Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas came out in 1993. It’s a stop-motion animated musical, with music by legendary composer Danny Elfman. He’s won Emmys, a Grammy, and been nominated for four Oscars. His work includes the music for Tim Burton’s Batman films, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, Good Will Hunting, and the theme to The Simpsons. From 1979 to 1995, he was the singer and songwriter in the band Oingo Boingo.
The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in a world where different holidays all have their own realm. And the story is about Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown, a place where it’s always Halloween, and Halloween is all they know, and Jack has grown a little tired of it. But then, Jack discovers a portal to Christmastown, with snow and Santa and all things Christmas inhabiting it. He's never seen anything like it, and the discovery changes everything. The song "What’s This?" takes place in that moment of discovery. In this episode, Danny Elfman tells the story of how it all came together, and how writing and singing this song for Jack Skellington ended up profoundly connecting to his own life.
For more, visit songexploder.net/danny-elfman.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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TIM Burton's, the nightmare before Christmas came out:
one. Ninety three hits
our motion- animated musical with
by legendary composer, Danny Elfman he's one.
He's a Grammy and he's been nominated for four oscars from nineteen, seventy nine to nineteen. Ninety five. He was also the singer and songwriter in the band lingo Boingo
nightmare before Christmas takes place in a world where different holidays all have their own realm.
And the story is about Jack Skellington, the leader,
Hello, wind him, the play:
it's always Halloween and Halloween is all they know and Jack.
A little tired of it, but then Jack
covers a portal to Christmas town with snow.
Santa at all things Christmas and it the song.
What's this takes place in that moment of discovery,
This episode, Danny Elfman, tells the story of how
what came together and how writing and singing this song for Jack Skellington ended up
finally connecting to his own life,
We welcome all round the seventy place inside the building up myself. I want my money,
I am Elfman.
Tim Burton just called me one day and he said Disney came.
cross. This story idea I had years and years and years ago, when I was
working there and it never got made Nick got stuck
somebody found it and said: oh, hey! Look. We've got this TIM Burton thing by the time too.
called me about nightmare before Christmas. We'd already done five movies. Together, we done that.
Batman movies. We did up here
it's big adventure, beetle juice and Edward Scissorhands, so
We already knew each other fairly well, he would present
meet with these universes that he was creating and they all just seem completely normal to me. You know we
and it came from similar backgrounds. I grew up on
monsters in science fiction fantasy, as TIM did in the same era. So his work
didn't ever seem that, weird to me,
guess that's why it worked out. So it's not,
like I'd ever go. Oh my god! This is weird. What am I going to do is like what
I don't get it is for me it was just like yeah. I totally get it.
So TIM came over the house, and it was really as simple as this- he sat down and he pulled out these wonderful drawings that he did.
and soon, as I saw with Jack, look like right. This makes perfect
to me. Let's just do it
and then he would start telling me the story, the
we did the whole musical was, I would say, just tell me, the story is if you are
to like you know: some nephew are niece around the firers. You know at night and just tell me
albeit at a time- and he said, ok, Jack wanders into the forest,
and its three doors and he's me
justify it and picturing this and he said
and he's going to open the door and he gets sucked in
pops out he's in this snowy world as snowflakes falling and he says,
things he's never seen before everything's new to him, and I would
write down little notes, I'd, say: okay, I got it, I got it go, go go.
kind of a shoe, I'm out the door.
The first thing we here are strings and shall last and sin
I'm doing kind of a classic arrangement here. Harp seemed like a natural
and it's Jack arriving in Christmas town and see
the first time so before the song starts. It's really score.
Right for collecting sinner, often right for voices- and I think probably just goes back to check how ski
the use of Celestina Tchaikovsky's ballets,
So I talked with him
give me some ideas. I grab the
a patent. Let's start writing down barracks
and as a money down lyrics, I'm hearing a cadence and going okay.
starting to feel this as it you know, kind of a quick temper,
always all excited so I,
start with just going up up up up up up up up up at that time.
I didn't even have a studio. I was live
my girlfriend's house in Burbank- and I
set up a makeshift studio in her garage I'd have like a four.
I was sick samplers and one would be low
but with string samples, one with woodwind samples, brass samples, percussion samples now that many
years ago, the archives
draw. Demos were pretty cheesy sounding
the so we got our french horns played their little fanfare.
Again, that's fucked, Kafkaesque and now it's score.
and it's just the kind of creating an energetic vibe for all the things, Jack missing, the.
I really wanted it to sound,
timeless, but not self
consciously timeless, like I'm not trying to recreate an old style that somebody would go. Oh that's an old style song of such and such, but to feel,
it could be any time or place. I mean
they thought about a little bit when I was doing what's. This was Gilbert.
Sullivan. I M the very model that the modern, better gender related to deliver did the mineral that very kind of you
Tongue, twister type of thing, so
but I would be fun if Jack was
the like, what's this? What's this, this color epic
well what's this does why things in the air? What's this that's okay,
in the cadence of it and
am blocking it out with some basic chords and, by the end of it
couple of days. I'd have a demo too much come by.
And he listen and go yeah, okay, cool.
What is this? What is waiting? What's this training and so
I did my vocals for the demo and that those
this really funky. Does he
I was just using a
The shack microphone,
and in my garage when I first laid them down and
what I did is I took all the instrumental tracks and we went into a studio
TIM and I late at night and I got in front of a real microphone and did all of
fax locals in all the other vocals, and we were
all the songs for the whole movie in one night. What's this what's this
color everywhere. What's this there's white things
the air. What's this, I can't believe my eyes. I must be dreaming, wake up jack. This isn't fair. What's this job,
his voice is kind of theatrical it's more theatrical than my voice is going to be, if I'm just singing one of my own songs, his voice like dips down
oh and into this part and then back up again. It is a little
bit of talk singing. What's this? What's this
the something very wrong. What's this, this people singing songs? What's this, the streets are lined with little creatures laughing. Everybody seems so happy about possibly gone daddy. What is this but the tunnel?
did those demos I hadn't
written them for myself, but I
in the process of writing. Those ten songs became so attached to Jack that
I didn't know how to bring it up afterwards,
I was kind of hemming and hawing about it. That's going to TIM about Jack.
