Hans Zimmer on Creating the Music of 'Amazing Spider-Man 2' With Pharrell, Johnny Marr

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Johnny Marr and Hans Zimmer attends the "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" New York Premiere on April 24, 2014 in New York City. 

"The first day [in the studio] was hard," Zimmer says. "It was chaos because I had too many people in the room"

One of the first requests Hans Zimmer received from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" director Marc Webb was for a fanfare. Zimmer's initial response? "I don't know how to," he says. After giving it some thought, Zimmer hatched a plan. 

"I remembered the person who singularly changed my life, (trumpeter) Arturo Sandoval. Thirty years ago I was supposed to go to the theater, didn't want to go to the theater, so I went to a jazz club in London.  I had never heard of him.

"The first set was mind blowing," he continued. "Then the second set, which started somewhere around midnight really started to cook. Then at about 2 a.m., another trumpeter started up in the audience. I thought that's somebody with some serious balls. It was Dizzy Gillespie, who had flown over from New York to hear Arturo," a Cuban citizen at the time. "It was the musicianship and the joy and everything."

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Zimmer wrote the piece for Sandoval and had him fly in to record at Sony's Culver City studio, a big room for just one instrument. "I was beating myself up for a month," Zimmer says about creating his first "Spider-Man" score, "and what I kept forgetting was that I needed one more member of the band. I didn't need a brass section or orchestral horn section. I needed one guy. And he's pretty good."

The anecdote illuminates Zimmer's unique process in scoring "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which has grossed $132 million overseas and opens in the U.S. on May 2. Zimmer created a band - dubbed the Magnificent 6 - of musicians and composers that featured the guitarists Johnny Marr and Incubus' Mike Einziger, Pharrell Williams on drums and the DJ-composer Junkie XL on bass. Collectively, they created songs that function as a score thanks to the work of music editors, Nevin Seus and Catherine Wilson, who Zimmer speaks about effusively. Stephen Lipson, who Zimmer says changed the way female vocalists are recorded when he worked with Annie Lennox, Grace Jones and Cher, recorded and mixed the band.

Like most soundtracks released prior to the release of the film, its first week sales were modest -- 2,000 copies, according to Soundscan. It debuts at No. 152 on the Billboard 200, No. 6 on the Soundtracks chart. The soudtrack's lead track, Alicia Keys' "It's On Again" that plays over the end credits, has sold 24,000 downloads and it rises one slot to No. 16 on the Adult R&B airplay chart.

Here, Zimmer and Junkie XL take us through the process of creating the music for "Amazing Spider-Man 2."

Where does the band idea start?
Zimmer: The character, Peter Parker, is a kid, he's just graduating. If he had to listen to music and that was the way he expressed emotion, it wouldn't be big Wagnerian horns and Mahler strings. It would be rock ‘n' roll. Over a year ago, I was talking to Pharrell about this idea and it became 'why don't we do it to together.' Next thing I know I'm in London having lunch with Johnny Marr and he asks 'what are you up to' and he just goes wild when I tell him. This lunch started at noon and four hours later we're singing riffs to each other. So I invited Junkie and Mike Einziger and Stephen Lipson, Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski and we just filled my (studio) with  great musicians who love Spider-man.

How do you sell this idea to the director?
Zimmer: I wanted it to be a band sound and I felt it was important that the director be a part of the band. It's not that you need him to play something but the conversations of how we would develop these songs was how we thought about it. Remember in the '90s those 'songs inspired by' albums? We thought we'd turn it around: Let's treat each piece of music, each cue, as a song first and then we'd take the melodies of those songs  and develop those into the score.

Junkie XL: The great thing about working on your own is that you don't need consensus on when a chorus needs to happen. The cool thing with a band like this is that you have so many powerful minds that the room explodes with ideas. It's fantastic to work like that.

It sounds like everyone was on equal footing. How did you you focus the creation of the music?
Zimmer: The first day was hard. It was chaos because I had too many people in the room. The first person who figured out a role was (Junkie XL). It wasn't anarchy, it was quite the opposite. There are a lot of famous names involved but they're famous because they're really good. The thing I knew I could rely on with this bunch is that they wound know how to construct something. There was a lot of intellectual stuff that went on.

Junkie XL: One of the talents you have is  not only picking the right people, but picking people you know are going to work well together. It just didn't; make sense to have a third guitar - besides I hardly wanted to pick up a guitar with Johnny Marr sitting next to me. I'll just bring the bass.

Zimmer: The guy who holds it together is the bassist so in a funny way Junkie took control.

You worked with Johnny on "Inception," Mike on "The Lone Ranger," Pharrell on the Academy Awards and Junkie is your former student. Without having the music written, what made you say these are the right guys for this movie?
Zimmer: I cast them as individuals. One of the things that's remarkable in Johnny's tracks in some of the jams is there is never any waste. Everything is a clear committed idea - no meandering, no grazing. With Mike it's a whole other thing - really intricate, really beautiful, really kinetic parts and a completely different sound. What's so great is there is this guitar orchestra going on all the time. Each person gets to really be recorded and mixed for who they are. There is hardly any orchestra in this score so you can tell the individuals. The other thing I felt very strongly about was that Spider-Man' s a New Yorker. A thing I love about going to New York is that clash of cultures. To have Pharrell Williams sitting there with Johnny Marr – the guy who wrote "Happy" and the guy who came from the Smiths -  there is some clashing of culture. It couldn't have been nicer or more collaborative.

You both single out the efforts of the music editors and the producer Steve Lipson. What did he bring to the table that's so different?
Junkie XL: Steve Lipson is constantly focused on the source, where the sound comes from. Some engineers and producers sense something wrong with the drum kit and they start EQing. He goes out to the drum kit first, then checks the microphones and then maybe changes something on the (recording) board. When we had music discussions it would come down to ideas about how to play. He has a very sharp insight into that.

Zimmer: He recognizes when something musical needs to change to better sit (with the film).

Now that it's finished, is there a lesson about music to be learned from "Amazing Spider-man 2"?
Zimmer: People misunderstand that it's equally important to learn how to listen as it is to practice your scales. I am trying to tell people that the orchestra isn't the woodwinds and the strings and whatever. It's the players. Who do you have and what are we looking to uncover? That's the mission. I'm trying to figure out what I'm hearing in my head and how to get it out there. Once I have it out, then I want to invite everybody else to kick it around a bit.