Let’s start with your story.
Tell us about your background, and what sparked your interest in music and media? Are there any major influences or role models that inspired/inspire you?
My story! I started life as a baby then toddler, one who was really enchanted by the “As The World Turns” TV theme song. Anytime it would play, (I’m a triplet), my brothers and I would freeze and stare at the screen until the theme was over. Then it was back to business. Perhaps this was foreshadowing of my future film and tv career, maybe not. My first encounter with a role model was a bit later when I saw “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” with a totally brilliant score by John Williams. I told my family I was going to do that one day- write film music. They probably thought it was cute and likely not to happen. I did, however, follow-through, and started composing lots of music all through middle and high school. I wrote a lot of music to go with my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns- themes and background ideas. I still do this! The second big role model for me was Mark Mothersbaugh- when I heard his score for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” in high school I thought “hey! This guy writes stuff kind of like what I write. I can do this!” My dream continues to be writing music for projects that interest me and make me feel something.
I ended up getting a BM in music composition and theory from Appalachian State University, a certificate from a study abroad in traditional Irish button accordion from University College Cork, and later my MFA in music composition for the screen from Columbia College Chicago. I also met my ace frequent co-composer Alexa Borden at Columbia College, so that was a momentous occasion as well. Between these academic pursuits, I got my big musical education from traditional bluegrass and Irish music, which I grew up playing on mandolin and accordion. Folk music means a whole lot to me, and has greatly informed my musical upbringing.
Connor’s Cult Classics is outstanding, your unique style and voice shine through brighter than the sun. Can you describe your creative process for the album? How did your approach with Connor’s Cult Classics differ from your work in media?
Wow, I thank you for such kind words about my tunes, that really means a lot. I’ve always been most interested in having a unique voice and perspective in music, because I’m the only composer who has had my exact life. This album is a bit of a quiltdifferent fabrics from different things stitched together into an album of cult classics. I played some sort of live instrument on all of them except maybe one. One of these is my thesis piece from grad school. Some of these are rejected cues from projects. One is a theme from a dungeons and dragons campaign I ran. One is a rejected draft for a Coke commercial. Another was a demo for a job at a big game company that I didn’t get. I guess the point of these is that though rejected, I wanted to do something with them, so I stitched them into a little quilt of pieces that mean something to me. My home is actually decorated in quite a quilt- mismatched- knit- grandma eccentric style so I tend to love juxtaposition of styles that don’t necessarily stereotypically go together.
In addition to songwriting and composition, you are an accomplished multiinstrumentalist and session player. How do you balance your time between songwriting, composing, and performing? How do your instrumental talents benefit your workflow and studio setup?
Playing music is one of the most important forces in my life. I’ve always viewed music as a gathering- a sharing of ideas and a coming together of people. Listening and hearing. I am really driven to keep up my playing chops because they are my roots. I love the instruments I play- accordion is one of the great loves of my life and I enjoy playing on other composers’ scores too. Balancing time luckily isn’t an issue to me because I guess I sort of view it all as the same thing. For me, composing is songwriting which is also playing on sessions. It’s all music, it’s all creative, it’s all feeling-based. I leave all my instruments out at all times and my all-purpose mic ready to record just in case I get a good idea.
Do any current, past, or future projects have a unique place in your heart? If so, what made them resonate with you?
As an extremely sentimental and nostalgic person, every project does have a unique place in my heart, but I’ll name a couple that come to mind. Dream Lover directed by Madeline Stephenson was one of the first projects I worked on where I felt like I really matched up with a director style-wise. It was the easiest scoring time I’ve had. And bonus- Madeline has become one of my dearest friends. Another super special project is Static Space directed by John Klein. This film means a lot to me because my frequent co-composer, the brilliant Alexa Borden and I really hit our stride with this one. It’s premiering later this year. One last project that means a lot to me is Door No. 5 animated and directed by Tempe Hale. Tempe was my partner for our Sundance program called “Film Music in Animation”. I really opened up my heart and mind in a big way and was experimental and cool and we tried a ton of different things for this one. Great growing experience. Plus, I’ve always absolutely yearned to be a Sundance Fellow, and the whole experience really swelled my heart.
Would you like to share any current or upcoming news? Any new music/project releases we should keep an eye out for?
I’d love to share that Balloon Animal directed by Em Johnson is premiering later this year, as well as Static Space directed by John Klein, and 10-62 produced by Joey Yow. Thanks so much for having me, I’m tickled!
Interview by Michael Van Bodegom Smith
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