Time to read : 11 minutes
In today’s interview, I have the opportunity to talk with an inspiring and wonderfully talented Lauren King! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, really nice to have you!
Thanks for having me, Alan!
So Lauren, for all the people who don’t know your work, can you walk us through your musical resume? How did it all started?
Sure thing. Music for me started young – my mum is a classical pianist so us kids all grew up learning instruments. After studying music at university I spent a good year or two working on as many short film projects as I could for free – most of them were for film students here in Wellington. My first proper screen music job though was writing the music for a short film called ‘The Winter Boy’ back in ‘09, which was directed by Rachel House. I worked with Dave Whitehead (sound designer) who very kindly took me on as an assistant to help create the music. It’s still one of my most memorable projects to date. From there I worked on many more short films, a video game, and an app until eventually, it led me to my first feature film ‘Waru’ in 2016.
What were your first struggles and victories while being on the road to become a film composer?
I remember confusing the distinction between a ‘sound designer’ and a ‘composer’ when I first started – ha! I was approaching post-production facilities to look for work experience and eventually someone politely explained to me the difference, a bit embarrassing though! Always pays to do your research. I think any project I found to work on in the early days was considered a victory – I was always trying to absorb as much experience as possible.
Who was your biggest support or influence?
I have had so many supportive people be a part of my music journey – family, partners, friends, music teachers, mentors. And the same goes for people who have influenced me – some of the bigger musical influences would be Luke Howard, The Pixies, Rhian Sheehan, Johannes Johansson and Olafur Arnalds.
How would you describe the music that you typically create? Is it different from the music you usually listen to?
I would say filmic, gentle and simple? There’s nothing very complicated about the music that I write. Simple structures and melodies. I’ve always loved music that could make you feel so much, by saying so little. I think there’s a real art to that and it all comes back to expression. I listen to a lot of music which has a similar feel – it inspires me to write the way I write.
With what do you usually start when composing a piece of music? Is it a melody, rhythm or something else?
It can be a little bit different each time! Usually, I start at the piano to try and sketch out a chord progression and a melody, or even just a simple rhythmic pattern with a few notes. It will be something very simple, 2 – 4 bars, and then I’ll take that into my DAW and start messing around with it in there and layering other sounds/instruments in. Otherwise, it can be a sound or a texture, I love playing around with reversed sounds and time-stretching audio to spark ideas.
You’ve mentioned in the prologue all the projects you’ve worked on. I would love to ask you, is there a project that you are the proudest of?
I’m proud of my album ‘Inscape’ that I wrote in 2013. It’s awesome to be able to focus your creative energy into something that has no boundaries and you’re free to take it where you like – I felt most fortunate to have Rhian Sheehan as a mentor figure while working on Inscape, something I will forever be indebted for. Outside of that, it would have to be ‘Waru’, my first feature film project that I worked on as a composer.
Have you ever had a project in which you first thought you’d make it with ease, but then in the middle of it you saw everything going south? Do those situations happen often?
I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a project thinking I’ll make it with ease to be honest – I find the first week of a screen project the hardest, that time when you need to come up with the fundamental ideas that are the foundation for the rest of the score. I think it’s that pressure to produce in a short period of time. I’ve definitely had projects which have felt easy and organic, and others that have been a real push to get over the line. And I’ve definitely been guilty of being overly optimistic in the past and agreeing to ridiculous deadlines simply because I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to work on a project. That was a big lesson to learn.
And also, can you share with us the process for making a soundtrack for a movie? Do you usually get an idea and compose simultaneously while the movie is being filmed, or do you get the whole movie when it’s finished and then compose?
I’ll always wait to receive a rough cut of the film before doing any writing. I’ve never been someone who is able to come up with musical ideas off a script! I’ve tried before but it just doesn’t work well for me – I need the movement/color/lighting of the picture and the characters to draw ideas and emotion from. Once I have the rough cut I’ll start trying to find the main musical idea that I feel best fits the film as a whole – and then it’s a process of pulling fragments from that for secondary themes and writing new material from.
I had an opportunity to watch “Waru” and “Vai”, movies that you worked on, and I was honestly moved by the music. Truly inspiring and breathtaking music!! Even though both movies are oriented toward drama, but have a different genres. How was your approach to scoring genres that were different from the work you usually do?
Thank you! I was very lucky to be a part of both those wonderful films – I had such an amazing time working with Kerry & Kiel McNaughton (producers) and the 17 female directors across both films. They follow a very similar format style (8-9 small sequences (shot in one take!) that focus on one character from the film), which are then edited together to create the story. Waru had a real impact on me.
