Sofia degli Alessandri, aka Sofia Hultquist, who also records under the moniker Drum & Lace, is an Italian-born composer who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, and post-Covid shutdown, is now based in London. She has several media composition credits, including The First Monday in May, Rosaline, Cobweb, Red, White & Royal Blue, and the music for Season 4 of the podcast Serial. Sofia’s album of original works, titled ONDA, will be released in June of 2024.

Could you discuss your musical upbringing and background a bit and tell us about how you got into music?

I feel like it’s probably going to resonate with a lot of people because I think it’s a very [common story], not especially exciting. When I was young, I was always singing, and the earliest memories I have are of running around and just singing and having these big sorts of productions in my head. That’s sort of the first musical thing that I feel like I ever was inclined towards. I’m not quite sure where it came from because no one in my family is a musician and we weren’t an especially music-heavy household or anything. My grandmother played piano and she had an appreciation for classical music, so when I was five, maybe six-years-old, she had a piano at her house and she was like, “I would love for you to take lessons,” so I would take lessons with another friend that I was in elementary school with and that I think went on for a little bit. But, you know, when you’re young and if you’re not prodigious and if it’s not like just automatic… I think I kind of got to a point where I was like, “Oh, I don’t want do it anymore,” [but] it must have been enough for me to be able to come back to it a bunch of years later, but that then continued into [my] early teens [when I] picked up a guitar. I was never very good at guitar. I’m still not very good at guitar, but I can play some chords. I can play a progression, but like nothing too crazy.


Then I was playing drums and doing drum kit stuff and I didn’t really start formal musical training until maybe 16. I started going to a small music Academy after school in Florence where I’m from and it was interesting because I’d been sort of a big sports person up until 16. I actually played soccer for the Florence female team, the under-16 team, which now is part of Fiorentina, which is now actually part of like the [club], and it’s much more legit. So, it was just one of those things like, “Well, do I want to go into sports or do I want to go into music?”, and I think music, for many reasons, just kind of won out. Also, I think I was good at soccer, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t going to end up on the national team like some of my teammates at the time; I’m very proud of them.

From there, when it came to go into university, I was looking to the US because I went to an international high school and then this program called the IB (author’s note: International Baccalaureate) and I wasn’t going to go to college [to study music]. But then I was lucky enough to go to Boston with my dad to see universities, and we were walking down Boylston Street and I was like, “Oh, look, there’s this music school. Can we just go in and do an open house?” And that was sort of the end of that. I applied for “early decision” and I got in around February of my senior year and I was like, “OK, I’m going to America,” always with the caveat that I was going to go back [to Italy] and do something more serious. It’s not like music’s ever been easy. I went to Berklee College of Music and you take these entrance tests, and when I tell you that most of my [scores] out of a scale of eight were ones and twos… I was definitely not in the eights. Everyone knew who the people that scored really high were when they got in. It was a pretty rude awakening to get there having been the big fish in my small musical pond in Florence, to get there and [receive] a real slap in the face. But I think that what that did to me then has kind of stuck with me until now, which is just the perseverance and the pushing through. I think about it a lot. I think that if music had been easier for me, I would not be pushing myself as hard and I don’t think I would be as good of a musician as I am today, because I feel like when things come too easily, then you get complacent and then you kind of plateau, whereas I’m constantly trying to push myself and that started when I got to music college and I was really not very good.

When you were there, did you find that you actually knew a lot more than you thought you did, but you just didn’t know the terminology?

Yeah, actually, the classes that I did the best at were the more improvised ones that were a little bit more by ear and that were a little bit more like, “Express yourself,” without the theory of it. I think I really felt like music theory was trying to put me in a box that I didn’t understand because I maybe didn’t have those foundational steps from when I was younger, [so] it was really hard to jump into them. Surprisingly, solfège was easy if I had to sing back something, but it was so hard if I had to look at notes and [read a score]. I think that there was a little bit of disconnect between the [notation], like, “This cadence [has a] Neapolitan Sixth to whatever.” That was just not how my brain works, but if I hear it, I can sing you what comes next. I instinctually know that, but when I look at it on paper, I can’t just [read quickly], and to this day, if somebody hands me a score and they ask me to read out the chords, I’m like, “Oh my God, what’s that?” As hard as it was, I think I had to know the rules to break the rules. So, I got out of music college and I felt very lost because I felt like music had to sound a certain way. It took me a while to unlearn what I’d learned to then be able to do what I wanted, if that makes sense.


