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Strolling Back To 80's Memory Lane with Toy Soldiers Composer Nathaniel Levisay

Updated on April 16, 2015
Composer Nathaniel Levisay signing copies of The Toy Soldiers soundtrack released on Howlin' Wolf Records.Again Courtesy of Riding Hood Motion Pictures. All rights reserved./Getty Images
Composer Nathaniel Levisay signing copies of The Toy Soldiers soundtrack released on Howlin' Wolf Records.Again Courtesy of Riding Hood Motion Pictures. All rights reserved./Getty Images | Source

Nathaniel Levisay may not be a household name at the moment, but he is a composer on the rise whose pure talents are on display on his latest project, "The Toy Soldiers", a comedy-drama set during the early 1980s around a roller rink and a group of eclectic characters.

Taking in the vibe of the decade, Nathaniel's fine score takes after the stylings of the popular group, Tangerine Dream with its' moody and dream like atmosphere. Nathaniel's music simply breathes great life to a film where his contribution is just simply invaluable.

For this special Q & A session with him, he shares his thoughts on working on the film, the music itself and his favorite projects to work on amongst the many topics we cover. So please sit back and let's go back in time together to 1983!

Fun Times With Nathaniel and Me

Thank you very much Nathaniel for taking the time to conduct this interview and it is an honor to do so. Please tell the readers about what inspired you become interested in music and the composer that you’ve now become.

NL: I grew up within the arts. I was involved in theater, music, speech -- I was surrounded by it, even if I was not involved. I had a very rich experience as a young person growing up in the arts. Music was always an early inclination for me and I took lesons on piano, violin, etc. and then I got very serious about music -- composition and conducting specifically -- when I was in high school. From there it was music all the way. What inspired me was music itself and important guidance came from wonderful teachers and mentors.

Let’s talk about your latest film, the retro 80’s comedy-drama “The Toy Soldiers” the revolves around teens at their favorite hang out which is a roller skating rink. How did you become involved with the project?

NL: I read about the film somewhere, and saw that Najarra Townsend was one of the lead actors. I knew her from working with her years before of a film called, DAMNING, which I scored, and so I contacted her and asked if she would introduce me to the director, Erik Peter Carlson. She spoke to Erik and then Erik and I had some good conversations and things blossomed from there.

The film is growing up in the 1980’s and everything that went along with it including sex, drugs and rock and roll to name a few things. Was that the major driving force that made you decide “Okay this is a lot of fun. I want to do this film”?

NL: I love the 80s. I grew up in the 80s and it has been a fantasy or dream of mine to someday write music for an 80s-style film. Then the fact that it was a rather dark drama was also very appealing.

Did you get any input from Director Erik Peter Carlson about what he wanted musically or were you both on the same page from the beginning in terms what would be beneficial for the film?

NL: I think we both were generally on the same page, because we both are around the same age and love the 80s, but he did talk with me about the tone and I remember he sent me "Love On A Real Train" by Tangerine Dream as an indicator of what direction we'd be heading. However, he is very open-minded to ideas from his collaborators, too, which makes for a great creative experience.

Was it difficult or easier for you to find a tone for that music that you wrote for the film right away or did that take some time for you to come up with themes you were comfortable using?

NL: I must say, as for the tone and the thematic ideas, it came rather quickly in this case. It seemed very natural. I was drawing on my own personal memories of the 80s while meeting with the requirements of the film, too. Then applying all of that takes time, but the inspiration was there.

Was there anything specific that you immediately connected with within the film that made you say “I have to have a theme based around this scene”?

NL: Not so much based on a scene, but the atmosphere of the roller rink (which I spent a lot of time at growing up), was so dead-on. And the way the Harris family got on with each other and how there family was structured, so to speak; I knew friends at the time that had that sort of home-life. The shots of the Ferris wheel, too. Very evocative. Those were three things I remember specifically. There were others, I'm sure.

Was there a particular character or characters that you just felt just right writing the music for in particular?

NL: It wasn't so much that the characters had themes -- more like underscores for certain scenarios or situations or the general tone of a moment that relates to another one. I did very much like scoring moments with Mary, the mother. I remember specifically a cue I wrote for a scene where she is walking from her car in slow motion, she's struggling with her alcoholism and she's going to meet her children for the last time for a while... The way the music played against the picture there, I'm quite happy with that.

Did you use an orchestra for the score?

NL: All of the music was composed, produced and performed by me. There wasn't an orchestra -- a lot of synths, guitar and string samples.

How much music did you write for the film?

NL: I wrote about 40 minutes of music for the film.

What was your favorite track that you wrote for the score and why?

NL: It's always hard for me to pick favorites... I do love The Hellacious Tale of Mary Part II very much. There something so 80s-cinema to me about it what with the synths and the acoustic guitars and harps playing together. It's again a very evocative color combination. I also love the track The End Of An Era & Finale. There's something very tragic and very nostalgic about it for me.

