Five Questions: Dustin O'Halloran

Five Questions - Dustin O'Halloran

Dustin O’Halloran is a distinguished composer and has released multiple solo albums; a handful of works as one half of A Winged Victory for the Sullen; and scores for film and TV such as Marie Antoinette, the Emmy-winning Transparent, and most recently, the Oscar-nominated Lion. But most impactful for me is that he wrote this piece of music that brings me tears of nostalgia and heartache every time I hear it. Meet Dustin.

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

I’m proud that I’ve been able to survive music and I feel lucky that I’ve found a place where I’m able to support myself and to be who I am. I’m proud that I’ve survived and haven’t lost my shit. [Laughter] 

Me: Have you ever had a moment when you thought you wouldn’t survive?

Dustin: Yeah! Well, that sounds dramatic. It’s not like I’ve contemplated suicide, but I think surviving in the sense of keeping the core or essence of who you are through all the battles you’re faced with in your life. I’m probably—and it’s always connected to music—but I’m probably most proud of some of the long friendships that I’ve been able to keep in my life. And that we help each other grow. That affects my music, so it’s hard to say—if it’s only music, there are so many things that are connected to that. I’m proud to have these 25-year friendships that have been in my life, that we continue to push each other, and help each other grow.

How do you define failure?

I think failure is when you lose yourself. And you get lost in your own ego. You lose the essence of who you are. Compromising too much of yourself I think is a failure because that’s the hardest thing to do. 

Me: And how about success?

Dustin: Success is living the life that you want and having the courage to live it. Whatever that is. If you want to live in a cabin in the woods and live off the land, or whatever it is you want to do that you’re being true to yourself. 

What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know?

Oh my god! That is an endless list. [Laughs]

Me: OK, well, give me the bullets. [Laughter]

Dustin: I’d love to learn how to be a better composer and learn better orchestration. I’d love to learn more languages.

Me: How many languages do you know?

Dustin: I know Italian, a bit of German. My German’s not so good. [Laughs] My Italian is good though! Learning is endless. There are so many things I want to learn. Right now I’m in a music learning phase. I’m always learning. Trying to take the time to teach myself. I want to learn to be a better reader. [Laughs] 

Me: Music reader?

Dustin: Both! [Laughter] If there’s anything in this world that we need to know how to do, it’s learn to meditate. Which is really hard! [Laughter]

Me: Do you meditate often?

Dustin: I’m trying, but it’s really hard! I’m trying to teach myself, but it’s not an easy thing. 

Me: Meditation is something I’ve been considering and not doing.

Dustin: It’s easier said than done. It’s hard to do, to settle the mind. 

Me: You’re doing two projects at once, that’s twelve hour days, easy.

Dustin: Yeah, you just get into this space that it’s sort of just your life. I’m trying to take downtime; there are just always things you gotta deal with. 

Me: You have such a non-traditional career, do you find that it’s hard to manage your time? I mean, you could always be working.

Dustin: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s super hard. I’m a person that likes to—I have a bit of help here and there—but I like to be alone when I’m working. So I don’t want to build something that takes a team of people around me. I like the solitude of composing. That’s why I’ve been attracted to it, so I’m trying to keep it like that. But it means I have to hand-craft everything on my own and that just takes time. Things have gotten more demanding in a way. I’m also trying to make time for my own projects. Without me realizing it, I have three different careers all spread out. I have Winged Victory which has been pretty busy and we’ve been really active. And my solo stuff took a break, but the score stuff has been really really active, too. So I’m shuffling all of those. [Laughs] A lot of people only have one, so—

Me: —right, you have three legit careers basically. [Laughter]

Dustin: I know all projects have a period of time. And Winged Victory has one or two records that we’ll do…we’ve always known that at some point we would move on, but at this point we don’t know. It keeps going and Adam [Dustin's partner in A Winged Victory for the Sullen] and I are still great friends, we love working together. Who knows? But I believe that life does keep evolving, so projects live and die and I like to think of it that way because something else will happen.

Me: That’s an interesting point…I follow Ricky Gervais on twitter—he’s an atheist, and he said one thing that affected me in a positive way: “Just remember, we’re all gonna be dead soon and none of this will matter.” And that made me feel good because it’s not morbid, but we are all gonna die. So let’s enjoy it. Let’s do the best we can now. That’s parallel to having a shelf life for a band. 

Dustin: And there’s no destination to anything except death. And that’s the only destination that we are 100% certain will happen. 

Me: And some people don’t even think that. Some people think you continue and it depends. Which I find interesting. 

Dustin: Whatever happens after is up for debate, but death is certain.

How do you define being “in love”?

Being in love is letting go. And not holding on. And I’ll leave it at that.

Me: That’s very quotable! [Laughs]

Dustin: Love is being selfless and not about your needs. It’s being able to project love and let whatever is getting that focus of your love, letting it be only for that sake and not for what you would take from it. That’s the purest. 

Me: Right on. I will keep that in mind as I continue on my search. [Laughter]

Dustin: Yeah!

What will you miss the most when you’re gone?

Like we were talking about before, if none of this matters, then I probably won’t miss anything. [Laughter] If there’s an afterlife, it’s hard to say. 

Me: Do you believe in an afterlife?

Dustin: I love the debate. I love the questioning. I think that nobody knows. And that’s really interesting. There’s a lot of ways to think about it. You can think about energy, about religion. Anyone who’s done a lot of psychedelics has had a lot of spiritual experiences, so I think the debate is actually super fascinating. It’s an interesting topic. I don’t prescribe to any single idea, but I like the discussion.