There are shows that succeed, shows that explode, and shows that take over large swaths of the internet immediately after their release. Peacemaker is all three. From its intro sequence (which is probably the best one on television right now) to its character development, James Gunn’s signature blend of action and humor works perfectly for the newest HBO Max DC series.
But aside from John Cena shocking the world with his comedic timing and the generally flawless supporting cast, one of the finest aspects of the show (and something which Gunn always takes very seriously) is its soundtrack. Composed by the same duo of veterans who handled HBO Max’s other live-action DC shows like Titans and Doom Patrol, Kevin Kiner and Clint Mansell, Peacemaker sounds every bit as good as any other Gunn-helmed superhero project.
SPIN spoke with Kiner — whose 38-year career includes countless hits ranging from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels to Narcos: Mexico and CSI: Miami, plus classics like Walker, Texas Ranger and Stargate SG-1 — about the past, the present, and the Peacemaker.
SPIN: What was it like to work on Peacemaker and at what point did you realize it was going to become one of the most talked-about shows on TV?
Kevin Kiner: it was just an amazing dream come true to be able to work with James Gunn. He’s legendary, and I have so much respect for his writing and his sensibility. I mean, you know, I mean, he finally made Marvel movies good. Then he did that with The Suicide Squad, and now he’s done it with Peacemaker. Also, he loves music and conversing about music, so that was a big deal. If Peacemaker was not a monstrous hit, Clint [Mansell] and I would’ve probably just crawled in a hole. The second we saw it, there was just no way that it wasn’t going to be a hit. When I first saw Jane the Virgin, I felt that way too — or when I started working on Star Wars or CSI: Miami. Some of these shows, you just know they’re so good that there’s almost no chance that they fail.
After 38 years and numerous huge shows and movies, how does it feel to have worked on so many different types of projects rather than being pigeonholed into one thing?
Well, it’s been a great ride. I think it’s like 10,000 or more episodes of television and 40 films or something like that. If that was all in the style of Star Wars, CSI: Miami or Narcos, I would probably have shot myself by now. I just can’t imagine doing that much of one thing. I’ve had long philosophical talks with people about whether I should have more of an identity, because when you hire Hans Zimmer — actually, he’s running the gamut these days and changing his style, which I think is pretty cool — but you know you’re getting something huge and Zimmer-y. You’re hiring him for a reason, because there’s a sound that you want. I imagine that might drive some of the guys a little crazy if they’re asked to repeat themselves too much, and I’m not like that. I love a lot of styles and music, and I’ve worked very hard to be proficient at many different styles of music. I think I would burn out if I didn’t.
How have you seen yourself change as an artist over the course of your career?
There are two things that I’ve noticed. One is that I don’t procrastinate anymore. The first 15-20 years of my career, I was horrible at procrastinating. I would get a gig and I would just eff around for days. Then I’ve lost two days, it’s still due on Friday, and now it’s Wednesday. If I’d started the damn thing on Monday, I would’ve had nice, comfortable 8-hour days, but now I’m working all-nighters. I was horrible about it. I don’t know why, but I don’t do that anymore. The other thing is I think I get ideas quicker. People always ask me about writer’s block, and if you’re a film or television composer, there’s a very easy way not to get writer’s block. You just go rip somebody off. It doesn’t matter if that’s Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Tom Newman or whoever it is, if you can’t think of anything, just go rip off a Zimmer cue and you’ll do fine, because he’s great. Don’t plagiarize, but we all build on the shoulders of giants. But I don’t do that as much anymore. I have my own ideas more. I think that’s the biggest change.
What’s it been like working with Clint Mansell on these recent DC projects like Doom Patrol and Peacemaker?
The first time I met Clint, we just hit it off immediately. I think we both don’t like to be regular or normal. There are a lot of great composers who have that big studio sound to them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not what Clint and I want to do. You look at Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan or Moon, and they’re all really unusual. I think that’s why we get along so well. Sometimes we’ll do something really rough — because maybe I haven’t practiced much that morning — but it’s like, “Here’s the idea. That’s kind of the guitar part,” and he’ll understand what I’m doing. It’s the same with me, where I know what he’s going for. I’m open to things that may be musically “wrong” if you listen to the rulebook. Things that would’ve gotten Beethoven put in jail. But that’s what we’re doing now. We’re trying to push things. Beethoven’s been done. I love classical music, but I wish that I could listen to something that wasn’t written in the 1800s or early 1900s on a classical station. We have progressed. There are great new composers, and I think a lot of them are film and television composers because that’s where the money is.
Seeing as you’ve now likely made music for more Star Wars content than anyone else and have jumped into another giant name with the DC shows, does it feel different working on these huge IPs compared to other projects?
It’s a great honor. It’s kind of a “pinch me” situation, because I grew up on Superman and Batman. Star Wars came out when I was a freshman in college, and then there’s James Bond. They’re all my favorites. When I work on Titans, there’s Superboy — and he’s kind of an alternate Super Boy or whatever — but I did 4 years of the live action Superboy show in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Just to be able to write music for Superman, for Batman, for Robin, for Star Wars, for Peacemaker — who I think is going to be in that same sentence with those cats 10 years from now — is an absolute honor. It’s a great responsibility, and I take it really seriously.