The world’s number one epic music producers and composers, Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix aka Two Steps from Hell, are for the first time ever going on a live official concert tour across Europe, with a full orchestra, choir, and soloists performing their soundtracks (more information about the tour).
Gorka Oteiza had the chance to interview Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen, exclusively for SoundTrackFest, where they talked about the upcoming tour, what can we expect to find there, how is the preparation being done, and also about their collaboration and the evolution of their music on these 13 years together.
After a first interview with Nick Phoenix (read more), following you can read the interview with Thomas Bergersen.
Good morning, Thomas. It’s nice to talk to you again. We met in 2018 in Film Music Prague, where you performed two great concerts with the music of The Two Steps From Hell. In fact, both concerts sold out. It was a great performance and people loved it. So… it’s really great to see that you’re going on tour now.
Yeah. Thank you! We’re excited because it’s going to be a little more complicated than last time.
Well, I can imagine.
Last time we just showed up and played! (*laughs*)
Indeed, this time it is going to be bigger, much bigger, with a whole European tour! In fact, this is your first tour together, not only in Europe, but in general, so this is really a very special moment. We’re really waiting to see you on stage!
Well, thank you so much. I’m excited to have people like you that are excited about our concerts. It’s definitely worthwhile.
The first and only concert that Nick & you gave together (in Prague you were alone), was in June 2013, in Los Angeles. What did that concert mean for you? Because it’s the first time you went live since you founded Two Steps From Hell in 2006. Did you suspect that someday you would be doing a concert, or like now, even a tour?
No, not at all. Before that concert, my only experience standing on a stage was being in rock bands, when I was little and I was in high school. I never really expected to be on stage at any point in my career. So, for me, I wasn’t even that interested in doing it, but Nick sort of convinced me. He said “Yeah, let’s do it.” And I replied “Well, it’s going to be so much work. Let’s stop.” (*laughs*) Because I’m more comfortable just being in my studio and working on music and relaxing. I’m not big on being out among too many people, and concerts are a lot of people.
But in retrospect, it was important to do it and we had a lot of fun. I’m very, very happy that Nick convinced me.
Many years have passed since that moment, and now you’re not only giving another concert together but you’re going on tour. What made you shift your mind or decide that this was the right moment to do it? How did you take that decision?
I think for me, it was only just a matter of not having enough music that I was happy with. I didn’t feel like it was time to go on tour, when I hadn’t written enough music that I was really truly happy with and that I would be excited to perform. Because I couldn’t stand behind it and be proud of it. But over those years, a lot of things have happened, and I’ve written music that I’m very happy with and I feel like we have so much music to share now. In fact, Nick and I were talking about this, and now we have so much music, that even if we wanted to, we could have three different concerts with different music. (*laughs*)
Well, maybe this is just the beginning and you’re going to do another tour next year with different music. Why not?
Everything is possible. We’ll see how it goes this time around and we’ll base the next one on our experiences from this one.
That’s perfect. What can you tell us about the music the people are going to listen? Which songs/themes did you decide to choose? Which ones to leave out? Is it going to be the same program in all concerts? In overall, what can you tell us about the music?
We’re going to be very careful to pick the ones that people really like. We look at the response that we’ve had with all our music on YouTube and on Facebook, our emails, and everything that we get feedback from people. So, we will definitely pick the ones that are the most popular to perform, but also we need to make the concert exciting and dynamic. It can’t just be wall-to-wall loud music all the time. We’ll break it down and make it an experience.
Will be kind of a roller coaster… going up and down, telling a story…
Right. A little heartbeat, you know? So, there are some natural dynamics.
We know that there’s going to be a choir, an orchestra, and your usual soloists. What can you tell us about this?
It’s very important for us to have our usual collaborators. Nick and I will be performing as well of course. And this time around, we’re focusing a lot on production values. So, our absolute number one priority is sound quality. It needs to be absolutely perfect and crisp and clear. No distortion, just a perfect sound. That’s very important. And then, of course, we have some amazing musicians that we’re going to use. It’s going to be a more refined concert than before.
Your music is very well produced with many, many variables, that probably will be difficult to take into a concert hall. How do you prepare or arrange that experience for the tour?
Since it’s live, the focus is on the live performances of the musicians: the orchestra and Nick and I and our singers. But sometimes, we have elements in our music that you can’t replicate in an orchestra and we still need to do that. That’s why the sound system is very important. It needs to be really good, so that we can project synth tracks and percussion tracks that are integral to each song.
Are you going to sing, alone, or together with Nick?
