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Biting into the Sound of ‘Night Teeth’ with Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist

There’s something truly special about those rare and magical nights that unexpectedly happen and never seem to end. Those nights where time seems to slow, conversations flow easily, and every song seems especially, perfectly curated. Offering more than just stories for future discussion, these nights have an unforgettable feeling and vibe that leave indelible marks on the memory. While a difficult feeling to authentically capture on film, director Adam Randall (I See You) does just that in the new Netflix original film, Night Teeth. Oh and there are vampires involved, too.

Taking place over one, dramatic night, Night Teeth centers around the unusual experience of a young college student named Benny (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). An aspiring and talented beat-maker, Benny looks to make a few extra bucks by moonlighting as a chauffeur with his brother’s company car. Unbeknownst to him, Benny’s two stunningly beautiful and mysterious clients for the night have big plans that involve much more than parties in the Hills. As these dark motivations become revealed, Benny soon finds himself in a sprawling, bloody cross-Los Angeles adventure that will shatter his worldview and leave his family eternally changed.

Hyperstylized from top to bottom, every single frame of Night Teeth absolutely drips with vision and intent. With a neon-drenched color palette, glamorous wardrobe choices, a diverse array of engaging locations and cinematography, Randall’s uniquely influenced world of vampire-human relations becomes executed to remarkable effect. Further strengthened by witty dialogue, heartfelt performances, and adrenaline-inducing action sequences, Night Teeth provides a genuinely fun, wild ride for the vampire film home enthusiast as well. However, none of these incredible stylistic choices would resonate as effectively if it weren’t for the film’s outstanding score from Drum & Lace (aka Sofia degli Alessandri-Hultquist) and Ian Hultquist. (You can stream the score now via your favorite platforms.)

Working alongside a refreshing group of modern insert songs, it is the score that truly breathes life into Night Teeth. Juxtaposing heavy synths, hip-hop inspired beats, distorted, processed sounds, and haunting vocals, Night Teeth stands as one of the most ambitious projects the composers have tackled to date. Unfolding like one long and well-curated mixtape, nearly every inch of the narrative becomes reinforced and supported with music. Intimately influenced by the characters and the geographic locations they visit throughout the film, the score becomes an impressive, ever-evolving auditory adventure that mirrors the characters and their literal journey through L.A.

With the recent premiere of Night Teeth, which has topped the Netflix charts, the time was perfect to (virtually) sit down to chat with both composers. On top of really biting into the music of Night Teeth, our conversation touches on their process, interpersonal creative dynamic, and their passion for the craft. A conversation that is as technically insightful and candid as it is revealing about their individual styles and strengths, it is easy to see why the pair are quickly becoming two of the most exciting and in-demand composers out there.

Vehlinggo: How did you first get turned on to the project and what was it that appealed to you?

Ian Hultquist: It was an interesting process because COVID played a big hand in it. I think I first got delivered a script for it at the end of 2019. My agent sent it to me and he was like, “Hey, I’m pitching you for this.” And I read it and was like, “Oh my God, I love this movie. Like, this could be so fun.” It just reminded me of so many other fun films from the late ’80s, early ’90s, like After Hours.

I also keep referencing that it reminds me of this old Jim Carrey movie, Once Bitten. I was just like, “I will do anything. I want to do this film.” And then, you know, it was quiet for a while. I think I finally met Maggie Phillips, the first music supervisor on the film, in February 2020. Now, as you can see, we’re getting to a certain calendar date. I think shortly after that, I spoke with the director Adam Randall and we had a great conversation… and then COVID hit. And it was radio silence for months and months.

Sofia Hultquist: You had also demoed and sent in some scenes at this point.

Ian: I did pitch a demo for it, so I got to see a little snippet of it and got to get a taste of what it might be.

Sofia:  And it kind of became this thing that, you know, every once in a while I’d be like, “Oh, have you heard anything about Night Teeth?” And then they finally came back to Ian.

Ian: Yeah, that would have been February 2021. So, earlier this year, they finally came back and said, “We want you and Sofia to score it together. Please say yes.” And we were just like, “OK!”

Sofia: And essentially, I’d been hearing so much about it, and at that point, they then started sharing more and it seemed like such a fun project to be part of — and also for us, such a level up of what we could do sonically, and just in general. We were so excited.

So when you finally got that official green light in February, at what stage of production were they in? Were you able to pretty much score to picture?