Oh, absolutely. And since you didn’t have that, as you said, foundational music background, did you find the music history courses and trying to learn all of the repertoire that all of the faculty assigned somewhat overwhelming?

You see, that actually was where I did really well because I did have this grandmother who was into classical music. She was very specific, like, she really liked like a very specific type of classical music. She wasn’t playing like Debussy or things from, say, 1900. She was playing things such as Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, a bunch of Sibelius, which I thought was very progressive. [As a result], I knew a lot of big classical [works] and opera. I think my first language being Italian helped a lot with remembering names and remembering composers and just having a better idea of structuring music history around actual European history. My grandma also had a yearly pass to go to the Teatro Comunale, which is one of the big theaters in Florence, or Teatro Verdi, which is named after the opera composer, where I was literally a two-minute walk from where I grew up. So, I think it was kind of ingrained in me in a way that I didn’t really realize until I was an adult. The music history, thankfully, I think that’s what saved me. That’s where my understanding of classical cadence and classical melody came from.

The next question I have for you is about your film and television scoring career, and it seems to have really taken off in the last few years. What did you learn between the time you graduated from Berklee and the last five or six years that have really helped you become successful?

When I graduated, it was really hard to understand where I stood in the great scheme of things. I actually really kind of stepped away from the idea of wanting to become a film composer altogether although I had studied and done that major at Berklee. I think the biggest thing was just that everyone, once you graduated, was like, “Go to Los Angeles, be an assistant, do that thing,” and I just had this complete blockage and I thought, “I don’t want to do that.” At the end of college, I’d gotten more interested in and familiar with synthesizers and electronic music; my love of electronic music really blossomed as I understood more about what was involved in making it. The hard part was there were a lot of external factors that came to play because I graduated college in 2008 and as an international student, I the only way I could stay was if I found a job that could sponsor me because I did not have the accolades to apply for an O-1 Extraordinary Person Visa. So, it got to 2009 and there weren’t any jobs for Americans, let alone for musicians, nor a European with a music degree. It was either [go back to school or] move back to Europe, which I nearly moved to London, where I am now, in 2009, which is hilarious because I was going to move to a neighborhood that now is absolutely unaffordable. I should have moved there then. [laughs] But as a little bit of a gesture of love [I stayed] because I was already dating my now-husband and I was like, “I don’t want to leave the US. I don’t want to leave this person. I really want to stay here and I’ve become more and more enamored with the idea of electronic music.”

I’ve always loved art installations and just [the idea of] immersive audio, so I actually went and got a master’s degree from NYU in 3D audio. Music technology, and again it was very hard. I did not realize how much math was involved and had to get a math tutor. You know, at [the age of] 24, I couldn’t remember what the quadratic formula was. You find yourself doing so much trigonometry again. But that was also extremely fulfilling to be able to come out of that program knowing I know my stuff and knowing no one can challenge my musical understanding or my technological [prowess].


Once I graduated from NYU, I worked briefly as an in-house composer at a music marketing company until finally it kind of dawned on me in late 20s, when my boyfriend-then-husband was also like, “Let’s move to LA and try to be film composers.” So that’s how things started. I did a lot of short films, did a lot of fashion content because I thought that a really interesting way of getting into scoring-for-picture was to use the skills that I have, and I’ve also always loved fashion. And I thought, “It’s an industry where you’re catering to women,” because I was finding a little bit of a blockage with being hired or taken seriously at the time. I think things are very different now for younger folks, but I took this fashion angle and it really helped to build a real [portfolio], working in a lot of different musical genres and producing, and I did a little bit of filming. I would essentially approach fashion designers and ask if they wanted a fashion film, because I could film it for you and I can score it for you. I was literally doing things like that. The first thing I ever scored was a fashion documentary, which was happenstance because my husband had worked with that director before and he was like, “Oh, Sofia does things with fashion. Maybe you guys should go score it.” And this documentary is really great. It’s called The First Monday in May and it’s all about the leading up to and making of the Met Gala in 2015. It did really well, and, you know, you get one credit at a time. I think I definitely struggled like everyone does at the beginning, for quite a handful of years, until finally I got the big break [which] was getting to score a show called Dickinson for Apple TV, which came about by a couple of people essentially vouching for me and my work and putting in a good word with Apple, who I think was already looking at me and Ian [Hultquist] and I feel like that’s really legitimized [my work]. It was bigger scale and kind of started the whole ripple effect of things.

