Nick Vasallo, our heavy-metal-influenced composer-in-residence

Composer Nick Vasallo

Meet Nick Vasallo, Elevate Ensemble’s composer-in-residence for the 2016/17 season! We couldn’t be more excited to have the chance to collaborate with Nick, who is already at work writing the first of his new pieces for the group. For those who aren’t already familiar with his work, we asked Nick to answer a few ice-breaker questions.

How did you get into music, and what led you to composition?

My father, Ricardo, is an audiophile and avid music collector. He has a gigantic collection of music in his house, enough to open a small record store. I have him to thank for a lot of my early musical influences. He is also a die hard Beatles fan.

I can actually pinpoint a single event that led to my path towards composition. When I was 14 years old I saw a live performance by Nirvana. After the performance, the band trashed their instruments and their set ended with lovely feedback. I thought to myself, “I could do that. I want to do that!” So for my birthday, I asked for an electric guitar. My parents bought me a black Squier Stratocaster with a practice amp. I’d wait until I was alone at home, then I’d turn all the knobs up and play. I didn’t know how to tune or play anything, so I would basically improvise noise. I bet the neighbors loved it.

You have a background in metal music, does this show up in your composing?

Yes. I’d say it’s aesthetically omnipresent.

Who was the first composer that really had an influence on you?


If you had to describe your music in three words, what would they be? Include a link to a recording that demonstrates this.

Intense. Heavy. Epic.

What are your comfort foods?

  • Any Filipino dish, though Longsilog comes to mind.
  • Mei Cai Kou Rou (Steamed Pork Belly w/ Preserved Mustard Greens).
  • Legit street tacos with tripas or chicharron.

What’s your favorite non-musical activity?

Mixed Martial Arts and strength and conditioning. I currently train in Muy Thai kickboxing and Jiu-Jitsu at Danville Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Kickboxing. I also do strength and conditioning at Diablo Barbell in Concord. I feel much happier when I work out, so when I have the time – I do!

If you were going to sit down and learn a new instrument, which would you pick, and why?

Cello because of its timbral, dynamic, and pitch range. It has a therapeutic energy to it as well. I can imagine myself retiring and playing the cello into my old age.

What have you been listening to lately?

Nothing really. I don’t listen to music as often as I used to. There’s nothing in my car; the lack of organized sound helps me focus on sounds in my head. At home my life is filled with whatever sounds my daughter is making or listening to. My wife as well. I watch a lot of movies and mostly read.

What’s your least favorite instrument to write for?

Classical guitar.

What time of the day do you like to write music?

I tend to ponder and imagine throughout the day and write late at night.