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Dazed - Morricone by HelloVon
Ennio Morricone, from the July 2006 issue of Dazed & ConfusedIllustration HelloVon

Read an interview with Ennio Morricone from Dazed’s archive

In the July 2006 issue of Dazed, the late Italian composer discussed soap collecting, spaghetti westerns, hypochondria – and, of course, music

Earlier today, Ennio Morricone died at the age of 91. As the composer of some of Hollywood’s most iconic scores, Morricone was regarded as one of the world’s most influential musicians. Back in the July 2006 issue of Dazed, ahead of a concert at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Morricone was interviewed by writer Dino Gollnick, where they discussed – in the words of the article’s original standfirst – “soap collecting, spaghetti westerns, and hypochondria. Oh, and music...”

Having written over 500 pieces of music for films, Ennio Morricone is one of the most prolific and well known living composers. Born in Rome in 1928, he studied trumpet and choral direction at the city’s prestigious Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia before turning his hand to soundtracks in 1962. Two years later, he met director Sergio Leone, who asked him to write the score for A Fistful of Dollars. It was the start of a relationship that would spawn such classics as Once Upon a Time in America and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, a film that defined the western genre, thanks in no small part to Morricone’s haunting whistle-led theme. He went on to score Brian DePalma’s Al Capone gangster blockbuster The Untouchables and Giuseppe Tornatore’s art house classic Cinema Paradiso

More recently the 78-year-old composer’s use of unorthodox sounds has won him some unexpected fans, from The Ramones and Metallica, who use “Ecstasy of Gold” as an intro at their concerts, to avant-rock experimentalists like The Mars Volta and John Zorn. Earlier this year, he worked on Morrissey’s album Ringleader of the Tormentors.

Are you proud that bands like Metallica and The Ramones have used your music? 

Ennio Morricone: I’m very pleased about it, actually. It means that my music is simple and precious at the same time. Sampling, by comparison, is a different matter. In some cases it’s good, at other times I’m not happy about it, but I’d rather not name names.

When did you first get into composing? 

Ennio Morricone: I started as a kid, when I was really very young. Too young, maybe. When I was 10, I threw all my compositions away, so there are no traces of my early work as sadly I didn’t record any of it. At that point, I didn’t even know that tape recorders existed.

You started music school in 1940. To what extent were you affected by World War II?

Ennio Morricone: I didn’t really notice it. Not that I didn’t see the war but it didn’t affect my work. I never struggled to find work once the war was over. Somehow, I was lucky in life. People knew about me because I’d been a good student. I started as an arranger for radio, theatre and television, and after six or seven years I got into composing.

What inspired you to add unusual sounds like coyote howls, bells and whistles to your music?

Ennio Morricone: I was trying to capture the mood of a film. On A Fistful of Dollars, I was thinking about a peasant who lives in the countryside and listens to a faraway sound; a nostalgic sound.

Is it annoying when people typecast you as the Spaghetti Western guy? 

Ennio Morricone: Not if they call them ‘Italian Westerns’. Calling them Spaghetti Westerns is what really infuriates me. I never thought to call American Western films ‘Yankee Westerns’.

How do you decide to work with a director? 

Ennio Morricone: He would have to trust me completely, and I’d have to know and respect his films. Occasionally, I score films I don’t like that much. When I first see a film, it is usually unfinished, which sometimes makes it hard to really gauge how good or bad it will be.

To what extent do you have to compromise your musical vision with a director? 

Ennio Morricone: One of the interesting things about my job is that collaborating with a director can yield unexpected results. Even if you don’t share the same opinions, sometimes the director’s ideas will trigger something you hadn’t thought of and it may turn the music around completely.

Have you ever got a soundtrack completely wrong? 

Ennio Morricone: A long time ago I really loved a film that I was working on and I became too involved. That was kind of unbalanced. It made me realise that you can’t love things too much if you want them to work.

“Collaborating with a director can yield unexpected results. Even if you don’t share the same opinions, sometimes the director’s ideas will trigger something you hadn’t thought of and it may turn the music around completely” – Ennio Morricone

Are you religious? 

Ennio Morricone: Yes. I don’t kneel when I go to church but generally speaking I am religious. I’m Roman Catholic, but that doesn’t play too much of a role in my music. As a matter of fact, people say that I’m a mystical composer. Maybe the music I wrote for The Mission explains that concept.

What do you do outside of composing music? 

Ennio Morricone: When I’m not composing, I think of what to compose next. Sometimes I think about playing chess. In fact, had I not become a composer I would have liked to be a champion chess player. I’m actually quite good at it. I once played with Boris Spassky who is the former world champion and the game ended as a tie.

That’s amazing! 

Ennio Morricone: Yes, pretty amazing (laughs)

Is it true that you collect hotel soaps? 

Ennio Morricone: How do you know? That’s true! It’s been ten years now and all my drawers are full. I’ve no more room to keep them, so I don’t know if I’ll continue.

Do you meet other collectors to exchange soap? 

Ennio Morricone: Never, but I once met a doctor who collected the ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs you find in hotels. He had hundreds of them covering his walls.

What does a typical day in your life consist of? 

Ennio Morricone: In the morning I wake up at 4.30, I clean the house, I work out, I walk four or five kilometres, I go out to get a newspaper, I come back, I read the newspaper until about 8.30 or 9, and then I start composing. If necessary, I work through to the evening, otherwise I stop composing at lunchtime.

How has age affected your work? 

Ennio Morricone: I feel much better now than when I was younger. I don’t feel weak. Maybe because I work hard, maybe because I walk. I have a balanced lifestyle, I eat healthy food. I like normal things, nothing too excessive.

What’s the most unusual thing about you? 

Ennio Morricone: I’m a complete hypochondriac. I worry about my health and that of my family. I take vitamins and mineral salts. I also measure my blood pressure every day, I have a professional machine to do it. And you’ll be pleased to hear, my blood pressure is perfect.

Lead illustration by HelloVon