Ian: Yeah, they had filmed most of it. When the shutdown happened they still had like, three or four weeks left of filming to do. But I think in October of last year they were able to finish that out. So it was actually in a really good place. They were just kind of fine-tuning the edit. We got presented with a whole film, basically.

This movie is incredibly stylized and just absolutely dripping with a vision. That immediately makes me curious about how involved the director, Adam Randall, was with the score. What were those early conversations like with him regarding the film’s musical direction?

Sofia: One of the great things about working with Adam is that he definitely knows what he wants. He also is pretty clear about what he doesn’t want. However, that was a little bit more of an exploratory kind of collaboration that we had to do, just because I feel like some people don’t know what they don’t want until they hear it. And then they’re like, “Oh no, that’s not what I want.” But we knew that he wanted a score that was very beat-influenced. He told us that he was a big fan of old hip-hop and, you know, whether it was MF Doom or somebody else very classic, he still wanted this to feel fresh and more contemporary.

He’s also a fan of electronic music. So, we knew that we could go synths. And, as you probably heard, we went very synths. The other thing that he brought up, which I feel like is such a great way of describing things, is that he wanted it to play out like a big mixtape, between our score and the needle drops. This was exciting because, of course, it meant that we got to write a lot of music, but it was also overwhelming because it ends up being 70 minutes of score and the movie is just wall-to-wall music. But I think this idea of having a very, very produced score that could stand on its own was really what he had envisioned and you know, he was able to help us really achieve that.

“[Director Adam Randall] wanted it to play out like a big mixtape, between our score and the needle drops.”

Ian: He pushed us creatively to make a score that was very bombastic and pronounced and to mesh genres to varying degrees.

Sofia: Yeah, and propulsive. He also wanted the beats to be really big and fat, you know? So, I think we definitely, hopefully, achieved that.

night teeth soundtrack

I recently chatted with Sara Goodman, the showrunner on I Know What You Did Last Summer, which you also scored, and she said one of her favorite parts about working with you both is the sense of place your music gives to a project. For that, it was the sound and feel of Hawai’i. However here in Night Teeth, it really takes this idea to the next level as the characters visit a variety of locations around Los Angeles. Talk a little bit about that and how you worked these different parts of L.A. into the music. 

Ian: Once people see it, they’ll know what we’re talking about. It’s a very L.A.-based movie, where we’re traveling through different neighborhoods of the city throughout the film. We had the idea where Beverly Hills might sound like this, and Venice might sound like this, but what really began to happen was that our music was being more informed by who was in those places. So when we go to Beverly Hills, we meet this ridiculous Liberace-type film producer person and he’s really informing what our music is sounding like there. And then the same thing when we get to Venice and we meet Rocco, who really embodies Venice pretty well actually. [Laughs] He’s kind of like a surf-rock type dude. So that’s really what happened. Our music traveled with the story.

Sofia: Yeah. Even something like “Jay’s Theme” — I wouldn’t listen to it and be like, “Oh, this is Boyle Heights.” We didn’t want to really go in that direction of getting too attached to portraying cultural elements and all of that. So it’s more his vibe within his neighborhood as the strong figure. And the same with Benny — if there’s all of the music for all of the neighborhoods, then Benny is kind of like this happy cloud floating above them. That was a challenge in itself, too. Because with all the other neighborhoods, everything could be so dark, as it’s this underbelly-of-the-city type of thing. Whereas Benny had to be this, and what the director would reference a John Hughes-type character.

I’m so glad you mentioned Benny, because his character is really just so wonderful and he does seem to have his own particular sound. When it comes to his sound, how does it evolve throughout the film to mirror his journey?

Sofia: That’s a really good question.

Ian: So, we’re first introduced to Benny with our opening credit montage. And, that was actually a big moment for us to figure out, because it had to have the right tone — not be too dark — and have the right energy since it’s a long sequence. It also introduces Benny as a character who is, like Sofi said, this happy-go-lucky guy who has a really strong tie to Boyle Heights and the kind of music that comes out of there.

I think we started in one place, but what happens is as the story unfolds Benny becomes the hero of the film. I mean, from day one he is the hero of the film, but he earns that title more and more as the film continues. And, I think our music becomes a bit more grand and cinematic along with him.

Sofia: And I don’t necessarily think his theme changes. I think it’s more that his theme gets kind of woven into the themes of the other characters he interacts with. Very much the same way that his character does in the film overall. So I think that by the end, it’s just a different version of Benny as influenced by his wild night.

Ian: And that was an interesting thing when we were figuring it out, too. Actually, Adam was like, “Hey, what’s Benny’s theme?” And we were like, “Well, he has a sound, but there’s no moment really for Benny’s them,e because he’s always with these other people.”

