Interview | L.A. Takedown on the Art of Soundtrack Deconstruction

Photo: Conor Collins

L.A. Takedown sounds like a the title to a cop show where the mustaches are thick, the two partners are more mismatched than their double-breasted suits, and “you two, in my office” is a rite of every episode.

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However, L.A. Takedown is much more than that. What began as a home recording project for Aaron M. Olson, a Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist has evolved into buzz-worthy, seven-piece band set to release their second album, II, on May 10th (Ribbon Music).

Olson ingeniously deconstructs soundtrack music for movies and TV shows that don’t exist, creating experimental pop jams made for driving on public sidewalks and engaging in desert landscape double-crosses. Check out their new single, “Bad Night at Black’s Beach.”

I had a chance to chat with Olson over email about  his wide-range of influences, the hypothetical L.A. Takedown movie, and his latest music video, “Night Skiing”.

Crave: L.A. Takedown is obviously inspired by soundtracks. What are you favorite ones (top 3) and how did each one influence you?

Aaron Olson: Definitely the Tangerine Dream scores to Thief and Sorcerer. It’s the beginning of the era of Tangerine Dream, where the music gets a little more guitar-involved and focused into more conventionally structured shorter pieces. I really love this particular era (not to say I don’t like the other eras, I do!) of Tangerine Dream. The way these scores work in the films they accompany is pure magic, and that’s definitely what struck me at first; watching Roy Scheider’s character drive a truck of highly explosive nitro glycerin over treacherous mudslide mountains set to intense arpeggiating synths is a flawless combination. Intense suspense! But then I really started enjoying the music on its own, just as an LP, and it spoke to me as a composer of instrumental ‘songs’. The music works in a film setting (as sounds supporting an image), but also just as well outside of films as sounds entertaining the imagination. I’d say a song like “Beach Theme” from Thief is clear as an influence on L.A. Takedown — high, melodic guitar leads over synths in a somewhat focused structure. 

You compose scores, play in a Grateful Dead cover band and head up the Musical Tracing Ensemble, where does L.A. Takedown fit into your creative space? What part of you does it allow you to explore as both an artist and person.

It’s my main outlet for all things moody and/or triumphant. I’m fairly quiet and even-keeled as a person on the daily, so I can kind of put my more extreme feelings into this music. It’s almost like I can create a caricature of my feelings; amplify and exaggerate them into this instrumental storytelling thing. 

The music is instrumental synth pop yet it feels alive. How do you breathe life into music that’s created synthetically?  

I think of it more as instrumental guitar-driven music with synthesizer accompaniment (though obviously you’re welcome to call it whatever you want). So given that, I think it’s easy to pull emotion and life out of electric guitars. But synth-wise I’d say maybe we breath life into the music by playing the synthesizers as live instruments rather than by using arpeggiators, MIDI programming, etc. It’s all played and tracked live by hands touching the keys of the synthesizers. I think that probably adds a little life and breath to the band’s feel. 

L.A. Takedown II sounds like a cop show directed by Michael Mann. If this is the soundtrack to that hypothetical album, what is the premise? Who is directing? Who is starring? 

I’d prefer to leave the logline and plot up to the listeners. I don’t want to influence what images and stories they might come up with on their own. Don’t mean to cop out on that one! There are so many directors I’d imagine directing, but in my mind we’d be time traveling to certain stylistic points in their careers that have passed and from which they’ve moved on, which I totally respect and understand. I’d say Matt Hewitt, the director of all our music videos, is directing. Let’s give him a shot at a feature length! I’m not sure who’s starring, but let’s say Billy Crystal is in it playing a super vindictive and sadistic crime lord.

The video for “Night Skiing” looks like a Breaking Bad outtake. Lots of drone shots, desert landscape setting, and a Kafka-esque plot. Tell us what you will remember about it? 

I personally will remember the experience of filming it. Getting dirty in the desert, hobbling around with a herniated disc in my lumbar, watching Stephen Heath (guitarist) mime shredding guitar solos, finding a stone labyrinth in the middle of a dry lake bed, having fun with the band. Good times.