Early in October I had the opportunity to speak with Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist about their work on the music for the recently released Hulu film Rosaline. This film presents the story of Romeo and Juliet with a notable twist: it is told through the perspective of Romeo’s ex-girlfriend Rosaline, who very much wants her boyfriend back.
The composing duo of Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist are well-known for their work on the television show Dickinson, as well as Good Girls and I Know What You Did Last Summer.
I very much enjoyed this interview and I hope you enjoy it as well!
What did you think about the premise for Rosaline when you came in to work on it?
Well, I think we were intrigued. I remember reading Romeo and Juliet in school. And I’ve seen all the adaptations and stuff, but it’s never really stood out to me that there was a character named Rosaline. So when we first read the script, I was like, oh, is this just a made up character? But then I was really intrigued and loved the fact that Rosaline was in Shakespeare’s original writings. I thought that it was pretty brilliant. The way that there’s jokes throughout the film of the story not going [on track] or moments where the story seems like it might go back on track with the original Romeo and Juliet. So I thought that was really clever. A clever way to turn the story on its head for sure.
Was the music for Rosaline always going to be the Baroque pop that it was? Or did that get worked out over time?
I think it was discussed pretty early on. I think in one of our first score meetings they asked us, what do you think? And it was our first initial thought upon reading the score. And knowing what kind of music we usually write together, the filmmakers were looking for something that felt fresh and exciting, and could cover a lot of ground. So there’s a lot of comedy. But there are [also] a couple of action beats. There’s some suspense moments, and there’s obviously some romantic moments. But we also wanted to try and make it feel a bit original. We don’t want the music to be necessarily wallpaper, which can happen pretty often with a lot of scores. I think we almost played a joke, in a way, with our opening cue of the film. We do a sappy romantic cue, almost like you would expect to see. But then we start cutting in and out with dialogue to help these jokes land, and you realize we’re playing at a different angle here.
Yeah, we’re kind of playing into the joke. And our first thing on this project, our first task was to work on the cover songs that are featured in the movie. So that took us into the direction of the Renaissance instruments just because we were supposed to have the sounds that are supposed to be playing at a party where you’re supposed to see this band, this Renaissance band playing. So with that we really dove in headfirst into the harpsichord and lute and harp and all of these instruments that were popular at the time.
How deep did you dive? Did you limit yourselves right away? Did you experiment with all of them before settling on the ones you did?
It’s interesting because there really wasn’t that much to choose from. If there’s not somebody who’s able to play it, or that instrument doesn’t exist physically anymore, then that would have been a challenge. But also, before we even got to the recording [stage], we had to mock it up. We had to find instruments that actually had virtual and soft synth versions of that. So in a way it’s not that it limited us because we definitely expanded in some of the mock up stuff that wasn’t quite the same thing. But that definitely limited us because a lot of those instruments nobody makes them anymore.
I’d like to say it helped us make our decision quicker. And we also on top of all that, we had to find stuff that could lend itself to a pop style arrangement at the same time. So we had to find instruments that were versatile enough to actually play different things and play fast enough. Oh, yeah. So a bagpipe wasn’t really going to cut it.
Was it just experimentation to see what would be good?
Yeah, a little bit. I mean, for the songs we had to dive in right away. So like, we would both songs we actually knew fairly well, just from when they first came out. It was just kind of looking at how they arrange things and then rethinking them in terms of what our ensemble was. At first, I think we tried to do it as true to picture as we could. I think we eventually did sneak in a low bass, a little bit more of a thump to things. Yeah, it was just kind of really looking at the different parts, really listening to it closely. And seeing how close we could get with our Baroque ensemble.
I really noticed the bass thump during the the ball when Romeo’s looking for Rosaline. Um, that was weird hear hearing the modern bass thump in the Renaissance?
Yeah, I mean, the whole point with this film was to kind of mix things up a bit. So like, we were never going to go for a completely authentic Renaissance score. The whole idea was to mix contemporary synth stuff with the Renaissance sound.
So it was it was it was never planned to go traditional at all ever.
