A conversation with Tangerine Dream-alumnus Paul Haslinger
In 2006, I interviewed Paul Haslinger for the now defunct E-dition Magazine about his years in Tangerine Dream from 1986-1990 and about his subsequent solo career, mostly in film music. 14 years have passed and a lot of things have happened, both within the (film) music business and with Haslinger’s career. And Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese has changed his cosmic address, as we all know. So it was time for an updated conversation with the 58-year-old Austrian musician.
Haslinger is still a player in Hollywood, but the past is catching up to him. Electronic music is ‘hipper’ than ever, with retro synthwave scores being the name of the game in films, videogames and TV shows – an apparent ideal arena for a composer of Haslinger’s calibre and experience to flex his musical muscles.
Obviously, our conversation has to start in the 1980s.
Q: Did you read Edgar Froese’s autobiography Force Majeure? There are some hilarious stories concerning a young Paul Haslinger there.
I was asked to contribute to the book, but never received a copy. Accordingly, I can’t confirm or dispute any contents of the book. The way memory works, it would not surprise me if my recollection of events differed slightly from Edgar’s.
Q: Edgar also writes about scoring a movie (Red Nights) at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Hollywood in 1986, where he got paid in diamonds by the producer. Was this story known to you?
Nope. Don’t remember this at all. Mind you, in 1986 I was still new to the band, my activities were music-focused and I was not involved in any management discussions.
Q: Let’s speculate and say that you didn’t leave Tangerine Dream in December 1990. Do you think the band would have continued writing film music if you had stayed? As you may know, Edgar only did one more movie after you left, Bobby Roth’s The Switch in 1992. Would the band have continued getting offers?
I am not sure. For any development, there is usually not one, but a number of reasons. So the fact that TD did less films and received less offers after my departure was not so much connected to me, but to a string of changes, starting with Chris’ departure and including Edgar’s new creative focus for the band.
Q: I know you’re not a fan of it, but I found your pilot score to 1994’s Pointman a guilty pleasure. Did they ask you to write music in a TD-vein for it?
No. It was literally the first opportunity to write something for TV under my own name, and I didn’t ask too many questions…
Q: You worked repeatedly for director John Stockwell in the beginning of your solo career. Do you see yourself working for him again in the future, as you haven’t done his three latest films?
John is a good friend and I will forever owe him for giving me a shot and a start in Hollywood by hiring me for his first film (Editors’ note: Stockwell’s first film was actuallu Under Cover from 1987, scored by Todd Rundgren). It was a big step and set me up for many things that happened afterwards, including Underworld. I would always appreciate working with him again if the right project came along.
Q: Paul W. S. Anderson is another director you have worked with repeatedly, starting with Death Race in 2008, and the next (and 4th) being Monster Hunter in 2020. How do you two work together?
This is another relationship that has developed over the years – Paul usually gets me to do things I haven’t tried before, as with The Three Musketeers (2011), and he is completely obsessive about details like myself, so we always egg each other on and generally just have a great time working together. On Monster Hunter, he asked for a predominantly electronic approach, contrary to the usual expectation: monsters = epic = orchestra, and I think it’s yet again something I have not quite tried like this ever before.
Q: Was the TV series Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017) the first project where you were fully allowed to revisit your past in electronic music?
It wasn’t so much permission, but a request: they specifically asked for the score to be all electronic, and they liked a couple of demo pieces I wrote for them that were showcasing how I would re-imagine some of the 80s styles and elements I used to work with.
Q: You scored the Motley Crue biopic The Dirt earlier this year. How did you approach this film? Did you incorporate rock music into your score?
All the Motley Crue on-camera pieces had been recorded prior to shooting the film. So my job was just to fill the gaps. Emotional distress scenes, transitions, setups of various kinds. I had worked with the editor, Melissa Kent, before and always liked her music-centric editing.
It was a great group of people to work with, in general, but obviously I only wrote 20-25 minutes of music, so it was one of my smaller engagements.
Q: You also hooked up with director Bobby Roth again this year, scoring Pearl, almost 30 years after having worked with him last, on The Man Inside and Rainbow Drive with Tangerine Dream in 1990. Tell us about this. Have you two kept in touch up through the years?
This was a ‘labor of love’ project for Bobby, who had asked me if I could do him a favor by writing this score. Since I’ve known Bobby forever and really respect him as an artist, of course, I was happy to oblige.
Q: Tell us about the exciting and highly anticipated music project Neuland with former Tangerine Dream-member Peter Baumann which was released in November 2019.
Peter and I have kept in touch over the years – we always enjoy each other’s company. So I guess it was only a matter of time and circumstances before we would work on some music together again.
Neuland took several years to develop – we are both musician/performers, but also producers/sound architects, so it took quite a while to find a balance we were both happy with… and frankly, it’s just fun to try a million different mixes.
With the first album completed and released, we already have tons of plans for our next steps.
Q: In February 2020 there will also be a solo album from you again, Exit Ghost, more than 20 years since your latest solo offering Score in 1999. Tell us about this project. Why did it take so long to release another album?
Well, some things just take time. I never want to release music for the sake of releasing music. And with the film work supplying income, I also did not have to. Exit Ghost was developed over 8 years, from 2011 to 2019. It was always clear that I wanted to do a piano record at some point, I just could not figure out how to do this so it’s not just another piano release.
In so many words, I had to find my voice. Which then became more than a music exercise – as you take stock of your life, to figure out where you are at. As a creative person, you spend your whle life getting closer to something you can never fully reach. Exit Ghost is the closest I’ve gotten so far.
Q: How does the future look? Will it be a mixture between film scores and more personal projects like Neuland and solo works? Will you eventually return to your native Austria?
I will go where the future takes me. No specific plans.
Q: Me must of course talk a little more about Tangerine Dream. Do you have any contact with Chris Franke? I know that Johannes Schmoelling has tried to get in touch with him. I guess you and Franke are both living in LA. It seems like he is more or less out of the music business by now, but many TD-fans still dream of one final Franke/Haslinger-collaboration.
I am in occasional contact with Chris. I believe he spends a lot of time in Asia, where he has some business interests. Speaking for myself, I would always appreciate and enjoy working with Chris again – and I’ll always be grateful for his support during my early days with TD.
Q: What’s your opinion on the recent version of TD, lead by Thorsten Quaeschning?
I am good friends with Thorsten and Ulrich, and I think they are making a great effort to steer Tangerine Dream in the right direction. All power to them!
Also check out our Celluloid Tunes webcast special on Tangerine Dream (in Norwegian).
And thank you for asking about Chris Franke! I was thinking the same question.