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'Tarzan' swings to Phil Collins' beat

Andy Culpepper talks with Phil Collins
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Web posted on:
Friday, June 18, 1999 12:52:43 PM EST

By Andy Culpepper
Turner Entertainment Report Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Tarzan may reign supreme in Disney's animated jungle epic this summer. But when he's swinging through the trees, it's to someone else's tunes.

That someone is Phil Collins, known to music audiences around the world as a Grammy winner many times over who started his music career more than a quarter-century ago as a founding member of the rock group Genesis.

When Collins was approached by Disney to pen the songs for "Tarzan," the singer-songwriter's collaboration went one step further. Unlike the songs used in most of Disney's animated features, four of the five songs Collins wrote would be performed by the singer himself -- rather than by the voices of characters in the movie.

In this way, Collins' music serves another purpose: The songs become part of the narrative and contribute heavily to story exposition for the filmgoer. Mark Mancina wrote the overall soundtrack for "Tarzan," with Collins' songs as the key pieces.

Turner Entertainment Report senior correspondent Andy Culpepper sat down with Collins during his publicity tour for the film.

Q: There's so much anticipation about this film.

Collins: Yeah, it's very nice, actually. It's funny having been around it since Day One almost. I've been on this project for four years. In fact, yesterday I saw some more of the animation I'd only seen in line drawing, you know, and not colored. And it just made me think. I got very emotional about it. It's really something, progressing, progressing, progressing. And being at the deep end in the beginning was great, rather than just being the guy who made the songs.


Listen to a clip of "You'll Be In My Heart"

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(Courtesy PGD/Disney)

Q: You've been on it for four years? That seems like such a long time, but animated films really do take that long, don't they? And music is just one part of it.

Collins: Well, sometimes you end up chasing, circling each other. I mean, four years ago when I got asked to do it, I read the book, I got sent a treatment, because there was never at any stage really a script -- which makes it different from most movies, you know. (In standard films), there's a final shooting script, and then you're off filming. With animation, that kind of script changes all the time. New ideas will come in, the story will change in short order. They didn't know how to start the film for three years, you know, and so everything is very different.

Q: What do you mean, they didn't know how to start the film?

Collins: Well, because there's a lot of information to give the viewer, the audience, I mean.

Q: The whole back story?

Collins: Yeah, why does Kala, the mother ape, bond with this baby? Why is the baby boy there? There's a lot of information to tell the audience, and they didn't know quite the best way to do it. So I couldn't really come up with (songs) until they decided. I did come up with a couple of things which they really liked. But that didn't really help their story. So I backed off until they decided what they wanted to do. A lot of the time, the songs are first, it seems to me. And I wrote the bones of four of the five songs with the exception of the opening song in a couple of weeks. So they were there in the beginning, which gives the feel for the movie you know, things like "Son of Man" (one of the first songs he wrote for the film)."

Q: It's like when you choreograph ballet? The music comes first, and informs the mood of the piece?

Collins: That's right, you know, and I got the gist of it, very quickly. Had I not done that, I guess it wouldn't have been so smooth.

Q: Were you intimidated at all about doing something like that? Is this your first animated film?

Theatrical preview for "Tarzan"
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Collins: Yes, my first animation. Yeah, the song at the end of the movie is a kind of summing-up, whereas this was very much the musical beats of the story. And each one of those songs has a specific purpose. "Strangers Like Me" is when he (Tarzan, voiced by Tony Goldwyn) discovers Jane (Minnie Driver) and the other humans on the island and wants to know how come there are these people, these strangers. The apes are trying to keep (Tarzan) away from them, but yet these are (his) people, these people look like (him). So you're telling all that information in that song.

And "Son of Man" -- Tarzan is growing. They had to have him grow throughout the movie to become a man, so that song is a montage of him aged 5, 10, 15 to 20. So it's a passing of time. You know, kids don't want to wait, they want to hurry up and grow up. So it's kind of the narrator of the film, saying, "Man in time you'll be, just be patient. You'll learn."

Q: Isn't this the first time Disney has used a singer in one of its animated films without the song being sung by a character?

Collins: They've never done it. And I was actually a bit surprised that I was going to be asked to do that. If you've got a lot of charisma and personality -- and in the rock world, you've got to have that larger-than-life personality, you're going to be the usual charismatic rock 'n' roll star -- suddenly you have to forget about all that.

Q: Weren't you in "Against All Odds," though?

Collins: No, no, I did the song for that. I did a film called "Buster," which was a big film in Europe in the late '80s about the train robbery. And then I did an Australian film called "Frauds." And I really loved both of those films and I was seriously thinking about getting more involved with acting.

