Isobel Waller-Bridge, whose film and TV work includes the scores for “Fleabag,” “Emma” and Netflix’s upcoming “Munich,” has signed a deal with Decca Publishing, the four-year-old publishing company that specializes in handling the catalogs of outside-the-box composers like Max Richter and Clint Mansell.
Waller-Bridge also recently signed with the Mercury KX label with the intention of putting out an EP this year and a full album next year. A newly released solo piano piece, “Illuminations,” is an indication of what the composer might be putting out on her own, on top of the work she’s done for films, theatrical pieces in her native Britain and even a pandemic-era online Parisian fashion show she scored for Alexander McQueen.
Prior to meeting Decca’s EVP, Natasha Baldwin, Waller-Bridge tells Variety, “I hadn’t given publishing an awful lot of thought, which is really to my detriment, because your publishing is paramount to your work. No one teaches you about that at uni.” (She studied at Edinburgh University, King’s College London and finally the Royal Academy of Music.) “Pre- our relationship, I was just writing music, and my focus wasn’t on either the business expansion of things or even something like looking at the McQueen project and thinking, ‘Oh, there’s a tiny bit of that that might be quite interesting for a dance piece.’ Now it’s breaking open my imagination for how flexible I can be with my music.”
Baldwin says that Decca “was born out of this realization that there’s this space between core classical and core pop publishing that exists. Universal Music Group has been amazing at supporting that through Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Mercury, Blue Note, Verve — all those great labels. There was that belief that actually we can help amplify those writer-composers on the publishing side, too, and ask, ‘Well, what does being a composer mean?’ Isobel is a perfect example of this: an extraordinarily talented writer-artist who can write theater and ballet, and then write an album and release it as a commercial artist, and then write film and TV show scores. And having that versatility between those three kind of disciplines really challenges what people think a composer should be or was.
“It’s really, rewarding and fun to be working with people like Isobel,” Baldwin continues, “who just kind of keeps defying expectations and genres and busting down doors all over the place. And that’s kind of the fun of it: Get your boots on and start busting these doors down.”
The term “post-classical” has come up for the kind of cross-breeding that Decca Publishing’s composers represent… which is not to say that Waller-Bridge isn’t comfortable in a just plain classical-classical world, as evidenced by her Mahler- and Haydn-influenced score for “Emma.”
But “the linguistics that surround core classical and the linguistics that surround pop are very different,” says Baldwin. “The worlds they exist in are very different, but there’s this sort of this space in the middle, so that we can sit with Isobel and talk about a Mozart requiem, but we can also sit and talk about Travis Scott. It’s that flex between the two in this space and saying, ‘Well, why do you have to fit into a genre definition? Why do you have to be defined by being put in a particular box?’ It’s about this sort of post-genre world that we work in and actually just moving very elegantly between these disciplines.”
Says Waller-Bridge, “It’s so nice too, because for me, it’s all about storytelling. I find it really interesting to say, ‘What is a composer,’ because for me, I’ve always found that music is my voice, and then you’re using that just for telling stories, whether it’s my own story through an album or collaborating with a director and a writer to tell someone else’s story through the music. Using music in those different ways just keeps me evolving all the time, I think. And yeah, I find that a nice place to be.”
At the beginning of 2020, Waller-Bridge had talked about getting an album done and possibly out by the end of the year. Plans changed, of course. There were film scores to be done, even though “Emma” was freshly in the can, including the spy thriller “Munich.” But she was happy to take what felt like her first break since before all that schooling.
“I created this sort of space to sort of work on the album, so it was actually quite a nice cooling off sort of period,” she says. “I was reading quite largely. And then, yeah, my sister [Phoebe Waller-Bridge] and I, because we were locked down together, we just did the things that we’ve always been doing literally since we have been like 12 years old, writing songs together and jamming and stuff like that. And now I’m working on two films, one feature and one documentary, and a play and an orchestral commission. So it’s got quite busy again at the moment.”
Future plans don’t have many limits on them. “I’d love to write an opera at some point,” she says, or something that might qualify as closer to a musical. “And dance has always been so interesting to me because of the expression without words, which is of course of what music does, too, and it’s so powerful, having movement and music together. I’ve just started the beginnings of conversations with a choreographer who I really think is phenomenal. We’re just starting to think of ideas to do together, which is thrilling to me. Looking at the way a choreographer choreographs a set of dancers is just another way of looking at visual stimuli, like responding to rushes or dailies coming in.”
Says Baldwin, “I do think actually in terms of where we sit musically, this is always about being disruptive and democratizing a space of music that has always historically been a bit niche. I’ve had the privilege of working with some really big mainstream pop writers as well. But there’s this space of music that more and more consumers are leaning into Our mission is always to get these composer-artist voices to the largest audiences. It’s cross-demographic, borderless music. What’s really exciting is that that space is just growing and swelling, and our job is just to really amplify it.”