No, I’m not going to sing anything. (*laughs*). Nick really likes to sing. And from that, I just do it out of necessity because I need to show people how something needs to be when I’m working. But I’m not a singer. So, I’d rather leave it out. It’s like when I’m writing music, it’s kind of just another tool. If I need something that sounds a certain way, maybe I can replicate it with my voice, then I’d say, “Yeah.”. But that’s it!
Let’s talk a bit now about you two, about Two Steps from Hell, and you two collaborating and working together. You’ve been together since 2006, and that’s a long time! What would you say that you have learned from Nick and what do you think that Nick has learned from you in all those years collaborating together?
It’s a difficult question because it’s a partnership. It’s kind of a marriage in a way, you know? It’s constantly evolving. I think the basis for it, is respect for each other as people. And we always listen to each other and make sure that the other voice is heard, because music is so seductive. You can’t ever say anything wrong about someone else’s music. It’s so subjective. So, our conversations are never about music. It’s more about, what are we going to do next? It is important to be on the same page, as far as where we want to take the company and where we want to pick the music. But once I go to my studio and he goes to his, we’re writing the music that we want to write and there is no input from the other one.
That’s a good way to work. And it has been going on flawlessly for many years, so it looks like it’s a nice way to keep going. (*laughs*)
Yeah. (*laughs*) We don’t have any fights. We never complain. It’s been an easy partnership.
You have said in many interviews that you don’t like to compose tied to the picture. So, that means that you want to compose freely for your ideas and what’s in your head. And this kind of way of working with Nick, also goes in that direction. You are not tied to what the other person has to tell. You have independent voices that complement and go together.
Yeah, exactly. And it’s more than that. It’s having some stability next to you. It feels more stable than just going out and doing it on your own.
Let’s talk about your music. Before Two Steps From Hell, you had previous experience composing for publicity and media. And it’s funny because when Two Steps From Hell was born, its style was labeled as “Trailer music”, but over time it has changed to “Epic music”. Looking back, how do you see the evolution of your music, comparing from when you started to how it is now? Has the music changed, but also your personality and the way you work?
Wow. What a question. Yeah. I could probably spend a lot of time just reflecting on that. (*laughs*)
I think music, same as your personality, is changed as you go through life, so it’s not something you can rush. But the little ideas of where it’s going to take you, are pressing pretty early on. So, if I look back on my music, I can tell, “Oh, yeah. It was obvious that I was going to move in that direction.” It just had all the telltale signs and some of those signature things that I liked to do early on, without even being conscious about it. They worked their way into my later music.
I think it evolved into what it is now because we saw that people liked a certain type of music and I liked to compose that, so just naturally I am gravitated towards that sort of music. And then, it became just a self-fulfilling prophecy in a sense because, I just connected with people who like my music, and if I have people who like my music, that makes me aspire to make music in that genre.
So, I just kept going and it was just a natural evolution of having a voice that’s heard and getting input and feedback from a large following around the world. And they would say, “Oh, this is terrible.” Or “This is good.” That kind of feedback leads me onto the right path in many cases when I’m not sure if what I’m doing is good or bad.
Well, that’s a nice answer for a complex question: linking the feedback from your fans to your evolution. I like it! So, let’s go ending the interview… and I have something here to ask you about your next work alone, Humanity. What was your inspiration and vision to create it?
Music at this point, has to make sense for me, so I want to sit down and complete a piece of music. Because I’ve written so much music and a lot of it has been experimental, trying to find the place where I feel. Like I have something to say with my music where it hasn’t been said a million times before, just a small mutation of something that’s already been done. So, the music that I produce at this point, and going forward, has to mean something. It must try to explore the new grounds but still use all the tools that I’ve learned how to use over the years.
I think Humanity focuses on that in a sense, because it’s pulling together all the tricks that I’ve learned over the years and try to get into music that I feel is original and hasn’t been done before. But still has my personality in it, hopefully. That’s the idea. It takes a little longer to get going. It’s not these three-minute-long nuggets of music that people play endlessly because it has a melody with it. Melody is very important for me and it’s always going to be the focus of my music. So, it is very melodic, but it still takes its time to develop.
Well, that’s all, for the moment. Thank you very much for your time, Thomas, and congratulations for this tour, and now… keep working hard to give the best. (*laughs*)
We never relax. I’m always working hard. (*laughs*)
I know! That’s why it took six years to get to this point since your last concert. Well, hopefully, this Tour is a way to start things, so after it, the next time you go live, it won’t take so long.
Yeah. Let’s hope so! It all depends on the feedback from everyone. So, fingers crossed!
Interview by Gorka Oteiza
Thank you very much to Josep Ferré Berenguel, a great expert in Two Steps From Hell’s music and career, for his help preparing this interview.