A Q&A with Dickinson composer, Drum & Lace (Sofia Hultquist)

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  1. What sparked your interest in music-making? Do you feel your Italian background influenced your writing at all?

    I’m not sure there was one specific thing, but I started taking piano lessons early and remember music becoming part of my life pretty early on. One of my earliest musical memories was singing along to songs in the car and being excited about buying CDs at the record shop. Once I discovered how to start using my voice, that was really what felt like my gateway into all things music-making.

    And I absolutely think my Italian background has influenced my writing. Growing up hearing a lot of Italo-disco, very melodic and dramatic Italian songwriters and groundbreaking artists such as Franco Battiato, Matia Bazar and Lucio Dalla definitely shaped my early more experimental musical ear. Being exposed to club music (and clubbing) at an early age also piqued my interest in electronic music very early on, and classic Italian films and the infamous Spaghetti Westerns (that were always on Italian TV) started my appreciation for film music. There’s something very intimate about a lot of Italian music that I grew up with, and I think I carry a lot of that with me today.

  2. How did you get into composing for the fashion world, and what were some of your biggest takeaways from working on presentations worldwide?

    When I decided to make the leap into the freelance world, I felt like I didn’t quite have the experience to dive into film music, but knew I wanted to make composing for media my career. I’d studied film scoring in college and had been working as a composer at a marketing/media company, but this felt different. So as a fan of fashion from a young age, I saw the fashion industry as something that I knew well enough to start composing for, and noticed there weren’t many people trying to compose specifically for it. It proved to be a great place to start as composing music to color palettes and designer’s mood boards was a great way to really flex those creative muscles, and eventually I had enough work to start getting better gigs and build a solid reel. As much as I really loved working for fashion as much I did, the biggest takeaway has to be that music is somewhat of an afterthought for a lot of designers and brands, so I would find myself having to compose music, sometimes a lot of it for presentations, on really fast turnarounds with not very big budgets. The other takeaway is that I got to meet some extremely creative people who have gone on to do incredible things, and it’s great to see them thrive!

  3. How do you combine working on studio albums as a musical artist (Drum & Lace) while also working on tv shows and films?

    While it definitely poses a bit of a challenge in terms of scheduling, it’s amazing to get to do both, especially as one very much informs the other. Having my own creative project allows for me to experiment beyond the scope and sound of a specific film/tv project, and the creative liberty that that gives me is liberating and fulfilling.

    A great by-product of working on both my own music and scores, is that no cool sound gets tossed- there’s always a score or a track that it could end up on, and this happens really often. I have folders on folders of ‘to sort for later use’ one shots, loops and chord progressions.

    Releasing my own music has recently also translated into getting hired on a film or tv series specifically based on my own musical sound, which is both really flattering and fantastic.

    Time-wise, what’s been working for me lately is composing for film/tv during the daytime during weekdays, and then working on my own music at night. Finding a way to balance these two equally important parts of me is still something I’m working on! In the last few months I’ve been scoring a bunch and finishing up an upcoming LP and I’m not going to lie, it’s been a lot (and great).

  4. You recently composed the score for the AppleTV+ comedy series, Dickinson, which is an exciting blend of period-drama and millennial milieu. What was your approach to scoring such a bold show, and how did you develop the score for the second season?

    Getting to work on Dickinson has been such a pleasure. When I was first approached for the series, alongside my co-composer Ian Hultquist, it really felt like the dream project. The series is also so stunning- the production design, costumes, makeup and everything is just so impeccable and historically accurate that it was fun to get to break that traditional look with contemporary electronic score. The approach to the music was to compose cues that could sound and blend in with the actual songs that appear in the series. By doing this, the idea was to create a really well blended musical landscape, with the score aiding to bring in that additional emotional weight and gravitas to the characters (props to DeVoe Yates, our awesome music supervisor!). Our inspirations for the music have also been very contemporary from the start, and have been bands/artists more so than other film composers. Ian and my musical backgrounds also helped in being able to create music that sounded nearly as produced as the pop tracks that are featured in the series, even though it’s not always easy to hit that sweet spot of well produced, catchy and appropriate for a ‘score’ moment.

    For season 2, we actually started moving away from the purely electronic elements we’d used in season 1, and started introducing a new palette that felt more mature, in line with the characters ‘growing up’. This is continuing into season 3, which is really exciting! The most fulfilling part of working on season 2 was creating an original song for episode 206 called ‘Split the Lark’, which features lyrics by Emily Dickinson (via her eponymous poem) and sung by cast member Ella Hunt (who plays Sue Gilbert).

  5. What are you currently working on, and what do you aspire to accomplish in the future?

    I’ve definitely been keeping busy in the last few months, and feel really grateful that projects have kicked back into gear for me. Currently, I’m scoring my first solo studio film- a horror movie for Lionsgate. At the same time, I’m also co-scoring a fun thriller/horror feature for Netflix, season 3 of Dickinson, season 4 of Good Girls, and the first season of a new horror show for Amazon. All these with my partner Ian Hultquist. Needless to say, it’s been a wild time as it’s a lot of going from dark and tense sounds to comedy, all one day after another. For the future, I would love to work on more drama and continue working on horror projects, as I’ve been having a great time with it. It would also be amazing to get to work with an Italian director or on an Italian film/tv series sometime in the near future as it would feel like a musical homecoming. We’ll see!

    Interview by Nami Melumad

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