My Hans Zimmer story
The journey is the destination
I share this story because I have mentioned it several times in my workshops on film music. I've mentioned it in several interviews, discussed it with my musical colleagues and with my children. My daughter Barbora, who is a huge music lover (and a young 12 year old bass player), told me to write this story in English as well.
It's a story about a journey. A journey that is a destination.
It started a long time ago. I think when the soundtrack to Batman - Dark Knight came out. I saw a video of Hans Zimmer talking about originality. He mentioned that he was looking for musicians who were exceptional in their approach to music. I got the feeling that I could be part of Hans Zimmer's team. I had no idea how his world is working. I reworked his songs and tried to get to him somehow. A guy from Slovakia who was interested in nothing but music. I wanted to meet him and show him what I know so badly that I started doing music for films, I started looking for more and more unique approaches to music. Along the way, I've done music for 18 films, 6 theatre shows, one radio play, and 2 books and I had 40 releases on my Bandcamp in my 38th year. It is truly the case where the journey is the destination.
I've won almost every award and nomination available in my country. Many nominations for album of the year abroad with my project Komara, which I had with drummer Pat Mastelotto from King Crimson. Pat introduced me to John Van Tongeren, who had worked with Hans. I recorded a guitar solo for John for his new album. Last month I recorded guitars for Steven Wilson's new album that's coming out in 2023. This is our third collaboration on Steven's albums. Steven always approaches me when he needs to come up with some unusual guitars. He wrote to me:"When I hear the name David Kollar, I hear something unique and unusual."
(Steven congratulated me on the award for my contribution to music.)
Steven worked with Guthrie Govan, who plays in Hans Zimmer's band. Gergo Borlai, who is my musical brother, plays with Yolanda Charles who was in Hans Zimmer's band. Despite these contacts, it was not possible to get to Hans Zimmer.
To show him my musical world…
(My album dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky, my huge inspiration)
I managed to find a diary that I kept during my US tour in 2014.
23. 10. 2014 / 17:32
Paolo and I are in L.A., in a hotel, after a US tour. We have a free day before our flight, so I found out on the internet that Hans Zimmer has a studio fifteen minutes drive from our hotel! He inspired me a lot, especially with the soundtrack to "Batman". His approach to sound, rhythm and choice of instruments amazed me. A couple of months ago I reworked his melody on electric guitar. All the sounds are from the guitar and the microphone I have built into the body of the instrument. I decided to write a handwritten letter, put my music on a USB and we're gonna go see him. Zimmer was in Slovakia to record gypsy music for the film Sherlock Holmes 2. When I saw on his website that he was in Spišské Podhradie (village in eastern Slovakia), I was almost knocked out. If I'd known, I'd have been there... Fifty kilometers from my flat!
Paolo encouraged me and we got in the car. As we approached Zimmer's studio, I got a huge scare. Similarly, I went to see Eivind Aarset, Gergő Borlai and to see Pat Mastelotto... I was prepared for Zimmer to give me five minutes and send me away. I thought about what I would play for him and we parked the car. We arrived at the front door, where it said "couriers report to 1531 14th Street." So we went there. I moved over and rang the bell. A woman's voice came over the loudspeaker:
"How can I help you?"
"Aaaa, I've come from Slovakia to see Hans. He was recording the soundtrack for Sherlock Holmes 2 there, I wanted to show him something."
"Just a moment."
I got ready to go in.
After about a minute the Security guy came out, a huge American...
"Who are you looking for?"
"We're here to see Hans Zimmer."
"What do you have in your hand?"
"An envelope with a letter and a USB stick with music."
"Take the USB because I'm throwing it away, we're throwing all CDs and USBs in the trash. Hans records something and then a couple of fans claim he stole the idea from their CD they left behind. That's why we tell everyone right away that it's going in the trash."
"Okay, I see, so here's the letter then."
"I'll leave him the letter. What else would you like?"
"We're on tour in the US, I recorded a solo album, The Son, which was top-recorded in a couple of US magazines, so I've been invited to play here. I know Hans is always looking for interesting people, so here I am, ready to show him how I work with the guitar."
"Well Hans is in London... But I promise you I'll leave a letter on his desk."
"Oh, okay, well, good and thank you... May I still ask?... do many people come here like I ?"
"Almost every day, and mostly Germans. They think Hans will help them, after all he's German too. I wish you a safe journey home."
He left and didn't pick up the letter. I stopped him and put the letter in his hand.
(The album I recorded after my son's second surgery. This track is like a morse from a boat standing windless in the middle of the ocean)
When I read this today I laugh out loud at my naivety.
I remember I was in Venice last year. I played a few concerts in Italy. I visited Igor Stravinsky's grave. The day after me, Hans posted a photo on Instagram that he was in Venice. I also remember that I phoned the Sendreis gypsy band, who recorded a couple of tracks for Sherlock Holmes 2. They told me that Hans was coming to Bratislava for the premiere, but they wouldn't tell me when. Later I was in the mixing room with the sound engineer, who told me:
"There was this Hans Zimmerman or whatever his name is at the premiere. We had dinner with him. He was nice and humble..."
I was pissed that I couldn't get through to him, but people who didn't really care that much got to meet him.
