explore that push and pull musically. Also, the setting is really a character in itself. From the very first scene, you can see the reverence with which Ron shoots the hills and greenery of Kentucky. There is a spiritual quality to the environment which was so magnetic and really inspiring to compose to.
WHAT ARE THE PITFALLS TO AVOID WHILE CREATING A SCORE WITH SOMEONE ELSE?
I suppose the main pitfall would be feeling too precious about your own ideas to be able to collaborate in a truly open way. Luckily, that’s not the dynamic with Hans and myself. I trust his vision implicitly and I feel the same trust coming from him. There’s no fear about embarrassing yourself, trying something that may not work. Hans always talks about it as being in a band and to me, having grown up playing in bands, it’s an attitude I love. It can be really fun and gratifying to share the process with another person, especially if it’s someone who you respect so much.
DID YOU WORKED SPECIFICALLY ON SOME SCENES/MELODIES FROM THE FILM OR DID YOU WORKED CLOSELY DURING THE WRITING PROCESS?
We always worked closely, physically at first and then separated by quarantine. Even then, we were constantly on FaceTime, constantly on Zoom, bouncing ideas off each other. The first weekend of lockdown in Los Angeles, Hans called me that Saturday night to ask what I thought about the idea of getting Derek Trucks (one of the best slide guitarists in the world) to play on the score. It was the most exciting kind of idea to hear at a time when things were feeling dark. Those kinds of calls kept the collaboration feeling energetic and fresh, even though we couldn’t be in the same room sitting at the piano together.
WHAT WAS THE MOST EXCITING PART OF THIS PROJECT?
Always working with the live musicians. From the early part of the process jamming in a room with violinist Ben Powell, to having Derek Trucks rip solos all over the score in the final weeks, it was a tremendous gift to have fantastic players willing to record our music, whether in the same room or in isolation.
YOU ARE ALREADY CREDITED ON THE UPCOMING WONDER WOMAN 1984 AND TOP GUN MAVERICK’S SCORES: IT LOOKS LIKE HANS ZIMMER CAN'T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT YOU! HOW IS IT WORKING WITH HIM? WHAT KIND OF CONNECTION DO YOU HAVE TOGETHER?
He’s been doing what he does quite well for quite a long time before I came along so that’s certainly not the case! I just really enjoy working with Hans and I’d like to think he’d say the same. He’s someone who, like me, is always trying to make something just a little bit better, even after a project is finished. That’s a really inspiring energy to be around. He encourages experimentation, and wants music to always feel like play. As I mentioned earlier - at it’s best, doing what we do should feel like being in a great band. He’s a pretty fantastic “lead singer” and I always feel lucky to get to play with him.
CAN WE HOPE TO FIND YOU ON A FIRST SOLO PROJECT SOON?
Yes! Right now I’m working on a film called Till Death, starring Jason Sudeikis, which is a lot of fun. I’m always excited for the opportunity to tell interesting stories with talented people, so I’m looking forward to more of that in the years ahead. Bring it on!