Robyn, Brandy, and Celine Dion in Renaissance Style – Interview with “Rosaline” Composers Ian and Sofia Hultquist

20th Century Studios’ Shakespearean romantic comedy Rosaline is now streaming worldwide, telling the story of Romeo’s ex and her efforts to pry him back from Juliet. Among the film’s many highlights is the music, with Renaissance adaptations of contemporary pop ballads and a floating score by married collaborators Ian Hultquist and Drum & Lace, aka Sofia degli Alessandri-Hultquist. With the soundtrack now available from Hollywood Records, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ian and Sofia about taking on pop classics like Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” Enrique Iglesias’s “Escape,” Celine Dion’s “All By Myself,” and the very fitting fight song “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy and Monica. We also discuss the score recording sessions, assembling the soundtrack album, and where fans can hear their music next.

(Ian Hultquist, Hollywood Records, Sofia Hultquist)

(Ian Hultquist, Hollywood Records, Sofia Hultquist)

Alex: Congratulations on Rosaline, the music really makes a big impact. How did your professional relationship come about? Were you two paired for the Apple TV+ series Dickenson or did you submit yourselves as a duo?

Ian: Well, thanks for the kind words about the movie and the music. It was kind of funny because I'd actually worked with Karen Maine on her last film Yes, God, Yes. But I think originally we were both kind of being pitched separately for the film. I think Maggie Phillips, the music supervisor who we had worked with a bit on earlier film was like, "Wait, just have both of them together." That's kind of how it usually ends up whenever we do projects together, it's kind of by requests of the filmmakers and producers. We don't necessarily go out hunting for projects to do as a collaboration.

Sophie: Yeah. Which is how we're able to then also do things separately. It's like if you want us together, then you have to ask for us together. But for Dickinson it was the same thing where, I think they might have just been looking at us separately and then they were just like, "Well, this image just makes sense." Honestly, sonically, I don't think we could have done this movie without working on it with each other.

Alex: Rosaline is a period piece. You guys dig back into instruments that you don't hear in a lot of contemporary scores. How familiar were you with some of these instruments? What was the weirdest thing you had to pull out of an antique shop to bring into the score?

Sophie: We actually had the privilege of being able to record a lot of the Renaissance instruments live. We did need to do mockups. So it was definitely not easy to find virtual instruments to do these mockups accurately. The sound that we ended up getting for the score is so much richer and so much better than what we'd mocked up. I mean we really loved… Who doesn't love working with a harp harpsichord? It's so plucky and it's so distinctive.

Ian: And a real harp. Amazing harp player.

Sophie: And also a lute player, and you realize that playing lute is really hard. I think playing lute is much harder than playing guitar just because the technology and just the expertise wasn't there. Not that we had limitations, but we definitely learned more about lute playing, from having a lute player try to play our parts at the live sessions. We learned a lot about Baroque and Renaissance flutes for this and percussion, because of course they didn't have drum kit back then. They didn't have piano. So we worked within the constraints. And then added electronics and everything else on top of it.

Alex: You produced adaptations of popular songs for the film in addition to the score. How do you divide up the work? Is it 100% collaboration on both of those pieces?

Ian: I mean, everything on both sides we do together really. I think especially for the songs, it definitely takes both of us to make sure that we're doing it right. I think for scores, especially once you get into the groove of things, we have a little bit more relay where maybe Sophie takes over the desk for a while or I do vice versa. For the songs, it feels like a hundred percent we got to do this together, make sure it's right, got to serve the songs justice and make sure people like them.

Sophie: I think we both just have so much familiarity with it because of growing up when these songs were coming out. So I think that we just both hear… It's funny when you start talking to somebody and you're recreating a cover song, what elements you remember as being like, "Oh, this is an important…" In the Robyn song, there's like this [mimics rapid beat], which for me was such an important part and Ian said "wait, that's in the song?" And I was like, "Oh my god, it's such a big…" And then he pointed out something that I didn't remember was in the song. So having both of us on it was really important. So we didn't miss any nuance. We both play on everything. Ian's guitar playing and bass playing, and both of our synth playing and my vocals, they're just kind of on everything.

Alex: I'm a huge fan of Robyn and of Y2K pop. In the film, “Dancing On My Own” is played almost in the background and you don’t hear the full song, but I’ve had the pleasure of listening to the full track separately. When you were recording these, were you very cognizant of the fact that these will play differently for a soundtrack versus how they will be presented in the film? Or were you just recording them and handing them over to the director and letting them do what they want with it?

Ian: When we were producing them, we were kind of just doing them to be as strong as a song as it could be. Then we would just let the music editors worry about having to cut them down for the film. But for Robyn and Enrique Iglesias, those two covers, those are actually the first two things that we did for the film before we even wrote a note of score. Those were specifically written to be performed live on screen, or at least presented live on screen. So I think those two especially were very much true to form. We try to keep the instrumentation, everything very representative of what you're actually seeing happen. I think some of the other ones, we had a bit more freedom to exaggerate a bit more.

