|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2003-10-10
Wu Tang genius (but not to be confused with Wu Tang's Genius aka GZA) is the RZA. He produces the epically huge group, as well as myriad other hip hop acts and has a solo career. In fact, his latest solo album just hit stores this week.
But when he's not doing hip hop, RZA has been entering the world of movie scoring, first with Ghost Dog, and now with Kill Bill, Volumes 1 and 2.
First up, let's get this out of the way: Volume 1 is great. Lives up to the hype. And the soundtrack, which I didn't like in pure music form when I heard it before seeing the movie, works really well in the context of the film.
Earlier this week, Miramax held a very small press day at the Essex House hotel just off Central Park. Quentin Tarantino was originally supposed to show, but he missed a flight, so we only had RZA and Vivica A Fox. I was a little worried to be interviewing someone who was in the movie for about ten minutes and someone who worked on the music, but I shouldn't have. We'll see what happened with Vivica tomorrow, but RZA was a fun interview - smart, really into the music (he kept humming and singing bits of songs when we talked about them) and friendly as hell. Here are the sort of rambling results of the interview.
Q: How much was Quentin Tarantino working with you on this movie?
RZA: There were a lot of ideas that he started out with, you know what I mean. He ran these ideas by me two years ago first. What he wanted me to do was to produce the soundtrack for him at first, to do what I do, to take the music and make it its own joint. Then as time went on different ideas were coming, different thoughts were coming. But the music, a lot of it was Quentin.
I would bring certain things to the film, he would bring certain things, but guess what? We brought some of the same things. So basically I was in tune with what he was dealing with, so I think it really just added that extra flavor to the stew.
Q: How did you and Quentin first hook up?
RZA: We met a couple of years ago, at one of these. The roundtables for Iron Monkey. It was there that we met, had respect for each other’s work. Next thing you know, Hong Kong Cat slipped out of somebody’s mouth. And that was that. We just went into the kung fu world, you know?
I watch a lot of kung fu flicks personally, I don’t know if y’all do or don’t. The fight sequences in here, especially the last twenty-five minutes, are in the top ten in my book. I think in any lover’s book this has to be in the top twenty. You guy some hardcore that may say “Wait a minute,” but for me it mixed the martial arts and the Japanese spirit perfectly together. This was like a Shogun Assassin kind of film.
Q: The track The Flower of Carnage, it has a great Japanese singer. Who is that?
RZA: That song is from the movie Lady Snowblade. The actress is actually the singer of the song. That’s one of the rare flicks that he had that I didn’t have in my collection. That’s what started this whole problem. I was like “Wait a minute.” They made two movies, also one called Deaf Mute Heroine. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seem them. I also had a couple in my collection that he hadn’t seen. Shaolin Intruder, I brought it to his crib and let him check it out.
Q: Did you go into the studio with a live band, or was it a lot of sampling?
RZA: Most of what’s on the soundtrack and the score itself is what we call needle-drops. Songs that fit the scene. From martial arts, to spaghetti western, to samurai films. This soundtrack is different from the second one because in this part of the film you’re seeing a samurai and yakuza kind of mentality. But in Vol 2, I don’t want to talk too much about it, but you know the white haired old man you see in the trailer? That’s White Lotus. That’s strictly Shaw Brothers. It’s Shaw Brothers all the way, you know what I mean? Those characters had a different vibe going on.
Each one of these songs, from exploitation to the spaghetti western flava, you know what I mean? This one, Ode to O-Ren Ishii, it’s got old horror movie sounds.
Even in some of the fight scenes, you’ll see an arm come off and there will be sound underneath. That’s not a sound effect, that’s a sting. Kind of just ping! Then the next sting comes and it’s still on beat!
Q: The length of this shoot is legendary. And Quentin's still working on Volume 2.
RZA: This was a dream project and it took a lot of work. I can vouch for the work, being on the set for thirty days, and about thirty, forty days in the editing room. That’s usually a movie in itself! That’s just a portion of what’s going on in this film.
Q: How did you guys collaborate on the music?
RZA: The music was just like a movie also. The film stuff you get out there, you edit, you edit, you get what you can. The movie got chopped into two films – it could have been four films, the amount of stuff they had filmed!
The music you start with maybe a 120 ideas. I brought ideas in 40 at a time. All kung fu flicks, all lined up, as well as records. Quentin had his turntable there. All the vinyl action. I had the MPC 4000. I brought in a Phantom keyboard. I like to play some things naturally.
We were so comfortable in the space we was in, I didn’t even bring it to the big studio. I had a big studio just down the block, but we was comfortable in this small tight space, doing digital things and some analog sound. It wasn’t really a big elaborate place.
What happened is that Quentin was in his room doing editing, I was right over here doing sound. If an idea came, I could run over and go “Yo Quentin.” That’s what I think helped us work together like that and make it come out. And I think it came out really well, actually. I don’t want to self praise too much.
Q: Was doing movie scores something you were always interested in?
RZA: When I started out with Wu Tang and as a Wu Tang producer, I definitely had an idea about what I could do with hip hop and where I could take it. But the idea of being a true musician – the musicians out there striving, practicing their thing all the time, not just sampling – which is an important technique in itself, I worked a whole generation through that – but I was not a trained musician.
But in between Wu Tang albums I took the time to become a trained musician. It was an opportunity for me to enter the movie scoring world. I always felt that my music was cinematic anyway, or that the music I sampled was cinematic. I was probably one of the first people to sample Hollywood themes and that and to mix it into hip hop. I got the knowledge of the theory of music, to play the things myself, or I can pull it out of my collection and play the right thing at the right time.
It worked here because this is a pullout soundtrack. It’s what you have in your collection.
Like, I didn’t know who Nancy Sinatra was. After I met him, Quentin sent me a tape of some music he was working with and I sent him a tape of some of my music, stuff that I thought could be some of the music for Kill Bill.
That song was like – as soon as I heard that song I was a fan of the artist. It’s important that the songs, certain artists come back and get this love like that. It’s like I had Green Hornet in mind, but he had the Al Hirt version.
Q: If someone walks out of Kill Bill Vol 1 totally jazzed and wants to explore other great samurai films, what would you recommend?
RZA: That’s interesting. If you get excited about Vol 1 and the samurai style, you have to get the Lone Wolf collection. If you get the Lone Wolf collection, that will hold you out until Vol 2 comes out!