Giles Martin On 'Rocketman,' Elton John, Reinventing "Tiny Dancer" & More

Giles Martin

Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images


Giles Martin On 'Rocketman,' Elton John, Reinventing "Tiny Dancer" & More

The GRAMMY-winning producer details the process of creating the soundtrack to the new Elton John biopic including working with star of the film Taron Egerton, recording John in the studio and creating new versions of timeless classics

GRAMMYs/Jun 7, 2019 - 10:43 pm

Giles Martin is no stranger to the pressure of reimagining timeless classics. The GRAMMY winner and son of Beatles producer George Martin has remixed and rearranged the Fab Four's work a number of times throughout his career—perhaps most notably for Cirque du Soleil's production of Love. But that pressure to get it right and do the original recordings justice never disappears when he dives into a beloved artist's catalog, especially when the artist is Elton John.

As the musical director of John's new biopic, Rocketman, Martin was given free rein to interpret the legendary singer's work as he saw fit. John remained hands-off throughout the whole process, entrusting Martin and star Taron Egerton with the task of telling his story through the music.

"It was huge pressure," Martin says with a laugh. "It's a bit like you've got a top chef and they give you a bunch of ingredients and go, 'I completely trust you to make an amazing meal,' and you go, 'Oh, right, okay.' At the same time, I guess it's better than the other way around. It's better than someone saying 'I don't trust you at all.' I was delighted when he actually liked it by the end."

The endorsement from John came this past January in the form of an unexpected phone call from an L.A. number Martin didn't recognize.

"Elton doesn't have a mobile, so I haven't got a number saved for him," he explains. "He was like 'Giles? This is Elton John.' And I don't think I'd spoken to Elton at all for about four months, and I was like 'Oh god.' I always think I'm gonna get fired for some reason. But he goes, 'I've listened to the music, and I love it. I just wanted to phone you and tell you I've been watching the rushes, and I think what you've done is an amazing job, and I just wanted to say thank you very much, and I've phoned Taron as well.' And I think I nearly cried. It was a relief. Because you know, it is his music, and it's his life, and you just want to make sure that you do right by him. But you have to change things around because it has to suit the film."

Those changes instantly noticeable in the movie, whether they come in the form of John's family performing "I Want Love" to illustrate his troubled childhood, a slowed-down "Crocodile Rock" intro during his star-making set at the Troubadour or a version of "Rocketman" that draws inspiration from Pink Floyd's "Great Gig in the Sky" during a scene that begins with John underwater in a pool and follows him all the way to his Dodger Stadium performance. But the change Martin struggled with the most was his decision to swap "Tiny Dancer"'s iconic piano intro for guitar.

"I did a lot of iterations of 'Tiny Dancer,'" he says. "'Tiny Dancer' was the one that I kept on changing. I did [at one point] have the piano starting, and do you know what? It didn't suit the mood. It was a really tough thing because it comes from a very quiet place, 'Tiny Dancer' in the movie. And it's at Mama Cass's party, and it's sort of quite folky, and I did it on 12-string acoustic guitar and that was a bit too strong. I then tried the piano because I really missed the piano riff. You know, who am I to get rid of that iconic riff? And I ended up with just doing it on acoustic guitar, and it worked better for the scene. It seemed to drift in better."

"In all honesty, it's as simple as you watch the movie and listen to the song, you think, "Does this sound too like, 'Here comes the song!'?" he continues. "Sometimes you need that, but in that moment in the movie, I didn't. It's funny, you can have strings—people don't mind having strings coming from anywhere, but if you're using a piano, you kind of want to see it [onscreen] to a certain degree. So that was the reason why. It didn't feel right having the piano starting it."

Despite those changes, several of the songs on the soundtrack remain deeply rooted in the source material—"Your Song" even features harpist Skaila Kanga, who played on John's original recording of the hit song half a century ago.

"Not on purpose, she's just the best harp player there is," Martin clarifies with a laugh. "She's great. She's brilliant. I mean, she's the harp player I get for all the sessions. There's a couple songs in the movie where we did takedowns of the originals, and 'Your Song' was one of them. And I forgot there was harp on it. And so I said, 'Oh god, there's harp, I better get a harpist in.' So we phoned up Skaila, and she goes, 'I played on the original of this.' We transcribed the part from the record, and she went and checked it because she'd done the original part. She was at the Royal Academy of Music with Elton when they were 15 or so, so she's known Elton that long...It was pretty amazing. I didn't realize that 'Your Song' was in 1969. So this is 50 years on that she's playing the same song."

Martin and Egerton were careful to match John's phrasing on the songs they were attempting to do loyal recreations of—as Martin notes, "Elton has the most amazing phrasing"—but they were careful to avoid mimicking him too closely, instead allowing Egerton to put his own spin on the tracks.

"I didn't really want him doing an impersonation of Elton," Martin explains. "Just because he's using his voice in the film. He's doing Elton's voice to a certain degree, but it's more of an interpretation than it is an imitation. Because it's gotta have the right soul. It's gotta have the right feel. You have to sing from within your heart. You can't sing from someone else's heart. And for me, that's why Taron's performance in the movie is really good, because he does that. It comes from within himself. He interprets Elton in the right way as opposed to just being a pastiche."

The most surreal moment for Martin, who was in the studio with John and his father in 1997 when they recorded "Candle in the Wind" after Princess Diana's funeral, was watching the singer join forces with Egerton for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," the new song that plays over Rocketman's end credits.

"It was funny having Taron and Elton in the studios because I'd spent a year working with Taron doing Elton, and then I had Elton," he says. "It was kind of strange for both of us...With myself and Taron, we have a close work relationship, we really dig in and he works really hard at getting it right, and Elton just goes and does it in one take. And then I started recording Taron and he goes, 'Is this gonna take long?' I said to Elton, 'Give him a break. He only sang it once.' He goes, 'Well, I only sang it once.' I said, 'Yeah, but you've been doing it for longer than he has.'" He laughs. "But the good thing about Elton is he's so open-minded about it. He really is. He's open for any ideas. He just loves music. That's what he thinks about, and that's what makes my life easier."

That love of music is abundantly clear in John's work—and in Rocketman—and it ultimately led to the soundtrack ballooning from the 13 songs originally called for in the script to the 26 that made the final cut. ("I think I ended up doing three times more work than I thought I was going to on this movie," Martin says with a laugh.)

"We realized that having music that wasn't Elton's in the film didn't make any sense, and we ended up using more and more songs as background," he explains. "We realized that the more music of his we had in the movie, the more we got of his life."

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More



Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/


Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards


Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour


Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images


Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.


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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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