Phil Collins – Interview

Phil Collins

The cast album for TARZAN, the new musical presented by Disney Theatrical Productions, which opened on Broadway on May 10th, 2006, was released by Walt Disney Records on June 27. Oscar and six-time GRAMMY Award winner Phil Collins has written the music and lyrics, expanding his songs for Disney’s film into the complete theatre score. The album also features a special treat – Collins performs “Everything That I Am,” one of the nine new songs he penned for the musical.

Phil Collins composed five songs for the 1999 film, “Disney’s TARZAN,” including “Two Worlds, One Family,” “Strangers Like Me,” and “You’ll Be In My Heart,” which won the 2000 Academy Award for Song of the Year, spent 10 weeks as #1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, and was #1 in 14 countries. The soundtrack went double platinum, while the film went on to instant international success, grossing $447 million worldwide, with subsequent DVD sales in excess of 13 million units.

Collins, who makes his Broadway songwriting debut with TARZAN, has written music and lyrics for nine new songs for the Broadway production, in addition to his film score.

I got the thrill of a lifetime and had a nice chat with the legend himself—Phil Collins. PHIL COLLINS

HIP: I was curious about how this began?

PHIL COLLINS: It kind of extended from the movie. I was so involved with the film to the point where I sang in it. That was the first time Disney didn’t have characters sing. My voice became the thing—I did this in five languages for the internationals. I became synonymous with the movie; by the time the movie came out that they had already done it successfully with Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. They thought about it in 1999— of putting it on stage. Then of course because Lion King was just coming out, how we do this without it getting compared to Lion King because they had animals and we had animals in our show, how do we do this? The thing was you put on pause and until such time of how to present the show and costumes it was thought of, and a couple years later after Brother Bear and I got a phone call. “Do you want to do the musical? Are you interested?” Of course I am, I’ve never done that before and it’d be great fun to do and I don’t want anyone else to fuck it up so I’ll do it. Okay, so they say go to London meet with Bob Crowley and we probably got a show. And we got on famously and we got a show.

Did you know what it would take, all the work?

Not really, but that’s what appealed to me. I’m one of these weirdoes—I like the challenge to doing something I’ve never done before. It seems to me we’re preconditioned in our lives to do as little as possible for as much as possible for as short of time as possible so we can retire and do nothing. Now, that’s rock and roll because you get overpaid to do something you like. Now I’ve never really gone along with that I’ve never felt comfortable with that. I always want to do something I’ve never done before. I want to learn a bit more. I’m suppose to be a songwriter under this umbrella of being a songwriter there are many different styles, many different forms that can take whether it’s writing pop music, writing music for a movie, whether it’s writing a score, writing musical jingles for a commercial. You know what I mean? They’ve all got their own rules and regulations and they’ve all got their own craft at it. It’s not that easy to write a 20 second jingle for a commercial. It’s not easy to do that—have everyone remember that, hum it. Well I didn’t phrase it well it’s easy to do it badly. So, I just figured it keeps me going, I’m not totally bored with writing regular songs for me because I still get excited when I do that in a slightly more economical way than I use to. Like the lyrics are bit more potent and the music is a bit simpler. You try to do as much as possible with as little as you got. I have to say this kind of work, for the first time, doing it has been totally 100% exciting. It’s fulfilling. You’re doing something really great, achieving something really great in their field. How could you resist that?

Would you compare it to songwriting or screenplay or combination of both?

I think it’s a bit of both. You can’t have the story stop and then you sing a song. The song has to take from a to z. I worked very closely with David Henry Hwang on this I would ask him what’s he going to say in the scene before, what’s he going to be saying in the scene after and what does he really think I should be saying in the song that I’m writing. He would spit ideas and I would take maybe some ideas and work them into a lyric. Sometimes you’re sitting around a table and Tom Schumacher is fantastic at this, he said to me that what this is about two worlds and one family. I said thank you very much—“ooh I’ve got a song”. He’s given me endless songs titles just because he distills it down to sort of what we’re really trying to do. He’ll say, “for Jane this is the first time she’s falling in love”. So I go away and write the song. I have to write the song and the music, but he has a tendency to give you the essence. That’s what is great—working with a team of very bright people. Rick Ellis, who did The Jersey Boys, wrote a considerable amount of the book of this play because David’s father was really sick during the last year or two. And Rick was brought in to come up with some ideas and David came back and adapted those ideas. So Rick’s fingerprints are on this as well. He gave me endless ideas on what the lyrics should be all about. Obviously I needed the help. In the end I have to make it work. It’s that kind of team effort that makes it exciting.


You’ve been writing forever by having an inspiration and writing naturally. This is kind of the opposite.

The way I tend to write is full stock for whatever it is I’m doing—even if it’s for a movie or for this. I will be alone in my studio and I work alone to get the beginning of the music. Then I’ll just sing and I’ll improvise around the thought of what it’s about. With the wonderful world of computers now you can do it. Just record and listen back, pick the best, the things you wanted to sing, the words you wanted to sing, so it all ends up an improvisation but in the end you hone it down to the song that has to say this in the show. But it all starts in the same place.

How long did it take to put it all together?

The project was four and half years but it wasn’t day in and day out—it kind of struck terror into the hearts of people living with me. They were all taking it casually and working on other things and I was working on this whenever I had any down time. I was always thinking about how to make this better because I never done it before and was a little apprehensive. I was working. I was working a lot those four years on it. I’ve done some of the best work on it, some things I’m very proud off. It’s among some of the best songs I’ve written.

What’s next?

Nothing for the moment. I’m going to start writing maybe for a record if I get enough good songs. There’ll be a record, but I’m a ways from that yet. So really I don’t know. I’ve talked to a lot of various other people in New York about doing another show but the preproduction is so long that if I talk about it now it’ll be years before it’ll happen. I’ve got some meetings— put it that way.

+ Charlie Craine


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