I was ready to sell my old Honda Accord coupe and buy a ticket to LA one more time.
I also tried to contact Martin Tillman, who worked with Hans on Batman, but it didn't work out.
Hope gradually began to fade until I managed to get in touch with Hans's personal assistant, Cynthia Park. I asked my unnamed “friend” in San Francisco if he could help me write an email in good English. I knew I only had one shot. My “friend” advised me to put "Reaching Hans via Guthrie Govan" in the subject line of the email. If the assistant sees Guthrie's name there, she will open the email. I will explain in the email that I am working with people who Guthrie is also working with. In addition to Steven Wilson, I recorded guitars for Marco Minnemann's My Sister album. Marco has a band with Guthrie called The Aristocrats. So my unnamed “friend” prepared an email and I sent it from my email address. In a short time a reply came. Cynthia addressed it to me and Guthrie. That's when it dawned on me that I'd done something really stupid. Guthrie told her he didn't know me at all and wrote me a huge email about my scam. About how he had a bunch of friends around him who were trying to get to Hans and that Hans needed to be protected from people like me. Sorry, Guthrie. I didn't mean it that way.
All this time I thought Hans was the man. I felt that film music had no form. I can play how I feel, I can play to the story and I can be different... I don't have to please all the ordinary people. People understand “difficult” music in the film form. I felt it from Stanley Kubrick when he played Ligeti or Penderecki in Shinning...
I wanted to play the story. Whether about my son operations or the Komara project, which I perceived as the soundtrack to a David Lynch film. All my albums are my deed and my life.
The story, the connection of my own work with my own life and the atmosphere were for me the attributes of good music. I think these are the words of Andrei Tarkovsky "the poet of cinema"... or the paintings of Kandinsky or Malevich...
I didn't want to be like the young painter Andrey Petrovich Chartkov in Gogol's short story Portrait.
But I'll come back to my Hans Zimmer story…
After replying to my email from Cynthia Park I realized that I had completely and forever screwed up my dream of meeting Hans, who could use my guitars and sounds in a movie. I decided to leave it at that. I'm an adult and I understand how it works.
I searched for Hans Zimmer for years and discovered David Kollar.
My love for film music eventually led me to various musical genres from jazz rock, prog rock, ambient music to various sound experiments.
I actually came a long way and met musicians who are world class. We work together and we're friends (Erik Truffaz, Pat Mastelotto, Fennesz, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Tadeusz Sudnik, Steven Wilson, Arve Henriksen, just to name a few…)
I also asked Adam Jones from Tool, who did the cover art for my Komara project. In addition, Tool plays songs from the Komara album before their concerts.
Adam told me to forget this dream. He told me to work on what I was doing. To keep making music for independent films and work on my own musical language.
I've heard that the best conditions for an artist are:
”…having less money than he needs to survive and being constantly busy with work.”
Eventually I met Rick Cox, who was a longtime colleague of the innovator Jon Hassell. We got to know each other during Covid. Rick and I really became friends. We had long video chats during my quarantine in the studio. He showed me his own interval system and told me a lot of stories about Jon Hassell's life. I sent Rick almost all of my albums on CDs. Rick later told me that he had been working with Thomas Newman since 1982. Rick is good friends with Chas Smith. They've known each other since 1980. Rick got Chas to Thomas Newman. Their collaboration led Chas to music editors. Thanks to them, Chas got to Hans.
(In 2021, I composed new music for the 100th anniversary of the first silent Slovak film, Janošik. Rick watched the live stream and sent the recording to Thomas.)
”The Sunday before the Super bowl, I rode my bike around Santa Monica. I arrived at Hans Zimmer's studio. His cleaning lady had just opened the door. She was walking into the building next door. She asked if I was looking for anybody. I told her I was just a tourist. I noticed a German BMW 7-series outside the studio. I asked if it belonged to Hans. She said it was his. Hans was just in London rehearsing with the band before the tour. I remembered how in 2013 my friend Jozef Kukura and I paid an IMDB pro to show us the contact details for this studio. Jozko with his super English made a phone call there. A woman's voice answered on the other end. Jozef told her that I wanted to come and play my songs live for Mr. Zimmer in the studio... We were naive fools from the post-Communist bloc hah…
Our rule was:"work hard and go try your luck in the big world because you won't do anything here... "
(My first live stream concert that Rick saw was during Covid. It was hell playing for “only” 3 cameras (no people in the room) - headphones recommended)
“I think film music is the only commercial outlet for experimental music. For this music, film is a bridge to understanding or perceiving experimental music for inexperienced listeners.”
I finally returned to LA in 2022 (a week before super bowl), but not to Hans Zimmer's studio, but to Thomas Newman's studio. I love Thomas Newman's music. I learned to play the 1917 Soundtrack on guitar. American Beauty too. It was a tremendous experience. With Thomas and Rick Cox we recorded a few dozen minutes of improvisation. I plan to release an album from this meeting at the beginning of 2023.
Thank you Thom for this opportunity. As Rick says:
“In the end, it's all about the music and the moment when it flows…”
The journey is the destination.
Thank you Hans …
I and Thomas Newman
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