That’s understandable that he wanted to set a specific tone from the beginning for you all to follow. I haven’t seen the movie myself unfortunately, but I did listen to the score, and I have to say that I was truly surprised by how you were able to create suspense. Jazz music is, of course, associated with liveliness and the Harlem Renaissance, however you managed to create some truly scary music like with the track Stakeout. Was your approach to deconstruct the jazz genre?
I wanted to draw upon the jazz world, but not necessarily have it be a jazz score per say. So it was a little….yeah, I suppose deconstructing, that’s a good word for it, because I was trying to reference certain harmonies that you would hear, but not execute them in a way that you might hear in normal jazz stuff. I’m a big fan of music that uses repetition, like you know Philip Glass and Steve Reich and the Beats schools of thought. It just seems like there’s something inherent in these more repetitive patterns where the piano might be playing the same note on the left hand, but everything is moving a little bit around with the right hand, and you set up one tonality and then alter it by introducing tonality in another scale or something.
And these harmonies were jazz influenced, but I was wary to dive into anything that just felt like a straight-up jazz thing. It’s more interesting for me to think about how to try and move and establish music in a new step. And score’s a great opportunity to do that, but, I mean, I’m always endeavoring to do that anyway.
And that definitely shows in your past scores, especially in The Way Way Back where I noticed a lot of what you were talking about. Now, from what I can gather, this is a full-on political drama, which is interesting because Mr. Reitman tends to walk the line between comedy and drama like with Juno and Up in the Air and Tully. Did you notice anything different with his direction on this project than with Tully?
I could tell from the beginning that Jason was pushing into some new directions for himself stylistically and, to me, this seemed like a homage to a lot of films from the 70s that I believe he was a big fan of- some of the classic political films that we all know and love. There are still moments of comedy in the film, light moments that make you laugh; it’s been interesting to see the film with different audiences because sometimes there’s a lot more laughter than in other screenings.
But Jason was very focused from the beginning about what he wanted. And Tully was the same way actually- he was focused on what he wanted. But I think it’s just the material and how the tone of the material feels from even the script stage. This is an interesting time to tell this story, and I believe he did a great job of giving an appropriate amount of laughs here and there. But I agree with you overall that it is a drama.
And you deserve a lot of credit for playing up that drama, because the score has an amazing amount of variety from a genre that I thought had a lot of preconceived notions. So props to you Mr. Simonsen for creating another great score.
Oh thank you.
I just had one last question, and this is something I love to ask every composer I speak to, which is what are three pieces of music that have had the greatest impact on you as a composer? They can be a band album, film score, anything.
Such a tough one [laughs]! Well, Music for 18 Musicians by Steve Reich, Selected Ambient Works 85–92 by Aphex Twin, and…oh man, I only get three. Does everyone else complain about only getting three choices?
Oh yeah, the vast majority do [laughs].
Kind of Blue [by Miles Davis]. I guess that’s an appropriate answer for this question [laughs]. That definitely was a monumental record for me, and I drew upon a lot of it for this score in terms of how it felt.
I listened to a lot of Miles Davis in middle school. He was a great musician, along with your other choices. But thank you once again Mr. Simonsen for taking the time to speak with me. I’d wish you the best of luck in the future, but it seems your career is on a never ending track of success.
Ah, well thank you! Take care.
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Simonsen for sitting down with us. The Front Runner is out in theaters now.
Special thanks to Adrianna Perez of White Bear PR for making this collaboration possible.