Q&A: Tampa composer Aaron Lepley talks Barbie Beach before Et Cultura screening

The film screens on Sunday Nov. 20.

Et Cultura Festival kicks off in downtown St. Petersburg on Wednesday and will celebrate the best and most interesting craftspeople, new technology plus filmmakers and musicians in Tampa Bay.

On Sunday, the Southern Exposure portion of the festival will screen Barbie Beach, a Courtney Dixon documentary about a long-standing Barbie doll installation on Highway 16 in Georgia. The film has also been accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. CL caught up with Aaron Lepley, a Tampa-based musician who provided the film’s soundtrack.

Read our Q&A below and listen to the soundtrack at the bottom of this post.

CL: The Moontower — talk about what that is, what it means to you.

Aaron Lepley: The Moontower is the home recording studio put together by myself, Damon Dougherty, and Kim Stein-Lepley. It’s our band Funny Bunny’s home base. It’s where we write, record, rehearse, and (Kim and I) live. Both our album and EP were recorded there, as well as my albums Imaginary Film Music and Barbie Beach. It’s special to me, not only because it’s where I spend a majority of my time, but because Damon and I have been piecing it together since we were teenagers. Little by little it’s grown to what it is today.  This year we’ve been lucky enough to have recorded and worked on projects with The Real Clash, Dru Cutler, Kelp, Smokestack Lightning, and DEA and Saint’s Michael Susack. I really enjoy working with other artists; it’s wonderful to learn from each other, and see other approaches and points of perspective.

Dean Street (ASCAP)? Yours?:

Yes, Dean Street Music (ASCAP) is my music publishing company.  Everything released by Funny Bunny, November Foxtrot Whiskey, and myself has all been published under Dean Street Music (ASCAP).

How did you link up with Courtney?

Courtney Dixon’s significant other, Eric Combs, is a close friend of mine. He suggested to her that I compose the music for Barbie Beach. She was reluctant at first, as she was unfamiliar with my work, but Eric convinced her to give me a shot. I’m thankful she did, as it was a really wonderful experience. We’ve developed a close working relationship and have collaborated since and are also moving on to other projects.

Where do the soundtrack’s song titles come from?

Most of Barbie Beach’s song titles either come from dialog from the film (“The Odd Ones”), the people who the film is about (“Steve Quick”), the filming location (“Turin, GA”), or photos of articles, objects, or hand painted signs showcased in the film (“Califone,” “Mort’s Bar,” and “Massacre at Barbie Beach”). The rest seemed fitting for the tone of the songs and scenes they were written for.

Just you and Kim on this thing. How long does that take from inception to mastered? 

Barbie Beach, from inception to mastering, took nine months- September 2015 to June 2016. 

Was this project particularly challenging compared to past stuff?

Once given the green light, I had to move fast to get everything in to meet the deadline. As a result, I played most of the instruments myself without bringing many musicians into the studio, because the time it would have taken to write out or teach someone else the parts would have taken longer than playing it myself. I challenged myself to wake up early and write, record, and mix one song a day. That didn’t always happen, but staying in that mindset helped me generate a mountain of material. I was so inspired, I couldn’t stop coming up with ideas that fit well with the film. I kept sending recordings after the due date.

Speaking of past stuff, talk about how you end up where you are/who you are musically, from birth to today. 

From birth to the age of ten, my father was a Pentecostal Minister. Growing up in a church, you are constantly surrounded by music.  I used to pick out melodies on the piano and organ, but overall, I wasn’t necessarily moved. Fast forward to when I was twelve, I saw David Bowie on TV, and that was it —I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

There’s a very lounge-y vibe running through the heart of this soundtrack...

I’ve never been to Turin, but what I took away from it is it’s a sleepy town nestled in the woods, where time moves slower than everywhere else. I wanted the music to personify leaves blowing across a wooden porch, or sunlight peaking through oak trees in the winter. Not to sound cliche, but I played what I saw.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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