Untapped recently sat down with Nicholas Britell, a film composer who has written music featured in two of Natalie Portman’s directorial pieces, including New York, I Love You and Eve. With a background in classical and hip-hop (yes it’s possible), we had a feeling Nick would know exactly what is cool in New York these days. His music can be found on iTunes and he’s given Untapped exclusive streaming of the music from New York, I Love You and Killer, which was screened at the HBO New York International Latino Film Festival.
Untapped: Composing for New York, I Love You and Eve, was a great opportunity. How did you get into the film business?
Nicholas: I’ve always been pretty obsessed with film and TV music. I love everything from John Williams to the MacGyver theme”¦which, by the way, is fantastic. My first actual entry into the world of film was in college. Some friends of mine were making documentaries and one friend made a feature film. Those days, I was spending a lot of time playing keyboard in an instrumental hip-hop band. Since most of my time was spent making music, I figured why not spend even more time. So I agreed to score their films — it seemed like a fun thing to do.
Untapped: What is your background in music ?
Nicholas: I’ve been playing the piano for the majority of my lifetime. I studied classical piano at Juilliard in the Pre-College Division and have been performing since I was very young. My first public concert was when I was 10. I was that kid who would always play piano in the school recitals! [laughs] Although my formal training was classical, I’ve spent a lot of time playing hip-hop and jazz. For a while, I was a cocktail pianist too, in hotels and bars. At Harvard, I studied psychology and became fascinated with neuromusicology, the study of how the brain understands and experiences music. So I’ve covered a lot of different bases.
Untapped: What are your major influences?
Nicholas: I would say Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, and Philip Glass are some of my deepest classical influences. I also love Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin and, in hip-hop production, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, Kanye West, and, of course, the man, the myth — Dr. Dre. One of the things I’m most fascinated with is the interplay between classical music and hip-hop. In much of my music I’m trying to figure out ways to bring these two genres closer together.
Untapped: You seem to be the arbiter of cool shit — what events and things do you look out for in New York City?
Nicholas: Ha! Can I put that on my business card? [laughs] I do think that music in New York is really undergoing a renaissance right now. Especially in the world of instrumental/classical music, I feel there are more active young composers and talented players than ever before. As far as cool shit…For awesome jazz and a great meal, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Time Warner Center is fantastic. And if you’re looking for classical music with your liquor, check out Le Poisson Rouge (which is basically a rock club where people play every genre of music imaginable). Up-and-coming groups like The Knights (co-founded by Eric and Colin Jacobsen, who play in Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project) and The Academy Ensemble (of Carnegie Hall) are full of spectacularly talented young musicians. I’m also a big fan of private house concerts. I think that everyone should get more involved in hosting music concerts — if you contact a band or group of musicians, a lot of musicians are really eager to do it. There is nothing better than enjoying live classical music while sipping on a cocktail in the comfort of your home. Oh, and if you haven’t read it, you must read The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross. Trust me.
Untapped: What’s up next?
Nicholas: I’ve done quite a bit of work in New York City, and now I’m beginning to go out to Los Angeles more often. I’m also excited to begin collaborating with the very talented violinist Tim Fain on a couple of different projects. Tim is working with Philip Glass on his new Partita for Solo Violin. He was also the violinist playing in the film Black Swan. And I’m going to finally check out Woody Allen playing clarinet at the CafÃ© Carlyle!
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.