Game of Thrones Soundtrack Composer Ramin Djawadi Explains The Multimedia Experience Hitting Phoenix This Week

Game of Thrones Soundtrack Composer Ramin Djawadi Explains The Multimedia Experience Hitting Phoenix This Week
Courtesy of Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience
The spectacular land of Westeros is coming to Phoenix in the form of an epic arena concert.

The Game Of Thrones Live Concert Experience will take fans of the popular HBO show Game Of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” through the events of the series’ first six seasons. Giant video screens and special effects will immerse audiences in the violence and fantasy that makes it the number-one show in the world.

At the helm will be the show’s composer, Ramin Djawadi. The German-Iranian musician, whose diverse upbringing has served him well creating music for the hit films Iron Man and Pacific Rim, will conduct an orchestra, choir, and several solo performances to bring the battle for the Iron Throne to life over seven elaborate stages.

This extensive tour comes at a time when film and television scores have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts.

The soundtracks to the programs Westworld (which Djawadi also composes) and Stranger Things have appeared on Billboard’s Top 200 chart. Composer Hans Zimmer, who is best known for scoring many of director Christopher Nolan’s films, is making an appearance at this year’s Coachella festival.

New Times recently spoke with Djawadi about his musical journey, the public’s hunger for film and television scores, and conducting his music in venues normally reserved for rock musicians.

Note: This interview has been edited for the sake of clarity.

New Times: How are the rehearsals going?
Ramin Djawadi:
The rehearsals are going amazing. The musicians are pumped. Things are coming together. We’ve looked at this conceptually for so long that to have it in front of us now, it is amazing.

Did you have to make any changes to the music to bring it to an arena setting?

I definitely changed things around a bit. We are picking up a new orchestra and choir in each city we tour in, but I have a solo band traveling with me. I rearranged the pieces a little bit to feature them so they will each have their moments.

Of course, there are things on the soundtracks that I can do in the studio that I can’t do in a live setting. I actually re-created new arrangements for the tour that are not on the soundtrack. I hope people will be excited to hear some new pieces. It’s the same material that fans are familiar with, but in a new form.

It’s pretty awesome that you and Hans Zimmer are on tour at the same time. Did you ever think you would be touring with your work?

Never. That is something I never even thought of. It is amazing that we are even able to do this. It’s in high demand. People are really excited seeing and hearing the music from their favorite shows and movies with an orchestra and visuals.

I find it ironic that pop musicians are scoring movies and film and television composers are now touring the arenas that pop musicians usually occupy. Does it feel like you are invading each other’s turf sometimes?

I do, but in a good way. As you described it, things used to be so categorized that some composers stay in a studio and work with orchestras and don’t perform live, and band artists did not do scores. Now, it seems there are no boundaries. Everybody kind of does everything. I think that is really exciting. That is something I really love.

Before I went into the film world, I played in bands. I played live quite a lot. When I started my film and TV composition work, I completely stopped performing live, and I miss that quite a bit. I miss connecting with the audience. It’s exciting to me. I carved out time in my schedule for this tour so I could be there myself and conduct, perform, and experience the whole thing.

What kind of music did you play before you entered film composition?

It was quite the range. There were some pop-rock bands I played in as a teenager. In the ’80s, I was big into heavy metal and rock. In college, I played in some cover bands and jazz bands. I loved playing live so much. My main instrument was guitar, so I would play it in all these different bands.

I can see the composer of Game Of Thrones playing in a metal band.

I can rock out, that’s for sure. In some of the heavier action pieces, you can hear some of that rock influence in there. In the show’s music review meetings, David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] will joke around and say, “Ramin, that string arrangement would probably work really well on the guitar as a rock riff.” They can hear a little bit of that connection and a contemporary spin on orchestral music. You can hear those influences on Iron Man and Pacific Rim, too.

Do those influences come in handy when choosing the piano covers for Westworld?

Absolutely. The song selection actually came from Jonathan Nolan, the showrunner. It happened to be that all the songs he picked, Rolling Stones, Soundgarden, and Radiohead, were all music I loved and was familiar with. It was easy for me to adapt them for piano.

When I was growing up, if I liked a film score, I would buy it right after I saw the movie. My friends would make fun of me, of course. Nowadays, your soundtracks, along with many others, top the charts. Are we in a film score renaissance?

It’s amazing to see such a high interest in these scores, because it is a niche market. When something becomes so commercially appealing, I think that’s great. That is why we are able to do these concert tours, because people are interested in what is mostly instrumental music.

Was there a particular score that reached out to you growing up?

Of course, there’s Star Wars. The one that really triggered it for me was The Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein. There was something about it. I watched a lot of Westerns [growing up]. It made me realize that this is something I want to do.

How much time do you get to compose music for an episode or a movie?

It depends. Normally in television, that schedule is really tight and almost goes all year. You get about a week and a half to do an episode. With Game Of Thrones, the schedule is more stretched out, but the episodes are also longer with no commercial breaks. For the whole season, I get about three to four months. It is about the same for a movie, too.

Do you get the visuals beforehand or do you occasionally have to go from a script?

It’s a bit of both. Normally, I don’t really start until I have the visuals in front of me, even if it’s not the final edit, so I have something to look at and get inspired by. Many projects, Westworld being a good example, I started writing music before I even saw anything. I read the script, and while he was shooting, I started sending him music on set.

Game Of Thrones Live Concert Experience is scheduled for Sunday, March 26, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil