Interview with Composer... Julian Wass


Great pleasure of chatting with composer Julian Wass who recently released three soundtracks at the same time, which is very cool as he will tell you. I thank him and Brianne for all the extra help, so there you are another great composer.
Jeremy [Howlin' Wolf]

Jeremy [Retro]: How did you get started in the field of music and how did that lead you to composing?

Julian Wass: After studying music at college, my first job was working for a music supervisor. Even though it didn't lead me directly to composing, it was a great introduction to the world of music in film, especially post production. I became familiar with post schedules and spotting sessions and other nuts-and-bolts types of things involved with my future line of work. I also scored my first few projects, including my first feature during my off hours, so it definitely kept me going during that time!


Jeremy [Retro]: How does it feel not to have just one current release, but three (Lost For Life, The Big Ask and The Pretty One)... also which score is close to events in your life and why?

Julian Wass: It's awesome! It's funny, as a composer, I can complete my work on a film and it could premiere within a month, or it could take over a year. There have been times during my career where it appears as if I haven't worked in a while, but its really just because I have a lot of stuff "in the can" that hasn't been released yet. So, this was a special opportunity, where fate and schedules and distribution all worked together to put these three films out fairly close to each other, and I thought, what better way to celebrate than to release these soundtracks? Each of these three scores has it's own unique sound, but all three also represent me as a musician and what I'm all about.

It's hard to say which is closest, because I felt incredible connected to all three of these incredible films.  The Big Ask and it's characters felt so real to me, like they were my friends, and using primarily guitar, my first instrument, on the score left me feeling really familiar and comfortable working on the film. And even though Lost For Life is a documentary about some pretty heavy stuff, most of which I've never experienced, I dug into my own emotions and losses that I've experienced to better connect with the material. The Pretty One was directed by my wife, Jenée LaMarque, so that score is definitely connected to my personal life; our shared sensibilities resulted in an awesome experience, and the confidence to do a modern score that brought analog synthesizers to the forefront sonically.


Jeremy [Retro]: If you work with other composers or music artists, whom do you work with and what is the best part of your contributions?

Julian Wass: I am a member of a band called Fol Chen, and I've collaborated with Samuel Bing on three Fol Chen LPs, plus a record for an artist, Simone White, that we co-produced. We've also scored a couple of films together along the way. I love collaboration and I also love working alone. It's two sides of the coin for me; working alone helps me to discover who I am musically, and makes me a better collaborator. And through collaboration, I find corners of my mind and my music that I didn't know I had and I wouldn't have found if there weren't another person pushing me towards them.

Jeremy [Retro]: Who inspires you musically and whom do you listen to (composers, music or both)?

Julian Wass: I've studied Classical Music, but would not consider myself classically trained by any means. I grew up a fan of pop, rock, and rap, and in many ways, those genres are still at the core of what I do musically. It was the scores of Mark Mothersbaugh, Jon Brion and especially Michael Andrews that made me feel like film scoring was something I could do; musically, they spoke in palettes that I could fully understand and decipher. Me and You and Everyone We Know was huge for me. I had never heard film music that felt so much like an emotion, like something that was playing inside the heads of the characters.

The first time that I really connected emotionally with a film score was when I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when I was 13 or so. I found something incredibly moving about the the way the images combined with Burt Bacarachs's score, particularly the piano reprise of the main theme over the sepia freeze frame at the end of the film.  And I still haven't been able to fully describe what it is about that moment that brings me to tears each time I watch it, but the pursuit of that feeling, and my desire to better explain how I feel about it is amongst my biggest inspirations.


Jeremy [Retro]: Do you feel that music downloading is hurting the industry or your thoughts that artists should release their work on a personal website and include all the download rates and or a very limited Cd release?

Julian Wass: I went to college in the early 2000s, so I would be a total liar if I said that I had never downloaded anything illegally, or that the experience of having something like Napster to go along with my first really fast internet experience hasn't totally shifted the way I consume music. When I look back at my CD purchases, I see them being made out of necessity and not because I really liked buying or having CDs. In fact, I always found CDs kind of annoying, the way they scratched and the way the hinges on the jewel cases always managed to snap or malfunction. Vinyl and even cassette tapes have much more of a collectable feel to me, while CDs in comparison seem sterile and delicate. Plus, as soon as I was using an iPod, I rarely even touched my CDs again after I ripped them. So in terms of digital music, CDs feel like a vestigial organ, and I'm not sure we need them anymore.

Still, I don't like the way that music and music ownership has been so devalued. I'm guilty as well, I might balk at paying 9.99 for an album, but wouldn't question spending that on a burger and fries that are gone in 10 minutes. We expect music to be cheap, or usually even free, and I think that's also related to how much music there is now. It's so rare for there to be a huge pop record that really sticks around these days, because we are almost always right on to the next one. It sort of reminds of a kid on Christmas morning with too many presents.

Music obviously will always have value, but whether or not that value is tied to a monetary system may have something to do with the format it's experienced through. You can't beat the convenience of mp3s and streaming services, but they are not tied to a tangible object, and I don't think anyone has figured out a real way to incorporate album art in a way that's as powerful as a vinyl record. I hope that in my lifetime, I get to see and experience a new format for consuming music that can bring everything I love about the LP together, but until then, I think artists being in as much control of their material is best, and downloads seem to be the way to achieve that.

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