Houston, music is coming.
For Game of Thrones fans who simply can’t wait for Season 8 to air in 2019, series composer and one of the show's biggest fans, Ramin Djawadi, is here to help tide you over.
Djawadi, one of the most sought after composers in Hollywood, recently went into the Creative Arts Emmy Awards competing against himself in the Outstanding Music Composition for a Series, Original Dramatic Score category (the ceremony awarding the major categories will take place on September 17). He earned a nod for his composition, “The Dragon and the Wolf” for Season 7 of universally beloved, HBO hit fantasy show, Game of Thrones, and his piece, “Akane No Mai,” for the sci-fi western, Westworld.
He walked off with hardware for “The Dragon and the Wolf,” not all that surprising when taking into account the 22 Emmy nominations Game of Thrones earned this year — more than any other show. It's also not unexpected when taking a look at his credits: He's a former protégé of Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, and he composed the score for Iron Man, Pacific Rim, and the just-released Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan.
What does Djawadi do for an encore? He hits the road with his creation, The Game of Thrones Live Experience, featuring a full orchestra performing music from all seven seasons of the series. The critically acclaimed event, which has already toured Europe and parts of North America, will feature innovative, custom-designed production and video technology that will recreate the many realms of the show, along with footage and new imagery exclusive to the tour.
CultureMap caught up with Djawadi ahead of the Emmy Awards to discuss why he decided to go on tour with the music he wrote for the most popular show on television — and the process behind creating the Game of Thrones Live Experience.
CultureMap: You’ve scored a lot of TV shows and films. What makes Game of Thrones different?
Ramin Djawadi: I think it’s the first show that I’ve done that had a large cast, such a widespread plot with different twists and locations, the fantasy aspect of it all. I think that really allowed me to explore musically, instrumentation-wise, and really create a special sound for the show.
CM: It seems like it allows you to bring in a lot of different types of instruments or ideas. Is that something you love about working on the show?
RD: That’s a big part of it. Because it is a fantasy show, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners, they always encouraged me from the beginning to explore different instrumentation and go against what you might think is typical for what you could argue has medieval elements. I hate to use that word, because the show is timeless in its own way. It always encouraged me to stay away from medieval or Celtic instruments you might consider from that time period. We would kind of explore other areas and go a bit more contemporary, even using synthesizers. That makes it fun and creative.
CM: Let’s talk about the tour. You’ve already done a run of these shows. What has the experience been like so far?
RD: It’s been absolutely incredible. The one big thing that I really couldn’t gauge at all is how the audience would react. The idea behind this type of show was that I wanted to create sort of a hybrid, a contemporary spin on an orchestral instrumental show and bring in contemporary elements that you might see in a rock show, like pyro effects or snow simulation and make it an immersive show for the audience so it really feels like they are in Westeros. Fans come dressed up and you can tell they are having so much fun. That was always the plan and it’s great to see that working.
CM: You must feel like a rock star, traveling city to city, which must be a different experience for a composer. What is that like, being the guy who is in front of it all?
RD: What’s nice is to be able to have a direct connection to the audience. That’s something I never get to experience when I finish my project and it gets released on the soundtrack and the show comes out. Being on stage and having the audience right there, it’s a wonderful experience, and I love it.
The other thing is that it’s a very physically demanding thing to do on tour. To be honest, it was something I was a little bit naïve about. I didn’t know how difficult this would be because I had never done an extensive tour like this, moving city to city, doing the rehearsals in every city. It’s a lot of work. Although I’m used to working lots of hours, it’s different when you’re in the studio and on the road.
CM: How hands on were you when you first embarked on this project in terms of the visuals and stage design?
RD: I was very hands-on. We had weekly meetings, sometimes more. It really started out with this vision I had for creating some of these set pieces that we have in the show. Of course, I’m a composer, I’ve never done set design before, so I would just throw out ideas to the room that I would love to see on stage. Then, we worked really hard with the set and lighting designers and they would tell me what was possible. It’s been a great experience, learning how this all comes together.
CM: How many people are on the road with you? How big is your entourage?
RD: There are three groups. There are those who travel with me that I call my band, a group of eight musicians. We work with a local orchestra and choir in almost every city, so I have rehearsals in every city. Then there is the crew that travels with me that oversee how the stage gets set up. In every city, there is a local crew that comes in and helps set up the stage. Altogether, each night working on the show, there are about 150 people.
CM: You’ve made some updates to this tour (which first started after Season 6 of the show).
RD: We reworked the show and added music from Season 7. I laugh about it, but as we were redesigning the show and changing things, it was a domino effect. Once you change one thing, you want to change something else. We added more fun elements, more pyro, and certain things are completely redesigned for what’s happening on stage.
For example, when we perform the Stark theme, our violinist used to be under the Weirwood Tree when she’s performing the piece. On this new tour, she’s actually becoming the Weirwood Tree and will go 35 feet up into the air, while she’s performing on the violin.
CM: Like most fans of the show, the wait for the final season has been pretty agonizing. How much do you think the tour is a good stopgap for the fans who are really missing the series?
RD: That’s part of the reason for creating this tour, because I’m a Game of Thrones fan. I only work on the show a couple months out of the year. When the show ends, there’s a big lull for me too, where I can’t wait for the next season to come back.
We thought this tour is the perfect holdover and people will get excited for the next season. For the hardcore fans, it’s the perfect reminder of what happened from Season 1 through Season 7 and it gets you excited for Season 8. For the few people who have not seen the show yet, they can come to the concert and it’s a great crash course. They can see what all the hype is about.
CM: I assume all the major highlights of the show are featured throughout the performance.
RD: Exactly. It wasn’t easy because the show is about two and a half hours long. How do you combine such a vast story of seven seasons? We worked very hard to make sure all the major characters get introduced and highlight all the big moments, like the Red Wedding, the wall coming down (in Season 7). We worked for three years to put this together because we had to take all the footage from the show and re-edit it into a two-and-a-half hour show.
There are also some pieces that are not in the show or on the soundtrack. There are new arrangements of themes that I made specifically for the live concert, so that’s something new for the fans.
CM: So you’re one of the few people on the planet that are happy that the break between seasons is really long?
RD: I’m so unhappy that I have to wait for the show to come back. I think this happened out of necessity because I needed to have my Game of Thrones fix myself. I found a way to work on Game of Thrones in other ways.
CM: Any chance you can give us a sneak peak of what will happen in the final episodes?
RD: Honestly, I haven’t started working on them yet. I’m just as curious as everyone else!
The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience will breathe fire to the Toyota Center, located at 1510 Polk St., on Monday, September 17. Tickets start at $39.50 plus tax. Doors open at 6:30 pm.