Q: You were seriously thinking about it?

Collins: Well, you know, I was spending a lot of time here (in California), and I went out and met a lot of very interesting people and tried to convince them that I wanted to act. There are only so many parts for someone who looks like me and is English and my age. I mean, I'm not a leading man kind of character. So there only so many parts, and there are, of course, a lot of other people like me who want to act.

So people are a bit reluctant to take chances I think. So it took a bit of a back seat for me. And I had to do a record, "Dance Into the Light" (1996), and then I got offered "Tarzan." I've got my big band, my jazz big band, which for the last three years has been a big part of my life, too -- live album coming out there, too. So music is the main thing in focus, at the moment, really.

Q: So why did you decide to go that direction, toward the big band?

Collins: Well, for me 30 years ago, this was '66 in fact, I was exposed to the Buddy Rich big band, his first band after a long layoff for financial reasons. And he did this new album, a live album in Las Vegas. And it had this "West Side Story" medley on it. And I just heard it and fell in love with it. It influenced the arrangements of Genesis and it changed the arrangements of Yes. All those bands in the '70s that were kind of doing that stuff were influenced by some of the jazz big bands.

I moved to Switzerland in '95, and I became very involved with the Montreux Jazz Festival. And I had a whole night at one of the festivals. They gave me carte blanche. And I said, "OK, I'd like to do this, at long last."

I think in my future, the kind of "regular Phil Collins," if you like -- the albums-tour scenario -- I don't know how long I want to do that for. I love writing songs, and I'll always write songs. And I'll always make records if people want to hear them. But I don't know if I always want to go out and tour for a year. I'm 48 now, and I want to get married. And I'd like to have more children and I'd like to be there for my children.

You know, my three children that I have, I don't live with. I've got a 22-year-old son, a 26-year-old daughter I've been separated from as a father, as a living-in father, since they were one and two and three. So, my priorities are changing a bit. And this kind of thing happens at the right time. You just feel this is the time, to be writing music for movies, which is what I'd like to do more of and also the jazz big band. You do the summer festivals. Everybody reads the parts and it changes the charts. It's fantastic. It's not a huge machine to get going.

Q: Ideas of success are so different. You could easily live off what you did in the past.

Collins: Oh yeah, I actually needn't have worked at all for the last 15 years. Fortunately I love what I do, so I am always wanting to try to do something different.

Q: Do you ever look back? Do you wish you'd done anything different?

Collins: Whatever it was that caused my first marriage to break up ... if I was to, say, to change that event, then I wouldn't have my youngest daughter now. I wouldn't be doing the things I'm doing now if that hadn't happened. You'd never have heard of Phil Collins, probably.

Q: Because you wrote about your breakup?

Collins: Yeah, "Face Value" was basically ... all triggered by this divorce. And that kind of put me on a map, if you like, as well as being a singer of Genesis.

Q: Is there a lyric or any phrase that stands out for you (from "Tarzan")?

Collins: "Two Worlds." You put your faith in what you most believe in. There's some poetry in there. "The paradise untouched by man within this world blessed with love / they live in peace ... simple life / they live in peace." I'm very proud of it, and it's nice to have something that you're proud of.

Q: Does it do something for you that your other writing hasn't?

Collins: Well, I feel flattered to have been asked because I've been given the opportunity to reach farther out as a writer, as a performer, as a singer and a drummer, whatever you want to call me. If along with it comes all kinds of these other things, you know, the pat on the back, you know ...

Q: The Oscar?

Collins: Yeah ... well, I've been there twice before, you know. "Against all Odds" was nominated for an Oscar and "Two Hearts" from this movie "Buster." I don't really hold my breath any more.

Q: So what's going to be next for you personally?

Collins: Big band album is coming out in July in the States and that's a live album, which I am very very proud of. This is like me in my natural habitat. I guess that someone somewhere is going to ring me up and say, "Can we have another Phil Collins record, please?" But I've been so involved with this and all aspects of it. The "Tarzan" thing, that is.

I started last week, funny enough, listing some ideas I haven't developed, and I actually came up with a couple of things, and I started getting the bug. Before that happened I was thinking, "I know what's going to happen. I'm going to make another record and then go and tour and then -- whoom! What was that? That was two years of your life, mate. Do you want to do that?" No, I don't want to do that. Do I want to do shows? Yeah. But I don't want to stay in a hotel for a year and a half, two years, no.

But then you start writing and you start getting into it, and you think, "I like this song writing." So, who knows?

Phil Collins swinging to the Big Band sound
August 7, 1998
1997 Grammy Awards - Grammy Nominees in Other Categories

The Phil Collins Cafe
Phil Collins on Atlantic Records
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