[Interview - David Arnold]

James Bond is back, and returning for a fourth outing with 007 is composer David Arnold. SoundtrackNet had a chance to talk with him about his approach to working on this "reboot" of the Bond franchise, his working process with orchestrator Nicholas Dodd, and more!

There was talk that with Casino Royale, the producers wanted to "restart" the Bond franchise, and go back to a harsher, grittier Bond. Did you find that it would give you more freedom to go down a different road than you had done on you last outing with Die Another Day?

Well, there was no more freedom as such on Casino Royale than there was on Die Another Day. You still have the job of scoring the film that is in front of you, and not one perhaps you wished had been made, or preferred had been made. Ultimately, I found it more satisfying because for the first time in a long time, it felt like there was an element of truth to the piece - even though it was ultimately a fantasy. I can really only credit the screenplay and Martin Campbell's direction of Daniel Craig for that; it was really down to Daniel being able to inhabit the character in the way he did. I felt it gave the character so much more credibility.

As this is a "genesis" movie of sorts, your limited use of the Bond theme is appropriate - but you hint at it nicely throughout. What determined where you would give us those teases and tastes?

It was really left up to me what to do as far as the Bond Theme was concerned. It has been in the script from day one that it wouldn't appear fully-fledged until the end of the movie. But it felt that it was appropriate to hint at it in places where Bond was "earning his stripes", so to speak. So he gets a bit of it when he runs off on his own agenda to the Bahamas, when he wins the DB5 in a card game, when he puts on the tuxedo, etc. [Play "Dinner Jackets" MP3 from Casino Royale]

There's a lot of African rhythms and percussion in "African Rundown", for which you used Pete Lockett. How did you get him involved with the score, and are there any other notable soloists?

I had a choice of getting around ten percussionists and doing the piece in a couple of sessions, or using Pete and taking a couple of days. In the end, I decided to take full advantage of Pete's skills and hand it over to him. I did a guide track using some samples which was quite basic, but gave the flavor of the piece and Pete then designed the parts and played the whole thing himself. I was upstairs writing more music, and would come down to visit every two or three hours to direct him a little. He has a vast knowledge of percussion styles and instruments, and obviously I wasn't going to be able to write those parts and be better than what Pete could come up with.

It took two and a half days, and I think we had close to 300 tracks of Pete which Geoff Foster then had the unenviable task of editing, tightening and submixing down to a more "manageable" 80 tracks. It was the longest pre-record I had ever done, but it's all played for real, no sequencing or sampling. If Pete had 50 arms, we may be able to do if live one day. [Play "African Rundown" MP3 from Casino Royale]

The last track of the album is a forthright rendition of the Bond theme - did you get Vic Flick to play on this track, and if not, who is playing it? (And what guitar are they using?)

Nope - it was me playing the guitar at the end; I used a Gibson ES135, and a Fender Twin amp. It's a little treat I save for myself at the end of every Bond movie. I didn't do it on Tomorrow Never Dies, as Alex Gifford from The Propellerheads wanted to do it on "Backseat Driver", and I didn't have the heart to say no. I have lost count of how many people have asked if they can play that line on the score. I think next time I've promised it to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who have been asking for five years now! [Play "The Name's Bond... James Bond" MP3 from Casino Royale]

How much of an influence is the work of John Barry in your score to Casino Royale, and did you put any nods to his Bond scores in there? (Also, do you have any "in-joke" types of musical references that we should note?)

No in-jokes on this score, I'm afraid. John casts a very large shadow over the Bond movies, and it's not one that I'm afraid of living under. Barry is the sound of Bond as far as I'm concerned, and it's amazing how much like a Bond film it becomes when that sound appears. Even the other composer who have worked on Bond films over the years have tipped their hat to him. I try to reach out a little every time, but you can't stray too far. I write the only way I know how for the film that's in front of me, alongside the requirements of the producers, studio and director. We end up with what I have done. [Play "Vesper" MP3 from Casino Royale]

How was your relationship with Martin Campbell, and what was your working process like on this score?