The story and the characters moved me deeply, and I found that the score developed organically. I also really enjoyed learning about Taonga pūoro (Maori musical instruments) and bringing poiawhiowhio and putorino into the score with the wonderful Al Fraser. Vai was a fantastic film to be a part of too – there is some really powerful storytelling going on in both these films which have often come straight from the director’s experiences so there’s a lot to take away and consider. It still amazes me how we can work so remotely these days too – for Vai we worked with a producer in the Solomon Islands (Calvin Rore) who ended up adding percussion, rattles and conch shell to parts of the score and the trailer.
I would love to take a moment and ask you for a story behind Blue marble! It’s honestly one of my top 10 songs that I ever heard! What motivated you to make that masterpiece?
Oh, wow! That takes me back. I remember this was when I had a fascination with ‘The Overview Effect’, which by definition is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight (thanks Google), usually while viewing the Earth from outer space. I still think this would be the most incredible thing to ever see in your life – our planet from space. Anyway, that was the inspiration behind Blue Marble – I remember watching so much ISS footage on YouTube of our planet from space. So beautiful.
Here is an interesting question, take a moment and think about it – what do you think is your superpower that not many composers have/or didn’t master? 🙂
There are definitely no superpowers going on over here! 🙂 I think what all composers have that is unique to one another is their expression and the way they tell their stories. You could give the same four bars of music to 4 different musicians and they’ll all play it a bit differently.
Do you think that most composers nowadays are famous just because they are viral but not for their talent?
No, I don’t. There’s definitely a lot more that can push you into viral or famous territory than talent though that’s for sure!
What are your 2 most favorite songs that you made in your career? And why those?
I think they would have to be ‘Welmar’ and ‘Blue’. I think because I feel very connected to both those pieces and the emotion behind them – Welmar was written in quite a poignant time of my life, and Blue was written for my partner.
Your music consists of all kinds of instruments – from piano, guitars, drums, and all the way to orchestral instruments. How often do you find yourself using real instruments and on which occasion?
I’ll always try and add real instruments into my music whenever I can. They bring an emotive and human quality to music that no VST can replace. Sometimes the little nuances that live recordings bring is what makes the piece – so wherever there’s a way (and a budget) I’ll record live.
While mentioning that, you know how to play on piano and guitar. Is there any other instrument that you always wanted to master?
I learnt the violin when I was younger and part of me wishes I still knew how to play. Maybe one day I’ll get back to learning a new instrument – at the moment I still love being at the piano.
What kind of music do you usually listen to while not ‘working’?
I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Bon Iver lately – he does an acapella version of ‘Heavenly Father’ with The Staves which has been on repeat. Otherwise, it depends on what activity it’s accompanying! It can literally be anything – I go through new phases all the time.
I’m quite curious, what are your top 5 VST that you use in every composition (piano,ambience?)
I use a sampled piano called ‘The Gentleman’ which comes on Komplete from Native Instruments. I would say that and ‘The Space Designer’ reverb from Logic are my two biggest go-to’s when I’m mucking around in Logic drafting ideas. I have a very basic Orchestral String Section which I think came from a Jam Pack decades ago which I also use – as you can tell I’m not very gear oriented.. 🙂
What would you be today if you didn’t go the music route?
Good question – I love the show One Born Every Minute and also Paramedic shows and always am in awe of those professions, so possibly something in the medical realm? Any career where you get to connect with people in a meaningful way.
In your opinion, what was the most difficult moment in your music career? Were there any?
I think the last couple of years have definitely been a challenge – it’s an expensive and busy world out there these days. My partner and I had our first daughter arrive just shy of 2 years ago so balancing being a mum, a day job and time for creative projects is hard. I also think setting boundaries and learning when to say no has always been hard for me. When I first started writing I wanted to take every opportunity I could to work on projects, which led me to saying yes to everything. A couple of years ago I said yes to creating the score for a feature film on a 4 week turnaround time (whilst working a day job) which was an absolute disaster (it also creates unrealistic expectations for producers/directors).
And last question… as a composer, what is your definition of success?
Success is so unique for everyone! For me, success is feeling fulfilled and inspired by the work that I do.
That would be all from me. Thank you so much Lauren for having time for this wonderful conversation! Wish you a lot of happiness and success in your musical career!:)
Thank you, Alan!