Here at The MAT Mag, we’re big fans of Passion Pit. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Ian Hultquist, a former founding member of the band who has turned his career towards composing and scoring music for film and television. With “The First Monday in May” composed with his wife Sofia in Tribeca, “Silicon Cowboys” and “My Blind Brother” at SXSW, there’s quite a lot to catch up on and check out. We had our resident music and film expert Carlo Chavez do us the honors. Take it away Carlo!
The MAT Magazine: First of all, we want to say congrats to you and your wife Sofia as the movie that you guys both scored, The First Monday In May, just got into Tribeca! Can you briefly talk about your experience working on the film? It sounds like an intriguing project!
Ian Hultquist: Thanks! It was quite a fun & challenging experience working on that film. Not only were Sofia & I doing our first official co-score together, but we were part of a project that revolves around some incredibly influential people. We definitely felt the pressure!
The story is massive at times as it moves around from New York to Paris to Beijing, with institutions like Vogue & the Met at the center of it all. We needed our score to move with the characters through all the ups & downs they come across throughout the film, as well express the powerful positions they uphold. We ended up with a score that was an eclectic mix of chamber orchestra, analog synthesizers & guitars. It’s pretty cool!
TMM: How does it feel have to The First Monday in May play opening night at the Tribeca Film Festival?
We were keeping our fingers crossed that the film would make some sort of appearance at TriBeCa, but having the honor of it opening the entire festival is so incredibly rewarding. Sofia & I, along with our director Andrew Rossi, really tried to make something special with the score & poured a tremendous amount of effort into it. We are both extremely proud to be a part of the film, and hope that people will enjoy it as much as we have.
Still from Silicon Cowboys
TMM: Aside from scoring The First Monday in May, you also scored the documentary Silicon Cowboys which is premiering at SXSW. Given the subject matter of the doc, can you discuss the stylistic choices and inspirations that ultimately informed your score for Silicon Cowboys?
I kinda got to go nuts on this one. The documentary tells the story of the founders of Compaq computers all the way from brainstorming ideas in a diner, to becoming one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world. Between the tech-centric story, and the 1980’s as a setting, I immediately jumped to my collection of analog & digital synths & had a ball. Working on this every day was almost like a being a kid in a candy shop. It’s a really fun film, and I think people are going to have an awesome time watching it.
TMM: What would your advice be for someone who wants to transition from playing in a band to composing soundtracks for film, TV, commercials and other visual mediums?
I’ve been asked this question a lot lately, as scoring is becoming more & more attractive to musicians looking to get off the road. I think the best advice I can give is that you need to make sure you have an incredible amount of determination & patience. It’s not an easy job to do, much less break into, and I’ve already felt how competitive it can be just in the short time I’ve been doing it.
I think it’s always best to start small. Find a short film from a student or friend & try to get on board. The best way to figure out if it’s right for you is to dive in try it out. It can be an extremely fun job, but also an extremely difficult one. Each project has been a learning experience for me, and I’m grateful for each one.
TMM: How would you describe your sound to aliens?
Ideally, if I’ve done my job right, my music should help you feel certain emotions within a matter of notes. It’s not necessarily a focus on the sound & instruments, but of the feeling you get from hearing it.
TMM: Do you approach scoring a film or commercial the same way you would approach composing a song? Are the two entirely different beasts, or are they more similar than we think?
Yes & no. A score is always serving the purpose of telling or supporting a story on screen. Songs can be so much more broad than that. They can be a love poem, or a way of getting out aggression.
You can sometimes achieve the same results from your score, but it depends on what the story calls for.
TMM: Who is one filmmaker (can be active or retired) you’d absolutely give anything to work with?
Ah, too many! Spielberg, Kubrick, Nolan, Polanski. I love directors who know what they are looking for, and know how to challenge the composer to reach a new level of creativity. I think those are my favorite examples of collaborating on films.
TMM: What is your favorite aspect about SXSW?
This year will be my 6th time attending SXSW! I’ve been three times for music, and this makes my third year in a row for film. There’s a real community surrounding the festival, which I always look forward to revisiting. I actually have some friends with equally busy lives where this has become our annual meet up!
TMM: It seems like you’ve been really busy with work, but do you have any other projects outside of the soundtrack spectrum that you’ve been working on – personal or otherwise?
I’ve done a few remixes under the name Atom Child for some friends. It’s a nice way for me to take a break from scoring, and play around with some new production techniques every now & then.
I’ve had the itch to work on some solo music for a while as well, but haven’t quite found the time yet. Usually by the time I finish a project, writing more music is the last thing I want to do. Thank god for Netflix!
TMM: On a similar note: can you share some exciting tidbits on any upcoming soundtracks that you’re working on or slated to work on?
I’ve just begun scoring my first TV show, which is something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It’s a DirecTV original series called FULL CIRCLE. I’m only about a week in, and I can already tell how much of a different world it is from indie film & documentaries. Things happen fast! It really pushes you to get those writing muscles in shape, which is something I can always use more of.
There are a couple potential films coming up later this year, which I am extremely excited about, but I don’t want to jinx anything.
TMM: In the broadest sense, what is the main thing that drives you to create music?
I’ve never been a great storyteller when speaking directly. However, music has allowed me to surpass that roadblock, especially when it’s applied to film. It’s a way of communicating ideas that I might not be able to put into words.
TMM: I know you may have seen this coming, but I quickly want to bring up Passion Pit. I’ll be frank – are there any plans in your (potentially near) future to reunite with them (to a certain extent)?
There really hasn’t been any talk about it to be honest. I was pretty content with where I left things with them, and have really enjoyed diving into the film world. I do sometimes daydream about “what if we do a 10 year anniversary show?”, but who knows what the future holds.
Well, we’ll have more future SXSW updates as we descend into Austin next week so stay tuned!
Words by Carlo Chavez
Photos provided by Ian Hultquist