Interview: Get to Know Film Composer Katya Richardson

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aAh! Magazine catches up with Katya Richardson, a composer based in Los Angeles, who has been writing music for filmmakers and choreographers.

Tell us a bit about your yourself, your music and how did you start making music?

“I’m a film composer based in Los Angeles. Although classically trained, I play jazz piano, sing, and produce for a synth-pop band. Collaboration is central to my work, and I regularly experiment with dancers, choreographers, and filmmakers.”

“I first got into music via piano lessons and wrote orchestral music in high school. I then went on to study composition and film-scoring at the University of Southern California, and now work as a freelance composer.”

How did you settle on the title of your latest single/ep/album?

“I am very excited to share my latest release, Left From Write. It was originally written as part of a dance collaboration with a choreographer, lighting designer, and animator to visually and sonically reinterpret the experience of a dyslexic – hence the word-play in the title. At its core, the EP is really about the duality of dyslexia, celebrating individuality as something both alienating and liberating. These duelling ideas, or “left” and “right” perspectives, are really what drive the narrative element of the 3 musical movements.”

What was your writing and process like behind the new music? 

Left From Write is a cinematic, electrojazz adventure featuring noodly saxophone, glitchy beats, and looping vocals. A year in the making, it is one of my most extensive and involved projects to date – I recorded, mixed, and produced everything; and musically, it represents my first time combining all my influences of classical, electronica, and jazz.”

“The most challenging aspect was translating dyslexic thought-processes into musical ones. My choreographer, who has dyslexia, explained how she often wore orange-tinted glasses in elementary school. This immediately inspired me to think of the piece as “orange” and play with the idea of focus. In my mind, “orange” embodies a sort of 70’s energy, so my first instinct was to infect the music with a funky, hyperkinetic jazz vibe – resembled by the tactile percussion, irregular phrases, and the liberated nature of the saxophone. Vocal loops also function to provide moments of clarity or alienation, either by locking into a groove or encircling the stereo space, as if getting lost in one’s inner monologue.”

“While I would love for this piece to encourage more discussions about dyslexia, in the end I always strive to make music that is simply fun. Left From Write is exactly that: it’s an ode to being human and embracing all that comes with it.”

How have you found translating the single/ep/album to a live setting?

“The production for this EP was pretty extensive, and was originally performed with dancers and animation, so I haven’t adapted it to a live musical experience quite yet. But hopefully soon! The tracks feature a lot of sax and vocal loops so it’d be really cool to have those live.”

Which song has been your favourite to play live?

“My favourite track is probably ‘III’ because it’s the grooviest. I was really inspired by Kendrick’s hip-hop jazz in To Pimp A Butterfly and SOPHIE’s tactile electronica. I really look up to SOPHIE in that she makes her beats from scratch, often incorporating unconventional sounds like the “fizzle” or “pop” of a soda can. Similarly, I recorded different bags rustling, using them as hi-hats. But besides the musical aspects, choreographically this moment in the piece is really cool – a bunch of dancers come on stage for a rave-like finale!”

Who are your biggest influences in music?

“Classically, I’m influenced by composers like John Adams and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Electronically, I’m inspired by the jazz fusion of Flying Lotus and dance composer, Son Lux. But in terms of current muses, I really look up to the work of Isobel Waller-Bridge; there aren’t many female film composers out there, and I love how her recent score to Vita and Virginia (2018) showcases grungy electronics and traditional strings to both romanticize and modernize the 1920s. I think it’s super cool when genres collide!”

What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned while being in the music industry?

“I believe my mantra to be ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ I like this quote cause it applies both personally and professionally, inspiring me to think of life as active rather than up to chance. I think that we are in control of our own chances, and at least for me personally, I’ve found that music is all about making yourself available. There have been times where I didn’t apply to interviews or competitions, only to regret it later. I’ve learned that not only should we take risks, but accepting failure as a necessary part of success leads to a happier mindset.”

What would you say was your favourite moment so far? 

“My favourite career moment is being a studio assistant to Danny Elfman! Danny is so down-to-earth and genuine, and a truly talented composer. I always admired his music as a kid and am super thankful to have had an opportunity to work with him.”

What is in store for you next?

“I just finished scoring an experimental dance film about plastic pollution in our oceans, and have a few other collaborations lined up, but my priority for the next year is to develop  a classical album and apply to Masters programmes.”

Check out Left From Write on Spotify below and follow Katya on Instagram @katya.richardson for more updates and photos from the release.

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