CS Interview: Tom Holkenborg spills the details on his score for Godzilla vs. Kong!
Tom Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL, is having quite the month. A few weeks ago, his score for Zack Snyder’s Justice League was released and now he’s about to unleash even more drum-filled awesomeness with his terrific soundtrack for Godzilla vs. Kong. The anticipated monster bash will be available to stream on HBO Max on Wednesday, March 31 at 3:01 a.m. ET/12:01 a.m. PT., and to commemorate the event, Holkenborg was kind enough to chat with ComingSoon.net about his scoring process via a roundtable interview.
By now, many a film score enthusiast has heard about Holkenborg’s enormous drum, which he had custom built specifically to deliver the proper sound for King Kong, but, as it turns out, building a massive drum isn’t as easy as it sounds.
“When I got hired, I was like, okay, we need something big for Kong,” the composer explained. “I called up a friend of mine and asked, ‘Can you make me a bass drum that’s eight foot?’ And he said no. And I said, ‘Why not? He said, ‘There isn’t a cow big enough that will give you an eight-foot skin.”
After pressing further, Holkenborg realized he could make a drum that was five-foot in diameter and roughly six-feet wide. Months passed, but before long Holkenborg had his massive instrument.
“It took six guys to roll it off the truck,” Holkenborg said. “And then the big thing came — it’s not fitting through the front door. I didn’t think of this. And so, we opened the garage, and it barely fit underneath the garage … we rolled it in and still sits there [today].”
Still, despite a massive drum at his disposal, Holkenborg continued his quest to find the perfect sound for Kong; and in so doing happened across The NAMM Show in Anaheim, “the world’s largest trade-only event for the music products, pro audio and event tech industry,” per the official site, where he came across a beautiful sight: a 14-foot bass amplifier, the biggest one of its kind in the world.
“I went up to the salesperson [and asked], ‘Is that thing for rent or for sale?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, no, absolutely not. Because it takes 10 people and a crane to put it in here.’”
As it turns out, the instrument is housed in a building complex in Calabasas, which just happens to be 10 miles from Holkenborg’s home studio in Los Angeles.
“I went with recording gear there and then we recorded my bass guitar,” he said. “We sampled my bass guitar on that amp, and the low end coming from that thing is ridiculous. So, now I had a massive bass roll with a huge amount of low ends and now I had bass guitar samples with a huge amount of low ends. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m done for Kong.’”
For Godzilla, Holkenborg relied on a more traditional style.
“I wanted a monster theme that reminds us of like, 50 or 60 years of Godzilla’s history. And so that was very important. When you hear it, it’s like, ah, that’s Godzilla! You know, unmistakably. That is a ridiculous, big brass section that played that in the lowest octave of their instruments and it sounds nasty, but it does put a smile on your face.”
Holkenborg carries a soft spot for the giant, atomic-fire breathing lizard, having spent much of his youth watching the classic Toho Godzilla movies of the 50s and 60s.
“I find Godzilla a highly comedic character,” Holkenborg said. “My favorite movie is Godzilla vs. Mothra. And so, when people ask me, is it a good film? I say, ‘Well, besides the bad script, besides the horrible acting, besides the bad special effects, and besides the really bad scripted fight sequences, it’s a fantastic movie.”
Holkenborg’s score does a fine job establishing proper identities for both beasts. Kong’s music is the most diverse, with lush melodies interwoven between thunderous, drum-heavy action cues, while Godzilla’s theme is, in Holkenborg’s words, “a one-trick pony,” mostly because the reptilian behemoth isn’t one to display much emotion, unlike Kong who is a little more expressive and human in his personality.
“King Kong is really like an animal that is misunderstood,” Holkenborg said. “He’s taken against his own free will to the Western world for capital gains … and he develops a relationship with a young girl who cannot talk. So, she talks with him in sign language, and there are moments in the film where it’s really cute how the two interact; and so, there’s a very emotional side of Kong as well. His theme has two parts of it. One is when he stands up and does the roar when he’s gonna fight Godzilla. That’s one section of the theme. And then the other one is the emotional version of the of the theme. And that one is played on a bed of marimbas, bass marimbas that play his harmony … and a Pacific Island flute that is playing a melody. So, you couldn’t score an animal that big, so small, and it works really well. But for the action sequence, it’s all larger than life, [and so is] the music, and especially the battle sequences between the two, it’s a constant handoff between the two themes.”
In the end, the project, while daunting, proved to be a worthwhile experience for Holkenborg, who has also composed music for the films Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Alita: Battle Angel, the modern classic Mad Max: Fury Road as well as the upcoming Army of the Dead for Zack Snyder.
“Working on [films like] Justice League and working on Godzilla vs. Kong … it’s like a young boy’s dream,” Holkenborg said. I mean if my dad would have told me when I was six or seven, reading those King Kong comics, ‘Son, when you’re 53, you’re gonna be working on this movie!’ I would’ve been like, ‘Ah, get out of here!’ It’s really great.”
You can check out the complete soundtrack for Godzilla vs. Kong by heading over to WaterTower Music’s YouTube page here.