No, because we’re not traditional composers. If they wanted something more traditional, they could have gone for sort of more like the more pen and paper and the more orchestral composers, whereas I think we were hired because of our previous work on shows such as Dickinson and our electronic music and our synth sound. So I think it was always kind of in the cards for us to do electronics and renders some Renaissance sound. But to be honest, like, that wasn’t even, as the incident early conversations, it was like, they were kind of leaving it open to us.
So you’re mostly left to your own devices and how this went? There wasn’t a whole lot of direction?
No, I mean, it was a conversation between everyone, especially for those first couple songs. And then as we got into the actual score, we were talking to Karen Maine, our director, and generally the editor almost daily.
At the same time, they kind of trusted us to follow our guide as far as what we think [would] work musically. So in that sense, they left it up to us, but it was a very collaborative thing.
I noticed that several times the music seem to flip back and forth between a traditional sound for a Shakespeare story and the modern sound. How was it worked out when the music would flip like that?
I think we just follow our instinct really. We didn’t necessarily plan like this is a synth cue. This is a string cue, we just wrote to picture how we felt it would work using our palette of sounds and some moments just kind of felt like they needed to pull from one side a bit stronger than the other.
About the instruments, were any of them vintage?
Yeah, we had a whole mix of things. For our recording sessions, we had a really fun session with woodwind players who brought in a whole fun goodie bag of different style flutes from all eras. So I’d say it was a big mix of vintage, contemporary, and just kind of rare. There’s one key where we have a petzl playing, which is a German wooden flute, with a really distinct tone.
Our percussionist Hal Rosenfeld brought a whole bunch of percussion that’s been around since the Renaissance as well. So when we were recording all of the drums and the action sequences and whatnot, we had a harpsichord player, who, I suppose, is kind of an expert in the instrument in New York City. We had an excellent harp player who’s absolutely wonderful and absolutely slayed, especially when it came to playing the harp part of “The Boy’s Mine”, for example, which is a really complicated thing, which was definitely digitally done. So yeah, we had all of these incredible players that our contractor Sandy Park was able to find in New York City when it came to recording.
Was the recording done all together?
Yeah, we were able to record at Power Station in New York City for three days. So all the strings were in the same room at the same time, which was great. And it was the first time for us in years and years because of the pandemic.
Yeah, the lute, harpsichord, harp and whatnot, those were just all playing at the same time, but in separate rooms just to not have [the sound] bleed. And so we had more flexibility in terms of editing and mixing. And the percussion Is this single percussionist. But yeah, everything was recorded. We were all there in New York City with the engineer and other folks that helped with orchestrating and score prep. And it was really great. It was so nice to feel like we had a team like that.
Did you have specific musical themes for any of the characters? I couldn’t tell listening to it?
Yeah, we had. I mean, a lot of it all centers around Rosaline as a character. So we kind of when we first started writing, we did like the Rosaline action theme, the Rosaline scheming theme. And some of those got broken up a bit as we progress through the film. But um, yeah, we have Rosaline’s theme, we have a Rosaline and Dario theme. We have an action theme that reprises a couple of times. We have a theme that comes in, kind of, which is the scheming theme, for example, when Juliet and Rosaline have a scene together where they kind of start butting heads. So, a lot of these things get repeated subtly. So I’m glad that they didn’t really like hit you on the head too much. Because you never want that to be too obvious. But I’m glad that it wasn’t too much.
I mean, I think what the most obvious to me was Romeo’s because correct me if I’m wrong, but his had the most flourishes.
I think his moments on screen just lend themselves really well for more silly embellishment, just because of the comedy that he brought to the screen. So I think that whenever we see Romeo on screen, very often is when we would employ chimes or do some harp or something just because his character is such a big puppy of a character in the movie that we just felt like we could play into that comedy
What about Dario, does he have a bit of music of his own?
Well, anytime we have music with him, it’s always kind of connected to Rosaline. We have some action stuff with Dario, but that relates to the Rosaline action theme again. She really is our centerpiece and any character we come into contact with in really any musical theme is always threaded back to her
So since Rosaline was the centerpiece, how did you determine her sound? Because she’s not quite what I expected when I started the movie, she’s very modern.
