From The Devics to Debussy
Dustin O’Halloran Proves He’s Ready For His Close-Up
With the controversy-ridden dust of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette finally settling, the film’s staying power remains unclear. Yet one thing is certain: the soundtrack is bound to be a classic, as is the work of Dustin O’Halloran, a relatively-unknown pianist who composed two startlingly emotive, original tracks for the compilation.
“I’m the unschooled one shaking things up,” says O’Halloran over the phone from his 19th-century villa on the outskirts of Bologna, Italy. ‘Things’ being the world of contemporary piano music, to which the self-trained O’Halloran has contributed two albums – Piano Solos 1 and Piano Solos 2. In the midst of multiple projects, and days before his first live performance in almost a year, the Los Angeles-native, who also co-founded indie-rock band The Devics, took the time to speak with psychoPEDIA about Marie Antoinette and his craft:
How did you get to work with Sofia Coppola?
My first CD, Piano Solos, was released with Bella Union. They put out a few Devics albums, so I played it for Simon [the founder]. He liked it, and asked me, ‘What do you want to do with it?’ I thought, ‘I don’t know who would want to listen to piano music.’ Then, randomly, Brian Reitzel heard it. He’d been putting together these compilation CDs for Sofia to help with writing the [Marie Antoinette] script. He put some of my music on them. She liked it, so he contacted me and…
You were shocked?
Yeah, it was a complete cold-call’ He asked me if I’d be interested in scoring music for Sofia Coppola’s new film.
And you said, ‘where do I sign up?’
There are five directors working today who I’d love to work with, and she’s at the top of the list.
How was the experience? Very positive, it sounds like…
It was. They don’t score to the movie. They edit to the music, which is really rare. The only thing I had to go off was what they explained to me. They sent me this book that Sofia had made to show the colors, textures, emotions of certain scenes. When I saw the film it was so close to what I had pictured.
Have you received more attention following the film’s release?
The response has been really, really good. The biggest request has been for the notation of the music. I had no idea so many people wanted to play the pieces. Somebody in Nebraska is playing Opus 17!
How did your experience with Stranger Than Fiction compare?
With Stranger Than Fiction they were editing to picture, so it was a very different experience. They [Reitzel and Britt Daniel of Spoon] wrote the score and wanted me to bring my piano stylings; I was the interpreter.
Are there any particular classical composers you really admire?
Chopin is probably my favorite. I think he took the piano to a different level. Scarlatti—I got into harpsichord after the experience with Marie Antoinette. We thought about using one, so I started practicing.
How do you make classical, instrumental music modern?
It’s lack of skill, really [laughs]. I have no desire to be the fastest, the quickest… I’m more into the resonation, open arrangement. Trying to take my weaknesses and exploit them. It’s also not really conscious. It’s a filter of all of my history and me finding my own voice on the instrument. How it comes out is what it is.
Is there a consistent motive underlying the madness?
I want to bring the piano back. There’s so much new piano music that’s so banal—really new-agey, or just so classical. When I was recording the first record I didn’t really know what I was doing. Classical people completely snubbed it. I mean I’m not even schooled. And it’s more of an academic world. Music lovers are the ones who accepted it. Even though the piano is an old instrument, I think there’s still something to say that can be valid.
You’re also currently scoring an entire feature-length independent film – The Beautiful Ordinary?
Yeah, it’s a new director [Jess Manifort], from NYC’s coming-of-age story of teenagers’ last day of school. I haven’t done a whole film before; she’s giving me the freedom to do what I want. It’s the direction I want to continue in.
Yeah. The machine of rock music is a really hard life. For indie musicians you work so hard, tour all the time, and you don’t get that much back.
Any other recent resume additions?
Last week I recorded my first strings arrangement for this British commercial. They wanted strings. I was very proud of it. It’s for a company, the Cell – it’s just a single shot of a guy running. I want to learn more about strings.
And you do this all from a rented Italian villa?
Yeah, I’m not getting out much. Basically it’s a house built in the 1880s. Though the inside probably resembles more of the ‘60s. There’s a wood-burning heater. And inside I have my G5 computer [laughs].
Dustin O’Halloran plays Teatro Rasi, Ravenna, Italy this Friday, December 22nd, 8pm.
You can also catch O’Halloran performing at The Derby in his hometown of Los Angeles, January 23rd and 30th.
For more on O’Halloran, including notations for Piano Solos 1, dustinohalloran.com
For more on the Devics, devics.com