Sofia: Yeah, he’s literally always in it.

Ian: The story is him always interacting. But I think we did find moments as we went throughout to really kind of have a bit of a highlight for his theme here and there. Especially toward the end, there are some big moments.

night teeth netflix soundtrack score
Debby Ryan (left) and Lucy Fry co-star in ‘Night Teeth’ on Netflix.

That’s so interesting and it makes a lot of sense now. While he doesn’t have a traditional melody per se, it’s more a vibe and how that vibe plays off the other characters. 

Ian: Yeah, we mainly used a certain chord progression and a certain rhythm to represent him.

Sofia: There was also an instrument that we used that was really only Benny’s instrument.

Ian: Yeah, Benny’s synth.

The character of Victor also seemed to have a very different, very interesting sound. As the “big bad” in the film, he had a lot of really dark, interesting, and hard-to-pin-down music that accompanied his presence on screen. 

Sofia: Well, the Victor theme was something that came from Ian’s original demos.

Ian: Yeah, that weird distorted vocal loop I’d used in the original demo when you meet Victor. Then when it came time to actually work on a film, I really wanted to keep it in there. Thankfully, we were able to add it in. It’s kind of funny how it gets peppered in here and there. It’s never quite as at the forefront as I originally thought it might be, but I think it works for the best. It’s almost creepier when you just kind of feel the weird chanting vocals in the background. We spent a lot of time mixing and processing those sounds…

“How do we grunge things up tastefully?”

Sofia: … And working on the beats. For me, it was a new level of working on beat-making. When you do it for yourself it’s one thing, because you’re writing what you want. But when it’s supporting picture, there were some moments where there had to be some programming that was more than what we’ve done. But it would be in line with producing a record for someone else. That’s kind of how it felt.

I also feel like Ian’s production skills and mixing skills on this really stepped it up. And then for me, it was the first time that I was a little bit more heavily using a modular synth in a score. So there’s a lot of that in this. I think we just pushed ourselves to make something sound as crisp and modern as possible, while still maintaining character. Because that’s always the hard thing, you know? The crisper you go, the less identity things have. It had to be a balance.

Ian: It’s a lot of, “How do we grunge things up tastefully?”

While you both worked on this project together, you also work on projects individually. How do you decide if a project is going to be a joint venture or a solo gig?

Ian: Honestly, it’s usually by request. Like for example, for Night Teeth originally, I was pitched for it as just me. It continued to be just me until someone somewhere was like, “Wait a second. We’d love to have Sofia on this as well.” And then they approached us saying, “We want both of you.”

Sofia: For Good Girls, it was the same thing. For Dickinson, I think they might have been seeking out a woman composer, so they might’ve gone the other route slightly. But yeah, most of the time I feel like it’s how we get approached rather than us making a decision. Because ultimately I think that Ian and I still really appreciate doing our own thing. Just because stylistically, we’re different composers — but I do think that works really well when we come together.

Ian: We try and keep the ones that we do together specific, and there’s been a lot lately. We are also trying to be a bit mindful about what we want to do. Because with a film like Night Teeth, it’s like five months together working every day on it. Plus, three or four other projects happening at the same time on top of that. It becomes a lot of time spent in this room together.

Sofia: You mean the last seven months?

Ian: Yeah. [Laughs]

I have to imagine that, just like any sort of relationship, it’s important to still have your own space; both creative and physical. 

I: Yeah. We actually have two studios. This is the main one that we’re in when we work together, but Sofi has her own in the building right behind here.

When you are working together on something, what is it about the other person that makes them a great creative collaborator? Like, what are they bringing to the metaphorical table that you love? Or, what is something about the other person’s process that you really admire?

Ian: That’s a great question. I think Sofi’s drum programming is phenomenal. I can never do what she does when it comes to that. She’s always finding unique ways to express stuff in film and in music. She’ll always go for something or an instrument or use a pad a certain way that I would never really think to. So, she really thinks outside the box more than I do sometimes and I really appreciate that.

“Sofi’s drum programming is phenomenal.”

Sofia: I think for me it’s the exact same thing — but I very much feel like Ian has a great sense of melodic and chordal structuring that comes from being an extremely big film music fan. And he’s such a big film lover in general that I think he just has this kind of mind catalog of being able to make things sound a certain way, like in a good way.

