Ian Hultquist has experienced a vast amount of success with his musical career as both a film composer and one of the founding members of the highly popular indie pop group Passion Pit. His love for music and particularly his interest in scoring for films began early on in his life, leading him to study film scoring at Berklee College of Music. It was during this time of Hultquist’s life when things really began to take shape. He not only met his wife and fellow composer, Sofia, while in college but he also began to experiment and find his own brand of style and sound with his music.
After forming Passion Pit, Hultquist would go on to experience a whirlwind of success with the band through album releases, music videos, and playing sold out shows all over the world. His true passion, though, was still found in his love for scoring music for films. It was during a break in 2011 when he was finally able to go back to film scoring while working on music for Andrew Rossi’s film Ivory Tower. It wasn’t long before Hultquist would begin scoring for other Sundance and SXSW films – all of which were held in high regard, with his music gaining much of the attention from both fans and critics alike.
Hultquist has since left Passion Pit in order to pursue his career in film scoring full time. He continues to rise in popularity with an impressive collection of scores for films and television making him a much sought after name in the music and film industry. I recently spoke with Hultquist to find out more about his life, career, and what he currently has in the works.
Ian Hultquist Interview
TAMMY: When did you first become passionate about music and at what point did you begin writing your own songs?
IAN HULTQUIST: I think music started speaking to me from a very early age, through film. Neither of my parents were musicians, so movies became my favorite way of experiencing a lot of new music. It wasn’t until around 5th grade when I started playing Saxophone in the school band, where I started to learn how to actually make music. Once I got the bug, I immediately got a guitar and started learning every song I heard on the radio. From there it was natural evolution of trying to write songs, and form bands with friends and seeing what kind of noise we could make.
TAMMY: As someone who has written music as both a part of a band and then also film scores what are some of the biggest differences as far as your approach to the overall creative process for each?
IAN HULTQUIST: Both jobs require enormous amounts of collaboration from yourself and the other people you’re working with. I love the role of a composer on a film, because they are tasked with helping to tell the Director’s story in a musical way. I like the challenge of finding a common language between yourself & the filmmakers, and figuring out how the story can be told through your music.
TAMMY: In my own life I’ve found that many times one experience can sort of build off of another. You take lessons that you learned from one chapter of your life and are able to apply them to the next chapter to make it better. Is there anything that you learned from your experience as a part of Passion Pit that you feel will help you throughout your career as a film composer?
IAN HULTQUIST: Absolutely! I think touring in a band really helped shape a lot of skills for me. How to work with others as a collaborative team is a huge part of scoring. A composer is just one piece of a giant puzzle, and it’s important to always know where and how you fit into that. I also think the years on the road helped me learn to quickly & efficiently deal with stressful situations. Film scoring is not a leisurely job, there are times where people might be demanding a lot from you in a very short amount of time & you need to be able to keep your cool & get to work!
TAMMY: Was it a tough decision for you to leave Passion Pit even though it made sense with the direction that your life was heading after your work scoring music for films like Ivory Tower and Animals? Do you think you’ll ever want to go back to being a part of a band, touring, making albums, etc.?
IAN HULTQUIST: Yes, it definitely was a tough choice. I was walking away from something that I had been a part of for nearly 7 years. I was actually the one to suggest that Passion Pit become a live band, as opposed to just a studio project. It was scary to step out on my own and start an entirely new career from the ground up.
However, I don’t doubt for a second that I made the right choice. I was growing increasingly exhausted with the touring lifestyle, and my heart was really pulling me towards working in Film. I think it was an inevitable move on my part. I can’t say for sure whether I’ll definitely join another band one day, but I definitely wouldn’t write it off completely.
TAMMY: I’m excited to learn more about your experience in making music for the film “First Monday In May”. That will be opening the Tribeca Film Festival, correct? That is huge! I’m sure that you are very excited for everyone to hear your work. What can you tell me about what the creators were looking for with the music in this film?
IAN HULTQUIST: I am so excited about this film, for a few different reasons. Firstly, it was the first time officially co-scoring a feature with my wife Sofia Hultquist. She has helped me immensely on so many of my projects, but this was the first time where we both share composer credit.
