Daniel Robert "Danny" Elfman (born May 29, 1953) is an American composer, known as the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band Oingo Boingo, from 1976 to 1995 and later for scoring music for television and film and creating The Simpsons musical main title theme as well as the 1989 Batman musical theme. He has scored the majority of the films for his long-time friend Tim Burton.
Born in Los Angeles, he entered the film industry in 1976, initially as an actor. He made his film scoring debut in 1980 for the film Forbidden Zone directed by his older brother Richard Elfman. He has since been nominated for four Academy Awards and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media for Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and an Emmy Award for his Desperate Housewives (2004-12) musical theme. Elfman was honored with the prestigious Richard Kirk award at the 2002 BMI Film and TV Awards. The award is given annually to a composer who has made significant contributions to film and television music.
He is the son of novelist Blossom Elfman, the brother of director Richard Elfman, and the uncle of actor Bodhi, who is married to Jenna Elfman.
Early life and career
Danny Elfman was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Blossom Elfman (née Bernstein), a writer and teacher, and Milton Elfman, a teacher who was in the Air Force. Elfman grew up in a Jewish family. He was raised in a racially mixed community in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. He spent much of his time in the local movie theatre, adoring the music of such film composers as Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann and Franz Waxman. Stating that he hung out with the "band geeks" in high school, he started a ska band. After dropping out of high school, he followed his brother Richard to France, where he performed with Le Grand Magic Circus, an avant-garde musical theater group. Violin in tow, Elfman next journeyed to Africa where he traveled through Ghana, Mali, and Upper Volta, absorbing new musical styles, including the Ghanaian highlife genre which would eventually influence his own music, because he contracted malaria during his one-year stay and was often sick. Eventually he returned home to the United States, where he began to take Balinese music lessons at CalArts. During this time, he was romantically involved with Kim Gordon, who would later go on to form Sonic Youth. He was never officially a student at the institute, nonetheless, the instructor encouraged him to continue learning. Elfman stated, "He just laughed, and said, 'Sit. Play.' I continued to sit and play for a couple years." At this time, his brother (Richard) was forming a new musical theater group.
In 1972, Richard Elfman founded the American New Wave band/performance art group, originally called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They played several shows throughout the 1970s until Richard Elfman left the band to become a filmmaker. As a send-off to the band's original concept, Richard Elfman created the film Forbidden Zone (1982) based on their stage performances. Danny Elfman composed his first musical score for the film and played the role of Satan (the other band members played his minions). By the time the movie was completed, they had taken the name Oingo Boingo and begun recording and touring as a rock group. From 1976 and on it was led by Danny Elfman, until 1995 when they suddenly retired. The semi-theatrical music and comedy troupe had transformed into a ska-influenced new wave band in 1979, and then changed again towards a more guitar-oriented rock sound, in the late 1980s.
Elfman and Tim Burton
In 1985, Tim Burton and Paul Reubens invited Elfman to write the score for their first feature film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985). Elfman was apprehensive at first because of his lack of formal training, but with orchestration assistance from Oingo Boingo guitarist and arranger Steve Bartek, he achieved his goal of emulating the mood of such composers as Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann. In the booklet for the first volume of Music for a Darkened Theatre, Elfman described the first time he heard his music played by a full orchestra as one of the most thrilling experiences of his life. Elfman immediately developed a rapport with Tim Burton and has gone on to score all but two of Burton's major studio releases: Ed Wood (1994) which was under production while Elfman and Burton were having a fight, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Barber Street (2007). Elfman also provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and the voices of both Barrel and the "Clown with the Tear-Away Face". Years later he provided the voice for Bonejangles the Skeleton in Corpse Bride (2005).
Burton has said of his relationship with Elfman: "We don't even have to talk about the music. We don't even have to intellectualize – which is good for both of us, we're both similar that way. We're very lucky to connect".
Elfman cited his first time noticing film music being when he heard Bernard Hermann's score to The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) as an eleven-year-old and being a fan of film music since then. Nino Rota also served as a significant influence and was the main inspiration for Elfman's score to Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985). Other influences based in film music include Jerry Goldsmith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner, David Tamkin and Franz Waxman. Elfman's classical influences include Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Carl Orff, Harry Partch, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
When asked during a 2007 phone-in interview on XETRA-FM if he ever had any notions of performing in an Oingo Boingo reunion, Elfman immediately rejected the idea and stated that in the last few years with the band he had begun to develop significant and irreversible hearing damage as a result of his continuous exposure to the high noise levels involved in performing in a rock band. He went on to say that he believes his hearing damage is partially due to a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, and that he will never return to the stage for fear of worsening not only his condition but also that of his band mates.
Elfman recently composed the music for the Cirque du Soleil Show IRIS, which is being performed at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The production began its year-long run on July 21, 2011, but it is predicted that it may run for the coming decade. This is Elfman's most significant non-film work since he composed Serenada Schizophrana for the American Composers Orchestra. It was conducted by John Mauceri on its recording and by Steven Sloane at its premiere at Carnegie Hall in New York City on February 23, 2005. After its premiere, it was recorded in studio and released onto SACD on October 3, 2006. The meeting with Mauceri proved fruitful as the composer was encouraged then to write a new concert piece for Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Elfman composed an "overture to a non-existent musical" and called the piece "The Overeager Overture". He also continues to compose his film scores in addition to these other projects. In November 2010, it was reported that Danny Elfman is writing the music for a planned musical based on the life of Harry Houdini. But, as of January 2012, he was no longer attached to the project.
In October 2013, Elfman returned to the stage to sing his vocal parts to a handful of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) musical songs as part of a concert titled Danny Elfman's Music from the Films of Tim Burton.
Elfman has three children, whose names are Lola, (born in 1979), Mali (born in 1984) and Oliver (born in 2005). On November 29, 2003, Elfman married film actress Bridget Fonda. In 1997, he scored A Simple Plan (1998) ,because his only score for one of her films to date (although he did compose a cue for the film Army of Darkness (1992), in which Fonda has a cameo). He is the uncle of actor Bodhi Elfman, who is married to actress Jenna Elfman, who played Dharma in the TV series Dharma and Greg (1997-2002).
Describing his politics during the 1980s, Elfman said, "I'm not a doomist. My attitude is always to be critical of what's around you, but not ever to forget how lucky we are. I've traveled around the world. I left thinking I was a revolutionary. I came back real right-wing patriotic. Since then, I've kind of mellowed in between." In 2008, he expressed support for Barack Obama and said that "Sarah Palin was my worst nightmare."
Elfman has also written the theme music and occasional episodic musical scores for several television series, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- "The Jar" (1985; directed by Tim Burton), Amazing Stories -- "Mummy, Daddy" and "The Family Dog" (1985; with Steve Bartek), Beetlejuice: The Animated Series (1989-91; theme only; based on the live-action film in 1988), Batman: The Animated Series (1992-95; theme only; based on the 1989 live-action film and the 1992 live-action sequel).