Sophie: Yeah. Those two tracks we needed to give the production enough time for them to play it on set and be able to get their shot. Also I think the Robyn song ended up in the end credits as well. So for them to be able to have… And we didn't know whether they were going to be reused or whatever. So we actually recorded them as complete songs. Then we knew that the rock set cover was going to be very short, but we still went ahead and I think did a verse and a chorus just because it was so much fun to work on. But yeah, we're excited that they're on the score because they'll be able to get a little bit more listen time.

Alex: You just brought up a good point that you were working on some of these songs before you ever approached the score. How much did the songs that were included impact the way that you approached the score?

Sophie: It was great that we got to do that because we were able to establish a sound and see what we could do, even in terms of what Karen the director would allow for us to do. So I think that it was really important and it helped us just develop a palette early on. So it was absolutely integral to the score.

Ian: Yeah. We wanted it all to feel as part of the same world.

Alex: Rosaline is launching globally (on Hulu in the US, Star+ in Latin America, Disney+ in other territories). Does the global audience factor into the song selection? Robyn is a little niche depending on where you are, Enrique Iglesias has a bigger following some places than others, while Celine Dion is a global phenomenon.

Ian: The songs were chosen by Karen Maine and Maggie Phillips, the music supervisor. So we weren't necessarily choosing which songs to go in. We were just trying to figure out the best way to represent them. And then it wasn't necessarily thinking about the audience, it was just like, what's really going to feel right for this film?

Sophie: Yeah. We also did a cover of “The Boy Is Mine,” but with a string quartet and harp which was really, really fun. I mean, I think it's less about appealing to a global audience and more appealing to a specific age group or nostalgia, which I think we’re the prime people of, because all those songs came out between high school, college, especially for me growing up in Europe, the Enrique Iglesias song was a worldwide hit. It was the prime age of Latinx influence pop. Then of course Robyn is just the eternal banger. But yeah, I mean, we are interested to see how it does and if the people resonate with the songs.

Ian: Yeah, it'll be really interesting to see what European audiences might think versus America.

Alex: What was the most special or surprising part of working on Rosaline for each of you?

Sophie: We thought that we were going to go in and do a 40-string ensemble and this big orchestral sound. The director actually really wanted something more intimate. So we ended up doing a really small sounding string ensemble, which varies between five to fifteen strings. So that's definitely something that we wouldn't have expected.

Ian: I'm really happy with how much we got to make it sound like us while still doing what's right for the story. I feel like it's a very interesting representation of what it sounds like when Sophie and I write together. And also just some of the extremes you got to go to musically. We really got to write some strong themes. Music really gets to be featured a lot in this film. A lot of times we write score, especially for TV, and it's underscore. It gets buried in the back. It's there, but you can't really hear it that well. And I feel like they did such a wonderful service to us. So really mixing it up and letting it shine through.

Alex: It adds so much to the romantic subtext of the whole story. I've talked to a couple composers who have written and recorded things during the pandemic. Did you get to have a traditional recording session on this or was everybody isolated and recording their parts separately?

Sophie: What was so incredible about this, and I think invigorating, validating, and just so much fun for us that we had three days to record in New York. So we flew out and we were in the room with the engineer and with the orchestrators and with all the players. We had three days to sit with our music and watch people play it. Everyone was mass and there was a very, very efficient testing policy and all of that. But we just had such a great time. We had forty people come in and out between our Renaissance ensemble and percussion and the strings and everything. I mean, it was great. So this is definitely one of the most collaborative scores or just kind of in person things we've done, even since then.

Alex: I'm looking forward to hearing the soundtrack. Did you each have a hand in selecting which pieces made it onto the album?

Ian: Almost all of them are there.

Sophie:  It's like a good long score. I was scrolling through the track listing, it's like 30 tracks.

Ian: I think if anything, the only challenging part was, because it's a comedy film, some of our cues end up only being like a ten second stinger or something like that. So we had to find some creative ways to combine some things together and make them longer pieces on the album. But I think almost everything we wrote is on that album.

Alex: That's very exciting. Are you able to talk about your future projects and where people who become fans of you through Rosaline can hear you both next?

Ian: I have season two of One of Us is Lying, coming out next week on Peacock. I'm working on Hannah Mark's new film, Turtles All the Way Down, which has been amazing. Sophie just had three movies come out.

Sophie: I had a movie called Summering that came out in theaters in August, directed by James Ponsoldt. I worked on a slasher film that takes place at an LGBTQ conversion camp called They/Them. We both had a movie come out called Look Both Ways on Netflix that we co-scored. Then I finished a horror movie for Lionsgate called Cobweb, released date TBD, but it's going to be really fun. Then I also had a record out in late spring, which I'm still playing shows on. So a lot of fun stuff.

Alex: I'm looking forward to checking all that out. It was a pleasure talking to you both. Thanks for your time.

The soundtrack to Rosaline is now streaming on all major music platforms. You can see Rosaline on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America, and Disney+ in all other territories.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).