The fashion thing is something that is unique to the things that you do, at least as a composer. I don’t know anyone else who really defines themself by that content […].

It’s definitely been a good six or seven years since I’ve done anything kind of fashion related, but it definitely was a really good way of getting experience. I knew a bunch of designers when I was living in New York [while attending] NYU, and they were having difficulty finding music and I saw an opening and went with it. Now I feel like a reason for distancing myself from it is just the tight deadlines, not very good pay and then the next step up is they’re just going to go to [someone] like Max Richter and license the track of his or go to some big [pop star], like Dua Lipa and just license the track of hers for a perfume ad. There’s just this lack of middle class.


In 2022 you did Rosaline with your husband Ian, and then last year you did Cobweb, which is a horror film, and Red, White and Royal Blue, which is a romantic comedy film. All of these things are very, very different. Rosaline is the ex-girlfriend of Romeo and sort of tells her story side by side with Romeo and Juliet’s.

It’s such a bummer it’s a 20th Century [production], so it’s a Disney movie, but it was part of that slate of movies that got axed for tax purposes. I think you can rent it on Amazon. It’s a bummer that that happened because it’s a movie that we put so much work and research into. […] We recorded Renaissance instruments in New York and, coupling that with pop, it was a really fun experience and checked a lot of the classical [boxes], but also then the pop production [boxes]. That was a really good one.

Your two recent films from 2023 are, of course very, very different. Cobweb [begins] not too badly, and then sort of devolves into absolute horror and terror.

Oh yeah! The mayhem is unexpected in the best way. I’ve seen versions [of the film] that were longer, where I feel like the shift into the third act isn’t quite as like what is happening, but I think horror fans actually love the way that it kind of devolves and musically it was extremely fun because it’s just like there’s a cue or two where all of a sudden it’s cracked at the seams and all of a sudden the palette just becomes so much more bombastic and loud and all you can really hear is the strength of the 40 strings that are playing frantically.

And then, Red, White and Royal Blue is sort of the standard romantic comedy where you get the two people who dislike each other, then they get to talking and find out they’re actually in love. […] The music in that one is going to be a lot more a gentle, a lot more romantic. There are a lot of strings and some acoustic guitar for when they’re in Texas, but overall, the unifying factor in all of these things seems to be the synthesizer and all of the effects and techniques that you can do with it. Did you feel like these films were really an opportunity for you to showcase that technical prowess?

Yeah, I feel like in very different ways in both of the cases, the synths had to be very subtle and in Cobweb, there’s a chance for them to get a little bit more exaggerated just because the volume of everything gets so maxed out that it helps on a foundational basis, whereas on Red, White and Royal Blue, you really didn’t want to weigh the score down with too much synth and it’s used more to be in elation and in partnership with the strings. I think that technically, Cobweb was a tougher project because it was so much music. It was like 70 minutes of score. It really had to do a lot in carrying and setting up suspense and all of these things. But to be honest, writing comedy is really hard. I feel like Red, White, and Royal Blue was actually maybe harder because I have such a hard time writing happy music, and because there’s a very fine line between romantic and beautiful and a little bit different, and then just kind of cheesy, and I hope that I was able to tread that line and still keep it sounding different and unique.


It was Maggie Phillips, who I’d worked with on Rosaline, who came to me because they were replacing a composer. So, for Red, White, and Royal Blue, I had a call and then two weeks later, had an interview and then they’re like, “OK, you’re on this project” and I thought to myself, “I guess I’m doing a rom-com,” but I think the best thing about it has just been the community that’s come out of this film because it’s based on a book which is wildly successful to begin with, and there was so much care dedicated to having these characters be similar to the book and honor everything, and I think it really did. I know that the rewatch rate of Red, White, and Royal Blue has been, like, insane. […] Working on a film that’s that impactful is really important. It is really wonderful and the message is so great and, in terms of exposure, obviously as a composer, it reached people that I’d never reached before with like the types of things that I had scored.

