Composer Green Knight Daniel Hart on the creation of “The Giant’s Call” and “Now I’m Ready, I’m Ready Now” [Interview]
You also have to write Middle English lyrics, right?
I wrote lyrics in Middle English. I’ve written a few lyrics in other languages, but most of them are in Middle English.
As a songwriter, what’s it like to write in Middle English?
It’s so much fun. It completely slips my mind because I have to think in another language. I don’t know, it’s a bit of a brain shaker. I like this. This required some research as I didn’t know anything about Middle English when I started. I made myself a little dictionary of words that I liked when I read and listened to poetry read in Middle English, words that I liked to sound or spell that were different from the way we say things today today. It was really fun to explore. I had no idea there was such a strong Scandinavian influence on Middle English that has essentially disappeared from Modern English. So instead of “nightingale”, it’s “nyghtyngale”. Instead of “treasure” it’s “treasure”, and instead of “blood” it’s “blud”. Made for an exciting new rhyme.
Did you continue to practice your average English? It sounds very good.
No, I didn’t, except in interviews. I haven’t thought much about Middle English since I finished working on the film last year. I imagine he will stay in there. For example, one of the other languages that is used a little is Hildegard’s Lingua Ignota. Hildegard was a German nun and lived in the 1100s, and she invented her own language. She called it Lingua Ignota. It is a combination of Latin and German and other less identifiable sounds. And where I had worked, Lingua Ignota, when I was working on the TV version of “The Exorcist” for Fox about five years ago. I did the music for Season 1 of this TV show, and the manager of that show, Rolin Jones, wanted some Hildegard-style music in a few scenes.
So I spent time reading about Lingua Ignota and then learning some of the vocabulary that has survived the past 900 years. So when I came to “The Green Knight” it should – we have witches, and it’s the 1400s. So they’ll definitely know about Hildegard, and they’ll love the fact that she invented her own language. So it should definitely be in there. I imagine in the future there will be a time when I’m like “Oh, English Middle. I should go back to that” for whatever I’m working on.
How did your classical training as a violinist come into play with “The Green Knight”?
Yes, I’m classically trained, but the music that really got me into being a musician was experimental rock and roll and jazz, and I love to improvise. So I feel like all of my musical experiences inform my film music, and that includes my classical training, but that also includes all the bands I played in the 2000s and 2010s, and a lot of jazz that I studied and played in small trios and restaurants when I was trying to pay the bills. The classical stuff, like this violin arpeggiando thing, comes straight out of my classical training. It’s a tool in my toolbox that I can call upon. And I played in the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra when I was young. A lot of the music that we played in that orchestra, or stuff that I played in an all regions orchestra when I was in high school, is music that will stay in my brain forever. I borrow from these composers when I approach film music all the time, intentionally or not.
How were your days on tour?
I’ve been really, really lucky as a touring musician to play in bands that have opened for some of my heroes, like some of the best music that I think has ever been recorded.
David Bowie, right?
I was in the Polyphonic Spree when they opened for David Bowie. I was in this band called Other Lives, and we opened for Radiohead. And either way, a month on the road with David Bowie and a month on the road with Radiohead, I don’t know how it gets any better than that. These two artists probably look very glamorous, but it’s really just a job. It’s the best work, but it’s still work. And that wouldn’t be true for bands at that level, for Bowie or Radiohead, but for the opening bands I was in, we spend a lot of our time driving to get to the next place, then lifting a lot of heavy equipment, then performing for 45 minutes or an hour, which is the best experience, then lifting a bunch of heavy equipment and driving again.
It’s almost as if we were professional movers who had a hobby of playing music. That’s a lot of what I felt. But when I was on the road with other bands, like in the case of Gun for Rental, bands that weren’t mine, I wrote a lot in the van, like writing songs in the van. I have very fond memories of that time. It’s hard, these long journeys. It is not easy. It’s not easy on the body, but I have great memories of working on music on tour and making stuff up in the back of a van.
You also toured with St. Vincent for years, didn’t you?
I toured on the first two albums, then I played on the third album, but I didn’t tour on that one. Yes, it was my musical education. It was amazing. I mean, it was pretty messy at first. Nowhere near the level of popularity that St. Vincent has now. But towards the end of my tour, like on this second album, David Byrne really fell in love with St. Vincent. And so, we did some collaborations with David Byrne, and we did a gig in New York at Lincoln Center where David Byrne joined us for a song. There was a section of this song where I was singing harmonies with David Byrne. I doubt David Byrne knows my name or knows who I am, but it was very meaningful to me.
I feel like David Byrne knows everything about music, so I think he would know you.
It might be. It might be. Yes, I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since then, but he could very well know everything.