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 in 2020, with a full orchestra, choir, and soloists performing their soundtracks (more information about the tour).
Gorka Oteiza had the chance to interview recently 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.
This first interview with Nick Phoenix, will be soon followed by a second and complementary interview with Thomas Bergersen.
Gorka Oteiza: Thank you very much Nick for having some time for SoundTrackFest in your very busy daily schedule… which is even busier now that you’re preparing your first tour! Let me tell you that we’re really excited to see you in Europe in April 2020. It’s going to be something very special.
Nick Phoenix: Same here. Tom started talking about doing it for years, but we’re just too lazy to take care of it (*laughs*).
Well, there’re always many things going on!
Indeed. And I think it’s pretty important for us to have control over the concerts. So we’re happy to be doing this, because there’re certain things that have to be taken care of. Our sound is so big that we need to make sure that we have the right orchestra, equipment, etc…
Your first and only concert together as Two Steps From Hell was in 2013 in Los Angeles. What did that concert mean for you? Because it was a great hit, and you had never done that before.
We really enjoyed it. It was quite difficult to put that together in Los Angeles because we did it all ourselves. It was difficult to get the whole thing organized, and unfortunately, we couldn’t do everything we wanted because of expenses and all that. It was difficult. But it really was amazing for us, a wonderful experience. After that, we were thinking about doing lots of concerts, but then somehow, it never happened. We didn’t manage to put it together.
What can you tell us about this upcoming 2020 tour? Is there going to be a big difference from that concert you performed in Los Angeles, compared to the concerts you are doing now?
There is! The thing is that, first of all, we’ve written a lot of music since that concert, so there’s going to be some different music. Obviously, we’ll be playing some of the really popular songs from back then, but I think about half the music on the new tour it’s going to be newer music, and that’s especially true for some of my music, for some of the songs I’ve written. We also have some more visual elements as well, to make the concert more exciting. We didn’t really do any of that in Los Angeles. There are a few more performers; we had two singers in Los Angeles and we’ll have probably three or four on the tour. We’re working on it.
What about a choir?
Yeah. We will have a big choir as well!
So it’s going to be bigger and better.
Bigger and better. Yeah. (*laughs*)
Are you going to sing on this tour? Because you have very nice songs like ‘Back to the Earth’ or ‘I’ll Stand Alone’ which could be good pieces for the program.
Yes. I think it’s going to be similar to the last concert. I’ll sing probably two or three songs.
That’s fantastic news for your fans…
I’m always kind of mixed about the singing part, because it’s a little bit different. I mean, I don’t want to do too much of that, because it’s something different from Epic Music, but I think a little bit of singing is nice.
I think it’s nice, and I think that fans will really appreciate it. Let me ask you about the place chosen for the tour: Europe and not the U.S. How did you make that choice?
Well, it’s because we have a lot of fans in Europe. And we also have a lot of connections. I mean, Thomas is from Norway and I was born in London, and my dad’s from Scotland and my mother’s from Serbia. And honestly it’s kind of interesting, because Europe is ‘small’, so you can do a lot of concerts in a fairly small area and access a lot of people. It’s easier in a way than doing a tour in the United States, which is kind of complicated. You could do a concert in LA, a concert in New York, and everything else is kind of difficult. So, Europe is more interesting because we can do more concerts and access to more people.
How do you feel to be performing in London, your birthplace? London is an important part of the tour, and is a location that will probably attract many fans, as London is a big hub for music in Europe.
It’s really great. I mean, I have a lot of family in England, so I’m really excited about that. Plus, I just feel like the orchestral tradition in London is very strong. I mean, it’s strong all over Europe, but also especially in London. So I feel proud to be able to do that.
How do you prepare these concerts? Your music has a lot of production, and is prepared for an album… but then you go live, and you have an orchestra, a choir, singers, prerecorded sounds, and you also have to be careful with the images and the visuals. How do you make all those pieces of the puzzle work together live?
Because we record all our music with a live orchestra, we have the scores available, so that part is not too difficult. There are a few holes we have to fill in, but mostly we have all the scores prepared. The visuals, we’re working on them now, and that’s an interesting challenge. I mean, we can’t go too crazy. (*laughs*) We have a lot of ideas for that, but it’s quite a lot of work. And then, as far as the other prerecorded sounds, yeah, there’s quite a bit of certain things that we can’t do on stage. We’d have to back up with some of the drums, especially to get that very big, tight drum sound. We’d have to add a little bit of prerecorded stuff, and it’s also tricky because you can’t just give the normal sounds that we would use, which have a lot of reverb, because you’re playing in the concert hall. You really have to be careful with that. The sound has to be drier, less reverb, so that it doesn’t sound a certain way in the hall. And yeah, there’s a lot of things to think about. That’s why we have the team of Semmel Concerts & Tomek Productions doing a lot of the work, because it’s complex, especially with that many people on stage. To put all that together, it’s quite difficult.
That’s true, and then you have to move from one city to another, and move all the equipment as well, and they’re doing a great job with The World of Hans Zimmer tour, so I’m sure they will do a great job with your tour too.
Yeah. When they approached us, it seemed like a natural thing, after seeing what they did with the World of Hans Zimmer Tour.
