Interview: Andrew Dost of fun. Shares Love of Film Composing with 'The D Train' Soundtrack
Earlier this year, Grammy-winning rock band fun. announced that, while the group remains friends, the three members would be embarking on individual projects for the time being. In the last year, Jack Antonoff and Nate Ruess have released their own pop albums but for multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost, he's taking his talents to his first love: film.
Today (May 5), Dost's first feature film soundtrack for the Jack Black/James Marsden movie The D Train was released digitally. Filled with nuggets of drippy '80s-inspired synth and plenty of mystery, the soundtrack seems to be just the beginning of Dost's career in composing.
Check out what Dost had to say about his love of film, the fun. hiatus and, oddly enough, pie in this exclusive Music Times Q&A.
Music Times: What are your different approaches for composing a score and writing music for fun.?
Andrew Dost: Well it's an entirely different process and a really different way to collaborate. With writing songs for a band, you're collaborating with musicians and you usually share a pretty similar language in terms of key and what you mean with a beat and a measure and a bar -- there's a musician's kind of language. When you're talking to directors or producers, there's a different kind of language that comes into play. It's a different kind of collaboration because you're talking about emotional beat, so you might get less notes in the melody or whatever.
There's a lot of different things that people say that are things that a musician would say differently, so a lot of it for me has been about learning to navigate different languages and that for me has been really fun and really exciting and usually results in musical ideas that I don't think I would've otherwise had. If you're trying to solve a problem in an unfamiliar context with an unfamiliar collaborator, then it results in just things that inspire and change and grow in different ways, so it's been really, really fun for me.
MT: What kinds of things will they say or ask of you?
AD: Well one thing that was important on The D Train is adding more mystery, trying to not push the audience too far, trying to not drive the emotion or not to steer the audience with emotion but rather to leave things a little more ambiguous and let the audience decide what just happened. So that was a big note for me.
With this one, I think we went back and froth on they wanted things to be less nice and less clean and less, a little more mysterious, a little more ambiguous -- so that was a big note in this project. I think other projects are different, but for The D Train it was more about making sure that we left room for the performances to really shine and for the story to shine and to not really step on the toes or tell the audience how to feel about anything.
MT: You wrote some of the music for MTV's Faking It, right? So is it different composing for film and television?
AD: It's very different. It's a much faster pace for TV, which I like. I work pretty quickly, and it's nice to have a quick turnaround with, not to belabor the point and to not overthink it, but if it sounds good, it works and it supports the scene, let's move on to the next one because we have five more episodes to crank out this week. It's a different pace and it's a different compositional style.
Film music is a little different; TV music has a different kind of texture and a different kind of length and a different purpose slightly, depending on the show. It's really fun to use different parts of my brain and different instruments for a different project. It's been a lovely process so far.
MT: And I know you said it's very different, but when you're composing, did you pull from your experiences at all from working with fun. and your other band, Anathallo, at all? Or was it completely separate?
AD: No, I think everything ties together. I think there's always overlaps and there's always, I think, ideally whatever I do sounds like me to some extent.
Obviously I don't want that to overshadow any sort of storytelling ever, but I look at everything as a holistic, giant work of art or a big tapestry or something, and I want there to be some sort of unmistakable or unique quality that I bring to the table. So I definitely think that applies, whether it's visual art that I've done or Anathallo or fun. or whatever, hopefully it's a part of the same big pie.
MT: The D Train soundtrack obviously pulls a lot from the '80s and John Hughes films because of the high school reunion element. That sound is so prevalent in music today, do you have any thoughts about why there's been this '80s resurgence with very synth heavy pop music?
AD: I just think its part of the natural cycle of art. Things are bubbling on the edge of the consciousness and you're growing up, and they always kind of poke back around. For me, I just always loved the sound synthesizers make, and I had always been really fascinated by synthesizer. So, The D Train score was a great chance for me to have some fun with my little arsenal of fun gadgets that I've acquired over the years.
MT: In addition to all the instrumental music, you did the song "A Million Stars" with Jack Antonoff, Andy McCluskey and Robert Croller. Why did you decide to add in a more traditional, lyrical pop song in addition to all the instrumental work?
AD: That was at the request of the producers and the directors and the music supervisor Randall Poster who was the music supervisor just wanting a closing credit song.I think it's a really special movie, and it's kind of neat like in Titanic when "My Heart Will Go On" -- not to compare by any means -- but it's neat when a movie has a song. It's a fun kind of stamp; it's like putting the wax thing on an envelope and stamping your initials to it. It was fun to get Jack and Rob, who are obviously close friends of mine, involved, but also really cool to work with Andy, who we're all giant friends of. So it was just a fun thing to see what we could cook up that would be thematically consistent with the rest of the movie and with the score, but also that would be fresh in a way and timeless. It was our attempt or homage to the rest of the songs in the movie kind of.
