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L.A. TAKEDOWN Film world

If you’re into your movies and 80s music, you’ll quickly take a liking to Los Angeles-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Aaron M. Olson, who is marrying his love of film scores and rock with his band L.A. Takedown. OLIVIA SENIOR spoke to Olsen about pop culture, the writing process and his ideal project, ahead of the release of L.A. Takedown’s new album II this week.

Beginning as a home recording project and almost an experiment looking towards scoring for film, L.A. Takedown eventually took off and assembled into a live band. The first release was in 2015, a 40-minute track which has now led to II. Featuring the full band of keyboardists Ryan Adlaf and Jonah Olson, guitarists Miles Wintner (Girlpool) and Stephen Heath (Paul Bergman), drummer Mose Wintner and bassist Jessica Espeleta (Weird War, Love as Laughter), it was produced by Shane Stoneback (Sleigh Bells, Cults, Vampire Weekend) at a home studio in Van Nuys, California, a process that may have included a few too many Columbo episodes, and one Olson enjoyed so much he wants to do it all over again.

When and how did you start playing music?

I started playing music when I was about 10. My uncle played bass and I always like music a lot and he started teaching me and my brothers some bass lines on our guitars and that was the beginning of it, and, I just kind of kept taught myself from there listening to a lot of rock music.

And what inspired you to start writing these scores?

Well L.A. Takedown isn’t technically scores because it’s not in any movies yet but I’ve always just loved film and cinema and it’s been my goal probably since I was a teenager to score films and it’s a pretty tough racket to get into. I also like playing rock music and I worked out a way I could sort of do both in one project, marry my love of cinematic scores and songs together.

What is the songwriting process usually like?

It will usually start with just one element like maybe a bass riff or like a drum beat or something that comes to my mind that I like, and then like a cord progression and just kind of build it up into something I like and try to take it to other places and other movements.

I can imagine it could get quite crazy…

Ah yes, well I mean the first album I put out was like 40-minutes long essentially and that just kept going, you know. I had an idea and then it became another thing and I was like ahhhh, and this goes here and this goes here, I can tie this theme back in later and it snowballed into this.

So this 40-minute video started as an experiment to film scoring?

No, L.A. Takedown really started in 2010. My old friend from college who makes our music videos (and we’re like best friends) was making some videos, like little 10 minute crime comedy things and he wanted some music for it so he asked me to do something in this kind of style that L.A. Takedown is. So I started by scoring those, then it turned into a live band, it just kind of took off.

The 40-minute videos thing was, yeah I mean that was kind of like an experiment. I did the music first, and then saw it like ‘it would be cool to just have a really singular visual thing that makes the viewer listening have to be patient and listen’, and so we shot like 10 sunsets that were about 40-minutes long from different parts of LA and then just synced them up to the song. My friend Matt who does our music videos edited a bunch of sunsets and other clips into like this L.A sunset 40-minute experimental thing.

I did see that one, I’m not going to lie I didn’t watch the whole 40-minutes!

It’s 40 mimutes long, I don’t expect you to. I know how people listen to music nowadays and you know you might be at work and you could pull up the song and there will be this sunset video, you like minimise the screen or something and the you come back to it 5-minutes later and it’s like ‘oh, the sun is quite lower now’. Yea I don’t actually expect people to watch all of them.

Do you have an ideal listener?

No, everyone’s welcome. I guess people who appreciate the more instrumental music and appreciate the same kind of music I like because that is kind of the basis for this band. But I mean in general, like I hope everyone likes it.

When you release the new album in May is there a certain way you’d like somebody to listen to it?

I prefer people to listen to it at a high volume, very loud, I think it just sounds better. Really really happy with the production with it. The guy who recorded it, Shane Stoneback did an amazing job. 

Yeah I read that you worked with Shane, what was that like?

It was awesome, he was fantastic. Worked out really well. We like really clicked, him and the band got along super well and it was, yea, we spent a lot of time mixing with him too. It turned out we both really liked Columbo, you know just little things.

I think a great film score creates nostalgia, I’ve been listening to your music recently and it does, how do you create nostalgia in your music?

First of all, that’s cool thanks, I’m glad that’s what it’s doing. I don’t know if I’m aware that I’m doing that but I have a tendency (I’ve noticed) through all the music I’ve made to sometimes hit certain tones or moods that I think blend themselves to a little touch of bitter sweet or something.

That’s what I’m trying to do, I don’t know how I do it. Certain cord progressions maybe, and like you know, using my familiarity with film scores and getting queues from that and just like taking queues from the past maybe. Those things that are kind of engrained in me at this point.

You said in an article that ‘we’re inundated with pop-culture’ – talk me through that.

I guess the music reflects, well I’d like to think, reflects styles of music that have come and gone. Also I’ve just seen so many films, like everyone has, and we just become familiar with the language of music and films even if we’re not paying attention to it. It’s just something we’ve grown up with. And I think that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to get across in this music without visual images, and I think it’s the thing that’s kind of engrained in us and maybe that’s where some of the nostalgia feeling comes from.

I’ve seen in the latest album you’ve been influenced by people like John Carpenter, Jan Hammer, Tangerine Dream; lots of synth and rock which is your style… What else do you listen to?

I definitely don’t just listen to film scores or like 80’s music. I make other music too that isn’t in this style. Lately I’ve been listening to like a lot of Archie Shepp and I don’t think L.A. Takedown sounds anything like Archie Shepp. I like jazz in general, which is not reflected in this music so that might be a surprise. I love Burt Bacharach, there’s a lot of things that maybe wouldn’t be obvious given the influences on this band.

Tell me about the Music Tracing Ensemble, how did you come up with that?

I came up with that. My wife is from Idaho, a very rural area in the woods and we went and spent a month there in the snow. I had a lot of time to work on music and I’m a big fan the Steve Reich piece Music for 18 Musicians, and the band The Residents; they have an album called ‘The Third Reich ‘n Roll’. They basically traced over all these pop songs but made it into this noisy, almost punk thing and I thought ‘that’ll be a cool thing to try’. They’re kind of non-musicians also and I liked it, I was like what, I’m a professional musician I should try really hard to do that and see where it goes. So I tried it. It’s an hour long and I recorded over it 18 times for each musician and I had like 18 tracks of chaotic tracing. I took the original song out and so I was very happy with how that turned out. About a year later I wanted to try and do that live. I figured out a way to do that which was the first Tracing Ensemble performance. I sound checked the band with a Bob Dylan song and I really liked the way that sounded. It occurred to me that I could just do this with anything, and so, I kept doing shows with this ensemble and keep enjoying it so I keep doing it.

That also sounds pretty crazy.

Yea it’s interesting, I mean the result of it kind of sounds like the Simpsons elementary school band playing The Beatles, or like The Shaggs playing The Beatles. It’s kind of off but in a really delightful way.

Can I listen to it somewhere?

I have it on my own band-camp page https://aaronmolson.bandcamp.com.

There’s a bunch of shows.

What else do you do other than music?

I work also, like a day job and stuff. I used to skateboard a lot but then I herniated a disc in my back. It really sucked, but it’s on the mend but I haven’t skateboarded in like a year now but that was something I did outside of music.

Do you have a dream project and what’s next for L.A. Takedown?

Well I hope what’s next is actually touring, I’d like to play our music for a lot of people and hopefully recording another album, hopefully with Shane again.

A dream project would be scoring a fantastic movie, that would be great.

Hopefully we can see you in Australia one day…

I’d love to go to Australia, it looks amazing. I’ve never been.

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