Howlin’ Wolf Records has released your soundtrack for the film. Please tell the readers how the album was assembled and what made you decide to put on the CD together the way you did?

NL: I had met Zach Tow, an executive producer at Howlin' Wolf, at a party that composer Christopher Young was putting on. I was just composing the score at the time. Later, when the movie premiered, he was in the audience and heard the work, remembered that we had met before and asked about doing a release. It was great. I was very flattered and had a great experience with them. As far as the way the album was put together, that was handled by the label. They did a beautiful job.

What’s the thought process that you go through that makes you decide what pieces of score the film end up on the album? Do you want it to have a flow for listenability sake?

NL: You definitely want it to have a flow. The nice thing was about this record in particular is, the way the tracks sound on the album is pretty much how they sound in the film. Also, in the case of Soldiers, there wasn't a ton of score in the film, so we wanted to get it all on there. I re-arranged the score/track order slightly for the album experience, but that was about the only change.

Where there any tracks that you kind of lament leaving off the album?

NL: No, we didn't leave anything off.

How long is the album?

NL: The score is around 35 minutes I believe and then there are some great songs from Daily Bread and Gliss. I think all together it's close to an hour.

Do you think your fans will enjoy the album?

NL: Of course it's my hope people enjoy the album and tell their friends. It's a very listener-friendly album. Fans of film music will enjoy it and people who might just like to listen to music in general, with no special love for film scores per se, will enjoy it, too.

You’ve also composed the music for several short films. Can you please share your experiences working on these films?

NL: Short films are interesting because the scope is entirely different. You're trying to say something in a short amount of time, so the format is different, so much is different. One film that stands out in particular is Minnesota Nice, by DAWNING director, Gregg Holtgrewe. That was a great little short and a lot of fun to work on.

Is it more difficult to write a score for a short film as opposed to “The Toy Soldiers” for example?

NL: The demands of every score are unpredictable, each one is different. Generally speaking, features are more work because they are much longer, so that would be the one constant I can mention.

What is the most fun you’ve had on a project so far?

NL: The Toy Soldiers was a lot of fun and DAWNING was a a wonderful experience all the way around. Those both stand out immediately.

Is there a score that you’ve written that you would love to see released one day?

NL: I'd like to see my score for The Lost Tree get released. I would also like to re-record my score for The Dreamless and release that (some of the samples of the day were really weak).

What is a score of yours that you would consider a personal favorite and why?

NL: Again, it's hard to choose favorites. I've been lucky to work on projects that require different kinds of scores, so I don't end up repeating my self every time. Toy Soldiers is definitely something I will always remember because if the period and it's personal meaning for me and the experience, DAWNING is another because the experience was wonderful; Gregg, the director, is a sharp and genuine guy. The response to that record was also good. There are special things to remember about each project over the years.

What has been the hardest project that you’ve worked on either as a composer that you reflect on as an experience that has made you become a better composer?

NL: A better composer? That is done by doing. "We learn by doing." A better Public Relations person (which composers also have to be)? I'd rather not name names regarding difficult experiences, but there have been some, yes.

Is there a composer that you feel has influenced or inspired your work so far in your career?

NL: A composer that I greatly admire, whose work has certainly inspired me is Elliot Goldenthal. I love his work. Michael Kamen, Shirley Walker, Jerry Goldsmith... How can we not be inspired by any of the masters of film music?

What makes you so passionate about writing for film?

NL: Writing for film is wonderful because you always collaborate with interesting people, you are afforded the opportunity to write all different kinds of music and you almost always have a deadline, usually one that's bearing down on you at breakneck speed, so you are forced to finish what you start and it teaches you to be quick and creative at the same time.

Do you have a dream project you would love to do?

NL: There are some concert works I would love to see finished and/or performed and recorded. I'd love to write and record something for film, too, with a large orchestra -- some high adventure, summertime film with a rollicking score. That would be fun! Ah, there's so much I want to do!

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects that the readers have to look forward to.

NL: I'm currently finishing a score for a feature called, Intruder. I will be scoring Erik Peter Carlson's next feature called, Wolf Mother. It's a crime, noir, thriller.

Thanks so much Nathaniel for granting me the time for this interview! I really appreciate it and I’m looking forward to your work in the future.

NL: Anytime! Thank you!

Special Thanks

Very special thanks go out to Nathaniel Levisay for his kind insight on the film and his score. Special Thanks also go to Zach Tow.

THE TOY SOLDIERS is now available on Video On Demand, HD Downloads and 4KUHD.

The Toy Soldiers Soundtrack Is Now Available from Howlin' Wolf Records

Cover of The Toy Soldiers Soundtrack now available on Howlin' Wolf Records
Cover of The Toy Soldiers Soundtrack now available on Howlin' Wolf Records | Source

© 2015 DANNY GONZALEZ

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