1. I first wanted to take the time and thank you for doing this interview with me today. For our readers who haven’t heard of you yet, can you tell us about yourself? Who have been your major influences in your writing style?

It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me. I’m a composer primarily working in film and fashion based in Los Angeles. There have been many influences in my style, some of the earliest being the ballet music of Tchaikovsky and the film music of James Horner. Beyond that, everything from Bernard Herrmann to Trent Reznor, Penderecki to Jonny Greenwood, Sigur Ros, Skrillex.

  1. Let’s talk about what you currently have going on. Any new music or new tours in the works? If you were to say one song of your own perfectly sums up what you are all about which song would that be? ( Please attach any link for public use )

    I’m currently working on a piano album with concert pianist Christopher McKiggan that is a new take on the traditional ‘solo piano album’. It’s been an ongoing project for several years and we’re finally quite close to the end so can’t wait to share! I’d probably say the Journey East suite is pretty close to home for various reasons.

  2. When you write any new music, can you tell us what the process is like? Describe to us what happens in a typical writing session.

    For me, the music always starts with characters and therefore either someone else’s story/script or perhaps my own. It’s the exploration of character and most importantly the arc of the story that propels the piece for me though more recently I’ve tried an exercise with myself where I try to just go by pure instinct and see where that takes me. It’s pretty challenging though for me as I need an anchor and for me that anchor is always character and story. A typical writing process for me would start with a conversation with the director or collaborator I’m working with. I want to hear about their thoughts, their sense of storytelling, their own influences etc. and usually from that first conversation, and/or reading the script, I’ll immediately have ideas whether musically or perhaps just sonically of the kinds of colors I feel would compliment or co-exist within that world. I then start writing these long musical pieces (suites) that usually follows roughly the arc of that story. The suite for me is very important. It’s like writing a treatment for a script. It gives you a general sense of arc and color palette and most importantly it documents my first impressions on any given project which comes in very handy when you’ve worked on it for a long while. Inevitably you loose some of that first spark after a period of time so I use that first suite as a home base to come back to.

  3. With the music industry always changing and evolving, what are the things you like and don’t like about it? What aspects of the industry do you feel have hurt or helped your career? If you could change anything about it, what would it be?

    I’ve always straddled music and film, though I feel myself more cemented within the film industry, so I’ll comment more on that. I think here in ‘Hollywood’ there is a strong tendency to go with storytelling models that have worked before, same structure, same character archetypes, etc. and obviously there is an over indulgence in building franchises these days. I tend to prefer films that can stand on its own two feet and have a singular, unique point of view. Filmmakers such as Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, David Fincher are some of my favorites for that reason. Personally I’ve always sought out independent and foreign filmmakers to work with and within this incredibly connected world we now live in, I’ve found that possibility to work out very well for me. Naturally, it’s still incredibly important, especially on larger projects, to be in the same room, in the same city etc. but I think it’s opened a lot of doors for international collaboration. If I could change anything within the industry here, I’d bring back creative heads of studios that can find and nurture new and interesting projects like Robert Evans did with Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown.

  4. Do you have any side projects? If so, what are they?

    Over the past few years I’ve returned to my childhood love of literature and have been working on a novel for several years now set in the present day sociopolitical turmoil in my home country of Thailand leading up to and after the military takeover of 2014.

  5. When you’re performing how do you handle any mistakes on stage if they ever happen? Do you have any stories that stand out to you that you had to make a memorable recovery?

    I rarely perform live anymore but when I did it was more in the classical realm (piano). Messing up Bach or Beethoven is pretty hard to recover from but you just have to keep calm and move forward. In the end I think it’s the passion and emotional communication that counts most which is something I feel a lot of young classical musicians in particular seem to forget or overlook. Technique is obviously important but I’ve seen far too many performances of rigid recitation that is completely boring and uneventful. If I had to pick, I’d rather a performer communicate something new, something unique and personal with the piece, otherwise why perform? There are many great recordings of almost every piece already in existence. If you’re going to do it, bring something personal to it.

  6. How do you decide which songs go into a set when you perform live? Do you change up the sets or stick to a regular set list? Do you have any covers?

    A few years ago I performed a set with Chris, the pianist I’ve been working with, and it took us a while to figure out which pieces to perform and what order it should go in. In the end, I rely on the basis of storytelling and what kind of arc I’d like to take the audience through. I haven’t done enough elongated performances to tell you whether I’d change the sets or stick to a regular set list but my gut tells me I’d probably switch it up at some point just to keep it interesting and fresh. I wouldn’t say I have any covers no. Not to perform live anyhow (I’ve worked on a few for various film projects).

  7. If you had a choice to perform with any act, which tour would you pick and why?

    Max Richter or Sigur Ros. I love their sound and I think it’d be very interesting to put together a set that would pair up with them, not sound alike, but compliment like a nice balance of sweet and sour in a well tuned dish.

  8. Do you have any advice for any upcoming artists? What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you when you realized you wanted to be a musician?

    The novelist Ian McEwan said, as have many others, that to be a writer one must read. The great screenwriter and playwright John Logan said that your responsibility as an emerging artist is to know where you belong in the continuum of your art, which is from the beginning of your art. I think these are some of the best advice anyone thinking about pursuing the arts can get. For a musician, listen and learn to everyone from Monteverdi and Buxtehude to Stravinsky, Mahler, the Rolling Stones, Trent Reznor and Deadmau5. There is no hierarchy, no better or worse form of music, but a horizontal line through time starting from the most early music to the present day and being engaged and aware of the shifts and changes not just within music, but within society, culture and how that has influenced and changed art over the decades and centuries is vital for any artist. I would also say, most importantly, don’t limit yourself to only studying your craft. Listen, read and engage with people from other crafts, other art forms as well. This alone has been a constant source of inspiration for me. Hearing architect Peter Zumthor speak about his approach to designing the thermal baths in Vals for example gave me a spark of inspiration I’d been looking for on a project I was writing a while back. I think too often nowadays we cloister ourselves into these small communities of like-minded artists pursuing more or less the same kind of thing which is fine but ultimately is a bit incestuous. Art is about seeing the world through a new lense and how better to do that than by engaging with someone passionate in a craft different from your own, who comes from a point of view different from the ones you are used to. 

  9. Any last words?
Something that’s taken me almost ten years to realize is while learning craft is one thing, getting the opportunity to find your ‘voice’ requires you to be able to find yourself first and you need to do that by engaging with life and not shying away from its many ups and downs. For many years I’ve shut myself off from those around me and focused very hard on pursuing a career in film music and while that’s been a great journey, it wasn’t until I ultimately faced many of the things I had turned away from since I left Thailand—questions of identity, coming to terms with events from my youth, etc.—that I finally felt like I can stand up for myself, that I’ve found who I am and who I want to be and that’s the biggest gift one can get. It’s still a long way to go, this never ending adventure in art, but I’m thankful and focused and moving forward.
S. Peace Nistades

S. Peace Nistades

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