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HASSETT Brings a ‘Nerve’ Musician to Synthwave

Cinema’s influence on synthwave and its progenitors was pivotal to the formation of the genre about 15 years ago, with pioneers such as College’s Valerie Collective, French House project Kavinsky, and Miami Nights 1984 all creating modern sonic and visual interpretations of pop culture from their childhoods spent in the 1980s.

Fifteen years later, that’s getting the flip. Taylor Lipari-Hassett — who’s currently working as assistant to composer Rob Simonsen on the score for the upcoming Ghostbusters sequel — will release his first synthwave album, Los Angeles, under his HASSETT moniker this Friday. Lipari-Hassett has contributed memorable synth parts to Simonsen’s scores for Nerve and Fast Color, and his knack for colorful and catchy synth parts gets a full reading on this meticulously produced release. (Worth noting: Simonsen features on one of the Los Angeles numbers and single “Drive All Night,” featuring the talented MARKS on vocals, is one of the best synthwave numbers I’ve heard in years.)

Along with an affection for the synthwave style, what compelled the California native to dip into synth-driven nostalgia and record an album was an interest in creating music for music’s sake.

“I was always intrigued by synth-based music, and being able to write it for films is awesome,” Lipari-Hassett told Vehlinggo recently. “However, in scoring it’s still a supplemental art — the most important thing is to use music to help the story on screen.  I had been writing in this supplemental way for such a long time that I forgot what it was like to write music for music.”

In our exchange, conducted over email over the course of a week or so, we touched on a bunch of interesting topics: how he got into film music; how he ended up scoring parts of iOS; his RIAA gold record from a YouTube clip; his guiding songwriting principles; what to expect from Los Angeles; some synthwave artists he’s currently into;  and more. (The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and house style.)

Vehlinggo: Where did you grow up and what role did music play in your upbringing?

Taylor Lipari-Hassett: I grew up in the great suburban armpit of Fresno, California. My parents were both teachers, and had training in choreography and photography. The arts were very important to them, and they put my brother and me in lessons at an early age. In high school I played bass in a couple emo bands, and stayed up late making beats and electronic-based music in Ableton and Reason. I was obsessed with learning how to make music on a computer.

Before entering the film score world, I started producing beats and music for YouTube channels — some getting tons of streams and eventually earning a gold record. Totally unexpected. It’s been a crazy ride so far, and I’m very thankful for having supportive parents from the beginning.

Wait a second. Tell me more about the gold record! What beats did you do to get there? For whom?

Hahaha, oh man. It was for Nice Peter’s Epic Rap Battles of History, Justin Bieber vs Beethoven. It’s dated; I was young! I also worked on a bunch with Smosh & The Warp Zone. I never thought I’d get an RIAA record, let alone from a YouTube video. Super unexpected but very grateful. (Editor’s Note: The video, released in 2011, has racked up 99 million views so far.)

Before we dive into your synthwave project, I’d like to talk about film music. How did you get involved in working in the medium? Is Rob Simonsen the first composer you’ve worked with?

It all started with summer school. Between my first and second year of college, my mom found a University of California – Los Angeles extension course called something like “electronic music technology.” I really hated the idea of having to go back to school during the summer, but the course title and description were intriguing. I had loved making electronic-based music since high school.

I gave it a shot, and the teacher happened to be Joe Trapanese — he had started orchestrating for TRON: Legacy [with Daft Punk] around this time. A few years later I needed an internship to finish my degree, so I got in touch with Joe again and he kindly had me help at his studio. About a month later he said I should meet another composer he was friends with: Rob.

After we met I started splitting my internship time with Rob and Joe, which eventually led to being hired by Rob as his assistant. Seven years later and 20-something films delivered, here we are.

taylor lipari hassett rob simonsen
Taylor Lipari-Hassett is creating magical music. Photo by Keenan Reed.

What did you work on with Trapanese? 

He had me do a lot of tech organizing-related tasks, as well as chopping up percussion grooves and stuff like that. I started after Earth To Echo and potentially during The Crew. His longtime collaborator, Jason Lazarus, taught me a lot during this time.

What’s your role generally when working on films with Simonsen?

Man, the process changes every single time. He knows I do best at writing on the electronic sort-of synth-based projects — music that requires a lot of sonic detail and subtle changes over time rather than relying on “music school” chord changes.

