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:: Spotlight :: Casino Royale - Interview with Chris Cornell (songwriter for latest James Bond movie)

By: courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

Chris Cornell is known to many in the music industry in his involvement with the bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. He has now reached another level as the songwriter for the latest James Bond theme music, by way of “You Know My Name”, from “Casino Royale”. Chris spoke about this momentous occasion and the status of being part of the James Bond phenomenon.

Is doing the Bond theme a double edged sword – an honour and a lot of history to live up to, plus all the scrutiny you would be getting?

A little bit, yeah. My concern about the scrutiny had to do really with the moment. It had to do with the producers and the director for this particular movie, because after seeing a rough edit of the film I was really motivated to write this song for this film and to be a part of this particular film. I think it’s such a departure for the franchise, and I think it’s going to have a huge impact on moviemaking, commercial filmmaking really.

What was process of getting involved in it. Is there some kind of ‘beauty contest’?

I think they did that in their beauty contest world and I didn’t have to be part of that. We just answered the phone.

Did you see a script or footage?

It was based on the book, Casino Royale, so I had that. And I was given a script, and then I was allowed to see a rough edit of the film, maybe two thirds of it. Some of it they hadn’t finished filming, some of it wasn’t edited in. What I didn’t want to do was be one of three or four people writing a song. I’m busy, and that’s not conducive to really putting your blood and sweat into it. I was assured this wouldn’t be the case; that they believed in me and I was the right guy for the job. And once I saw the edit I believed that actually I was the right guy for the job. It certainly wasn’t a convenient pairing of ‘superstar’ with ‘big budget film’. So after that I was just really motivated to do well.

Were you given a title for the song as well?

No, not for the song. I was very excited to hear what the title for the movie would be and extremely disappointed to find out it was Casino Royale. If I’d never heard Live & Let Die as a title, or anything like that, and decided to write a song; if someone said ‘write a song about Live & Let Die’ that’d be real easy. Or ‘Thunderball’. It’s like an AC/DC song for a Bond film, it’d be real easy. Casino Royale was very disappointing because I knew that no-one was going to want a song called that and no-one was going to want to hear anyone sing that, at least not now. Maybe 30 years ago.

Rhyme would have been tough too?

Yeah. But I’m a professional I could probably do it.

How was it working with David Arnold?

It was really great, he’s really quiet. He’s someone who’s inside a room with no windows most of the time, he’s a composer. So I think we naturally kind of got along in that way. He’s a very gentle guy, very encouraging and he seemed to like everything that I did right away.

Were you a Bond fan before? Know the history of the Bond films?

I’m a huge Beatles fan for one thing. The song Live And Let Die had a big impact on me as a kid, and the Sean Connery James Bond had a big impact on a child of 9, 10 or 11 years old. It was very big in America, and obviously for teenage boys the superspy with an Aston Martin and the gadgets and the revolving door or European women – everybody likes that. It was a good idea, whoever came up with that.

Were you given any parameters to adhere to on this, or suggestions from the producers?

The suggestions were the most infuriating thing which was ‘think outside the box’, ‘go do whatever you want’. Working with some parameters, with some limitations, I’m actually really good at. If you give someone this many tools and say ‘build that’ you’re job’s in front of you. It’s easy. If you can do anything you want you have to figure out what that is, so really I just had to kind of wait. I didn’t really attempt to write anything; I waited a good three or four weeks and just kind of wandered around. I kept imagining the first several minutes of the film that I was shown, and where they said ‘your song will start here’. I kept imagining, given my memory of what I’d seen, what that song sounded like. And eventually I came up with this.

Where did you record it?

We recorded it in London - Air Studios.

Where does recording a Bond theme song rank in your career achievements to date?

It’s one of those things that stands out. Had I not done it I wouldn’t have done it and there would be no ‘oh then he did the Bond theme’, but because I have done it it’s there, it’s something I’ll probably talk about for the rest of my career, which is great. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think Paul McCartney would ever have written Live And Let Die for a record. He wouldn’t have ever written a song like that or produced or recorded a song like that if it weren’t for the film. And he never did again. And it’s the same thing for me, I’ll never have the opportunity to write or record a song like this again. This is something that lives in the world, as different as the movie is, it still lives in this James Bond, imaginary superspy world.

Thoughts when you saw the finished film with the credit sequence, after only seeing part of it before writing it?

I needed to know what the sequence was going to be like; what it wasn’t going to have and what it was going to have. Actually since the song has been finished I’ve refused to see it because I don’t want to see it until I’m sitting in the theatre, dressed up next to my beautiful wife watching it with 5.1 surround.

Concerned that something in the finished film might have suggested another way to go with the song?

Probably not. I spend most of my time writing songs in a vacuum where the visual aspect comes much later, when you’re making a video or something. Really I think, just to hear the music in the theatre with the sound system at 5.1 like that, at the beginning of such a great James Bond film, I can’t imagine that I’m going to be picking it apart too much. If I’m just sitting listening to the song and I’m not looking at anything I always pick it apart. That’s very difficult to get away from. That sometimes takes years. If I listen to the song six years from now I probably won’t because it’s too late.

Reaction of your peers that you were doing a Bond song?

I think it was mixed. There was some surprise, specifically if you think about the last person [to do a theme song] being Madonna. And also, especially in the US, not that many people were familiar with Daniel Craig as an actor, but I was, seeing him in a lot of different movies like Munich, The Jacket, and Layer Cake. Things like that where I kind of had been paying attention to him as an actor. I’m a huge film fan. I think most people when they first heard that I was going to be doing a Bond theme song were thinking about the last four movies, and thinking that doesn’t necessarily make sense. And I knew in the back of my mind that if it doesn’t make sense it won’t make sense later. If I look like a tit now I’m going to look like a genius now – that’s quite hard to do.

