Danny Elfman on His Bigger, Messier 2022

“It was a year of lots of insecurity and then a lot of, ‘Wow. What the fuck? How did that work?’” Elfman says of his year

Danny Elfman Wrap Interview 2022
Danny Elfman, photo by Jonathan Williamson

    Our 2022 Annual Report continues with a wrap-up interview with Danny Elfman. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. You can find it all in one place here.

    For Danny Elfman, 2022 has been… a lot. Now decades into his career, the musician and composer seemingly decided, “Yeah, why not? I’ll just do everything,” and somehow pulled it off flawlessly. Three film scores, two concertos, a large-scale commission for The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, a remix album, two Coachella performances, and two Hollywood Bowl performances later, Danny Elfman is somehow closing out the year alive, well, and thriving.

    “I can’t think of when I had more crazy, disconnected, contrary things all happening on top of each other. It was very much a unique year for me,” Elfman tells Consequence. “I had two and a half years of rescheduling [because of COVID], which I thought would then happen over a two and a half year period – but it didn’t work out that way. Everything just focused into 2022.”


    And yet, as compressed as his year was, Elfman’s 2022 output was far from quantity over quality. From Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness to his career-spanning, genre-destroying Coachella stage show to Netflix’s recent smash-hit Wednesday, you can find Elfman’s fingerprints all over the most talked-about pop culture this year had to offer. It’s a spinning-plate routine that spanned 12 months and multiple countries.

    “Being able to go from a World Premier Cello Concerto in Vienna to Coachella was really insane, from one extreme to the other in just less than two weeks,” Elfman recalls. “And then from the second week at Coachella right to Costa Mesa for the second performance of my percussion concerto with Colin Currie. I’m literally there still with dust in my hair.”


    The (multiverse of) madness doesn’t stop there. Late November saw the release of Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, for which Elfman composed the score, and on December 9th and 10th, he’ll be performing as Jack Skellington alongside Phoebe Bridgers’ Sally for a live performance of Nightmare Before Christmas in London.

    Elfman’s much-deserved break is coming, however. Even as projects bleed from this year into the next – including another commissioned piece for the Library of Congress and a gig crafting the music for a new ride at Universal – Elfman describes 2023 as looking unusually quiet.

    If 2022 has been any proof, though, Elfman is sure to be knee-deep in new projects before he knows it. Left to his own devices, he assures Consequence, he’ll find something to keep his interest. His plans as of now? “Looking at my electric guitars and going, ‘Hm, maybe we’ll spend some more time together.'”


    Check out the full interview with Danny Elfman below. Limited tickets for Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas performance can be found here.

    At least from the outside looking in, you’ve had an incredibly busy year. You had your hand in everything from live shows to film scores to remix albums. Was it as intense as it seemed?

    Yeah, it was insane, actually. Although, it was kind of a weird year, because it felt like 2022 started in October of ‘21. It was kind of from that point till now, this 15-month stretch, that has been probably the busiest year of my life. I can’t think of when I had more crazy, disconnected, contrary things all happening on top of each other. It was very much a unique year for me. I think because of the covid quarantine years, so much stuff got canceled. I imagined everything would get rescheduled one year, two years, three years later. So, I had two and a half years of rescheduling, which I thought would then happen over a two and a half year period — but it didn’t work out that way. Everything just focused into 2022.

    For example, I started out in 2020 trying to finish a commission for that August for National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and I’d also begun a cello concerto, which was gonna be in ‘21. Then, I ended up doing Big Mess instead. And then both of them ended up in ‘22, along with the one for Colin Curry, a percussion concerto, which was already scheduled for ‘22, which I assumed would move to ‘23 or ‘24, but it didn’t. So, having three world premier, classical concerts the same year is something — I don’t know if anybody’s ever had such a crazy thing! Two concertos and a major symphonic work all happening within like three months, four months of each other.


    And on top of that, of course the rescheduling of Coachella. On top of that, finishing up Dr. Strange and doing White Noise, doing Wednesday, and then the Hollywood Bowl shows. Which, right back into the fire, because I think most people have a full show that they’re touring and go to Coachella and cut it down for Coachella to make their hour. I was the opposite. I don’t know who’s ever built a show from nothing, from the ground up, to come up with an hour for Coachella, but that’s what I did, even though it seemed insane.

