Film composer Mark degli Antoni has achieved much in his musical career across a varied range of mediums. A highly skilled musician, degli Antoni has been able to hone his artistic side through several outlets including collaborations with other artists through writing and playing music, scoring music for film, as well as co-founding and playing keyboard for the band Soul Coughing, which had several classic hits in the nineties including “Circles” and “Super Bon Bon”. You may recognize more of Soul Coughing’s songs from movies like Tommy Boy and the hit television series The Sopranos.
After moving on from his days with Soul Coughing, degli Antoni has focused on using his talents to score film. As an artist who is a fan of working and collaborating with independent artists as well as established filmmakers, degli Antoni has built an impressive collection of work including music featured in several documentaries. In 2011, his music was featured in Werner Herzog’s haunting documentary Into The Abyss, which went on to take the #3 spot on Roger Ebert’s list of twenty best documentaries that year. In 2014 he provided the score for the highly acclaimed documentary God Loves Uganda and 2015 saw him score Twinsters, along with Martin Molin. Most recently he scored Pushing Dead, an offbeat comedy with Danny Glover. He also had music featured in the omnibus film collective:unconscious, which premiered at this year’s SXSW.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark degli Antoni to find out more about his work, life as a film composer, and what keeps him motivated as an artist.
Mark degli Antoni Interview
TAMMY: Who were some of your earliest inspirations who really made you become interested in writing your own music? And what was it that eventually lead you into scoring music for films?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: I was 5, we had just moved houses. The piano was in the living room, and near it my parents had a huge old radio / record player stereo cabinet thing. There was a radio station, and every day I used to wait for the Bee Gees ‘Lonely Days’, and play along, sometimes only the high notes of the piano. I was convinced my added parts were just what the song could take. Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass and the musical My Fair Lady were a big deal. Who knew?
Those are my earliest clear memories, that I still remember vividly, consciously being at the piano with intent.
What lead me into scoring was my relationship with my best friend Joe Bini. From 8th grade on, through our love of playing music together, and having very similar tastes, we slowly developed into a composer director team. We have gone on to make many films together, as he is also a brilliant editor.
Why scoring? Because I have never thought in terms of concert music. Scoring film or playing songs is so natural, it has always felt like the right choice. And both have voices, I love working with a singer or dialogue.
TAMMY: As someone who has been a part of a band and also composes music for films what are the most rewarding aspects of both of those sides of the table that you have been on?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: They are two entirely different worlds. It is the live interaction with an audience that sets a band experience apart from a scoring experience. Having a band, that had international reach, with an engaged attentive audience – the energy of a concert, where say 3000 people are ‘all in’ waiting for something you’ve made and are very close to – the whole event and process of ‘the’ concert is special and unique.
Unique to scoring is that first time you hand in sketches to the editor. It’s like jumping off a cliff every time. You don’t really know what’s going to come back to you. Unrepeatable is when the editor and director are completely inspired, love the ideas and use them.
TAMMY: You seem to be someone who holds philosophy and intellect in high regard. In what ways do you think those two things, if at all, play in to your writing style?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: I’m not unique in that regard. As for the ways those things play into my writing – mostly I’m open. I’m open to new tools, open to being right, open to being wrong, I am open to having no idea what is going on but jumping in anyway, I am open to being the only one who knows what’s going on and jumping in anyway.
TAMMY: What keeps you inspired and motivated as an artist?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: New. Never believing that the ‘way things used to be’ is when they were the best.
With so much more to come, there’s no such thing as the best having already happened.
TAMMY: I heard you speak once on how you love the building aspect of being an artist – where at the end of the day you have created something that can be not only distributed out to the world for years to come but also something that can hold layers of meaning for those who see or hear it. Is that sort of at the core for you of what being an artist is all about? Sort of taking pieces of yourself to build something bigger to share with the world?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: Ha, ha – is that direct quote? Yikes. When I refer to the ‘building aspect’ of being an artist, what I mean is that I see myself as a kind of craftsman. I’m not a prodigy genius. I have had to harness and form it.
As for something that can be held with layers of meaning, hmmm……I guess in the sense that I participate in collaborative forms, whereby a story is the resulting creation. It is a narrative of some kind that has moving parts and layered details, representing something larger than any one of the people involved.
TAMMY: What I find particularly interesting about your work is just the massive range that you have and this ability to take very specific elements and mix them together to make something that works so well. For instance, I love your work that you did for Werner Herzog’s Into The Abyss. I was reading that in going in to your writing for this film you had ideas of mixing elements of 15th century composition, “Texas lone cowboy” guitar, and metal sounds to represent the jail. You absolutely nailed it. You took these seemingly disconnected elements and you made them connect. It’s just amazing. Really. What is the process like for you when you are first asked to score music for a film? What steps do you take initially when you are working out the style and feel that you are wanting the soundtrack to convey to the audience?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: Thank you for noticing and for the kind words. First thing when asked to score is – I need to see footage. What does it look and sound like? After watching, then I’m hanging on for dramatic indications from the director. I’m sure to have opinions after I watch, but my first task is to pay attention to what the director is hoping to achieve dramatically. Get the director to clearly express themselves. I don’t want to hear about which instruments to use, or which chords to use. That doesn’t help me. The process of scoring film is a process of responding to drama, controlling instruments and harmony to live in the dramatic space of the story on screen. And then, get some awesome musicians. Sebastian Steinberg on guitar for the Abyss score – he was a miracle.
TAMMY: A film composer does not exist in a set 9-5 world. How do you unwind or disconnect from your work in order to re-energize your mind? Or is it really just something that you in a way never fully disconnect from?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: I’m never fully disconnected, there is always some detail, or new project, it is a never ending stone I’m pushing up the hill. Happily. But I have plenty of ‘living’ that I do away from the studio. Travel helps.
TAMMY: For you personally what is the most challenging aspect of being a film composer that you enjoy being given the opportunity to overcome?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: That’s a nice question. It’s the chance to be a thoughtful writer. To take the moment and opportunity to put together something unique and meaningful.
TAMMY: I know that you enjoy collaborating with independent artists in a variety of ways. Are you currently working on any collaborations that you would like to share?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: I’ve just finished scoring another film for the director Lily Baldwin. The film, Swallowed, is part of an omnibus feature, collective : unconscious, which premiered at this year’s SXSW. Lily’s film is completely engaging, and with the levels of detail and storytelling she incorporated, everyone involved was given the chance to bring their own personality to the table. It was a great project, keep your eyes open and watch for it.
TAMMY: Do you have any film scoring projects currently in the works or coming up that you are excited about?
MARK DEGLI ANTONI: Yes, I have just started a feature by director Matt Ruskin, amazing story, great actors. I am only a few days into it, and apparently I only have five weeks to finish the score!
To find out more about Mark degli Antoni you can visit his website where you will be able to be kept up to date on news, current projects, his music, and more.