From Hollywood to Hockenheim, Brian Tyler is the California Kid who went on to become one of the most highly-respected movie composers of the modern era, whose fast and furious style will now provide the musical bedrock for Formula One fans far and wide. In a worldwide exclusive for Mobil 1 The Grid, Jennie Gow meets the creative brain behind the sound that is set to become synonymous with F1 around the globe.
I love it when I meet a hugely talented person and they profess how lucky they have been to get where they are. Yes, maybe luck has played a part. However, in my experience, success normally comes down to hours and hours of hard work and dedication. The luck comes into being in the right place at the right time, but the foundation of great success is usually bloomin’ hard work.
No truer sentence can be said for Brian Tyler, the man who has been tasked with writing the new Formula One theme tune. He is currently in Los Angeles, living on a diet of tea – lots of it – and almost no sleep, as he puts the finishing touches to what he describes as a theme “born and written out of a love for F1”.
Brian is an Emmy-nominated composer who has put together the theme tunes for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies including Iron Man 3, The Expendables and The Fast & Furious franchise, to name just a few. However, the use of the word composer doesn’t really do him justice. He’s a musician, a songwriter, a conductor, arranger and producer, with a talent for playing more instruments than most of us could even name. At just 39 years of age, its an impressive resume.
So how does one of Hollywood’s biggest movie composers get asked to do the theme tune for Formula One, and does he even know what F1 racing is?
The short answer to the second part of that question at least is, yes. Of course he does.
As for how the theme tune came about, well, it was all a bit of coincidence, starting with someone at F1 deciding to put some music behind one of Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying laps last year.
“It must have been from Fast & Furious or Iron Man”, explains Brian. “Somehow, it fit exactly”.
Brian’s music is all about excitement. It’s about heroes, danger and drama. It’s infectious and explosive. No wonder it fit so well with the sport we love.
Not long after the piece was released, Brian received a call from F1 explaining that they were looking to use music in a way that could form part of the identity of what is, by all accounts, something of a new era for Formula One.
Well, they contacted the right man for the job, that’s for sure.
“By sheer luck and coincidence, I live and breathe F1”, he says. “The sport fits me perfectly”.
Brian explains to me how he fell in love with F1 when he was little. The Senna years – much of which he experienced whilst travelling in Europe – really captivated him. “I was engrossed in the drama of Formula One. The season, teams, strategies and rivalries.”
Such was his passion for the sport, he even had a letter to the editor published in F1 Racing magazine many years ago. He had written in to discuss the merits of a radically different points system which would see every driver awarded points to encourage mid-fielding and new teams to race for a reward.
It’s not easy being an F1 fan in America, as many of our Stateside readers will appreciate. Brian set the TV on record and got up at crazy hours in the middle of the night to watch practice, qualifying and the races themselves with one his equally-obsessed friends.
His father might well have been responsible for sowing that seed. He designed race tracks and was really into cars.
“Ontario Motor Speedway was one of his tracks. It even had an F1 race there once”, explains Brian.
The race in question was the 1971 Questor Grand Prix – well before the musician was born – won by none other than Mario Andretti in the Ferrari 312B.
So how does an F1 fan from Orange County, California become one of the countries most talented composers?
Music was clearly in Brian’s bones. He started playing when he was four but, unlike you and I – who may or may not have been causing discomfort to parental audiences whilst playing Ba-Ba Black Sheep on the recorder after school – Brian’s talents were clear for all to see.
“I was interested in all sorts of music, jumping all around in musical genres. I would write music to a book I was reading. Then, I wrote a requiem when I was young”.
Yes, he wrote a requiem. As a teenager.
It was that which got him noticed and, following that, he started writing scores for movies. His first was for a film called Bartender in 1997, when he was just 19 years old, and his career has been on a steep upwards path ever since.
Ok, so Brian is talented, we’ve established that. But how has he gone about the process of creating music for F1?
“I went to the F1 race in Austin, and went to the pits for the whole thing”, he explains. “The first person I get in a van with to go to the race with is Mika Hakkinen. We ended up hanging out for the day.”
Can you imagine? An F1 fan gets to hang out with a 2-time World Champion just after he’s been asked to write the theme tune for the sport he loves. I can hear in his voice that he can’t quite believe it, even as he’s telling me.
The day got better when he was asked if he’d like to have lunch with David Coulthard, the former McLaren and Red Bull driver, with whom he has since struck up a friendship.
