Amazing Spider-Man 2: The Music

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For the film’s music, the filmmakers are experimenting with a very unusual arrangement. Marc Webb has turned to Oscar® winning composer Hans Zimmer to form a supergroup, including Pharrell Williams (possibly the hottest talent in music today, who had a hand in the two biggest hits of 2013), The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Incubus’ Michael Einziger and JunkieXL – among others – to work together on the music for the film.

The result is a score by a band: Hans Zimmer and The Magnificent Six featuring Pharrell Williams and Johnny Marr.

Zimmer says, “Marc and I were talking about Spider-Man, and as the word got out many of our musicians-friends started calling us up, wanting to be a part of it simply because they love Spider-Man. That was the thing that united all of us – the great love for Spider-Man. With all of these hugely talented people wanting to join us, it was Marc who said, ‘Why not start a band?’”

“Sound and image are inextricably linked,” says Webb. “I can’t think of one without the other. So when I was putting this film together, I wanted a musical collaborator who could bring in a lot of different voices to create a big sonic landscape. I also wanted rock music – the film takes place in New York, where punk rock started, where hip-hop started, where there’s a huge electronic music scene, so through the music, we could make the film feel real and contemporary.”

“I felt that, for me, superhero movies needed a new approach,” Zimmer continues. “The ideas really came from a conversation Pharrell and I had over a year ago on the nature of what makes music resonate in our lives. Spider-Man is a young man, just graduating college. He has big things going on in his life, but he deals with them in a different way than someone older, and deals with things with a sense of youthful humor and a New York young man’s fearless attitude. I don’t think he hears Wagnerian horns and Mahlerian strings in his head describing his emotions. He expresses himself through rock ‘n roll.”

With that in mind, Zimmer and his fellow musicians started from scratch. “Spider-Man didn’t have as much of a musical identity as we wanted him to have – he deserves an iconic quality. I wanted to play America but a new America. Marc wanted a fanfare and it took me a while to figure out how to reconcile that idea in my head with my ‘band’ approach, which ultimately meant a great soloist – a great ‘front man,’ not an orchestral section of trumpets. I thought of my favorite trumpet player, Arturo Sandoval. We took Johnny Marr’s kinetic playing and juxtaposed it against Arturo’s heroic tone to give wings to the tune. We did it in a very New York way; two cultures colliding, two strong musical personalities coming together to give you something fresh.”

So, Zimmer and his band began a reinvention of film music – an approach 180 degrees from the way it’s usually done. “We really embraced a rock and roll ethos,” says Zimmer. “We said, ‘Let’s start by writing an album’s worth of songs, and then derive the score from the melodies that are in those songs.”

To achieve that, Zimmer pulled together some of the reigning legends in their fields. “I wanted to create the chaos where everybody has to get to know each other through playing together. It’s the easiest thing in the world for musicians to re-capture the feeling and energy of who you where, as twenty-year-olds and in your first band (well, Andrew K and Steve Mazzaro are twenty-year olds…). We had Johnny Marr, Pharrell Williams, and Mike Einziger; Ann Marie Simpson, who’s a fabulous violinist; Steve Lipson, who was engineering and producing; Junkie XL, who can do so many things, but quickly realized he should be playing bass, so he grabbed a bass and now he’s the bass player; Andy Page, a brilliant electronic musician. We just started jamming with Marc in the room, coming up with ideas like a garage-band, coming up with the sound of the movie. It was never about famous names. It was about them all being great musicians and bringing together that generous, playful spirit that has made them into famous names.” The Magnificent Six are Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, Junkie XL, Andrew Kawczynski, and Steve Mazzaro.

Pharrell Williams notes that Zimmer is his mentor and the undisputed leader of the band. “Hans was the nucleus, the impetus,” says Williams. “He led us on the path, like a general. We all had to look at our own propensities, and figure out what we would contribute to the direction that Hans brought. Hans doesn’t even realize how these ideas he has are gigantic gestures for the rest of us.”

“Working on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been a good time and very interesting,” says Johnny Marr. “Hans always keeps me on my toes and makes everyone think about the music in unusual ways. There are some themes that will surprise people.”

As an example of the way the band worked together, Zimmer cites the development of one of the themes. “It started off with a motive Mikey Einziger came up with. Then Ann Marie Simpson pushed it a little bit further, in that naughty way that it became a real challenge for Mikey to play, which he of course embraced, because he likes a bit of a challenge. He went off to practice that, and I took that and added some of my notes, more complications, partly to push his limits and to turn the motive into more of a theme. This seedthen turned into a much larger theme once everybody else had added their ideas to it.”

Or another: “For the love theme, Johnny came in one morning with a pretty complete set of chords. Johnny and I were working on those and, as we did that, Pharrell was sitting there quietly, typing away on his cell phone. When Johnny and I finished arguing about the chords, Pharrell said, ‘OK, can I get a microphone?’ Of course, Pharrell wasn’t texting – he was writing the lyrics and the tune to the song that Johnny and I were working on. And there it was, our love theme.”

For the Electro theme, the musicians again went in a different direction. “Pharrell, Marc and I were looking at the character, and we said, ‘You know what we should do – we should write him an opera.’ It’s not an opera in the way your father thinks of an opera. The instrumentation is far more adventurous than you normally get in a film score – 12 woodwinds with distorted voices (did I mention that our director is a lapsed bassoonist?) combined with a serious Johnny Marr guitar riff and JunkieXL electronica. It’s not overtly a song, it’s not overtly a score cue; it’s something else, and that’s always what you reach for.”

Zimmer says he has another reason for collaborating with Williams time and again: “One of the reasons I love working with Pharrell is that I come up with some moody chords, and he comes up with a beautiful tune.”

Zimmer also points out that the band had one more full and acknowledged member: director Marc Webb. “He’s a full-on musician at heart,” says Zimmer. “He pretends that he knows nothing about classical music, and then he uses words like ostinato and diminuendo in conversation. He has the enthusiasm and passion of a musician, and then he can turn around and describe with great articulation what the subtext of a scene is about for him.”

“There’s never been a score like this,” says Webb. “It doesn’t sound like any other Hans Zimmer score. It draws inspiration from Purcell operas and dubstep in the same piece. The extremes of the musical spectrum that we got to explore is just extraordinary.”

The music even hints at the threats to come. The song “It’s On Again,” performed by Alicia Keys featuring Kendrick Lamar, featured in the film, contains a score theme that was created by Hans and Pharrell and woven into the song. The filmmakers and composers plan that this theme will, in future films, become the villainous theme of the Sinister Six.

“Ultimately, what brought everybody together was that everybody loves this character,” Zimmer concludes. “Everybody grew up with the idea of Spider-Man, and it felt really great that we all could be a part of it.”

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