James Bond Composer David Arnold Recalls Collaborating with Chris Cornell for Casino Royale: “He Was the Most Normal Person”

The post James Bond Composer David Arnold Recalls Collaborating with Chris Cornell for Casino Royale: “He Was the Most Normal Person” appeared first on Consequence.

Iconic British audio brand Bowers & Wilkins hosted a special event at London’s Abbey Road Studios on Thursday, November 10th, uniting audiophiles and James Bond diehards for a unique night of music (and, of course, martinis).

Celebrating 60 years of iconic James Bond music, the event, dubbed The Sound of 007, featured an incredible live performance of Bond theme songs by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra inside the storied Studio One. The orchestra was introduced by composer and songwriter David Arnold, who is known for five Bond films, as well as shows like Good Omens and BBC’s Sherlock.

Speaking to Consequence in a most secret room at Abbey Road (no photos allowed, so you’ll have to take our word for it), Arnold recalls teaming up with the late Chris Cornell for “You Know My Name,” the theme for 2006’s Casino Royale, which also happened to see Daniel Craig make his debut as Bond. “I felt the weight of the entire thing,” Arnold remembers, “But more than anything, [Chris] just felt like a proper friend… it was probably the best collaborative experience I’ve ever had.”

The event was the culmination of a 40-year relationship between Bowers & Wilkins and Abbey Road Studios; countless artists passing through those hallowed halls have recorded music accompanied by playback on the brand’s 801 D4 loudspeakers and 800 Series loudspeakers. (The latter were used to monitor the recording of the scores for Skyfall and Spectre.)

Meanwhile, Bowers & Wilkins have also launched a bespoke version of its pristine Px8 wireless headphones. The Px8 007 Edition features a Midnight Blue finish inspired by the dinner jacket worn by Bond in his first-ever onscreen appearance in 1962’s Dr. No, making for a very suave collaboration indeed.

Pick up a pair of the Px8 007 Edition headphones here, and check out the full interview with Arnold below.

You did the Casino Royale theme song, “You Know My Name,” with the late Chris Cornell. What was that experience like?

It was — I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say this — probably the best collaborative experience I’ve ever had. He was extremely generous and open. Can you say “normal?” Is it okay to be normal? He was the most normal person of his stature and talent that I’d met. We clicked immediately. We like the same sorts of things, the same sort of humor. What I loved about Chris more than anything was, aside from the talent, I felt like we were properly friends. He would come to London, and he called me up and we go out and we eat and we would talk about life and everything. And if he was doing a show, I’d get up and we’d do the song at shows and everything. It was such a thrill to be able to do it.

But more than anything, it just felt like a proper friend. He felt like someone whose demons were very far behind him. And it obviously makes you much more aware of how delicate these things can be balanced.

What do you remember about the process of collaborating on “You Know My Name”?

It was such an easy thing to do because we both felt the same way about it. With that song, we were in Prague while they were shooting the casino sequences. I kind of had an idea for the title, but I didn’t want to put anything in his [Cornell’s] mouth. I’ve worked with lots of people who are incredibly talented. And it’s like, you don’t want to give them a line reading. You kind of create an area where “these are my ideas, and I really want to hear your ideas, and I don’t want to tell you what I think you should be doing.”

So Chris had some ideas, I had some ideas. We went away for a week. And then I went back to his apartment in Paris. I played him what I’d done and he played me what he’d done. We’re just sitting there on sofas with a couple of guitars. It was so odd that we kind of had written two halves of the same song independently of each other, and they just locked in together. We spent the rest of the day kind of tweaking lyrical ideas and messing about with like the odd chord here and there, but it was basically done fairly quickly.

I went home, made a demo, and then played it to play the demo to [producers] Michael [G. Wilson] and Barbara Broccoli, and they loved it, and then we recorded it.

David Arnold James Bond
David Arnold James Bond

Bowers & Wilkins hosts The Sound of 007 at Abbey Road Studios, photo courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

What did Daniel Craig think of the song?

The first time Daniel Craig heard it was at the wrap party of Casino Royale in a tent in a car park. His unit car had a decent stereo in it. So I put this thing on their CD, and Barbara and Daniel and I — Chris wasn’t at that [party] — sat in the car, drove around the car park, put it in, turned it up loud and Daniel just said, “We’ve got it.” That was his reaction. It was amazing.

Right, what would you have done if he was like, “This isn’t it?”