“We [David, Mika and I] have corresponded lots since then. I was starting to think about how this music was going to be. I asked them, ‘How do you feel right before the race?’ and ‘What’s it like sitting and doing your recon lap, and waiting for the lights to go green?
“The music I was trying to capture was what David and Mika said. Trying to capture the emotion and the build-up of what’s about to happen.
“I came back and immediately started writing. I wrote much more than needed. [The music] exploded all over the page.”
Brian’s writing style is what he calls ‘impressionistic’. He clearly lives and breathes what he does, and fully immerses himself in his work.
“With F1, it’s something that I didn’t need to go through a process of research for. I didn’t live Iron Man at the weekend for the last 20 years. But [with F1], I was already there.”
“I went back and watched Lewis Hamilton winning the championship for the first time again. That emotional journey in Lewis’ stomach, the fact that the year before he had lost it by 1 point as well, and seeing his reaction when he won… That all of a sudden hit me. It shouldn’t just be a rock song. The emotion of what happened needed more. It needed emotion, and voices and a choir, and that larger-than-life feel”.
Just describing it – at this point, I should say I haven’t heard the finished piece of music – makes the hairs on my arms stand up. Brian’s emotional attachment with both music and Formula One makes you sign up for something that us F1 fans can be naturally a little sceptical about. I am even surprised by my own reaction.
For those who don’t know, I work for the BBC as their F1 presenter and pit lane reporter. Over the years, the purist race fan in me has gotten very upset if anyone has even suggested replacing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’.
For me – and many like me – it’s a piece of music which, for many years, has been synonymous with F1.
However, it is only synonymous with F1 in this country (the UK). In every single territory, there is a different piece of music used. Formula One is global, and the idea behind this new theme is to give the series a unified sound, wherever you are in the world, just as football did with the UEFA Champions League music.
Speaking to Brian has infinitely cooled my scepticism.
Our phone call is one he has made time for while working extremely late nights mixing the final edit.
He is humble, and I get the sense he is honoured by the prospect of following in the footsteps of Fleetwood Mac.
“I just saw Fleetwood Mac in concert! I’m a massive fan”, he says. “I love [The Chain]. It’s a great tune and of course there’s going to be nostalgia, and there will be people that out of hand reject that.”
“[But] the spirit of the song is in what I’ve done. As it becomes part of F1, [fans] can hear this music is at the heart and spirit of F1 because it was born and written out of a love [for the sport].”
The music itself was recorded in the UK, in an old cathedral – Air Studios – where the acoustics where perfected by the great Sir George Martin, who of course is recognised for his work with The Beatles. There are drums, a full orchestra, guitars and a full choir “to capture the emotion”, Brian says.
There is one more element too.
“I wanted to incorporate the F1 cars into the music. Different eras of F1 cars. The history of F1 engines and not use them as sound effects but incorporate them into the music. The voice of God!”
At this point, Brian’s passion for this sport almost bursts through the phone.
“The great thing was that going and recording it in London, and playing it there, where people from F1 were in the recording booth behind the glass, and they could hear it. The looks on their faces were different to how we imagined. The reaction was so rare that even the orchestra cheered. It was an overwhelming time for me.”
Brian, whilst drinking more tea and spending hours and hours poring over his musical scores, had a signed Lewis Hamilton hat with him at the time.
“He [Lewis Hamilton] is definitely one of my inspirations. So many of the drivers are. From top to bottom, I’m a fan of what they’ve done”.
I ask him, as a Lewis fan, if the current World Champion has listened to the music yet or, indeed, been in touch. Brian chuckles to himself and is clearly looking forward to a time when he meets his muse. “The fact is, the music is part of his doing and he doesn’t even know it.”
Ever the perfectionist, Brian will be working on the mix right up until the moment it is played out. For a lifelong F1 fan, I can only imagine what the Australian Grand Prix weekend will feel like for him.
I finish our interview by asking if he’s looking forward to actually hearing it on the coverage when he sits down to watch the first race of 2018.
“It’s completely mind-boggling. I have no idea how I’m going to react. I’m already in anticipation. I get really excited before the season starts. It’s an unimaginable honour.”
He wraps up our call by describing what he thinks will happen. He’ll be sat there watching the broadcast on television, probably with another cup of tea, and then suddenly, he’ll hear it. “’Oh my gosh, there’s the music!’, I’ll say. It’s going to be an overwhelming weekend for me”.
The 2018 Formula 1 Theme by Brian Tyler is now available on Spotify.