Danny Elfman – Clown to Composer – Part 1

One of the most prolific and recognisable composers today didn’t enter Hollywood with this in mind, instead a young Danny Elfman actually wanted to be an actor. Born in the 50s in Los Angeles, California to his parents Milton and Blossom who were Pilots and writers respectively. A clear fan of cinema, Elfman would frequently visit the movie theater and would absorb as much of the visuals as he did the audio. As he grew up he managed to pass through musical theatre in France as well as creating a ska band both of which would come in useful in his later years.


In the 70s he was back in the US and founded the band Oingo Boingo, originally a musical theater troupe that evolved into a sort of new wave ska band. The group starting playing elaborate high energy shows locally with a flair for stage premise as much as musicality. Soon though they changed their lineup and became a more conventional rock outfit with Elfman playing rhythm guitar and providing the vocals. The band were largely experimental and released several albums with ascending success.

By the 80s the band were known all across America and their music began getting features in TV and film. A big opportunity was appearing as a live band and providing songs for the film Bachelor Party starring Tom Hanks. Meanwhile Elfman was doing more music on the side and working towards something different. The bands 1984 album So-lo was actually released under his name giving him high regard amongst peers. The album obviously sounded like the rest of his bands work but associated him with the quirky style which no doubt did him some favours further down the line, A year later their hit Weird Science became the theme to the John Hughes film with the same name and helped them become even more recognised. It was also during this time that Elfman was making a mark on Hollywood in a different way as director Tim Burton approached him to score his first film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Reluctant at first, Elfman wasn’t confident that he could score a film because he hadn’t been classically trained in the techniques needed. Despite this and with some assistance from his friend and bandmate Steve Bartek, he eventually took Burton up on his offer. This was a turning point for both of the creators as it not only became a starting point of success but also the beginning of a long and dedicated friendship which has allowed Elfman to score almost every film Burton has directed ever since. Trying to emulate the styles of composers he had loved hearing in his youth and taken aback by the sounds of an orchestra performing his work – the seeds of Elfman’s career shift were firmly planted here. Elfman’s He would eventually leave the group in 1995 by which time his deteriorated hearing had become an issue. Despite continuing with Oingo Boingo for several years after, Elfman’s move from rock star to composer was underway and the late 80s still held two huge opportunities.

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