Nathan Matthew David
1. What is your name and your profession(s)? Nathan Matthew David—composer and noise maker.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? Filipino—the son of two Filipino immigrants: one from Manila and one from Pampanga. I am a US citizen.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?
Neither of my parents is a musician, but I have many hobbyist musicians in my family!
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. Silence and invisibility—this was my experience growing up as a Filipino- American. The Philippines was colonized by Spain for 400 years and the US for 50 years, so there’s a bit of decolonization work that needs to be done for a lot of Filipinx and Filipinx-Americans. My parents and family were focused on assimilating so they could stay in this country. So I remember my family never wanting to stick out too much and being silent about a lot of things—especially injustices. My American classmates seemed so expressive, open, creative and comfortable within themselves, but I felt very awkward and alone in my experience. It wasn’t until later in life after connecting and speaking openly with more Filipinx-Americans did I realize that our experiences were very similar.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? My connection grows stronger as I find myself more and more as a person and as a musician. I’ve really fallen in love with studying traditional Filipino music and traditions—from the kulintang to the kutyapi—I now consider myself an eternal student to these practices. Having spent a lot of time studying western music throughout my life, it feels like coming home to play and study these instruments.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? 6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I came from a very musical family, but most of my family members were hobbyists or musicians with side jobs. Since my family had recently arrived in the US, the focus was on practicality and assimilation to stay in the country. Additionally, I rarely saw AAPI musicians in the mainstream, let alone as composers. So there was a lot of tension within my family when it became clear that my love of music would push me to pursue it professionally. At the time, there were just little to no examples to cite of Filipinos in America that had made it professionally as musicians. So the dream seemed very distant. But through sheer love of music and stubbornness, I just kept growing as a musician and eventually found myself playing in bands, writing music for student films and then studying film scoring formally at USC. After graduating, I became an assistant to my two mentors and dear friends: composers Theodore Shapiro and Ludwig Goransson. They really have shaped my career and gave me the belief I could make it. I didn't see anyone that looked like me as a film composer, and many of the rooms I went into didn’t have AAPI represented, so I didn’t have much reinforcement in my career. Through working with them and connecting more with my culture, I have a clearer vision of who I want to be as a Filipino-American composer and what that means.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
Young Rock Young Rock IMDB I’m currently the composer on a very heartfelt NBC show starring Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson called ‘Young Rock’. It’s been an amazing experience to work on a show that highlights a trailblazer such as The Rock—he was such an inspiration to many Pacific Islanders. Tenet Tenet IMDB I had the pleasure of being a synthesist and performer on this score as composed by my good friend and mentor, Ludwig Goransson. It was an amazing year of experimenting and exploring to find new sounds for this project. The Mandalorian The Mandalorian IMDB I had the pleasure of writing additional music for the most recent season of this show. It was so much fun to write in the Star Wars universe. Under The Grapefruit Tree Under The Grapefruit Tree I was the composer on this very heartfelt and powerful documentary from HBO that garnered me a 2021 Sports Emmy nomination! Awards:
2020 Peabody Award for composing the score to ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ 2020 ASCAP Dean and Mary Kay Foundation Award 2021 Sports Emmy Nomination for ‘Under The Grapefruit Tree’
8. Describe to me your dream project. When they cast an Asian into the James Bond franchise, I would LOVE to score that film. Aside from that, I’m passionate about uplifting BIPOC storytelling through my music and support.
9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? I think many of the challenges are structural—there aren’t many of us in positions of leadership within the music and film world; we often aren’t represented authentically on screen and we’re just not as visible as we should be. And with that lack of visibility comes a lack of opportunity. That dynamic was very discouraging to me growing up, so I want to make sure that current AAPI musicians and composers are visible to the younger generation. We’re hopefully building a community that can support each other and also also lift up the next generation. It will take a whole generation for true change, so hopefully the work we’re putting on the ground now will come to fruition now but especially in the future.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Growing up, I loved the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. He was a primary influence for me. I think Rina Sawayama is amazing and also the Filipina composer, Susie Ibarra! And I’m inspired by the many Asian film composers and Filipinx artists that are my friends and collaborators! All of you inspire me in so many ways!
10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? I hope that we can carve our own space to create and be expressive. We need to craft and support an environment where we can tell our own stories and tell them authentically. And I hope we can support each other as we make the climb.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? I’d tell my younger self that it is okay to be yourself, embrace your heritage and not be ashamed of being the son of immigrants.
12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I have a couple of exciting film projects that I can share in the future! I’m also working on album combining traditional Filipinx instruments and electronics that I’m excited to push out soon.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.
Activism and volunteering will always be in my blood, so I always make room for those elements. And I also have a fascination with architecture and the way it relates to music—particularly scoring.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I’d love to suggest two wonderful books for everyone and especially those in the AAPI community: ‘Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning’ by Cathy Park Hong and ‘Dear America’ by Jose Antonio Vargas. The former is a wonderful book on some of the feelings and experiences of being AAPI and the latter is by a Filipino author about his experiences in this country as an undocumented immigrant.
Spotify: Nathan Matthew David
Soundcloud: Nathan Matthew David
Photos provided by Nathan Matthew David