Hans Zimmer
Oscar winner Hans Zimmer will perform in Dubai on May 31 and June 1 Image Credit: Supplied

"Don’t follow anybody,” declares Hans Zimmer, the multiple Oscar and Grammy-winning music composer who has dominated Hollywood for over four decades and has scored music for more than 150 films.

This German-born American composer with two Oscars and four Grammys under his belt and whose credits include writing scores for Hollywood hits like ‘The Lion King’, ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’, and ‘Dune’ is convinced that emulating him is not the way forward.

“Don’t follow in my footsteps. Have your own voice, have your own journey -- with the fun part, the exciting part or the dreadful part … The adventure is the journey and it has to be an individual and personal,” said Zimmer in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, ahead of his concert on May 31 and June 1 at Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai.

Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer in action

Zimmer, the king of movie sound tracks, should know. Be it the epic Gladiator chant in the Russel Crowe epic or the intense 'Braaam' sonic sounds from Christopher Nolan's 'Inception', the magic of Hans Zimmer cannot be denied. He’s not just a composer; he’s a storyteller with music. 

Excerpts from our exclusive interview with Zimmer,66, as we talk about his creative process, his bond with Dubai, and why awards are not his end game …

What are your thoughts on returning to Dubai for a gig and what has been your most enduring memory of this city from your 2023 concert?

I am obviously looking forward to returning to Dubai because of the people, the audience, and the thrill of being on a stage. I want to connect with the audience. As a musician, I’m somehow always drawn to architecture and that’s something that composers and architects have in common. We are always trying to find symmetry and new ways of expressing ourselves. Dubai is definitely at the forefront of expressing itself in architecture.

Do you ever experience stage fright or performance anxiety? If yes, how do you get past those moments of self-doubt?

 Yes, but I am surrounded by the most amazing group of musicians, friends, performers, and crew. Remember there’s 40 tons of lights hanging over my head and I think that would make anybody a little bit nervous and it’s hung by people who have been working very hard and are dead tired. But we trust each other. I consider my musicians and the technicians or the whole crew, very much part of this family that makes these things happen.

Your work on ‘Dune: 2’ was phenomenal. How difficult was it to compose the score for such an ambitious saga, shot partly in Abu Dhabi and Jordan?

I’ve been thinking about writing the music for ‘Dune’ since I was a 13-year-old kid reading the book. So it was interesting that one day when director Denis Villeneuve casually asked me if I ever read the book ‘Dune’. Immediately, I regressed to being that 13-year-old and I realized that he was a teenager too when he read that book. So the process really was in our hearts and our emotions. We approached the making of the movie like those teenagers – with that same sort of recklessness and the spirit of a teenager. At the same time, we had gathered knowledge of making movies and had succeeded in getting to a point where people would trust us to go and make this movie. So, on one hand there was the recklessness of a teenager who had loved this book and on the other hand, we had become somebody who had the knowledge and experience of pulling it off.

zendaya dune two
Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya from 'Dune: 2'

The fictional desert planet, Arrakis, is central to the Dune universe with its vast expanses and unique cultures. How did you incorporate cultural elements into the music to reflect the diverse societies and landscapes?

One of the things I tried to do in this film is to basically invent a culture and I was not ever looking at a specific culture that existed on earth in the 20th or 21st century because we are talking about 10,000 years in the future on a planet that none of us know existed or has even visited. So even though Frank Herbert’s book is influenced very much by nomadic and desert tribes, I tried to avoid all those clichés. I tried to avoid pointing directly at existing cultures and spent time inventing new sounds, inventing new instruments, and inventing new ways of expressing something that was very important to me. Going out into the desert, seeing the desert, feeling the desert, and just making it a personal experience without trying to pinpoint and embrace an existing culture was my way forward. I wanted to just go with my own feelings … This philosophy of being a stranger in a strange land was the truest way I could approach the music of Dune. I wasn’t keen on mimicking or insulting any specific culture. It just seemed easier to just go freeform and invent my own culture.

What initially drew you to the world of scoring music for films? How did you make the transition from being a member of a rock band to composing music for movies?