That said, the vein and the sound of Cobweb is definitely where I find myself more comfortable and where if there’s these two branches, I’m hoping they both bloom, but I’m hoping the Cobweb one turns into like a whole other tree because [of] the string techniques that I got to do on that and the growly synths and Samuel Bodin, that I worked with on, he’s just extraordinary, his vision for horror is just incredible. He did a show on Netflix called Marianne, and it’s maybe the scariest thing I’ve ever watched, so it was really great to get to work with him.

Are [horror films] something that you want to continue doing, in terms of your genres?

Yes, for sure. I think that Cobweb got the right people’s attention for the people that are in a horror world. I’m hoping that some of the people that I reached out to when I first came out [to LA] will come through with working together.

I feel like the fallout from [the writer’s strike last summer] has been pretty significant. Since last summer, I’ve been working less on film stuff than I had in the previous four years, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you know. […] I literally met with a colleague yesterday. We were having coffee and they said, “How do you stay positive when you know the few jobs that there are, maybe you don’t get it?” I went through a really crazy streak of not getting projects like right before the strikes. I think it was like five or six in a row that just didn’t click, which happens, it’s all the ebb and flow. I think 2 got shelved. The others, seeing them come out, in retrospect, I think any of the ones that I didn’t get I was clearly not the right fit, so it feels really good. But essentially, when she said, “What do you do to not get completely like demotivated,” I responded, “That’s where the artist project then comes in and saves the day because it’s a place for me to pour things and finally have the time to dedicate to doing my own thing.” I feel very lucky to have these two aspects of my career that I can do in times of strike.

And what a perfect segue to talk about your forthcoming album! The album title is ONDA, which is Italian for “wave,” and as you just referred to the ebb and flow, it’s a perfect title. This is coming out in June 2024. How did you select that title?

At first, I was actually going to call the record Mother of Pearl because I have this fascination obviously, with the way that it looks, but also with the concept that like mother of pearl is literally just dirt that gets attacked by the shell and then becomes this beautiful thing. That was a metaphor that I [found] really cool, but essentially, for my own personal projects, I’m very inspired by nature and my first full length was called Natura, which means “nature,” and I feel like it was grounded in this kind of green, lush, earthy sort of element. A lot of that also came from becoming a parent and just the grounding as an artist. For this one, I just felt like water was like a natural progression, musically and just in terms of how I’m feeling, so the main inspirations for this record were water, the painting, “The Birth of Venus,” which is actually in Florence. I grew up going to see [the painting] a lot and [was inspired by] the Fibonacci sequence just in the way that it represents itself in nature––in shells, pine cones, very natural things. More recently, I learned that whales do this thing called “bubbling,” where if they’re approaching getting fish and plankton, they do these spirals of bubbles to make them all come up. So, whales use the Fibonacci sequence for hunting, which I thought was really cool. I had all of these elements in mind as I was starting to write because I had to put together a collection of field recordings that represented the ocean and water and stuff like that. ONDA just really came about because I was naming the tracks and I wrote it in all caps and I was like, “Oh, that looks really cool.”

It’s really easy internationally because I was going to call it Madre Perla, which is “Mother of Pearl” in Italian, and then I thought, “How is an American person, how is a British person going to say it? It’s going to get butchered!” With ONDA, it’s pretty straight forward.

I hear all sorts of 1990s electronica influences in this. Were there any specific bands or any specific albums that you feel were important in your listening that helped you create this new album?

Yeah. I think that there’s artists that spanned the mid-90s to early 2000s. The first that comes to mind are Orbital, early Aphex Twin, The Orb, a lot of early house music and jungle. You know, all of that sort of stuff, but a band like Morcheeba too, just in terms of the vibe and the mood. Groove Armada, anything that was kind of like Ministry of Sound and Buddha Bar. A lot of it was Bristol, London, German music that I kind of feel like I was in line with. Obviously, labels like Kompakt were very seminal. I went through a huge Depeche Mode phase, which I think kind of segued into that and then continued into the 2000s with Goldfrapp and Ladytron, so there’s a lot of different layers to it. I really feel like the mix of ambient with the electronic [is important], because I think my big gateway to electronic music was going from Radiohead’s The Bends into like, “Wait a minute, what are they doing,” and to then thinking, “Oh, OK, we’re going over here,” and then all of a sudden, you just end up on that side of the spectrum. Like a lot of people, I think Radiohead was sort of my way into the Bjorks [of the world] and then I was obsessed with Imogen Heap when she first started out and people like that. I think all of that kind of fits into this as well, as you know, honoring and sort of having listened to a lot of contemporaries who kind of inhabit the space, whether it’s Rival Consoles, Kelly Lee Owens, Max Cooper, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, there’s like a lot of these people that I look up to so much musically. Telephone Tel Aviv, Bonobo, the list goes on and on and on, but it really feels like I’ve been able to make an electronic album sound the way that I’ve always wanted to, like I finally felt like I had the skill set to do it.