When you started Two Steps From Hell in 2006… that’s 13 years ago… did you expect someday to be in a concert hall playing in front of thousands of people, or even touring, like you’re going to be in 2020? Or it seems a bit crazy if you look back?
Yeah, it looks crazy because our story is very strange. We started just doing production music. I’d been doing trailer music for a long time even before that, and we never imagined that it would go in this direction. It was just purely writing music for trailers. I had been doing it before, and then I met Thomas, and I thought that we would be successful if we did that together, but we never thought all of this could happen. I mean, even when we first talked about just putting out an album for fans, we thought that was a crazy idea. We were talking about it thinking, “Oh, maybe we could put out something.” And then we had a lot of success: we did the two Star Trek trailers and some other trailers in 2009, and then suddenly we realized that there were a lot of people out there that were trading our music. We never expected any of this. We’ve been very lucky. There’s a whole list of composers, like Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman… well-known people that score films, which Thomas and I looked up to… And then somehow, we managed just to jump into that world and to access all these fans very quickly. It was very surprising, that just because of a few trailers, we got so popular. It really, really surprised us.
Well, your trajectory is really impressive. Millions of albums sold, millions of hits on YouTube and Streaming platforms… So I think this tour it’s a great idea, going live for all those fans.
Yeah. My only worry was that it took us so long to do these concerts… I mean, we wanted to, after the LA concert. We wanted to keep on it, to start doing it frequently. We thought it was very important, but it just never happened. So now we’re excited to start and, well, we have new music coming out next year as well.
That’s great. Let’s change the topic now and let’s stop talking about the tour, to talk about Thomas and you. The first thing I would like to know is, what did Nick learn from Thomas in these 13 years working together with Two Steps From Hell? Because you probably have different characters, different ways to work, and different ways to express yourself with your music… so… what would you say you did learn from him and what do you think he has learned from you?
We talk all the time about what kind of music we’re trying to do for the next album, and after we’ve written the music, we kind of come together and we work on it. We master it, and do some of the mixing stuff together, and we collaborate. But when we’re writing the music we are pretty much independent. So he has his studio and I have mine. For me, it’s always been interesting the fact that I have always tried to do something a little bit different. I kind of know what Thomas does, and he does it really well, and I’ve made an effort to write my own kind of music and be original, so I could say that we complement each other.
I think that over the years, being with Thomas has affected the way that I write a little bit, so we’re not writing the same kind of music. One of the things I’ve learned from Thomas is that he’s a very good orchestrator. I don’t think people realize how complicated this is and what goes into a lot of his music. Even though the recordings are all live orchestra, he’s adding a lot of other elements, sometimes very subtle things to make it sound the way it does. There are a lot of little things in there, that people probably don’t hear, which give added value. I think I’ve learned that from him.
It’s funny because when I first started doing trailers, I was doing a lot of that, where I would just throw in so many sounds and really mixed just hundreds of things, trying to get this big sound. But a lot of the reason I was doing that was because I wasn’t orchestrating as well as I should, and then, later on, I realized that it was better to just work on my orchestrations. Really study, and try to have the orchestra play the correct part. I became focused on that. And then, after working with Thomas for a while, I realized that you really have to do both. The orchestration is incredibly important: to have everyone playing the right parts, but then it is also important adding a lot of other little elements, like synth elements. Just a little extra. Sometimes it’s adding more brass players then you really can have on stage, to really get the sound that you want. And I kind of learned that from Thomas, that there is a lot more to get the epic sound. It’s not a 100 piece orchestra. It’s really a 200 piece orchestra (*laughs*).
Let’s go now with the final question of the interview, which is about your music. You started in 1997 creating Trailer Music and then, 9 years later, Two Steps From Hell was born when you started working with Thomas, and now… It’s more than 20 years since you started. What kind of evolution have you seen in your music? Because we have talked about Trailer Music, but now I think we’re more into Epic Music.
Honestly, in a certain way, I feel that a few of us, a few different composers, and especially Thomas and I, have kind of started a new form of music in a way. I feel that Epic Music came from trailers, but it’s really something different now. And I think that’s where Two Steps From Hell is the leader in creating this music. Because we don’t really write music for trailers anymore. I mean, we don’t really license that much music for trailers these days. We don’t really concentrate on that. Many times, trailers these days are pop music, and they also tend to like very simple music. And we realized that our fans don’t really want that. They want just great music and good melodies. And sometimes, good melodies are not really what the trailer people are looking for.
That’s true, and trailers are also very short, so they don’t give you time to expand your music and tell a story with a piece.
There’re a few trailers that we ever did that were really successful when they used the whole piece of music. They hardly ever do that. Just like you said, we’re Epic Music composers and it’s kind of a new genre of music. It really came from the trailer industry, and also a bit from people like Hans Zimmer, who also write a little bit in that style as well. We’re really proud of that. I guess that in a way, we are the number one Epic Music band in the world, so we have our own little niche.
Nick, the interview is over… Thank you very much for your time. Keep working hard for the upcoming tour in 2020, so we can enjoy the results in a few months!
All right. Will do! Thank you very much.
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.