Playing Along

Andrew Joslyn, ’05, has made a career at the intersection of pop and classical music – and a long list of musicians want to join him there.
Meri-Jo Borzilleri
"I think that music in its purest form is always a collaborative art form."
Joslyn with Judy Collins
Andrew Joslyn with Judy Collins

Andrew Joslyn, ’05, B.A., English literature, could be the most versatile musician you’ve never heard of, and that’s OK by him. Joslyn’s biggest rush comes from collaboration, not celebrity. It’s more fun that way. 

The 37-year-old Joslyn, who grew up on Bainbridge Island and lives in Seattle, is a violinist who has worked with a mindboggling array of stars and music styles. He is no stranger to fame—his half-brother is former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Chris Kattan. And Joslyn has known Macklemore since he was just Ben Haggerty, co-writing just about every Macklemore record since 2008. He has performed on the star rapper’s four world tours and arranged music for Macklemore’s last three albums, including four-time Grammy winner “The Heist.” 

Now, within the demanding, competitive music industry, Joslyn has made a name for himself too. Last year, he co-wrote, performed strings and arranged horns for pop star Kesha’s No. 1 hit single, “Praying,” which won him two BMI Pop Awards. Joslyn also got to write lyrics and help create a storyline for “Hamilton” alum Leslie Odom Jr.’s debut album due in fall 2019.

Along the way, Joslyn’s writing, orchestrating, recording and touring credits include a diverse group of artists, including Seattle-area singer-songwriters Mary Lambert, Mark Lanegan and David Bazan, indie hip-hop artist K.Flay, folk icon Judy Collins, fellow WWU alums ODESZA, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, indie rocker Father John Misty, Latin Grammy winner Nando Reis, and the Seattle Rock Orchestra, among others. His Passenger String Quartet is an experimental neo-classical group that performs original compositions and backs national touring groups. He also lectures on the music industry, writes music for commercials and video games, and has contributed music for the award-winning podcast, “Casefile: True Crime,” and TV shows “Bob’s Burgers,” “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Lorraine.” 

Lately, he is excited to be scoring Hollywood films, including “Life with Dog” (2019), “Hickok” (2017) and “American Violence” (2017). The chance to score feature films came after the success of his own debut album in 2017, the orchestral pop “Awake at the Bottom of the Ocean.”

Window magazine: You have so many titles attached to your name. When you get up in the morning, how do you decide what to do?

Andrew Joslyn: Here’s the thing: I still am very much a focused artist. I started playing violin when I was 5. What I do is focused on the marriage of classical and pop music. I’ve always really focused my work in an orchestral sense. So it’s not like I also try to do heavy metal music and reggae, and this and that. At a certain point you can be so generalized that you really don’t have anything to offer of skill. I try to keep it as focused as I can.

Window: So then why did you change your major your junior year?

Joslyn: I was kind of freaked out—I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing professionally with music, but I didn’t want to just drop it. (Joslyn graduated with a violin performance minor.)

I studied with Walter Schwede, a violin performance professor. He was fantastic. I first went to Western because of him. I really liked his approach to the instrument. 

(I did) a lot of studying of classic literature from Nicholas Margaritis… I learned to appreciate so much of good writing through him, and actually good music too. Between him and Walter, they were very influential. They’d be like, “Hey, here’s some great records you should listen to and here’s some amazing things you should be aware of.”

Window: Even with an English degree, you really got your start in music at Western.

Joslyn: I met another Western alum, David John Wellnitz (’05, B.A., political science) and we started a band back in the day. He went to Fairhaven. Met him my sophomore year … I instantly loved his guitar playing. The band name was Handful of Luvin’. We toured together for 10 years, and it was a great introduction to the music industry for me. After I left the group, they continued on as the amazing group Heels to the Hardwood that performs regionally.

Window: In an industry of outsized egos, some see collaboration as a steppingstone. You keep returning to it. Why?

Joslyn: I think that music in its purest form is always a collaborative art form. Live performance with a person, performing for an audience, that kind of environment is so collaborative. The music is better when it is done collaboratively…I sometimes enjoy (it) better when I’m doing it with someone else in the room, just because you feel a little less crazy when you have someone to share the burden with.  

Window: Why do you like scoring films?

Joslyn: You are the emotional trajectory of an entire film—which is actually kind of amazing, to have that power. And I really feel like there’s a lot of artists that can’t do it. It’s such a challenge: “Here’s 43 cues of music for a 75-minute film. What’s the ensemble you’re going to have? How can you capture and help focus a director’s vision, without losing your own artistic integrity? How much money do you have available to make the most amazing soundtrack, while budgeting a team of musicians and engineers?”

Window: What’s your latest project?

Joslyn: I’m working on a film right now called “The Soviet Sleep Experiment.” It’s actually a horror film. I get to experience working in very bizarre, textural horror sound design. I’m really excited because I’ve never done a horror film before.

Window: What was it like having a famous brother?

Joslyn: (When I was) in the eighth grade, my brother became worldwide famous being on “Saturday Night Live.” We’re 12 years apart. Just imagine that kind of world—“Oh, that’s my brother on TV.” It was just very bizarre. My second year (at Western) I was an RA on the seventh floor of Mathes Hall, and my mom was on the Mother’s Day special for “Saturday Night Live.” The best way to put it is, I actually got from this a very level-headed perspective. Being able to work, to see that trajectory for my brother and for Macklemore, allowed me to walk in a room with someone like Leslie (Odom Jr.) and be totally nonplussed: “Let’s just focus on the work.”

Andrew Joslyn and Leslie Odom Jr.
Andrew Joslyn with Leslie Odom Jr.
Joslyn and Austin Jenckes
Andrew Joslyn with Austin Jenkes, 10, B.A., communication

is a Bellingham-based writer, editor and digital storyteller.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Joslyn