William Ryan Fritch opens up about his career in film scoring, working on documentaries for GoPro, and his creative approach to his art.
For a guy as young as you are, your resume is quite impressive with a plethora of musical releases. I would imagine you're an outlier in the industry at your age.
I appreciate you saying that, but I'm afraid my body of work is less a product of any precociousness than it is just the crazy workload I had to take on the last decade in order to claw my way to place of stability and better creative opportunities. There are many extremely gifted young artists and composers that can walk right into making very polished records, but I can't say I was ever one of those people. I spent most of my teens and twenties casting too broad of a net with my music to ever make something that crystallized the way that more focused and genre specific artists can. It has taken me a while to get my self-editing skills to a place where it can properly filter all my creative energy.
I think the only real outlier of my career or work thus far is just how much music I've put out and how much of a hands-on auteur I am with my recordings and soundtracks.
How did you first get involved with film scoring? What were some of your early inspirations?
In 2008, I moved to LA to work as an assistant for a few composers thinking it was the path I needed to be on to get to be able to fast-track my career. It was an incredible learning experience for the 2-3 years I did it, but it was especially influential in shaping the ways that I did not want to work. In the assembly line methodology that was the industry standard for larger budget Hollywood films, I was little more than a pedestrian as an assistant and I was unable to utilize any of my strongest skill sets. If I stayed the course working like that I would likely have never broken through. In 2009, I made the decision to move to the Bay Area to pursue a Masters at Mills College and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to step right into working with several documentary and independent film makers that really helped to reconfigure the way I look at cinema and approach the marriage of sound and image. Obviously, moving to more independent productions meant a lot less financial security on the short term. The workload was often unbearably heavy and the money was barely sufficient for survival for several years and what I sacrificed on the way to getting higher profile and higher paying gigs was pretty brutal, but through all of it I've had the chance to build lifelong creative partnerships with many of my collaborators and make more music in 8 years than most do in a lifetime.
As far as early inspiration, I was definitely drawn to scores by Clint Mansell, Jon Brion and Mark Mothersbaugh and several other composers that did scores to my favorite films when I was a young teen. In college I started obsessing over the music of Arvo Part, Gyorgy Ligeti and the film works of Bernard Hermann.
What's your process for scoring films? Is it a formula by this point or does each score require a completely different mindset?
It's pretty easy to fall into habit and rote process when you're really busy, but I try my damnedest to keep changing up my approach for each film. Working on documentaries make it pretty easy to avoid stylistic tropes, since the environments and stories for these films are often so global and varied. At this moment, I am working on an experimental film about a remote Inuit community in the northernmost parts of Canada, a film about a famous traveling cat circus, a feature doc about a well known science fiction writer and a indie feature about losing your partner to cancer. Each of these films call for a completely different sound world and compositional approach..... but yet all of this music has to be generated from my studio in an old chicken barn.
I find by setting unique restrictions and parameters for each film early in the writing process, I am able to keep each project fresh and open myself up to discovering new techniques, sounds and happy accidents.
Your latest work is the score for a GoPro film - Eagle Hunters in a New World. What's the film about? How'd you get selected to provide the music?
I've been working with GoPro for the last 3 years scoring a bunch of their short docs and providing music for about 60 videos/films and a few product launch campaigns for them. This Eagle Hunters project was initially intended to be one of the largest scale documentary project they had undertaken and the footage that Pat Barrett and Matt Suggett captured was truly beautiful and inspiring. They asked me to compose a score for this film that explored the significant change Mongolia was undergoing as a country and it's impact on this fascinating tradition that dates back before the times of Ghengis Khan as a window into the friction rapid urbanization can create. The footage and people involved were so inspiring, I ended up make 2-3 times the amount of music necessary for the film itself.
This score seems to be creating a fair amount of hype in the vinyl collector community, at least from some of the blogs and websites I frequent in that category. What do you think makes this collection of work different and able to claw such a cult attraction? I will admit the album art is beautiful and eerie and provocative in a way.
Most of that credit goes to Ryan Keane who runs Lost Tribe Sound and puts so much love and artistic skill into the packaging, presentation and curation of each physical release. He really labored over the artwork layout and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. As far as the sound of the vinyl, we’ve been through a lot of trial and error with our past releases and this was the first one of my records had been master lacquer cut at Salt Mastering and I must say it really made for the most nuanced and dynamic vinyl I’ve ever put out.
Birkitshi sounds very layered and multi instrumental. What's the recording process like for your music? Is it a process that requires a big supporting cast? I imagine a room full of various, obscure instruments while I'm listening to the record. What's the reality?
This particular album did have a fair amount of layering and overdubbing on it. However most of that density and complexity came primarily from my voice, the Morin khuur (a mongolian fiddle), cello, the shamisen, some primitive woodwinds and various bells and percussion instruments. Just about every piece on this particular record began with creating a drone or rhythmic motif with the Morin Khuur and voice and then fleshing each piece out track by track. I wish I would’ve had a big supporting cast of musicians for this, but like every album and soundtrack I’ve done besides the Death Blues -Ensemble this was done as a solo project. My studio is definitely littered with obscure instruments and every time I take on a project that calls for a very specific sound or performance technique, I have the very fun challenge of trying to develop competency and expressiveness with it.
Do you write, release, or perform music with other groups? How do those projects differ for you creatively?
The only really in depth collaboration I’ve done the last few years was with Jon Mueller on the final Death Blues record, but I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to other artists records through writing and recording string arrangements, doing overdubs and occasionally mixing and mastering. There are a number of artists like Powerdove, Dm Stith, Benoit Pioulard,Sole, Seabuckthorn, Ceschi, Graveyard Tapes, and Cars and Trains that I’ve gotten to work with multiple times and have learned a lot from them over the years. I’m also currently working on a Film score with my good friend Esmé Patterson, whom I’ve always loved working with and am excited about discovering what kinds of crazy stuff we’ll be able to make together.
Every collaboration is different, but since I am not really someone who has that one easily defined talent I tend to focus on using my production and arrangement sensibilities to help transport my collaborators purest musical gifts into a more surreal sound world.
What aspirations do you have for your career in music?
First and foremost, I want to continue growing artistically and challenge myself to learn more skills, listen deeper, trust the clear and simple ideas, and forget habits that stagnate my creativity. My family and friends would tell me that I’ve got to find ways to work “smarter, not harder,” and I think finding ways to bring other musicians and collaborators into my projects will be the best way to accomplish this and could have a huge impact on pushing my music into new directions.
I love the lifestyle that I’ve been able to create for myself and my family with my current workflow and career trajectory and I relish the relationships I am able to build by handling all my business myself, but I am admittedly reaching a point where I need to seriously consider hiring a manager and agent to avoid burning the candle at both ends much longer.