DFW Music News

Hans Zimmer Talks About Overcoming Stage Fright to Face His Audience for the First Time

Hans Zimmer is on tour for the first time in his career.
Hans Zimmer is on tour for the first time in his career. Suzanne Teresa
Hans Zimmer will perform at Verizon Theatre on Thursday, July 13.
At nearly 60 years old, the prolific film score composer Hans Zimmer decided to try something he’d never done before. He’s the go-to guy in Hollywood for creating monumental soundtracks for some of the most-loved movies: The Lion King, Gladiator, the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar, The Last Samurai — and the list goes on to more than 150 films. He has won handfuls of awards for his efforts from stage to screen, including an Academy Award, Grammys, Golden Globes and a Tony, among others. But he’d never performed live.

Last year, Pharrell Williams, a frequent collaborator of Zimmer’s, and Johnny Marr, one of the founders of the Smiths, persuaded the composer to take his music on the road. He says despite his stage fright, at that point, there was no turning back.

He premiered the show at Coachella to a rousing crowd response and stellar critical reviews. After touring it abroad since April, he’s back in the States. He’ll be in Dallas on July 13, his first U.S. tour stop since returning. We caught up with him via phone from Los Angeles before he sets out for this next leg.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned after touring this show all over the world?
The most surprising thing for us was Coachella. [It was] the hope I had, which I never voiced, because what if I was wrong? Us being stuck in the pigeonhole of film music, we actually managed to break out of those walls at Coachella, which wasn't an audience of film music fans. The thing went [over with] a big festival audience just as well as anything else. I was just as surprised at the reaction as the audience was about what we did. [We did it] by breaking all the rules — everybody had told me what not to do, and I didn't listen to anybody. We did exactly what we felt we should do. I did get cold feet a couple of times beforehand, let me be honest. That's where being surrounded by great musicians really helps.

"You know the definition of a gentleman? Somebody who can play the banjo but refrains from playing it. But I'm not a gentleman." – Hans Zimmer

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The film scores are so iconic, and the music resonates with people. I can see how this did so well at Coachella.
It's a thing I never got to do — have real-time communication with an audience. I've always hidden behind the screen. It's like, we finish the movie, and we send it out into the world. In the first weekend, I sneak into the cinema to see how it's doing. But it's really different standing up on the stage and actually looking the audience in the eye; you play differently. The audience, of course, is part of the performance, but sometimes I can't tell, am I playing it or is the audience playing me? And those are the good bits.

How interesting. The audience playing you? I'm wondering what that's like for you. I'm also curious if there are certain pieces that get more of a crowd response.
Different pieces have a different response. I was talking to Johnny Marr about this. I said, "Good God, I'm just exhausted after each show, and I'm not really doing much more than I usually do." He said, "You're seeing it wrong. What do you do with all the energy you get back from the crowd?" It's a really interesting question because so few people get to experience it. You're standing there and you get hit with the energy of 10,000 people out there. Where do you put it? I can understand I'm a little nuts after the show.

Have you figured out what to do with the surplus of energy?
Not really. I'm figuring it out. I usually get onto the bus and have complete solitude for a little bit. Everybody in the band has their method of dealing with it. Some people turn into chatterboxes. Other people need to run around the block. It's sort of an experience we don't have words for. I'm sort of loving it.

This is the first time you've done a tour.
Yes it is. There's a dare that I have with myself. I always had stage fright, which is one of the reasons I avoided going onto the stage. I always thought it would get better, but it doesn't get better. So the dare is you have to go and do things despite [it]. You can't let fear rule your life. Part of the dare is literally just taking that first step onto the stage and getting through the first number. And if you get through the first number, I might survive this show. I suppose for the audience, part of the entertainment is like watching a gladiator — I'm not comparing myself to that — but is he actually gonna make it through the show? Or is this going to be like a big car crash?

I think they probably can't tell you have stage fright, but of course you feel it on the inside.
I've lived such an isolated life. It really made me aware of how isolated my life is. I love writing music, and I love movies. So what do I do? I go from home to the studio, and I go from the studio to my home, and that's it. That's been it for 30-odd years. People like Pharrell [Williams] and Johnny [Marr] said, "You've got to get out of your room and face your audience." Actually what they said is you have to get out of your "windowless room." I looked around and we're in a dark, windowless room every night. My fate seems to be the dark, windowless room. But that's OK.

I was going to ask how the tour came about.
I got ganged up on [laughs]! We were sitting around talking about something else and they said, "This would sound good live." It seemed like a good idea at the time. Once you say yes, you can't actually go back. I took a deep leap into the cold water. The most important thing is I'm touring with musicians I've worked with all my life. That's a great thing. I try to make the shows about all the amazing musicians who are really visually great on top of being great musicians, which is how it was always supposed to be. I wanted the audience to see who are these people who have contributed to this music.

How many musicians are you playing with?
I have nearly 60 people up on the stage. ... I wanted to work against type. On top of having this amazing drummer, I have these two amazing female percussionists. There was a time where people didn't believe girls could play that hard. I wanted to find a way of showing off my wonder women and have a bit of jaw-dropping female energy up there onstage.

How many instruments do you play yourself in the show?
Guitar, piano, synth and one of the most neglected instruments, a banjo. You know the definition of a gentleman? Somebody who can play the banjo but refrains from playing it. But I'm not a gentleman [laughs].

Hans Zimmer, 8 p.m. Thursday, July 13, Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie, $55-$150, verizontheatre.com.

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