Yeah, she’s very multifaceted and has a lot more sides to her than you get from the beginning of the movie. When she comes around towards the end of the movie, and, there’s just so many ups and downs, and she’s quite temperamental and instinctive, I think we tried to find, ultimately, [that] all the themes are Rosaline’s themes.
It’s just as Ian was saying, it’s like Rosaline interacting with different characters in different moments. But, we just thought it had to be sonically something that was somewhat witty and sarcastic, and whimsical, but also intense. So I think that that’s also where the synths and using more electronics kind of helped because in a way, the character that is portrayed on screen is so modern for the times: she wants to marry for love, she doesn’t want to marry just because she has to, she wants to be a cartographer. I think employing modern instrumentation really helped to externalize what’s really going on in her mind, which was very revolutionary, and ahead of her time.
How much time did you all have to work on Rosaline? Where were they in the process when you came in?
They brought us on close to the end of filming, because we had to get these song arrangements done for those masquerade ball scenes, and I think it was actually the last day of filming. So I think that was around September of last year. And then we really didn’t fully dive into the film until around December or January. And then we’re on a for a few months, kind of, it’d be like we’ve worked really hard for a week or two, and then they’d be working on the edit for a bit [and] it’d be kind of quiet. So a lot of back and forth. And then our recording sessions happened in early May .
Is three days typical? Or is that shorter than usual?
Um, I think it really depends, for the films that we’ve worked on in the past, it’s usually been just a day of a recording session. So this was definitely much longer than we’re used to. It was really great that we were able to break it up. And we knew at the beginning, we knew that there was going to be a lot of recorded things at the beginning. So it didn’t really come as a surprise. I’m sure you know a Marvel movie will record for a week or two, but we just haven’t really gotten to that point. So this was definitely the longest amount of recording that we’ve ever done.
You mentioned other stuff you’ve done like Dickinson, how did working on this film compared to those projects?
There’s some similarities. And just like, a lot of the same formalities you go through when working on a scoring project. But I think this one just felt larger in scale for us compared to something like Dickinson. We joke that this was kind of like an evolution in a way. But yeah, it was good. Like, we love working with Karen Maine. I had worked with her previously, a few years ago on a film called Yes, God, Yes. And that was also remote, but Zoom and virtual meetings weren’t quite what they are now. So this one felt much more like we were actually in the room together as a collaboration. It was a great experience, especially because we would meet with them so often. You really feel like you’re part of a team.
Is there anything musically that you hope audiences notice in Rosaline when the movie comes out?
I hope that they just come away liking the film, and hopefully feeling like the score was a a fresh take on the genre.
I hope that they can get lost in the story and have a good time. Because we certainly had so much fun working on this film and on the score, so I hope that it kind of translates through and that people can watch this with a bunch of friends. Just have a really fun evening.
The modern songs that were covered in this film. Did you pick those? Or did the director pick those?
Those were mainly coming from Karen Maine and Maggie Phillips and the music supervisor. We had a little input later on when we were deciding between a couple different options. But they ultimately decided which songs were going but then leave it up to us how we would want to arrange them.
Was it their idea to have Rosaline sulking to “All by Myself”?
Yes, yeah, that was always there from the temp [score], you know, that that was there from the first cut that we saw of the movie, especially since they wanted the joke that happens in that scene to land in a very specific way. I mean, the way the music changes, well, just the way that the it goes from score to just the single violin that’s in the room playing.
Oh, it works. That was one of my favorite moments. It works very well. Amazing. IS there anything else you wanted to make sure people know about Rosaline, a favorite moment, a moment that was difficult to work on.
I mean, my favorite moment is definitely when [Dario and Rosaline] are galloping through the countryside. You know, it’s like the big kind of montage moment. And it’s a cue that’s on the soundtrack. That’s called “Horse Escape.” And then definitely the hardest parts were the comedy parts. Just because we had to work around dialogue and work around the comedy that was being delivered by the actors. So it definitely felt challenging to not step onto the dialog and be able to kind of help the picture be funnier instead of taking away from it.
I want to say thank you to Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist for taking the time to speak with me about their work on Rosaline. The film is currently available on Hulu and I highly recommend checking it out when you have the chance.
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The fact that the music is described as “Baroque pop” has me intrigued!
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it’s definitely an interesting sound blend for sure