While he was never afraid of wilding out back in his Oingo Boingo days, multifaceted musician and composer, Danny Elfman, is known for his reticent personality when it comes to live performance. The talented artists has won a Grammy and an Emmy, but never an Academy Award (although he was nominated for four), and he’s perfectly fine with that.
“I think I’m probably the only one in Hollywood who sighs a big sigh of relief when they don’t get an Oscar,” explained Elfman to KROQ Los Angeles hosts Kevin & Bean on Thursday morning (September 12). “I don’t want to go up there. I really don’t want to go up there. More terrifying than performing in front of a zillion people is ever talking in front of a microphone.”
That’s why Elfman’s upcoming plans to perform 15 of his original soundtrack songs for Tim Burton’s films on Halloween at the Nokia Theatre is even more rare. Elfman will be performing a handful of songs from Nightmare Before Christmas, including singing the parts of Jack Skellington—which he hasn’t done in 20 years and has never done live. Elfman laughs, saying he backed himself into that decision and “there’s no way out.”
“First off I’ve never sung any of these songs publicly ever, so it’s not like I’m doing an Oingo Boingo song,” Elfman explained. “I only sang these in front of a microphone twenty years ago.”
For Elfman’s rare appearance, he will be performing at least one song from every Tim Burton movie he’s scored including Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Batman, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Frankenweenie, and more. He will be accompanied by the 87-piece Hollywood Symphony Orchestra conducted by John Mauceri and the 45-member Page L.A. Choir.
The grandiosity of the performance is something which has held the constantly busy Elfman back in the past; he equates organizing two decades worth of music (which he adamantly decides not to re-listen to unless he has to) to cleaning out a dirty attic full of your ancestors’ relics.
“The best way I can describe it, is that you live in an enormous house with an enormous attic and that attic is filled with generations of stuff and it’s really dusty and you know that you need to go up there and spend three months to clear it all up and organize it,” elaborated Elfman. “You know that if you did it, you’d be really happy with yourself. But getting yourself to commit to that, you put it off forever.”
It might not help that Elfman estimates that he’s scored over 80 films over the span of his career, trying to do a healthy mix of big ones with grand orchestras and smaller ones where he gets more creative freedom, throughout the year. He says he’s only supposed to be doing three or four projects a year, but has ended up doing about six in the last few years. He tries to balance himself with different kinds of projects including non-film ones like Iris for Cirque Du Soleil.
Elfman told Kevin and Bean that when he starts to create music for a movie, he starts “experimenting.”
“I call it taking it in the laboratory. I start coming up with the ideas and I start thinking, ‘What can I do with those ideas?’ I start putting them in test tubes and throwing acid on them and think, ‘What can I do with this theme?’ Can I make it quirky; can I make it happy; can I make it sad? Will I do what I need to do?”
Elfman works without re-listening to his old stuff; he has a “pathological” philosophy of just moving on from project to project and not looking back, he says. He claims he doesn’t even know if he’s “copying himself” even though he can remember melodies really well. Lyrics are a different story.
“I have a terrible, terrible memory, Like really bad. Brain damage bad when it comes to names, when it comes to words, when it comes to lyrics, I used to to just be horrible back in the Boingo days. I’d black out all the time. Black out on lyrics,” he said, clarifying he doesn’t mean alcohol. “I’d walk into a void, like I’m singing and suddenly there’s nothing there. Like chorus number two, what happened? It’s nothing. One fraction of a millisecond like the breath before that chorus it would come to me. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. But when it comes to melodies, I really can remember stuff.”
Movement and focusing on his art seems to be Elfman’s forte. Despite his boisterous performances and his nostalgic recall of his Oingo Boingo in the sweaty show Whiskey days, Elfman doesn’t miss being in a band at all and his constant allusion to his stage fright might have something to do with it. “My biggest fear in any show was the moment where something would go wrong or a guitar string would break and I’d have to go and talk,” said the shy singer. “I’ve never missed being on a big stage. I’m pathological about this. Once I record and mix that film score, I never want to hear it. I’m allergic to it.”
Which means if we are ever going to get the chance to see Elfman performing his amazing musical works, there is no better time than now.
And if you have plans to make it out to Nokia Theatre on Halloween, “For godsakes, come in costume,” says the once-dramatically dressed Oingo Boingo frontman. Duly noted, Elfman.
Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton will take place on Halloween night at the Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles.
— Nadia Noir, KROQ, Los Angeles