On the heels of three summer releases, this composer shows how the student has become the teacher.
PHOTO BY TIM NAVIS
Rob Simonson is the music composer of the films The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now and the current iPhone 5 ads.
Rob Simonsen is a pretty busy guy these days. If three films featuring the composers work dont define a big summer, an EP is in the works. Fortunately, the Topanga Messenger was able to catch up with Simonsen between projects.
Topanga Messenger: The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now both have a coming of age narrative. Is that a happy accident or is there a certain type of film that attracts you?
Rob Simonsen: I think this is just a happy accident. I think I often get sought out because of a score that I worked on in the past. A lot of films have come my way that want something in the (500) Days of Summer vein. So I probably seem like a good fit for films that are looking for something similar- music that is maybe slightly to the left but also need to have emotion, but without a big orchestra. The Way Way Back and The Spectacular Now have more intimate stories, smaller in scope of the plot, and are about the heart.
You've done additional music for Life of Pi and Moneyball. How would you describe the collaborative process of working with another composer or their work?
Mychael Danna is my mentor and a wonderful one at that, and any time I've been asked to support him I've been thrilled at the opportunity, I always learn a lot. It's a lot less pressure being in a support position than in the lead position, so there's a part of it that's more relaxed, knowing that I'm helping to execute someone else's vision rather than my butt being on the line. But that's a great experience too. Collaboration is always a treat- a welcomed break from toiling away in our room alone, which us film composers often do.
What is the ratio between satisfying the director and satisfying your own creative needs?
10:10 on a good day. 10:5 on a not so great one, which is still pretty good I think. I always strive to find that meeting ground of giving a director exactly what they want while doing something I think is really interesting or creatively satisfying. I think a film composer has to have a sense of adventure and willingness to stretch. But a director and I will always have the same mission: to do what's best for the film. My job (as is the director's) is to serve the film, not my own ego or musical wants. However, I must do this while never abandoning my own tastes or a unique sense of how to arrive at that solution. This is where personality meets flexibility.
Your music has been heard in recent iPhone 5 ads. As a composer, is there a different mindset for ads compared to film?
Totally different. For ads, we have 30 or 60 seconds to say everything we're going to say, instead of 30 or 60 minutes. But instead of getting more complex, it's about getting simpler I think. Presenting one idea, and making it good. Often times in ads I'm working on concepts and a creative brief, rather than to picture, which is something I'm starting to do more with films. I think creating music without picture, but with the story in mind is a really powerful way to create for these kinds of things.
What are your influences and do you think those influences inherently seep into your own work?
Vangelis, John Barry, Miles Davis, Philip Glass, Aphex Twin, Morricone, Prokofiev, 70s rock and 80s pop. I love epic like Vangelis, lush like Barry, quirky like Morricone, repetitive and focused like Glass. Aphex was huge for me. I'm still waiting to do an orchestral ambient/electronic score that's dark, glitchy and weird. The album I'm working on is kind of like that. I think those guys all hit something so satisfying for me. I often try to scratch the itch in the same spot that they do, which is in different depths, but all equally satisfying to me.
Who are you listening to now?
Sigur Ros' new one, the new Kanye. Been revisiting Vespertine since I saw Bjork at the Hollywood Bowl. Debussy piano music, Teebs, Stravinsky. There's so much out there.
I just completed three score albums for the films I have coming out this summerThe Way Way Back(coming out on Columbia), Girl Most Likely (Varese Sarabande) and The Spectacular Now (Lakeshore). Im booked on a film that will start in a month or so, and I'm working on an EP and a full-length album of my own.
You can find out more about Rob Simonsen and his work at robsimonsen.com.