Massimiliano Mechelli is an Italian musician, songwriter, guitarist and film composer. He studied guitar, singing and piano at the ‘Testaccio’s Popular Music School’ from 2006 to 2012 playing every kind of music genre.
Was writing music something that always thought you would do. And was film music the career path that you thought that you would follow?
I started writing songs when I was 12 years old, and I have never stopped creating music since then. Even when I was studying guitar during the high school and the university, I always preferred improvising rather than learning guitar solos. My main goal was becoming a successful songwriter, but during the second year of degree I began to study composing for film with Maurizio Malagnini (Call the Midwife, Paradise), and I fell in love with this profession. My parents are two art lovers and they used to take me to the cinema every week when I was a kid. So, movies have always been part of my life, and film music simply gave the opportunity to mix two passions into one.
As a child were you aware of music and what are your earliest memories of any kind of music?
My earliest memories are from the Christmas lunches at my grandmother’s. My mother, my cousin and my uncle used to play together to celebrate festivities. My uncle on guitar, my cousin on piano and my mother on vocals. They used to play famous songs by Italian songwriters.
What musical education did you have?
I studied violin during secondary school, then I studied guitar and vocals at the ‘Scuola Popolare di Musica di Testaccio’ in Rome, practicing every kind of genre. After high school I moved to London to pursue my Bachelor degree in Popular Music, Guitar Performance, at ‘The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance’, where I also studied composing for film and arranging. I kept studying composing for film with Maurizio Malagnini and Enrica Sciandrone (Professor at the Royal College of Music) attending individual classes. After achieving my degree the Berklee College of Music offered me a scholarship for the Master Degree in ‘Scoring for Film, TV and Videogames’.
When you are invited to score a movie how many times do you like to see a project before formulating how you will approach it and what style of music is best for it?
I watch the movie once on my own and then I watch it again with the director to understand on which scenes he wants music, what he wants to express and what styles of music is best for it. I usually start deciding what style I am going to write, during the audition and after receiving the first pre-edits. The image has a strong impact upon me and I create sounds in my head while watching the movie, that’s when I have the right intuition and I share it with the director.
One of your most recent works is the atmospheric music for the Netflix movie A Classic Horror story, how did you become involved on this project and what size orchestra did you have for the score?
I happened to watch a short film by Paolo Strippoli at the ‘Alice nella Città’ festival’ in Rome four years ago. I really enjoyed it and I texted him on facebook, he answered me six months later and we had an aperitif in the centre of Rome. I sent him some of my music and four years later he asked me if I wanted to audition for the first movie of his career, which was going to direct with his friend Roberto De Feo. I said yes, I auditioned for it, the directors loved my work and I got the gig. ‘A Classic Horror Story’ is not an orchestral score. It is a mix of electronic music and sound design.
Film music styles and composition has altered a great deal in the past two decades, do you think that contemporary film music is less melodic than the scores of the 1980’s and 1990’s. And is this do you think down to the way in which filmmakers and studios want the music to support the movies and also how they want it to sound?
I think that creating unique sounds that can build a new imaginary became more important than writing a beautiful theme. Morricone and Williams got the best out of thematic music. Themes are still important but I think film music should take new directions to keep being interesting and innovative. I think it is a choice of the whole industry, including composers.
Il Legame -The Binding, is another recent score from you, again like A Classic Horror story it contains an unsettling but at the same time attractive score, with inventive orchestrations. Did the director have any specific requests or instructions when you began work on the movie?
He gave me some references and a book ‘South and Magic’ by the anthropologist Ernesto Di Martino, about the traditions of the south of Italy. We wanted to create evocative sounds, reinventing the way of playing traditional instruments. Then I gradually mixed those sounds with the orchestra, as the movie approaches the climax, with the aim of gradually leading the audience into a nightmare.
Do you like to use certain soloists or orchestras when you record film scores?
It depends on the scene and on the movie.
What composers or artists would you say have been instrumental in influencing you in either the way you approach a film score or in the way that you write?
James Newton Howard harmony wise is my mentor. When I am out of ideas, I start listening to his music and I automatically get inspired. I find his harmonies so evocative and inspiring. Another big influence for me is Johann Johannsson, he was great at creating unique sounds for the movies he scored. After watching ‘Arrival’ I was stunned, I couldn’t close my mouth, that soundtrack didn’t have a particular theme but those voices were giving me a feeling that was like having thousand of butterflies in my stomach. I always try to be unique, creating unique sounds as he used to.
Do you conduct at all, if so do you like to conduct your scores for films or can this be a thing that is not always possible and can supervising whilst you have a conductor be a more constructive approach?
I conducted during my Master Degree and directing a 52 piece orchestra at the ‘Air Studios’ playing my piece for my final exam was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Although I prefer staying in the control room to be more focused on the score.
Do you also orchestrate all your scores for movies, and what is your opinion of the temp track?
When I write for orchestra, I orchestrate my music with my friend and colleague Paolo Annunziato who studied at the Berklee College too. Temp tracks sometimes can help composers to understand what directors want to express through music on certain scenes. But it’s always better to have your first music ideas for the film without listening to the temp.
Both Il Legame and A Classic Horror Story are released digitally by Plaza Mayor, do you like to be involved with the compilation of any release of your music as in selecting what music will go onto that recording?
I always choose the pieces for my recordings and the compilation, even if I find it very hard and stressful.
Los Apaches is a score that I like a lot, there is a kind of intimacy to it, its sounds as if it is performed by a handful of musicians and vocalist, how much time were you given to score and record the movie?
I think a month and a half
What for you is the most important way of how music should work for a movie?
Film music should express the soul of the movie. Not what you see but what you feel.
What is next for you?
Unfortunately, I cannot talk about my future projects right now.