Martin was being pulled from every direction on this movie. I was quite worried that he may collapse from the amount of stuff he had to deal with, but he really is a ball of energy. He was amazing on set, and quite relaxed in post production. He liked to talk about the film, rather than specific musical ideas. Obviously we spotted the film, but the overall arc was one of emotional demand, rather than visceral demand. The action scenes needed to be driven alone as they always do, but we spoke about what the music should be saying, and I would demo things for him and then pop into the cutting room and we would sit and go through the demos where he could give his notes alongside Stuart Baird, who cut the picture. It was a very painless experience; I was almost waiting for something to fall out of the sky and ruin it all, but Martin was a gentleman and I think showed a terrific understanding of where the film should go. We recorded the score only eight weeks after the end of principle photography, so it was all rather quick considering the size of the project.

You co-wrote the song "You Know My Name" with Chris Cornell, and integrated the theme throughout the score. How did Chris come on board the project, and was there ever a fear that, like with Die Another Day and Tomorrow Never Dies, you might not be involved with the main title song?

Chris was suggested to us by Lia Vollack, the head of music at Sony Pictures. He came over to Prague to meet us all and look at some footage. He was blown away by it, as was I, and we discussed what kind of song we had in mind. He was a generous and easy collaborator. I didn't want to throw a load of ideas at him, so we agreed to go away and write some ideas ourselves, and then get back together to see what we had done. We had sort of written the same song independently of each other, so we put it together in a few days back in London. I always like to get involved with the song for continuity reasons; I like to use the theme in the score when possible.

Contrary to what may have been suggested, the only reason I never used any Madonna or Sheryl Crowe song material in the films was that they were not delivered to the studio until I was around 60% of the way through writing the score. It would have been too late to go back and re-write as there is always a lot of music in these films, and not enough time to do it. (This, I believe, is the plaintive cry of most film composers!) [Play "You Know My Name" MP3 from Casino Royale]

The soundtrack album to Casino Royale is the first James Bond album to not have the main title song - what is the reason for this?

I don't know for sure. You would have to ask Sony or Interscope. I know the song is on iTunes and will be on Chris' solo album.

For Tomorrow Never Dies, you wrote what many people claim to be the best Bond song in years: "Surrender", performed amazingly by k.d. lang. How did you get her involved with the song?

I asked her. [Play "Surrender" MP3 from Tomorrow Never Dies]


You were able to write the main title song for The World is Not Enough, but then in 2002 Madonna provided the song for Die Another Day. Did you write a song for that film that was ultimately not used, or did you try to collaborate with Madonna in any way prior to them settling on her song?

I had started on a song "I Will Return" with lyricist Don Black, but fairly early on we were told that the Madonna track would be the title song and played out again at the end, so we never finished it. I was writing the score for quite a while before we heard anything from Madonna, and was fairly close to my record date when the song was delivered. I didn't work on it at all in the end.

In 2000 you wrote the main title song for "Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)", which is a very Bond-like song. Were you in "the groove" at that time, having already done two Bond films, and so it just carried over stylistically? Or were you specifically asked to pen a song in that particular style?

I think if you listen to most songs I have been involved with, they have a Bond-like twang to them. They didn't ask for a particular style of song; I had started on a percussion loop that Tim Simenon had come up with when we were doing a bit of work on A Life Less Ordinary. I had taken it home and put it in my folder of ideas to be worked on. When "Randall" came up, the percussion loop sort of felt like it was in the right groove. I came up with a piano riff and the chord sequence and worked on a melody - it all seemed to fit with Randall and Hopkirk. I wrote the lyric later, and asked Nina from The Cardigans to sing it. [Play "Randal and Hopkirk (Deceased)" MP3]

How did you come up with the concept to do "Shaken & Stirred", and how difficult was it to get all the various artists to come on board?