I liked storytelling and movies. I liked the idea of how music could complete the images and the images could complete the music into making this whole piece of art. I just found it more interesting than sitting there by myself writing pop songs which inevitably has this structure that can be thought off really quickly. A movie takes you on a journey and I am always taking a journey after directors come in and tell me stories of their strange planets or strange people. The psychology of the main character/protagonist drives the story forward and that’s a far more interesting world for me to live in than the world of rock ‘n roll and pop, even though I love it.

Do you miss touring and life on the road? What are the best and worst parts about being an Oscar-winning musical genius?

I was forced by my friends Johnny Marr and Pharrell Williams to go on the road. I just had too much stage fright and I would just hide in my room. So one day, they said to me that it was time to go and look an audience in the eye. They said it was time to stop hiding behind the screen and it was time to do things in real-time and not just wait for the movie to come out. So, the best thing about touring was that connection that I get to have with the audience. I always feel the music is actually completed in the moment by the audience. It’s not just about the band performing on stage, it’s also about the audience that gives us constant real-time feedback. And about the second part about the best and worst part about being an Oscar-winning musical genius – first of all, music and arts is not like horse races and so there are no real winners as such. All these awards just remind me that I have a responsibility to do great work but ultimately it’s not about me or about winning any awards. It’s about doing good work that gives the audience a great experience.

Hans Zimmer
Hans Zimmer in action

Bollywood and K-pop/films are becoming increasingly popular in the pop cultural landscape. Have you considered working for a Bollywood musical or a South Korean film?

Yes, I can’t give away the title, but I am just about to embark on a big Indian movie.

You have worked with directors like Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott to produce iconic scores. How did these creative partnerships influence your approach to composing and what did you learn from each of them?

I learned that you need to do something new and surprising for the audiences, film after film and make sure you stay focused on the story and on the characters. And seriously, the best ally you can possibly have is your film directors.

Your work on the Lion King is beloved by audiences of all ages. Can you share any insights into the inspiration behind that score and the process of creating music for an animated film?

Easy - if you have a six-year-old daughter and you want to be a dad that shows off, then you have to go and do a movie like ‘Lion King’. I can’t take her to any of my Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan movies because they are not suitable for my small child. So you set about working on a cartoon, when suddenly to your surprise, it’s actually much more profound, much more serious because it deals with the death of the father and so you have to actually include that in the music. So in one way or the other, I suppose it became a requiem for my father.

Collaboration is key in filmmaking, how do you work with directors and other members of the creative team to ensure that your music enhances the storytelling without overpowering it?

It’s not my job to be the guardian of that. You want to start with a strong story led by a strong director and strong actors. You just have to be aware that you need to stay out of the way of the performance of the actors. You have to support it as opposed to undermine it. It’s as simple as that. You have to find the place where you can go and be heard, and find the places where you are just going to support. Both are interesting parts of my job.

Your score for ‘Inception’ features the iconic BRAAAM sound which has now become synonymous with intense suspenseful moments in any film. Can you talk about the process of creating such a distinctive sonic signature?

It really came about at a party where Christopher Nolan and I were there. Naturally, I did not want to really be at that party, so we started talking about filmmaking. We began talking about ideas behind sounds and that idea, which was actually in the Inception script, was Chris’s ideas. But how we made those sounds stemmed from that conversation we were having. So we just hired a bunch of our favorite brass players and went to Air Studios, put a Steinway piano in the middle, put a brake on the sustain pedal and got them to blow into the piano and have strings vibrate.

Pirates of the Caribbean franchise features some of the most recognizable film scores have written in recent times. What inspired you to incorporate elements of sea shanties and swashbuckling adventures into the music?

The music for pirates was all about filming an amazing movie and down to Johnny Depp’s incredible performance. The music score for this movie was steeped in rock and roll, even though it never said rock and roll … The themes were written in one night and it was fun and inspiring. God, I loved working on this movie. So what more could you ask for?

Don't Miss It
Date: May 31 and June 1
Where: Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai
Time: Doors open 7pm, show starts at 9pm (Friday) and 8pm (Saturday)
Tickets are available online on www.hanszimmerlive.com and www.coca-cola-arena.com