That’s something I wouldn’t ever have considered. I mean, it was at a point where I don’t think he was into this whole production cycle so much on that film, because it was his first one. And obviously, at that point, the film hadn’t come out and [there was] all this kind of weird negative thing in the press about how “he’s not the right guy, shouldn’t he be blonde,” all this nonsense. It’s got to make you feel slightly uneasy.

So we knew we had something special, but the world didn’t. I think he was maybe hoping that every element of it would bolster the idea of what we were trying to do, and I think he felt that that was the case. So yeah, I was lucky that he didn’t hate it. I’m always happy when people don’t hate it.

You’ve worked on multiple films, scoring for multiple Bonds. Do you score things differently based on factors like their personality or how they play the role?

What was interesting with Casino Royale is that when I read the script, and when I started working on the song, they hadn’t cast anyone. So I had no idea about who this was going to be. It was just what was on the page.

[In screen tests] Daniel’s movement was the thing that made me feel that he was the right fit for that particular Bond because he was, as M calls him, “a blunt instrument.” He hadn’t become all these things yet. And so that was a strategy for Casino Royale, was that the song needed to be the progenitor of the James Bond theme. “You Know My Name,” as a kind of DNA experiment, should have evolved into the James Bond theme. That was kind of the idea of it. And it does.

So we start the movie with “You Know My Name” and we end the movie with the James Bond theme. That journey is taken not only by the actor, but also by the music. But yeah, very much I think Daniels’ performance informed the way I would write for him, and looking at the subsequent films that I didn’t do, he became more exposed and internal.

Then subsequent composers — especially like Tom Newman’s two movies [Skyfall and Spectre] — were very much looking inwards into who he was, because the films were doing that, so of course you respond to what the film’s doing. So yeah, all these things will have an impact on what you do, and why you do it.

David Arnold James Bond
David Arnold James Bond

Bowers & Wilkins hosts The Sound of 007 at Abbey Road Studios, photo courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

Outside of film, you’ve worked with artists like Björk and Garbage over the years. Who would you love to collaborate with next?

I have always loved Stevie Wonder, but I think I love Stevie Wonder to the point that I couldn’t do anything with him because I would be sitting there like, “I have nothing to contribute here.” Being in awe of people is really bad news when you are trying to work with them, although I would like to be able to work with him.

What do you look for in a collaborator?

I try to find people that are going to get me excited about the work and push me in different directions. I don’t want to come up with solutions to everything, I want someone to come up with a whole batch of ideas that I would have never thought of. I want to be surrounded by collaborators who are exciting, and unusual, and have direction and purpose in what they are creating.

In 2022, as we’re celebrating 60 Years of Bond, where do you hope the franchise goes next?

I think it would be foolish to second guess anything that Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [G. Wilson] come up with. One of the most difficult jobs in filmmaking is trying to cast this character because of the weight of history and the iconic nature of the performance, along with generations of people who have their favorite James Bond character. We are at the point now where grandparents are telling grandkids about their favorite Bond movies, so responsibility is huge.

Originally, I thought I wanted to be just entertained by Bond films, but after Daniel Craig, I realized there are so many other elements available — as well as entertainment — and the combination of all of those elements, with the core character being well defined and brilliantly performed, is limitless.

David Arnold James Bond
David Arnold James Bond

Bowers & Wilkins hosts The Sound of 007 at Abbey Road Studios, photo courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins

What’s your dream film franchise to join/score?

I’ve never done a Marvel film, and it feels like that could be a good fit. I used to read a lot of Marvel comics when I was younger, and because Marvel started selling in the UK later than they did in the States, I had all the original origin comics growing up, so I saw all of those characters from their gestation period in the American comics and how they developed. I was very fond of those. I think Fantastic Four and The Hulk were my favorites growing up, so those two I would have a real connection to.

If you go to a film music concert, the big hitters are still the big tunes. If you start playing the themes from Superman or Star Wars or The Godfather or James Bond or Mission Impossible, these big themes carry on forever and they have so much life in them. Those scores are so adept at making an impression in your head and in society, and they are still incredibly effective and being used so many years later.

Any other projects in the pipeline that you’d like to tease?

I was working on some more intimate projects, like Inside Man, which just came out on Netflix, and the Jon Hamm film, Confess, Fletch. Good Omens Season 2 is coming up next on the list! I will also be working on an adaptation of Mog the Forgetful Cat at the end of next year. Nice, gentle things that I am excited about.

James Bond Composer David Arnold Recalls Collaborating with Chris Cornell for Casino Royale: “He Was the Most Normal Person”
Gab Ginsberg

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