    What was it like to then bring the Coachella show to the Hollywood Bowl?

    When it was time to take it to the Hollywood Bowl and double it, it was like starting from scratch and building it up again. I wasn’t pulling from previous shows. It was crazy. Not to mention the Hollywood Bowl was really my first ever solo performance. Yeah, [there was] Coachella, but there’s a huge difference. For Coachella, you have a captive audience. They don’t even know when they buy their tickets that you’re gonna be there. It’s a surprise attack. It’s a whole different thing, but your audience is there to see 20 bands, you know?

    Hollywood Bowl was really scary because I’d never ever sold a solo show that wasn’t orchestra, film music, or Nightmare Before Christmas. Still, those aren’t me. It’s the film music of Tim Burton, and even that show will play with and without me. Nightmare Before Christmas is Nightmare Before Christmas. I’m not selling it as me, I’m doing Jack Skellington.


    So, it really freaked me out. I was like, this is crazy. we shouldn’t be doing this. This is gonna be humiliating to be at the Hollywood Bowl playing for 500 seats a night, you know? Or it’ll be humiliating when they cancel for lack of ticket sales. Either way it’s gonna be humiliating. It didn’t turn out that way, but that’s where my brain was at.

    Was that exhausting? Are you tired after such a hectic 2022?

    I find myself at the end of the year a little rundown, which is not good because I’m in the middle of yet another commission, a classical commission, which has to be done in the next few months: A Library of Congress-commissioned chamber piece that’ll be performed next spring. So, I don’t get a break, unfortunately, although it sure felt like that over Thanksgiving I was Mr. Lethargic.

    My energy always wanes at the end of the year anyhow. Often, if I have a film going and I’m counting with Laura, my manager, over how many weeks it’s gonna take me, we’ll generally count December as a two week month, because it seems like even if I work all through December, I’m gonna do two weeks worth of work. And I don’t even know why. Something happens to me at the end of each year. It probably goes back to my early days, you know? Christmas haze is like my brain fog. Starting at the beginning of December, a brain fog seeps in and it’s not gonna clear up until after New Years. So I’m kinda like, oh boy, I have to crank this month, but I gotta repel the December Elfman brain fog that I can just feel it seeping in.

    And I know that you have the live performance of Nightmare Before Christmas coming up, too, so the year still has more work for you.


    At this point, I think because of these Coachella shows and the show at the Hollywood Bowl, it makes doing Nightmare Before Christmas feel really easy.

    It’s like, “Been there, done that.”

    Elfman: Yeah. It used to be like, “Oh man, I gotta really gear up. I’m gonna go on stage and do this thing.” And now, in comparison, it’s like, “Oh, what a piece of cake.” It’s like a holiday, because the other show is so much more intensive for me. Now it’s just like, oh yeah, Nightmare is coming. Got it. It feels easy compared to now. It doesn’t stress me out at all.

    And like you said, you’ve got Jack Skellington to help you sell it. And Phoebe Bridgers this year, too!


    I’m really happy about Phoebe coming in. To me, it’s just gonna be fun. I’m looking forward to getting to England, going on stage there. I don’t have any anxiety about it, like the mountains of anxiety I had going into Coachella and the Bowl concert, you know?

    It was just a wreck in the kind of, why am I doing this? What am I doing? This makes no sense. This is a disaster. All the red lights going off both times for different reasons. You know, Coachella, I really thought in the weeks before we went on that I created the biggest disaster of my career. I was like, why did I do this? This doesn’t work. The show doesn’t work. The audience is gonna hate it. Who am I even playing for? I was astonished that it didn’t work out that way.

    And then again, I went through the same thing with [The Hollywood Bowl shows]. I really dug in when they were like, two nights. It’s insane, you know? So, it was a year of lots of insecurity and then a lot of, “Wow. What the fuck? How, how did that work?” I try to explain this to people, coming back and doing these shows, that I’m an artist that never had a hit single or a hit record. So I’m going into these big venues with three different careers, none of them necessarily for the same audience. It’s a weird thing.

