You started DJ’ing in 2013. What joy does DJ’ing bring you that producing does not?
The main thing was that I was in the background for like 40 years. Donna [Summer] was there singing. I was like, ‘It’s my song, it’s nice, but why don’t I sing?’ I did some albums but never with the intention of performing because I don’t remember lyrics, my voice is not that great. This gives me the possibility to be an artist. Now I’m up there. I remixed most, not all, of the songs, so it’s not just the record.
You were leading people in the wave. That must be a feeling of power.
Oh yeah. The only problem is you cannot do it too long. I’m 77, I’m still active, but to do this for five minutes! So I have a trick— I do it for a certain amount of [time] and, according to the song, I stop on a beat. Then the audience gets a reason that I stopped, not just that I’m tired (laughs). I was talking about that with David Guetta. You take a 12-hour flight and you have to perform and he said, “Well, that’s just one of the things. The other thing is you jump for two hours.” Of course, I’m older and so I’m more affected. Guetta is what, 45? He’s not the youngest one. He said, “God, it’s like the arms and the legs. It’s a workout.”
Between DJ’ing gigs, you’re scoring USA Network’s Queen of the South. What’s the biggest challenge scoring episodic TV?
I work with Raney Shockne, who is an incredible pianist. We divide up the work. I compose most of the things, relatively short, maybe a minute, and then he works them out. The first year, every scene was completely new. We’ve started with the second year and it’s much easier. Some of the themes are done already. If we get a third year, it’s even easier because we have so much music. The editors are geniuses, the way they cut the stuff.
The lead is a little bit like a female Scarface. Was that what drew you to the project since you wrote the score for that iconic film?
That’s why they asked me to do it. It’s a little bit like Scarface [meets] “I Feel Love,” that sound.
You put out your first album in more than 20 years on RCA in 2015. How long before another album?
I have a single deal with Casablanca now. We released “Champagne, Secrets & Chanel” with Prince Charlez, a wonderful singer. It’s a little bit of a fashion kind of a song. That’s what he really likes. He wrote most of it. That’s the way they do it — the singers write the music and I come in and change a little bit. It’s not like when I worked with Donna and it was just her and me. If you look at the credits [now], they have five, six, seven composers. The friend who sits in the studio and says, “I changed that note,” he becomes a composer.
Let’s revisit your three Academy Awards. Your first was for the score to 1978’s Midnight Express, which was also the first film you scored.
[Director] Alan Parker loved “I Feel Love.” Basically, he said “you do whatever.” I was like a kid saying, “Ok! Let’s get a bass line and do this and do this.” I thought I did a good job, but it was not like, “OK, be serious and do some violins.” I just fooled around with a synthesizer and I got an Oscar.
Did you think, “Wow, film work is easy?”
Actually, yes (laughs).
You next won for “Flashdance…What a Feeling,” the title track to 1983’s Flashdance. How did writing that song come about?
I was not really interested in doing the movie. [Producer] Jerry Bruckheimer gave me the [movie] and said, “Look at it and if you like it, we’re happy for you to do it.” I had a girlfriend of mine watch the movie [while] I was in [my home] studio finishing something. I went into the TV room, she was crying, saying “Oh what a great movie, you have to see it.” I liked it, I must say. You get an offer from Jerry Bruckheimer, [you don’t say], “Oh no, I don’t want it.” I wrote that song and he liked it. It usually takes me about two days to do a very rough sketch. Then we found Irene Cara, who the year before that had had the big hit with “Fame.” Keith Forsey, my drummer, wrote the lyrics. With Irene, I personally knew exactly what to do, but sometimes the artist will say, “I want to redo it” and you can’t say, “No, no, you can’t.” The second time, I don’t think she improved it that much, but the third time, especially towards the ending, she brought in more emotion and it elevated it. With Donna, once we recorded it, it was done, we’d very rarely go back.
“Take My Breath Away,” recorded by Berlin for Top Gun, won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Original Song in 1986. Is that your favorite song you’ve ever done?
Yes. “Flashdance” is the other one. “Take My Breath Away” has a great sound (hums the opening notes). The melody is good. It reminds me a little bit of a romantic Italian traditional [song.]. Thank God the way Terri [Nunn] sang it was like a modern singer. If I had recorded it with a typical Italian guy, it would have been very dramatic, crying. She did a good job.
Didn’t several other singers took a crack at it before Terri?
Several. [The Motels’] Martha [Davis] did one. It came out nice, but [producers] Jerry [Bruckheimer] and Don [Simpson] didn’t think it was right. We gave it to Stevie Nicks. I don’t think she said she doesn’t like it, [but] she passed. There was a male British singer, Paul Young, and then I think we had somebody else.
Which current artist are you eager to work with?
The Weeknd would be perfect. The Weeknd is with Republic, which [operates] Casablanca. I did a remix of the theme of Scarface that I remixed especially for him.
Has he heard it?
I don’t know. That’s the mystery of the record companies. Some of the songs he did before and now -- “Starboy" is an incredible song -- the arrangement, the voice. He’s a great artist.