It takes patience approaching a cue with a “less is more, make each sound really count” kind of direction, and I really enjoy working on those types of projects like Nerve, Fast Color, and Captive State. A classic task might be “take sketch 3 and tailor it for 2m12 [a cue from reel 2], maybe slow it down and thin it out, find a more interesting sound for the melody, and try it with less/no motors.”

Consistently on every film I’m usually conforming/revising cues to new picture edits, preparing everything for orchestrators/recording, and doing my best to make sure nothing slips through the cracks before delivering.

Taylor Lipari and his synths. Photo provided by Lipari.
Taylor Lipari-Hassett and his synths. Photo by Keenan Reed.

What do you like about the film music composition experience? Additionally, what are you most proud of from your work in this field?

I love how it really forces me to give it my best shot, even if I’m dreading working through a difficult cue. There are many days where writing a single note is so hard, but you have to deal with it and just go — otherwise you miss a deadline and potentially bring the whole team down. The most inspiring moments are when everyone involved in a film brings their best: the writer, director, editor, director of photography, composer… When that happens the film is usually received well, and it makes all of the difficult days worth it.

It’s crazy that by default a couple of my pieces are on every iPhone/iPad.

On the non-film side, I’m proud of being able to work on Apple projects like the iOS Photos “Memories” music. It’s crazy that by default a couple of my pieces are on every iPhone/iPad, and Tim Cook even used one of my tunes when presenting the feature at [the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference] a few years back. Totally wild.

How did you end up writing synthwave music and why? Were you always a fan? It seems like some forms of the genre are a natural extension of your synth work on films.

I was always intrigued by synth-based music, and being able to write it for films is awesome. However, in scoring it’s still a supplemental art — the most important thing is to use music to help the story on screen. I had been writing in this supplemental way for such a long time that I forgot what it was like to write music for music.

After seeing Drive and working on Nerve, I totally fell in love with the synthwave sound. These cool artists were taking the best musical techniques from the ‘80s/’90s and reworking it into an awesome modern way — creating music for music. Chromatics’ sync at the top of Drive is genius. I started there and kept discovering more and more layers and layers of “Fans Also Like” on Spotify. I live in downtown LA now, and when I’m driving home at night I still hear “Tick Of The Clock.” That song is the epitome of “less is more, make each sound really count.”

Who are some synthwave acts you enjoy?

I started with listening to tons of Robert Parker & Waveshaper — those two really got me excited about the genre. After watching Turbo Kid there were many months of Le Matos, [and then] College and other discoveries in the Valerie Collective.  Most recently it’s been D/A/D, Baldocaster, and the latest Droid Bishop album — SO GOOD — on repeat to name a few.

What are your guiding principles for songwriting and composition?

If it’s taking too much work to get an idea or sound to land, it’s probably not a good one. Set it aside and try something else for the time being. For film scoring I think it’s important to, unfortunately, keep your expectations very low with the unapproved music you’re proud of. In the beginning I’d be pumped about a version of a cue or ad, just for it to need a revision or rewrite. I now keep my approval expectation rate to 15 percent, and Rob says I’m “properly calibrated.” With the HASSETT project I really just want to make music that makes me excited.

hassett los angeles interview

What are your favorite things about recording Los Angeles? And what were some challenges?

The best parts were definitely jamming on 16-bar loops all night. I’d start away from a computer using my MPC to make a groove and send MIDI to the synths until something felt right. The hardest part was usually right after that — taking these loops and turning them into actual songs. It was so easy to just work on another idea instead of finishing something. Another challenge in the beginning was trying to find my voice again. It had been a really long time since I had written for just myself.

Los Angeles is about my experience living in this crazy ass town.”

What do you want people to get out of Los Angeles and your HASSETT project in general?

Los Angeles is about my experience living in this crazy ass town. Each song is named after a place or a time that’s important to me — they all have a story. “Colorado Blvd” is me arriving in Pasadena 12 years ago. “The Twenties” is the training montage [centered on my] learning under Rob for the greater part of my 20s. “080616” is the date I got married to my high school sweetheart. “9th & San Pedro” was the location of a crazy dark NYE techno party… and so on and so forth.

Right now my HASSETT project mostly has a nostalgic “synthwave” sound, but it might evolve from endless summer smiles to something else, still synth based. This is the music I enjoy creating in my own time, not to picture.

Los Angeles releases this Friday, Sept. 25, on streaming and download platforms, including Bandcamp.