MT: What was it like working with Andy? When you were talking about synth bands, he was a big forerunner of that with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Was it kind of a dream come true thing?
AD: Yeah, absolutely. It was a dream come true ,and also I guess whenever you're working with somebody new, you never know how it's going to go and what personalities are going to be like, if it's going to be tough. But Andy was such a gentleman and such a really nice guy and so easy and pleasant to work with. It was such a delightful process for, I hope, all four of us that did that song. It was really a spectacular experience.
MT: When when it comes to the members of fun., both Nate Reuss and Jack Antonoff are making pop music and their own albums. Why did you decide to go into composing while the band is on pause?
AD: That's always been what I wanted to do. I've always loved film music and I've always, that's always kind of been my dream and my goal and I kind of thought we would make a couple fun. albums and I would eventually, gradually settle into it when I didn't feel like touring anymore.
The fun. hiatus happened a little earlier than I'd hoped, but it also kind of dove-tailed nicely with this project and a couple other things I was doing at the time, so it allowed me to focus. It's just my dream. It's what I want to do, it's what inspires me. I love pop music and I love songwriting, but when I think about where my heart and passion and energy really is, it's in films.
MT: Is that why you got into the music industry in the first place? Was this always an end goal of yours?
AD: Kind of. Everything I've done has sort of been accidental and kind of just, "Well, I guess I'll do this next." I kind of got into the music business because I just liked playing music. I didn't really know where it would go or what would happen and then at a certain point when I was in college -- I had already decided to not study music which is probably a mistake -- but I thought I'm just going to see where this goes and push it. I realized I was watching Field of Dreams for like the 50th time and I thought the score is really doing something to me. It's so powerful and perfect and I want to be a part of this conversation and this continuum. So I was maybe 20 when I started really thinking more seriously about film music. As soon "We Are Young" started getting some traction, my band's first hit single, like the day after I started calling people and trying to figure out who could maybe help me get into film because I knew that would be what I really wanted to be doing in a couple years.
MT: After The D Train, do you have any other score work lined up?
AD: Yeah, I just had a documentary run on HBO called It's Me, Hilary about the illustrator Hilary Knight that I'm really, really proud of. Faking It just got picked up for another season and then I'm also just working on an album, just for myself actually.
MT: Very cool.
AD: And I paint pies everyday. I paint pictures of pies everyday.
MT: So like slices of pie?
AD: Yeah, sometimes slices, sometimes entire pies. It depends, I used to do commissions and do whatever anybody wanted me to. If people wanted strawberry rhubarb, I would paint them strawberry rhubarb. And, if they want something stranger, I would do whatever they want basically.
MT: So what's the strangest pie you've ever had to paint?
AD: The strangest pie I've ever had to paint... the one that I'm thinking of, it's not really the strangest, but I did a Cherry Potter that I just put up on my Twitter because I thought it was so funny, like Harry Potter in pie form.
MT: I love puns and that's awesome.
AD: Yeah, oh and there's another pun in the painting that you'll love I'm sure if you're a Harry Potter fan.
If only my art teachers knew how many pies I've painted since I was in school... ¯\_(ツ)_/ pic.twitter.com/Sb6R0UpndA
— andrew dost (@andrewdost) April 27, 2015
MT: So is pie your favorite food?
AD: It's not my favorite food. I think it's just the most, for some reason I just thought, "I can't think of any pie painting that I've ever seen and I would really love to start being a painting of pie as a profession." And I just started doing it. And I think, I still think it's really funny.
It's like, a lot of the art that I've done in my life, like I wrote a musical basically kind of as a joke, and the pie thing is kind of a joke too, but I don't think the joke is funny unless you actually do it and the art exists and you can actually look at it and realize how stupid it is. So that's kind of why I paint pie.
MT: You always have to commit to the bit. Before we wrap up, I would be very remiss if I didn't ask, and fans want to know, is there any timeline for any fun. music? Or is that super on hold for now?
AD: Super on hold for now.
MT: I've been enjoying all the other work in the meanwhile.
AD: Yeah, I've tried to think of fun. now with this hiatus, as more of a loose collective than a band.
MT: Yeah, you all were doing things before that band too. It was an interesting way that blew up.
AD: Yeah, it's been a weird couple years for sure.