It was difficult in as much that the artists all had their own agendas and commitments, so it was tricky getting them to commit to a date. But the ones who said "yes" all wanted to do it, because - like me - they loved the songs. I thought it would be fun to do an album with people that I admired singing songs that I loved. It was a labor of love. I didn't get paid to do it; I took every penny of the recording budget and spent it on the studio and the orchestra. I never made any money from it in the end, as I believe owing to record company accounting procedures, we are still un-recouped! I loved doing it though. [Play "Thunderball" MP3 from Shaken & Stirred]

Nicholas Dodd has been involved in most of your scores, and seems to be a very hands-on orchestrator and conductor. How much freedom do you give him to add color to your original compositions in the orchestration phase, and where do you think the line blurs between orchestration and composition?

Nick is an excellent musician and conductor. We have been working together for years now, and have a good understanding of what I want from a score. Nick has certain freedoms in some cues, and less in others. The loud sound-effects heavy action cues, I believe, and perhaps not as crucial in that every note is prescribed. I will give Nick, in the early days on a score, quite detailed cues, and as we progress through a film, if repetition is needed, then I don't need to be as detailed as I was when we ran through it first. I usually have to demo for the director first before Nick gets involved, and sometimes if the cue or the director is extraordinarily fussy, I will get Nick to orchestrate and demo his orchestration. Usually on a film it's around 75% my demos that the director hears, and 25% post orchestrated.

What's the difference between composition and orchestration? A blank page. I haven't given Nick one of those yet. He's a big part of my team, but I have to say that I rely on my engineer, fixer, programmers and music editors to the same extent, as do all composers who are having to deal with the realities of scoring big films. It's not something you can easily do on your own given the time constraints and the relatively new fashion of needing to hear every cue mocked up in advance. I just had to do a film called Venus without Nick as he was working on another project, it was written with Corinne Bailey Rae and Dave Hartley, but was a very small ensemble so we didn't need orchestration as much. That was my first one without Nick, but even though it's small (a quartet, electric piano, bass, melodeon and guitar), I think you know that it's still me.

Some people have criticized your use of electronics in the Bond scores, while others have praised your integration of orchestral and electronics. Where do you stand, in terms of your personal tastes and preferences?

Well obviously, where I have used electronics I approve of their use! Some people don't like it, and some do. That accounts for just about every opinion the world over concerning just about any subject regarding taste. Some film reviewers have disliked Casino Royale, the movie, although they are in a minority, but if those reviewers shout about their dislike for it everywhere - and do it repeatedly whenever the subject comes up - then there may be a feeling that Casino Royale isn't any good. Where to me, it is consistently good. This view about electronics in film scores is skewed completely because people who protest about anything tend to do it repeatedly, loudly and voluminously. People who like something or are happy with something tend not to make such a fuss. I don't mind if some people regard the use of electronics are heresy, I just don't agree with them. I also don't agree about the level at which they are mixed or used. If I have a CD with "Produced by David Arnold" on it, you can assume that it sounds that way because I wanted it to sound that way! [Play "Hovercraft Chase" MP3 from Die Another Day]

I have just done Amazing Grace and Venus, which are both completely acoustic scores; Casino Royale has some electronics, and I'm halfway through Hot Fuzz which is electronic madness with some orchestra on the side. They work for the films for which they are intended, and that's the only criteria that matters.

Daniel Craig has signed on for two more Bond films - have you discussed your possible involvement with the producers?

I have always told Eon Productions that I don't expect to be asked back as a matter of fact, and I don't take it for granted that I will. I will be there for as long as they ask me back - I remain committed to the character, and will do it forever if they ask me.

Where would you like to take James Bond, musically speaking?

He tends to take me.

Casino Royale is currently playing in theaters worldwide. The soundtrack is available from Sony Classical, and exclusive bonus tracks are available on the iTunes release. Hot Fuzz will be released in theaters next spring.

Special thanks to Jeremy Meyers at SonyBMG and David Arnold.