By: Kat Bein By: Kat Bein | December 8, 2021 | People culture
“I have two mummified hands,” Danny Elfman says, smiling only a little maniacally from his studio desk chair. He’s surrounded by an assortment of oddities, curios and memorabilia from Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas and other films he’s soundtracked throughout his illustrious 35-plus year composing career.
“I collect shrunken heads. I have a human finger that I’m quite fond of,” he continues. “I have anatomical hands from the 18th and 19th century,” he continues. “Everything in my loft is all stuff I was afraid of as a child, because I was terrified of three things—broken dolls, any kind of ventriloquist dummy, and hands.”
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Elfman’s obsession with hands began in his boyhood, when he first watched the ‘40s horror flick The Beast of Five Fingers. Indeed, hands have become central to his life and work, from his time as frontman of Oingo Boingo to his storied film scoring endeavors through to his recent classical compositions, but never quite so literally as today, now that Elfman plans to send fans a life-size replica of his own left hand as part the deluxe box set vinyl package for his 2021 album Big Mess.
“This hand strictly comes from stretching for those extra couple of notes on keyboards after 37 years,” he beams. “I thought that will be a fun thing to put out there, this odd looking Danny hand. It's very personal—and it also serves as a night light.”
The Big Mess collector’s edition box set, now available for pre-order, comes with a lot of exciting extras, including four colored vinyl, never-before-heard remixes and vocal collabs; four 3D lenticular art pieces, a 60-page hardcover art book, autographed prints, a stitched lyric book, and access to a 22-minute documentary about the making of the album and its off-the-wall music videos.
The blue, life-sized hand-mold night light is certainly the strangest goodie at first glance, but in Elfman’s world, it fits right in.
“I like the idea of the hand,” Big Mess creative director Berit Gwendolyn Gilma says. “As a composer, everything goes through his hand. His hand is his whole poetry. It’s where the beauty of his artistic soul really comes out.”
Elfman and Gilma are two peas in a split soup. Though the two are separated by a generation or two, they instantly clicked upon meeting some five years ago.
She introduced him to a new world of young digital artists, exploring the frontier of virtual space. With many tentacles in the music and art world, it was Gilma who hooked Elfman up with the organizers of Australian music festival Dark Mofo. A planned set never materialized, but the mere chance of it inspired Danny to write two new songs, “Happy” and “Sorry,” which became the first sparks of what would become the Big Mess’ 18-track double album.
“He's such a true artistic soul,” Gilma says. “Before we were friends, I really looked up to him, obviously. We were on the phone literally every day [while he wrote Big Mess], me just sending him stuff and him replying to it. It apparently really resonated with him, all the ideas I had, and he gave me this great responsibility that I'm thankful for.”
With her newfound power, Gilma encouraged Elfman to meet with digital artist Sarah Sitkin and sit for a 3D scanning session. Sitkin took those scans and turned them into what Gilma calls “3D digital sculptures;” twisted, gory images of Elfman splitting into two personalities representative of the two sides of the double album, one dark and one manic. Her work graces the album’s cover, and it fills the 60-page art book in the box set.
“It's very rare as an artist to find somebody else who feels completely simpatico, like when I met Tim Burton,” Elfman says. “Her sense of where she would go with the grotesque just totally hit home for me … The images she was capturing were what I was feeling.”
While the art book allows Elfman and Gilma the chance to showcase Sitkin’s more outrageous pieces that didn’t make the original release, the pair worked with a series of other digital artists to create the Big Mess music videos.
There are seven in total, each seemingly more bizarre and ghoulish than the last. “Sorry” by Aron Johnson makes Elfman’s enlarged head the stuff of nightmares, while “Insects” by Sam and Andy Rolfes is a bug-crawling technicolor fever dream. It’s this process that was captured in the 22-minute mini documentary that comes with the box set, directed by “Kick Me” video director Petros Papahadjopoulos.
“The videos were all very collaborative,” Elfman says, “and so the most unique thing in the last year for me was actually feeling for the first time In a very long time that I'm actually collaborating with other artists.”
The spirit of collaboration continues on the remixes and vocal collabs which make up two of the four albums in the box set. Gilma worked with Elfman’s bass player Stu Brooks to curate the list of contributors, among whom shine fellow alt heroes Trent Reznor, Squarepusher, Health, Xiu Xiu, Blixa Bargeld of industrial giants Einstürzende Neubauten and more.
“I would say [remixes were] going to be hopeless,” Elfman laughs. “No one wants to do this. they think of me as this relic from another era … We talked about people I really love … and suddenly I'm just finding all these people are jumping in.”
“I don't care about Spotify numbers,” Gilma adds. “I care about people that are also true artists and underground also, because I think that's what Danny started off with as well.”
Gilma also spearheaded the vinyl colors, taking great care to match each vinyl with the holographic lenticular that sits on its individual sleeve. From transparent to red-and-black marble swirls, they bring even more depth and dimension to Sitkins haunting images that jump right off the surface as you move them around. It’s just one more nod to Elfman’s childhood and hours spent staring at the moving cover of the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request.
“Everything in here brings you back to my childhood,” Elfman says, flashing that spooky smile once again. “Welcome to my nightmare.”
The Big Mess deluxe box set is now available for pre-order with plans to ship in February of 2022. Learn more and place your order at dannyelfmanbigmess.com.
BIG MESS - COLLECTOR’S EDITION BOX SET TRACK-LISTING
3. In Time
4. Everybody Loves You
1. Dance With The Lemurs
2. Serious Ground
3. Choose Your Side
4. We Belong
2. Just A Human
3. Devil Take Away
4. Love In The Time Of COVID
5. Native Intelligence
1. Better Times
2. Cruel Compensation
3. Kick Me
4. Get Over It
BONUS DISCS TRACK-LISTING:
1. We Belong (Rafiq Bhatia Remix)
2. Serious Ground (Xiu Xiu Remix)
3. Happy (33EMYBW Remix)
4. Insects (Machine Girl Insecticidal Tendencies Remix)
5. In Time (HEALTH Remix)
1. Kick Me (Zach Hill Remix)
2. Sorry (Kid606 Remix)
3. Everybody Loves You (Boris Remix)
4. We Belong (Squarepusher Remix)
1. Kick Me (Zach Hill Remix V2 Zach Plays Drums)
2. Insects (Debugged & Refucked Machine Girl Remix)
3. Insects (Stu Brooks Remix)
4. In Time (It All Falls Down - clipping. Remix)
1. True (feat. Trent Reznor)
2. Native Intelligence (feat. Trent Reznor)
3. Kick Me (feat. FEVER333)
4. In Time (feat. Blixa Bargeld)
5. We Belong (feat. Rebekah Del Rio)
Photography by: Jacob Boll; Courtesy of Anti-/ Epitaph Records