Interview with Lisa Gerrard
She is a real diva. Australian born singer and co-composer on The Insider and Gladiator . Her long brown coat is draped around her shoulders like a cape. She radiates calmness en friendliness. Yet, the interview starts reluctantly. She doesn’t seem at ease and answers briefly. After a few questions however, she starts to enjoy the interview and she talks extensively about her music and her faith. Two seemingly different subjects that in her case are closely related.
(From the Archives – by Peter Simons)
“Shut up and get off”
“My musical background has just been invention from about roughly age 12. I played in extremely rough pubs far too young. In the worst pubs of Melbourne . I probably wouldn’t go in them now, I’d be terrified. One evening there was a fight and someone got his nose bitten off [laughs]. It was pretty dangerous.” Now she can laugh about it, but why did she keep singing? “As a child I genuinely believed that with my Chinese dulcimer I was bringing something very precious to these people. Even though they insisted I got off and shut up. I still believed I was bringing something special.” During one of her performances she met with Brendan Perry with whom she would eventually form Dead Can Dance. They moved from Australia to England to get a record deal. After two miserable years they succeeded. Then another seven poor years followed during which they had almost no money. “The promoters were not terribly generous in those days. They always thought that if they provided you with lots of beers, that would keep you happy. It was bizarre, we were starving,” she says. Nowadays her musical relationship with Perry has ended. Three years ago they were working on an album, but creative differences drove them apart.”
And thus ended Dead Can Dance, the band with that strange ‘medieval’ sound and that remarkable voice of Lisa Gerrard. Through The Insider and Gladiator more people have had the chance to hear that voice. It is enchanting during the finale of Ridley Scott’s Roman epic and the question on everyone’s lips is: what is that language? “I sing in the language of the Heart,” begins Gerrard. “It’s an invented language that I’ve had for a very long time. I believe I started singing in it when I was about 12. Roughly that time. And I believed that I was speaking to God when I sang in that language. Now I am filled with the Holy Ghost, that is the promise in the Bible the Church will not talk about, because this secret would mean the fall of the religion.” The idea is that one can have a personal relationship with God without the interference of an organization like the Church.
Effortlessly Gerrard quotes parts from the Bible to illustrate her story. It almost as if she wants to convert everyone in the room. “Be careful with religious organizations, because they do not always tell the truth!” Is that message in her music? “No. The message is that God exists and you can have a personal relationship with him.” That seems very appropriate when Maximus dies during Gladiator ‘s finale. But that is not all. “The language is not corrupt, it is pure. You can not lie, while you can lie in English. I would go as far to say that in English you can not the absolute truth. That is why I want to protect my language.”
“I did all the deaths”
Whatever background her singing may have, is gives both The Insider and Gladiator an emotional depth that may not have been achieved with score music only. How she got the job for Gladiator she doesn’t know. Ridley Scott is a friend of Michael Mann’s and that’s how she thinks the connection was made. One day Hans Zimmer phoned her. “I went to Los Angeles and stayed there for a week. We recorded ten songs, some of those were ten minutes long. It was very beautiful. After a week I returned home, thinking they didn’t need me anymore. Then Hans was on the phone again.” How long the collaboration lasted this time she can’t remember. “Hans is not the kind of person that goes by schedules. You go and I realized very quickly there was no point in asking how long I would be there. I just worked. When we sat for the first session with Ridley, he was very happy with the music. That was after about six weeks. So I just continues working after that. I think if Ridley had been disappointed at that time I would have been sent home. It’s tough, this film industry. You have to prove yourself.” Gerrard is satisfied about her collaboration with Zimmer. Sometimes they worked together, sometimes they worked apart from each other. “I tended to work with the emotional music and the sort of shadowy voice. The death of Maximus, when he found his family. Actually, I did all the deaths,” she jokes. Except for Patricide of course.
Before Gladiator there was The Insider . Together with Pieter Bourke she composed about two thirds of that soundtrack. The rest was filled with music by guitarist Gustavo Santaolalla, Massive Attack, Graeme Revell and Jan Garbarek. “Oh yes,” Gerrard sighs upon hearing that last name. “That is my favorite scene in the movie and it is so frustrating that we didn’t do that one”
What was working with Michael Mann like? “Michael is extremely intelligent and he has the ability to communicate the abstract in a way no one else can do. He’s a very interesting director, extremely intelligent,” she can not stress enough. “Most directors find it difficult to explain what they need, so they rely on their assistants or music editors to speak to the musicians. But Michael doesn’t have that problem. But not Michael. He is perfectly capable of expressing his creative ideas and wishes. It’s only experience that allows director to communicate what he
Many thanks to Lisa Gerrard and to the Flanders International Filmfestival.