Andrew Rossi (Director) really pushed us on this one, and I am so proud of the work we did. Being a documentary, they wanted a lot of different styles musically, and we kept finding ways to tie chamber orchestra, indie electro-pop, and ambient synths into the same thematic musical ideas. I can’t wait to see it in NY in a few weeks!
TAMMY: I’ve also been hearing great things about your music being featured in “Silicon Cowboys” and “My Blind Brother” at SXSW. Could you tell me a little about some of the highlights and challenges that you encountered while working on the music for these films?
IAN HULTQUIST: I really enjoyed both of these projects, as they both provided totally different challenges for me. Silicon Cowboys was a totally synth-based score, much in the vein of 80’s pop. Getting started came quite easy to me, but there were many points in the film where I needed to find ways to keep a momentum going, while also helping to tell the story at the same time – and not hit people over the head with music. The turn around on this one was really fast (just over a month), but I had such a good time working on it.
My Blind Brother was a totally different animal, as it was my first real dark, romantic-comedy I’ve written. I think the biggest challenges on this was to find ways for music to stay out of the way. It’s a fairly music-light film, so whenever we had cues they had to swoop in, do their job, and get out without getting in the way of what’s happening in the story. It’s also one of the first scores I’ve done that’s pretty much entirely live instruments. I got to dust off a lot of my guitars for this one, as well as have some string players come into the studio. It turned out to be quite a pretty little score.
TAMMY: Do you have a favorite style when it comes to scoring for films or do you really just enjoy having the opportunity to experiment with a variety of sounds/styles?
IAN HULTQUIST: Each film I’ve done has really been a whole new style/genre, and I’ve found each one to be a new kind of challenge. I think my favorite pick would be a mix of electric and acoustic instruments. I love processing orchestral instruments through synths and samplers, and using that to create a totally new kind of sound. Those are always the most fun for me!
TAMMY: What keeps you inspired and motivated when you are working on a new project?
IAN HULTQUIST: Lots of coffee & tea! Haha, it’s a number of different things really. I guess it depends on where I’m at with a project. To get me started I usually like to have a number of long conversations with the filmmakers about the project, the more amped that they are – the more excited I get to work on it. As I get deeper into something, getting a breath of fresh air or taking the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood can do wonders.
TAMMY: Do you have a favorite place to write?
IAN HULTQUIST: I’ve spent a lot of time turning my home studio into a place where I can focus, and create freely. Nearly everything I’ve written from the past two years has been done in that room. I’m always coming up with ways to improve it and make it more comfortable, but it definitely beats having to write from a hotel room or tour bus.
TAMMY: Who have been some of your greatest mentors so far in your film scoring career?
IAN HULTQUIST: There are a few LA-based composers that were extremely helpful & generous when I started considering the big transition into scoring. Joseph Trapanese, Rob Simonsen & Nathan Johnson are all amazing musicians and composers that inspired me, and were always willing to answer any questions I had (and I always have many), or to help introduce me to the right people. They really opened a bit of the film scoring community out here, which was a big motivator in moving from New York.
TAMMY: What advice do you have for not just those hoping to have a career as a film composer but musicians in general who hope to one day obtain a similar level of success that you have reached?
IAN HULTQUIST: I think the most important thing I can tell people is to have patience, stay motivated & try to be a good person. So much of the Music & Film world is based on trust. These projects can be months to years-long projects, and people want to know that they can rely on you to do the job.
It’s not easy work, but it can be incredibly rewarding at times. It’s key to make sure that this is really what you want, because you are going to be dedicating a lot of your time and life to making music!
TAMMY: What are you currently working on that you are excited to share with your fans?
IAN HULTQUIST: I am currently working on my first TV Show! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and I finally got the chance to work on one (remember what I said about being patient?). It’s an anthology series on DirecTV’s Audience network, called Full Circle. I’ve just begun work on their 3rd season recently, and have already realized what a huge learning experience it will be. I’m loving it so far!
You can check out Ian Hultquist’s website to find out more about his life, work, news, and current projects.