    Generally when somebody, you think of a comeback, they’ve got a huge audience out there because they had all these hit records and they’re coming back to do that. And this wasn’t the case. One-third of the material was old stuff, one-third of the material was brand new stuff, much of it never performed, and then the film stuff, which is a very different audience. I could do a concert of film music, I could do a concert of Nightmare, but Nightmare was only four and a half minutes of an hour and 45 minute show.

    So, I tried to really get the word out there: Don’t bring your kids. This is not Nightmare. It’s not what you’re used to with me at the Bowl. It’s like, leave the kids home. And literally every piece of press I did was like, leave the kids home. Bring the kids next year if I come back to do Nightmare, but leave them home this year. It’s not a kid-friendly show. It’s hard to get these messages out. People are like, “Oh, I’m really looking forward to seeing you at the Bowl. I’m bringing my whole family.” I said, “Don’t, your kids are not gonna be happy. It’s a lot of offensive material on the screens that I put up there, and it’s gonna be fucking loud. It’s just not gonna be what you’re used to.”


    It was a crazy year. And then, you know, being able to go from a World Premier Cello Concerto in Vienna to Coachella was really insane. From one extreme to the other in just less than two weeks. And then from the second week at Coachella right to Costa Mesa for the second performance of my percussion concerto with Colin Currie. I’m literally there still with dust in my hair.

    Talk about different audiences.

    Oh yeah. I drove late, got a couple hours sleep, and just dragged myself. I had to run to dress rehearsal for that performance fresh off the stage from Coachella. It [felt] like a weird dream. It was a very surreal year.

    I’m very happy that White Noise was well received. I’m happy that Wednesday is being well received and Dr. Strange was well received. I didn’t know how that was gonna go. It was a really weird year, and now, back from one extreme to the other, I’m trying to write intensely complicated chamber music.


    Did you have time to find any music, movies, or television you really enjoyed this year?

    It was definitely a bad year for musical discovery. Usually, every couple years, I’ll dive in and try to listen to some new stuff. This year, I didn’t do any of that. So I discovered absolutely no music. When I’m working on music and writing music, I’m not listening to a lot of other people’s music. When I was on a flight or had downtime, I was cramming. Flying up and back to England for the concerts, I was working the whole time trying to learn my songs and lyrics, trying to put together even a set list. So those flights were jam-packed. And then the moments where I’m just chilling out, I’m getting into streaming — a lot of good shows.

    But a very unmusical year. I mean, I literally went to one concert the whole year, which was great. I finally got to see Nine Inch Nails live. That was a real fun thing to do. And it was also my first concert — that wasn’t my concert — with my 17-year-old son. It was really wonderful.

    Filmwise, the last film I saw that I really loved was All Quiet On The Western Front. Great score, incredible production. I was really blown away. And streaming stuff, I really love The Patient with Steve Corell. I found this show with my wife and we watched two seasons and loved it called American Vandal. Just ridiculous, but totally fun. Of course, I’m madly addicted to The Great British Baking Show. I just finished the last season of that. I just watched a Barbarian with my family over Thanksgiving weekend. And The Northman I really loved.


    Any secrets for what 2023 might have in store?

    I think ‘23 is a uniquely open terrain. I have no films booked for ‘23. I’ve got a few classical concerts happening. I’ve just been asking myself, “What do I do? Do I start some more songs?” Now that I’ve got that open space, I’m developing a few ideas. It’s kind of nice not having it all booked up for a change, because I realized when I went into quarantine that, left to my own designs, I could really keep myself busy just fine. So now if I see like, oh, I have no bookings for next year, rather than worrying about it, I’m kind of excited because I’ve got like half a dozen ideas.

    Other than the fact that I’m finishing this chamber commission for the Library of Congress, in ‘23 I’ll be doing theme park music for Universal called Dark Universe in ‘23, which will be fun. I’ve done a couple of theme park things and I kinda love it in a weird way. And other than those two things, it’s wide open again. So, I’m kind of looking at my electric guitars and going, “Hm, maybe we’ll spend some more time together.”