I’ve been featuring various soundtracks on my Music Break Feature, so I’m thrilled that on my 71st Music Break post, we actually get insights from the composer of the piece I’m featuring: Rob Simonsen!
I’ve mentioned in my review of The Age of Adaline how much I adore the music. I’ve been quite obsessed with the dreamy, ethereal sound, listening to it for days on end from start to finish. I think the last romantic drama’s soundtrack that prompted a similar reaction was John Williams’ Sabrina (1995), it’s one of the rare soundtracks where I love every single track, just like this one.
Here’s a sampling of The Age of Adaline soundtrack:
Rob Simonsen is an American composer based in Los Angeles. When you look at his IMDb page, surely you’ve listened to a few of his music. He’s not only super talented but also prolific, with over 50 credits under his belt since his first film he worked on in the early 2000s.
The first film you did music for was a medieval fantasy Westender (in which you also starred in). What led you into working on that project?
Westender was a film I made with my best friends from high school. We initially intended to make a short, but the endeavor expanded as we started and we decided to turn it into a feature. I mentioned to the director, Brock Morse that I wanted to score the film and he was excited about that. It was nearly a 3 year process from beginning to end with the ongoing edits and reshoots. I wrote about 1.5 hours of orchestral music and that was my jump into film scoring. It premiered at Seattle International Film Festival, where I met Mychael Danna, who was a guest speaker of the festival. We hit it off and a year later we both moved to LA and I began assisting him.
As for The Age of Adaline, how did that project come about for you?
Lee Toland Krieger [the director of The Age of Adaline – ed] heard the score to The Spectacular Now and really liked it. He reached out to me with interest for Age of Adaline, I watched the film and loved it, then met Lee and we hit it off. It was a really great collaboration with him, and I consider him a good friend. We worked really hard on Adaline and I can’t wait to work with him again. He’s a fantastically talented guy.
I love the ethereal, dreamy sound of The Age of Adaline. What have been some of the inspirations for writing the score?
Ah, thanks! Lee and I talked a lot about the story of this woman trapped in time and the mysterious, supernatural angle of the story. So there were a lot of musical ideas born of conversations about story and character with him- about the way we wanted her and her world to feel. Musically I was listening to Ralph Vaughn Williams’ instrumental version of Serenade to Music, which is a piece that blows me away every time I listen to it. Also Holst’s Neptune, from The Planets.
The song Start Again (featuring Elena Tonra) has become one of my favorite songs now. Did you also write the lyrics for that?
Thanks again! No, the lyrics were by my good friends Nathan Johnson and Katie Chastain. They have a band project called Faux Fix, and they write great tunes together and I love their storytelling and perspective in their lyrics. I called them up and said “I have the opportunity to write a song that might go in the end credits of this film. It has to be done in 48 hours. You guys free this weekend?” They came over and we workshopped a little bit based off of a kernel of a tune idea I had put together from a piece of score.
We worked for a few hours and then they went home. 24 hours later they showed up with all the lyrics and a song structure and it was so perfect. We demoed the song and eventually had Elena Tonra sing the vocal. I’ve been a big fan of Elena’s for a while and she was gracious to lend her talents to the song.
I’ve been curious about the process of music composing. How early in the filmmaking process did you start writing the score? For example, does the script have to be completely finished before you can start, or do you work on it as the film is being shot?
It depends. Some films I’m brought on in the script phase, other films it might not be until near the final cut that I’m brought in. Each film has it’s own landscape and evolution of how the elements come together. Oftentimes the first thing I do is sketch out themes and send them to the director- kind of a general vibe check to make sure we’re in sync. That material then begins to find it’s way into the edit and scored cues and the boxes slowly get checked off as we progress.
Is there a specific genre of film you enjoy working on? Was there any film you saw recently that you wish you had written the score for?
I love sci-fi films. It’s been great working on Adaline and other films like Nerve, both of which have a fantastical and slight sci-fi quality to them. I loved Ex Machina. I’m very excited to see The Arrival and excited for all the work my friend Johann Johannsson is doing.
Lastly, who are some of favorite composers who have inspired you?
So many! Prokofiev, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Arvo Part, Steve Reich, Aphex Twin, Bjork, John Barry, Philip Glass, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner. Of course John Williams. My mentor Mychael Danna. We live in such a marvelous time where we can devour music of all genres and times. I find so much music that’s inspiring.
THANK YOU so much Rob for taking the time to chat with me about your beautiful work!
Hope you enjoy this week’s Music Break! Thoughts on The Age of Adaline‘s score and/or the interview?