So you know, if I’m throwing out weird stuff all over the place, he’s the person who can reel it in and be like, “Now it’s like a cue.” Because I feel like very often it’s really easy to get super experimental and to kind of go that route, but then I think that Ian’s love and knowledge of film and film music shapes it.

Also, Ian’s mixing skills and production skills are great. The amount of plug-ins that Ian is deep into is way beyond my area of expertise. So, I think that that’s how we complement each other; where Ian’s reeling it in and then also just having different skillsets. And Ian’s a really great keyboard player and he’s a guitar player, which I’m absolutely not, so those skills also really help us.

Outside of film music projects, you both also have a lot of experience working on more personal music and artistic projects. Pardon the verbosity, but how does that feed your creative soul differently? What kind of different creative itch does that scratch for you?

Sofia: For me, it’s extremely important. I feel like it gives me a sense of self and it establishes me as an artist independently of film, which I think for me is really important to be able to stand alone with my sound and my musical output.

I think at this point it’s also helping, because when people do come to hire me or hire us, they know what to expect. Because, I feel like I put myself out there as an artist both sonically and visually. So I think it’s just very helpful for people to know what they’re going to get.

And I see this all the time in meetings and stuff with people where they’re like, “Oh, what kind of stuff do you want to work on?” And I guess the standard answer for composers and actors is “I’ll do anything!” And for me I’m very specific about what I know I’m good at. And I definitely know that writing like John Williams is not what I want to be doing right now.

So I think being an artist and having my own creative stuff helps fulfill that. And also, working on film and TV, you’re fulfilling someone else’s vision and you’re following someone else’s roadmap, which is fantastic because it’s a whole different way of being a medium with music. But, being able to create my own thing is super vital to me. Which I can’t believe that during these last seven months of mayhem I was also able to work on a record, which is coming out early next year.

I love that you just called film scoring being a “medium of music.”

Sofia: [Laughs] In a way, it’s like we just absorb things and then create something out of nothing in a way, right?

Ian: Yeah. I obviously don’t do as much band world stuff as I used to, but I still do some producing here and there with certain bands. I like it because I love collaborating with people and I think that’s why I like working with Sofi on projects. Because otherwise, it can be very isolating when, especially the last year or so, if we’re on these projects, everything’s being done through email and I’m just in this room by myself. So whenever I get the chance to work with other musicians it’s exciting! I learn from them — maybe they learn from me, too — but it pushes me to be creative and opens my brain up a bit to think about things a little differently, which I always need.

Sofia: And Ian’s such a sensitive and intuitive person that I think people are drawn to working with him. He always does a really good job.

Ian: Aw, thanks.

Sofi: Yeah. [Laughs]

I can’t believe I’ve never asked a composer or a musician this, but how do you combat writer’s block? It seems like we always hear about writers or artists turning to music to help them, but what if music is what you’re trying to write? How do you work through that? 

Ian:  You run out of this room as fast as possible. [Laughs] Yeah, we both definitely get it for sure — a lot of the time. It’s so easy to get burnt out, especially when you’re running multiple projects at once.

Sofia: And also when you get too stuck on temp music, which is something that we try to not listen to. We listen to temp music enough to know what the director, producers, and the filmmakers want to go for. That’s kind of a slippery slope when you get too tied to that.

Ian: Honestly, doing anything but thinking about music usually helps—going for a walk, making food, getting groceries, any mundane task which kinda gets my mind out of it a little bit.

“Sometimes you just have to write a bunch of stuff that really kind of sucks.”

Sofia: Honestly sometimes, as our friend said — I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, “The best way through is through.” Sometimes you just have to write a bunch of stuff that really kind of sucks. You just have to write stuff and be like, “Oh my God, I’m the worst.” And just start over and over and over. Then, something will click and you’ll be like, “All right, I’m back!”  That’s really the hard way, because you definitely have to fall out the bottom of the creek to then climb back up.

Ian: I guess it depends on which kind of block you’re experiencing, because there are different ways to get through them. One of them is to just keep hitting the nail until it goes in, and the other one is to dissolve the nail and just walk away for a while.

Sofia: The nice thing is that I feel like the writing block doesn’t happen as much when we work on projects together, just because there are two people — two minds working on something. I think that if one person’s experiencing some writer’s block, the other person can jump in and then you get inspired from that. But hopefully, we don’t run into much of that coming up. Knock on all the woods.

Night Teeth is now streaming on Netflix. The score is out now via Sony. You can also check out more of Ian and Sofia’s work in I Know What You Did Last Summer, now streaming on Amazon Prime, and One of Us Is Lying is on Peacock. 

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