Don't worry, you'll you'll sing Jack, because if not,
thought if he said no, no, no. We have to hire professional singer,
I would have gone. Okay, all right, but you know all kinds of mysterious accidents would have happened and they finally come back
Let me go to any I mean just said most incredible: Bab locker
killed in the most mysterious ways, it would you mind doing without, if you really want, I suppose I could
The demos sounds cheesy, but all this is going to get replaced with the orchestra, your going to sound, wonderful, but
what a detail that goes between my finished demo and getting it on paper when I
P was big adventure. I've never done a score before and I was like. I don't know what I'm doing. I need a
orchestrator to work with me and I didn't know any orchestrator, so I turned to Steve my guitarist in the band Oingo Boingo and I go be a orchestrated.
I took a class at U C, L A and that's good enough, so it was
Burton's first feature my first time, composing, an orchestral film scorn and my guitarist first time.
working with me now by the way. So, we've done. I think one hundred and five films together
But what I learned working with Steve is that he doesn't reinterpret the music he just six gets it took.
breast itself as best it could be on paper per the orchestra to play so
If I have a bunch of woodwinds going like that, you know
the time to write down? Ok, okay, sport, it's actually three different instruments and they actually are
a bit that other guy better get that they did it.
works was amazing, does not
I can write that the orchestra can't play.
blows my mind even after thirty seven years
I write some really big long pieces for films and the
first rehearsal that they do never having seen it before
already insanely good and their sight reading
cause. They don't take this music home and study it. They just walk in there and play it. Twenty.
the strong kinship to the character of Jack, because
I was at a place right at that point. In my life with my,
and doing a Boingo where
starting around one thousand nine hundred and ninety I wanted to leave the band and every year I kept saying you know, I think this is our last year. I think this is our last year and they're
you know it can't happen, can't happen and I felt really bad and so that feeling of guilt
He kept me going for at least another five, if you girls, which in I don't regret, but I
felt for Jack who's, this character,
It was really
the king of his own world, but wanted out you wanted
something else because that's exactly how I felt at that moment, you know when you're,
a songwriter singer
in a band. You know it's your universe. You've create
in that universe and you're kind of the center of
universe and that's a
we. What Jack was in Halloween Land and
like Jack, I was looking
for a door, I was really looking for a door.
take me into another world
the monsters of the missing and the nightmares can be found and in their place there seems to be good feeling all around. Instead of screams, I swear I can hear music in the air. The smell of cakes and pies are absolutely
I poured a lot of myself into nightmare before Christmas and
When it came out, it was really really misunderstood. No,
We got. It
I was really kind of heartbroken
it wasn't a flop, but it was far from a hit. I mean
do you like a hundred short interviews and every one of them ass? The same thing? So this issue, scary for kids right. I know it's not scary for kids, it was just this thing that was the
exception of it. It's not for kids, kids hate it, but my daughter,
Molly. She was around ten cause. I remember she listened to all the song says. I was writing them and so, when people kept saying-
Well, kids are going to hate these. I said no, my ten year old daughters heard them all and and really loves them, and
it was one of these incredibly lucky things of a movie that took on a life after it came out.
Which is so rare, I think if I was,
I have any one piece
if they have a second life on its own. What's it going to be an outsider nightmare before Christmas, because
every other film. I done at only worked on it for three months, and here it worked on this phone for close to two years, and so I thought
really really lucky
years afterwards. I saw that it hasn't gone away. In fact, it's kind of growing
I mean the idea that I created any kind of iconic Christmas. Sound is ironic.
in the extreme for me, because
I am a creature of Halloween
in every way shape or form
you know Halloween is I look forward to, and Christmas was just like this put my head
The pillow and cry you know was just like: I want this to be over
grew up as a lonely. Jewish kid growing up in a neighborhood that there were, I dont, know,
friends so Christmas
I every year I was by myself and lonely, and just
wishing, it would be over, so I can get back to my life again, and so my
appreciation of Christmas, I'm a latecomer to it cause. Then
I had my two daughters
and I started
into it for the first time in my life through them,
and so I developed this kind of real excitement about making a perfect Christmas having a Christmas Party,
getting the presents just write all for the pleasure
seeing their faces in the morning so
At the point when I did nightmare before Christmas, I was the transition of like starting with
positive, instead of like a dark cloud of depression, rolling my way, the
having this night before Christmas and the
supervision of what's going to happen, and then the presence in the morning is it's really wonderful.
And now from the nightmare before Christmas, here's what's this by Danny Elfman in its entirety,
what's this? What's this is everywhere? What's this is wiping? What's this, I can't believe my eyes. I must be dreaming. Wake up. Jack was what what's. This is something very what's this is people singing songs? What's this surrounded by doing snob, instead of doing heads the busy building toys, absolutely no one's dead, disposed to the window in my bones or look what's this is why the gathering about those didn't just what's this year where and why covering a tiny little things, the electric lights on strange, another smile and everyone, my wife, my what now the children are asleep, but look. There's nothing unto me: no goose, witches, screamin, scare them or its own security side.
What must be seen in the nightmares can be found in the place. They seem to be good news. I swear, I can use it in the respective taking labs everywhere around I've. Never done this empty place inside a man standing up myself. I want my daughter
I miss that hm.
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Transcript generated on 2022-03-27.