Written by: Jen Dan
(Photo courtesy of Dennis Mukai)
Martin Tillman, the internationally renowned cellist and film soundtrack composer/performer has just released his latest genre-b(l)ending solo album titled Superhuman via Symphonic Distribution. Tillman has contributed to over 77 soundtracks over the years, including The Dark Knight trilogy, most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Ali, Cowboys & Aliens, The DaVinci Code, and Black Hawk Down. He has also provided compositions for TV shows, commercials, and live events like the 84th Annual Academy Awards, as well as releasing a run of solo albums.
Stereo Embers Magazine: Hello Martin! This is an extremely exciting time period for you with the recent release of your album Superhuman. Have the past few weeks been a whirlwind for you?
Martin Tillman: Hello Jen! Well, it is an amazing time. It took 5 years to write Superhuman in my studio and it has finally made its way to the listeners… and we have gotten amazing reviews globally, from Russia to China, to Sweden and Nairobi…
SEM: You have a long-running career as a film soundtrack composer and performer, ever since you played electric cello on the score for The Fan. You’re also a solo artist and have toured world-wide. Superhuman comes over 10 years after your last album, A Year in Zurich. What is it like to be so immersed in the music-writing/composing sphere?
MT: I have been writing a lot. For my films, production libraries… and 5 of the 10 years were spent on Superhuman. The album is something special because I wanted to make my wife Ewa really proud!! She has been dealing with MS for 9 years and she deserved an upbeat gift of optimism in the form of Superhuman!
SEM: What a beautiful, joyful gift for your wife, Martin! Superhuman mixes elements of classical, electronic, rock, and acoustic music into one gently contemplative, yet rhythmically dynamic tapestry of sound. What sparked your imagination when composing your mainly instrumental tracks?
MT: I just wanted to write music for an audience… Powerful, uplifting… to make them smile after they’ve listened to my live concert performances or just listening to the music at home or traveling in the car… Simply put, I’m having fun and want the audience to have the same.
SEM: Cello is actually not the main instrument on the album’s songs. You balance bright synths with symphonic strings (including your cello), electronic beats, acoustic guitar lines, reverb electric guitar, piano notes, drum hits … and the list goes on! When you compose a song, where do you start; with a melody in your head that you work out on one instrument at first? Or do you aurally envision multiple instrumental lines at the same time?
MT: I think you know better than I… I am envisioning multiple lines and grooves at the same time… but every song is different. Sometimes I am thinking of a musician/ band… or a mood. Places to take inspiration from. Sometimes it’s just trial and error. It’s like cooking a meal. I am always looking for one thing… and if it makes me smile.
SEM: Listening to Superhuman is akin to going on a harmonious, uplifting journey. You included mostly wordless vocals on a few of the numbers and I was wondering what your intent was in regard to this addition. Who is singing on “Involuntary Midnights” and what is she saying?
MT: I feel that vocals help to connect the audience with my music. Even if they are more like soul (non-lyrical) voices… more like colors. Dee Clay Lewis totally captured what I was envisioning … adding humanity.
“Involuntary midnights” is a choral a cappella track I heard while driving and was immediately captured by its beauty, performed by the amazing vocal group Anonymous 4. It’s a part of a project called the Legends of St Nichlolas composed by an anonymous composer in the 16th century.
Here is a bit of the legend: Long ago, in a far off land known today as Turkey, there was a boy named Nicholas. Nicholas was a person who created numerous miracles and accomplished many good deeds. As a teenager, Nicholas inherited a vast fortune, but he had no idea what to do with it. Wanting to help those less fortunate than himself, Nicholas set out to make the wishes of others come true. While Nicholas knew the townspeople needed his help, he was also aware that they were very proud people, so Nicholas decided to help his friends secretly.
SEM: Creating compositions for soundtracks seems to be an endeavor involving more than one artist while crafting an album of your own would seem to be more solitary – or at least you’re more in control of the final product as a solo artist. Do you prefer one enterprise over the other?
MT: I love to change settings… alone and sometimes a room full of great artists. Both inspire!!
SEM: What other instruments to you play?
MT: Piano, which is my main composing instrument. I used to play drums and trombone as a child.
SEM: What motivated you to take up the cello?
MT: Girls’ attention. No, seriously- the sound. It went straight into my body!
SEM: How did you break into the motion picture industry?
MT: Luck. I used to perform in clubs which were frequently visited by movie and TV composers. So TV shows first, and then Hans Zimmer became aware of my sound and asked me to join him… and one movie led to another.
SEM: Out of all the film soundtracks that you’ve worked on, which one do you feel captured the atmosphere of its respective movie the best?
MT: Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman, and mostly Black Hawk Down.
SEM: From what I understand, you record in your own studio. What is the set-up like and are you always searching for new/different equipment and/or recording techniques?
MT: It’s a simple set-up: 1 computer, 2 screens, 3 keyboards, and 4 cellos. It’s about adequate technology, but mostly about ideas!!
SEM: What’s next on the horizon for you? I’ve read that you’re planning another international tour soon. Are there any details that you can divulge at this time?
MT: Well, I hope my wife Ewa will feel better soon. Other than that, I am planning some big symphonic shows in Europe in 2017/18 with a full band, singers, a multi-media show, and 2 dancers.