Oscar-nominated, Californian composer Dustin O’Halloran has been quite desperate to release a new solo album. In fact, it’s been a whole 10 years since his much-loved Lumiere, a hallmark record in the neoclassical genre. What’s been stopping him? Oh, only the 28 film and television soundtracks he’s worked on since. Not that he would ever complain to have been involved in such films as Lion, Ammonite or The Old Guard, but he has just released his new album, Silfur, his first with classical giants Deutsche Grammophon.
Indeed, his endeavours into film haven’t only included the huge perks of working on brilliant pieces of craft with filmmakers he admires hugely, but O’Halloran also earned an Oscar nomination for his work on 2016’s Lion alongside his film-scoring partner in crime Volker Bertelmann (who you may also know as Hauschka), and he won an Emmy award for his musical contributions to the comedy-drama series Transparent.
But, if his regular movement around Europe is anything to go by, he’s not someone you’d expect to rest on any award-shaped laurels.
He starts by discussing his most recent move to Iceland, which seems to be one of the nicer places you could have spent the last year, and the contrast of being briefly back in his native Los Angeles, where he speaks to Headliner from.
“I'm still having a bit of culture shock coming back to Los Angeles,” O’Halloran says. “I grew up here, and I have family here, but I've lived in Europe for more than 15 years. I lived in Italy for a long time, and I lived in Berlin for 10 years.”
And on his pre-pandemic move to Iceland: “It was an interesting transition. Because with the state of the world and Iceland being so isolated, I felt very grateful to be there, to be able to find space to do things.
"There's been a kind of tension in the whole world, so finding space to write music, you have to be able to push things away too. I was definitely able to find some headspace to do that. And there's an amazing music community in Iceland.”
And while O’Halloran is currently based between Reykjavik, Iceland, with its unfathomable creative output, and Los Angeles, the city where everyone and their dog goes to ‘make it’, his career actually first started taking flight in Italy, a country among the richest in the classical music tradition.
“I was touring a lot with my band at the time,” he says. “And we ended up making a couple of records in Italy. I was living in a small town called Lugo, near Bologna. I think I was always fascinated with the idea of being in a place where there were so many countries close together, and with such a cultural mix.”
On releasing his first solo album, Piano Solos in 2004 while in Italy, he says “a friend of ours had an old farmhouse, converted into a studio. I got set up and had this whole period of my life there. I didn't really plan on releasing it, I was just documenting pieces for myself. When I played it for Simon Raymond at Bella Union, he really loved it and encouraged me to put it out.”