Being different from your other songs like Black Hole Sun, was this a conscious effort to write something very different?

I wanted it to live in the film honestly. Really, the whole image of what you’re seeing until the song comes, and that having to be the right song is the most important thing. That was more important than what I felt like doing. It was more important than what song I wanted to force the audience to listen to seven minutes into the film. I also ended up speaking with David Arnold for a long time, right after seeing the edit and right after meeting him for the first time. One of the conversations we got into was that the music for the title sequence, for example when it was the Madonna version, it never revisited in the score. It doesn’t reverberate. Being a fan of films and always being interested in that aspect of it, I thought that was kind of a shame. I loved the idea that if I came up with a melody that’s in the first few minutes of the movie and that reverberates throughout the rest of the film. That’s an impact on the film that people will see forever. It led me to want to work with David and also led me to what the music is.

Did you know the sort of song that they weren’t looking for then?

Yeah, my impression - and this is from listening to the last several - is that there were some songs that were thematically similar and these spy movie music elements being brought into it sounded more like the Perry Mason theme than James Bond. Literally.

Generic espionage themes?

Exactly. But before that I think they’re very different than each other. If you listen to Tom Jones singing Thunderball, and you listen to Live And Let Die, they don’t have anything to do with each other. So I was looking more at what’s been going on in the last ten years, and that was what I didn’t want to do. That wouldn’t have been any fun and I don’t think I would have done that. They were very clear that that’s not what they wanted.

Did Martin Campbell have any input in the process?

No, I think if you have a script, you have a book, and you’ve seen an edit, that’s so much more to go on than me as a songwriter would normally have. When I wrote Black Hole Sun I was watching the news and I misheard the anchorman say something, I thought he said Black Hole Sun and he didn’t. That’s where the song came from. So to have all this material was plenty.

Had you read the book already then?

Yeah.

Did you see differences between Fleming’s creation and the film character?

Absolutely.

Lyrics must echo character to be true – unlike, say, From Russia With Love?

Yeah, that’s the part where I was lucky. I was unlucky that the title of the movie was Casino Royale. I was very lucky with the fact that there’s emotional depth to the character, to the performance, to the script. And there was something to relate to emotionally. There are parts of my life, and my own emotional content where I could actually relate to it, and then you’re more drawing from yourself as opposed to looking at something outside yourself and then trying to describe it. I think to do that well you have to borrow something from yourself anyway. This was easy to do, because of the movie.

Any differences recording this pop promo from any other promo?

Not really, it’s just more and bigger. It’s a little different, to some degree it’s more fun I think, because I’m discussing things I don’t normally discuss. We’re not talking about the mix of the song and why guitar is sounding like this, over and over and over again.

Who was your favourite Bond, before Daniel of course?

Sean Connery. I made that decision very, very young. Eight or nine years old. And it was the right one.

Talk us through the mix - there are different versions of the song aren’t there?

I think there are four different versions now. When we were first recording it everything was done basically with rock guitars. David Arnold and I played all the instruments except for where we had a studio drummer come in the first day. When we were finished it was really just a straightforward rock song and the orchestra was put on the last day. I think David was holding my hand, believing that I was going to be very uncomfortable with the idea of an orchestra. I couldn’t be more the opposite. I was thinking that if I was going to do a Bond theme song I wanted to do a real Bond theme song. He was saying how some other artists had refused to have any type of Bond treatment or affectation put on their song. I was excited, and the reason why there is more than one version is simply because it was originally recorded as a straight up rock version and then there was this orchestration put on the top. I wanted to present it as both. The version that will be on my record will be the one with the orchestra on it. That’s the one that I like.

What about the download single?

That’ll be the orchestra one as well. I think we might offer two.

Did the producers know you were a Bond fan when they asked you to write this song?

They didn’t know anything about me. They knew about my records, that’s it.

Did you find this a particularly British enterprise?

I do now, yeah, but not at first. It’s a franchise that was super-popular in the United States, so you know it’s going to be important in Britain. But until I actually started to get involved in it I didn’t really think about it too much.

Might you return to do the theme for another Bond in the future? Or write a score?

Scoring films is hard. I don’t think I would want to do that. I’ve seen what it takes. It’s too much work. Why work that hard? I don’t have to. If I was asked to do another song, possibly, but probably not. I don’t see how it would be as exciting as this moment really.

What was your deadline to write the song?

It was pretty liberal. I think the producers of the Bond franchise are pretty together. They know what they’re doing and they’ve done this a lot. I was given a lot of time, from first seeing the edit to negotiating, and indeed it would be me, and writing the song, demo-ing it; they were involved in every step. So it was ‘here’s the demo, now what do you think?’. They loved it. In recording the song, doing the mixes, it was all very comfortable. We had plenty of time to do it.

Are you happy to work in collaboration with someone, as you did with the producers here?

I’ve never done it. Even in this case it was a question of letting somebody know what it was you were doing and keeping them abreast of what it sounds like and what you’re doing. They were not responding ever with ‘we don’t like this line that you wrote here,’ or ‘we think you should change that chord’. No-one ever said anything. It was just ‘we like it’, and that’s usually the way that I’ve worked, it’s kind of me left alone to do what I do. I don’t think that I would have asked to do this is they wanted to get their hands dirtier and get more involved in something. I’ve also been told, since the song was finished, that things went really smoothly, and it doesn’t always go this way. So I feel fortunate that that happened. I think if you make the right decision from the start, and everyone does their job right; if you pick the right guy for the song and you’ve really done your research, then things should turn out right. And I feel like it did, because of that.

Casino Royale opens across Australia on December 7, 2006.