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Ocean's Thirteen - David Holmes interview

David Holmes

Interview by Rob Carnevale

AS OCEAN’S Thirteen makes its way into cinemas this week, we talk to David Holmes, the man behind the stylish soundtracks for all three movies.

He talks about the joy of working with director Steven Soderbergh, how he came to select the musical styles for Ocean’s return to Vegas and what we can expect from him in the future…

At what point do you get involved with the soundtrack?
David Holmes: I come in at script level. I get a copy of the script, I read it straight away and from that ideas start to form. I then compile CDs and send them to Steven [Soderbergh] and we communicate via email. If he’s feeling positive about something he lets me know and the other stuff he just ignores [laughs].

But from the positive stuff you get other ideas and they lead to bigger, better ideas. To be honest, it’s a constant stab in the dark really. But I’m constantly thinking about what the characters look like and I’ve come to know them inside out. So it’s not hard to conjure ideas.

What was the biggest challenge of the Ocean’s 13 soundtrack?
David Holmes: It was quite difficult because we were going back to Vegas and we didn’t want to replicate what I’d done on Ocean’s 11. I guess 13 is an amalgamation of 11 and 12 but with a very live sound. I wanted it to sound like a band was playing constantly. I wanted it to be very tight, to sound modern yet with some swing to it, and I wanted to use a lot of different instruments this time.

Any in particular?
David Holmes: I remember one day I was driving to San Diego with my wife and some friends and we were listening to the Elvis 1968 Comeback Special and the harmonica kept on coming up. I thought to myself that I had to get one. Twenty four hours later I was in the studio and I asked my assistant to find a harmonica player. They came up with Tommy Morgan, who played on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds LP, on the soundtrack to How The West Was Won, and who did the theme from The Rockford Files. I immediately said: “He’ll do!” [laughs] He came to the studio three hours later. I had a cue I was working on that was missing one element and I played him The Comeback Special and he just started laughing and said: “That’s me kid!” I thought he was taking the piss but he had played with Elvis. And he then set his stall out and nailed it in one piece.

What was it like recording the album at the Ocean Way Recording Studio?
David Holmes: Well, the room we recorded in was the same one that [Frank] Sinatra did everything from 1960 onwards. It has a magical feeling. I grew up listening to all those records so it felt too good to be true.

Q. Do you continue to draw on references like Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schiffrin?
David Holmes: Not Lalo. As for Morricone, I think the guy’s a genius. But there’s a lot of other influences – a lot of Ocean’s 13 has been influenced by the old library music of the ’60s and ’70s, a lot of French music, a lot of composers, Serge Gainsbourg, Roland Vincent and tonnes and tonnes of stuff that I listen to. A lot of the music I’d be influenced by often comes from a band that might have made one album and was never heard of again. I also reference Brazilian music. With regards to Morricone, I listen to him because, to me, he’s a complete legend who never ceases to amaze me. But in terms of inspiring me as a music maker a lot of my influences are a lot less known.

Q. What’s it like working with Steven Soderbergh?
David Holmes: It’s amazing. He’s so laidback, very direct and yet very open minded and very down to earth. He treats you with respect, he listens to you and lets you create and enjoy yourself – and that fills you with confidence. I think he creates an atmosphere for you to work in that he’d like to work in himself. He understands the process of working on something so big, so the last thing he wants to do is put you under pressure because he knows what that’s like. We have a very one to one relationship and it’s a joy.

And you first got together for the soundreack for Out Of Sight, after Danny DeVito recommended you…
David Holmes: Well, it was actually Jersey Films. Steven was looking for something new for the soundtrack and so I went and met with him and then went to a screening of the film. After watching the movie, I had very strong ideas about what I wanted to do and he responded very positively to them. He was no different back them to what he’s like now. He’s still really laidback and if he thinks it’s a good idea, he’ll tell you and that gives you confidence and freedom.

Q. I guess he has a keen musical ear too?
David Holmes: Like most people, he knows what he likes. But ultimately I’m working on his movies. It just so happens that the music has been a really integral part of his films, so there’s been a lot of room for musical production. It’s hard to ignore the music in his films.

Have you had chance to meet any of the Ocean’s cast?
David Holmes: I’ve met most of them and they’re all really nice. But we haven’t exchanged phone numbers or go out for beers together or anything. The most important thing for me is that the music is good on each soundtrack. Once that’s done, I’m more interested in working on something else than waiting for a pat on the back.

Q. What are you working on next?
David Holmes: I’m working on my next solo record.

Q. Will that be in the same sort of style as Bow Down To The Exit Sign?
David Holmes: Not really, there’ll be one vocalist on it. But I want to make an album rather than a collection of tracks, which I feel Bow Down… became. It didn’t really feel like an album because of the array of different vocalists on it. If anything, it’ll be more like Let’s Get Killed, which sang from the first note to the last. It felt like one piece and I want to get back to that. It’s a very different sort of style but I want it to have a theme and a fluidity so that you can listen to it as one piece.

Q. Is it good to be working from a blank canvass again, rather than having to stick to the confines of a soundtrack?
David Holmes: To be honest, it doesn’t get any easier after seven or eight albums because as the years go on, the more you look back and start to think that everything’s been done. A lot of the music now contains a little bit of this and a little bit of that and so it becomes harder to make something fresh and original.

Q. Does it have name or a release date?
David Holmes: There’s no name yet or release. I’ve got to finish it first.

Q. What’s your own record collection like? Is it mostly vinyl?
David Holmes: Oh, too big. But I have a lot of CDs. I think CDs are crap because you never put them back in their covers!

Q. And what are your views on the internet and how it’s re-shaping the music industry? Is it a curse or a blessing, or both?
David Holmes: I think it’s great but it also makes you quite lazy. When I was young [smiles] I used to buy Record Collector and fanzines, or trawl through bargain bins in markets. Now suddenly you’ve got Google and all you do is key in a word.

It can have a very adverse effect sometimes because it’s now so freely available you lose the magic of finding music. That said, it’s great for me to be able to go online and find things. But I’ve lived through the other ways, where you had to really, really work hard to find things, and I think it’s become a bit too easy for kids.

Read our review of the soundtrack