When you were talking about all the old labels, Orbital’s on FFRR and Goldie had the Metalheadz label and Ninja Tune had a bunch of stuff.

I can’t believe [I didn’t say] Massive Attack, but that kind of plays into the whole Bristol vibe anyway.

The “Teardrop” bass drum [pattern] is hiding in one of your tunes [on ONDA].

That track actually started because I did a cover of “Teardrop” at Moogfest in 2019, and from there I changed it around, obviously to not be exactly like it, but very much owed to it. That’s the one cover I performed when I played that big festival. Good for you [for recognizing it]. Look at that. Damn!

With this new album, you’ve had two singles out. The first one, I believe, was [released] in January and the second one, “Sisters,” is now a couple weeks old. […] How did you choose those two as your singles?

“Solstice,” which is also the album opener, just feels it is the biggest statement, like an exclamation point to [tell the audience] this is what this record is going to be. It just felt like a really strong statement and I think it’s also the one that in my mind is probably the most clear-cut just because it really, in my mind, feels like a contrast of light and dark the way that solstices and equinoxes and all that are. I just really like the sound and it felt like the right vibe for a January single. To counteract that, I felt like the second single had to be something a little bit more melodic and I think of “Sisters” like this. This waltz of sisterhood and reconnecting with water and this power of community and just this very thoughtful single is a little bit more in the vein of things that I’ve done in the past. In my mind, I thought “Solstice” will have [success] in terms of audience and people that will immediately catch on to it. I felt like that [track] is definitely more digestible. And then the next single, which is probably going to be out the first week of May, “Nymph,” it’s going to go back to [being] more rhythmic. I’m trying to [create] a dynamic build up to the record coming out, but it’s been hard to pick because all of the tracks are so different. […] But you can’t do singles for everything, so the way that I put the record together is good. It’s meant I’m releasing it as like something that should be listed all together essentially. I’m still a big believer in the full record instead of singles.

[…] I also just think that it’s all about finding a balance. If you’re just kind of going too strong all the time, it gets exhausting, whereas this is like a nice kind of breath. And in this day and age, being an artist, the fear of burnout or just the emotional impact of releasing things and constantly having everything that you’re releasing being like high energy and whatever, it feels really exhausting. “Sisters,” to me, feels like a nice place where it felt like the right thing to do.

There’s a sound in “Sisters” that sounds like a fire crackling.

They’re not on my desk right now. I have a little bag of shells that I have collected throughout the years [that I used], and they come back in “Conchiglie,” which actually means “shell” in Italian. They’re double bagged, but these little [shells]… it’s the sound of a few of them. I did a whole sampling session with a bunch of these and they’re collected from various trips. It’s just a matter of recording them and then manipulating them to have short, sustained sounds and show that then they become this really crispy thing. They sound a little bit like firecrackers, which is kind of cool!

What do you want listeners to get out of this new album? What do you hope that they experience as they’re listening?

I think the biggest thing is to just feel like they’ve gone on some sort of journey emotionally and musically. I think the important thing for me is to have people feel connected and feel understood and that the best I can hope for is that they take something away from it, whether it’s learning about themselves or just even thinking, “I had a really fun time listening to that.” I think that the theme of water in it is very innate to us because we are made up of so much water ourselves, and I feel it, even with something as silly as like the full moon, I feel so affected by that kind of stuff. For me, just the way the water represents itself in this record is a way of reconnecting with an instinctual self. I’m hoping that people come away feeling moved and that they get something emotionally out of it. And, of course, I’d love for people to play this at parties, but it’s really made with the hope that people will get something out of it. On a therapeutic point, all of these expressions are just so important for me to, get something out or, just say, emote, so at the end of the day, even if nobody listens to it, the act of doing it for me was really important. Of course, if people listen to it and come see me at a show, that’s great too!