We caught up with composer Andy Hopkins to discuss recent orchestral release ‘Epic History’, a cinematic collection of choral themes for history, ancient worlds, myths and epic stories. Recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria with the Sofia Session Orchestra the album is perfect for documentary, dramatic and period drama, and blockbuster film and TV. For more like this album, check out our Music For History collection, curated by our expert Music Directors.
Hi Andy! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m based in the UK and started my music career as a jazz guitarist and session player working with a huge variety of acts from Groove Armada and Dido to touring Asia with World Music stars Oojami. I had always been interested in composing music to picture and by some strange process of osmosis that’s how my career has turned out! I’ve since been fortunate enough to work for broadcasters such as the BBC, CNN, Discovery and the History channel helping to tell stories both fact and fiction. My credits include Einstein and Hawking: Masters of the Universe (PBS), The Kennedys (CNN), Filthy Histories (BBC/Discovery), The Celts: Blood Iron and Sacrifice (BBC/ZDF), and 911: Escape from The Towers (History Channel).
You worked with the Sofia Session Orchestra on this album. Have you worked with them before? How did the connection come about?
I was introduced to the Sofia Session Orchestra by my old friend and collaborator, Ian Livingstone. He’d used them and having heard the quality of the playing and the quality of the recordings, I knew I had to use them on my next project, which was American Dynasties: the Kennedys for CNN. These guys are a pleasure to work with and they really breath so much emotion and drama into the music, the sessions are always the best part of the writing process for me; hearing the music really come alive.
What are the main influences or themes behind the new album, Epic History?
That’s a hard one. I think the history genre by its very nature is a broad church, and the line between historical drama and historical commentary programming is becoming increasingly blurred. It’s impossible to ignore the influence of people like Harry Gregson Williams (Kingdom of Heaven) and Hans Zimmer (Gladiator) on the genre, and the orchestral hybrid scoring in series such as Vikings and Game of Thrones have made this a hugely exciting area. I think the great thing about this album was that we had very few limitations. We experimented, because in the end, the most important thing is for us to set the scene, to give filmmakers an instant ‘vibe’ that places the audience somewhere else. If that’s achieved by a hurdy gurdy with a Saxon harp, a string section and some synths then that’s exactly what we’ll use!
What audience is this album aimed at and what type of uses will find it most appealing?
This album is intended for anyone with a historical story to tell, it’s that simple. We have avoided being too musically specific in our sound, concentrating instead on creating excitement, drama and atmosphere.
What makes this album stand out?
There’s so much I love about this album. The composers I wrote with Ian Livingstone (Ivor Novello Award-winning) and George Strezov are so hugely talented and fun to work with that it makes my job a breeze. I love the fact that they write so differently to me, so the album really offers different styles and perspectives. The result is extremely emotional and evocative.
The ethos and raison d’etre of the True Stories label is ’tell a story’. Dean Mahoney (co-founder of True Stories) really wanted to create something uniquely useable, taking his knowledge of Production Music and my knowledge of the TV/Film edit suite. I think what marks us out from other production music libraries is that we try to avoid formulaic, predictable arrangements. Although predictable cues can be editor-friendly in some environments, my experience with editors is that if they can ‘hear’ a story in your music, it really helps them create the scene. If you surprise the editor they’ll often think “I can use this to really push the scene on”. For some of our composers this is a shock when they write us a library cue and our feedback is ’surprise us’. It’s kind of antithetical to a lot of library music but we are very proud of the work we do.
Are you a fan of historic epics, in documentary or drama?
I’m such a fan of historical drama and documentary it’s hard to single anything out, but some that stand out for me are Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator (obviously!). I love Trevor Morris’s work on series such as the Tudors and Vikings because he’s great at bringing modern sounds into his scores in brilliantly surprising ways. I’m immensely proud of the music I wrote for the CNN series the Kennedys and the Windsors, and spanning 1930’s Jazz to the modern day which was a really fun challenge. Musically, I think my absolute favorite of the last few years was Martin Phipps’ score for War and Peace – A score totally committed to emotion and the story.
Finally, are there any standout tracks you’d like to highlight?
Too many favorites to mention! I suppose my current favorites on the album are Heroes of History and Fanfare of Legions. I also love the vocal melody on A Noble Revenge. There are LOTS of vocals on this album. It was something we felt brought an emotional immediacy to the tracks. And check out George’s writing on Ancient Power. I think the whole album is amazing so I guess I should stop there!