Behind the Title: Trollbäck CCO Alex Moulton

NAME: Alex Moulton

COMPANY:
Trollbäck+Company (@trollback)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a branding and design studio based in New York City. The company was formed in 1999. Our disciplines blend brand consultancy with a design-led production studio. Where this really makes a difference for our clients is in extending strategy and identity design into motion, content and experiences. Building a sustainable brand today requires a very intentional strategy across so many channels, and we’ve developed a more seamless, creative approach to branding across the entire spectrum of touchpoints.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Chief Creative Officer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As creatives and designers, I think our primary role is to encourage new perspectives and challenge the status quo. Right now, my personal goal is to redefine the traditional business paradigms of growth and value.

Conversations about growth in business are typically about impacting the bottom line, which tends to lead to a myopic view of both consumers and employees. I’d like to see a shift in business toward positively impacting personal growth. I know that I’m most creatively fulfilled when I’m educating myself to understand challenges more deeply and with more empathy, and it’s really important for me to champion this approach within Trollbäck+Company.

One of my first actions when joining the staff was to develop an internal curriculum that allows us to learn and engage with each other in new ways, and the results have been very inspiring. This inspiration translates directly into our work and client interactions.

Value is the other side of the same conversation in business. I spent a large part of my first months here working to refocus our offering around our core disciplines: strategy, design, content and experience. Our differentiator is our ability to build brands in motion and take them to market with a cohesive process, which is all about creating more value for clients. But what got us there was a lot of thinking and discussion around our values. What do we stand for, and why do we believe that good design makes a difference? People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. A lot of businesses discover this the hard way, especially now that they’re fielding 24/7 feedback on social media. I think true success comes from delivering clear values, not simply value.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I still love getting my hands dirty, especially when it comes to audio, which has been a big part of my career. I’ve been a musician and DJ for over 20 years, and I love composing music, as well as music supervision. In the past few months, I’ve been in the studio composing, contributing to a few of our audio branding projects, and I continue to DJ when my schedule allows. I’ll never lose that excitement for the music-making process.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I work with some of the most incredibly talented, thoughtful people that I’ve met in this business. Every day my goal is to learn something new from them.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When you pour your energy into a project and a presentation doesn’t land well — it’s always rough. No one likes to miss the mark, but for creatives it can crush your soul more than any of us would like to admit. I use those moments as learning experiences and remind myself to stay committed, not attached, to the end goal. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I love getting to work early. I always arrive before 9am after dropping my son off at school. I review all of the current work, update my to-do list, and catch up on business and industry news. That quiet time to focus is really important to me, before the onslaught of meetings and conference calls begins.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about game design. I think it would be fun to make an interactive gamified music experience that replaces the album format. I’ve been inspired by Brian Eno’s latest release “Reflection,” which is a wonderful way to release a music experience. I play his tvOS version through my apartment via Sonos, which is kind of mind-blowing when you think about it. If I could build from there and inject story and interactivity, I think it could be the start of a brand new medium.

I’d also probably dive deep into VR, or XR… as we’ll probably all start calling it soon, simply because it represents such a creative challenge. The tech is fascinating, but I’m not convinced about the storytelling side of the experience yet, based on what I’ve seen so far. The traditional approach to editing and camera movement that I learned in film school doesn’t work, so we need to develop storytelling tools that are unique to the medium. There’s so much room for experimenting with new narratives, making them more personal. I think it will be up to visual and sound artists to break new ground before the industry starts to establish best practices.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My career path has been an evolution that makes perfect sense to me, but might not appear so logical to everyone else. I remember my mom telling me that to become an orchestral conductor, you needed to learn every instrument. It’s not wholly true, but the idea has always fascinated me. I love film and music and storytelling, so I set out to master all of the “instruments.”

I was a professional actor and singer at age 12, taught myself video and early computer graphics and coding, went to film school, DJ’d and played in bands, worked as a film electrician, a DP, an editor, a director, composer, music supervisor, creative director… and the list goes on. I’ve owned two businesses, one that was successful and another that failed, but at every point I felt like I was accomplishing my goal of learning each instrument. Even better was meeting people who were much more talented than me. Now, having the ability to translate between different mindsets and technical proficiencies is invaluable. I hope in the end it makes me a great conductor.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Our projects vary widely, which is the best thing about working at a studio like this. We just refreshed NBC’s Universo channel, and I’m really proud of our team and the client for branding Hispanic television with such a forward-thinking approach.

On the personal side, I’m working with a growing coalition of music industry colleagues to create a world-class museum of music in New York City, surrounded by a community-focused music education center with the largest archive of recorded music in the United States. It’s a cause that I’m very passionate about.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m really upset and frustrated by the prospect of losing NEA funding, arts programs and public broadcasting. In 2009, I had the honor of contributing to the last rebrand of PBS. I loved every minute of that process and I’m still so proud of the work and impact that it had.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Refrigeration, electricity and antiseptics. I could live without the rest and be perfectly happy.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram has become my social platform of choice. I follow a lot of designers, photographers, museums, galleries and musicians that I love. I’ve also been spending more time on Medium, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their premium model affects the platform. I really enjoy podcasts — does that count? Right now, I’m subscribed to about 60 shows across a huge array of topics. Listening daily exposes me to more meaningful conversations, information and entertainment than I feel like I can get anywhere else.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
Most of my day isn’t spent at my desk, so listening to music for an extended period doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. We all share Spotify access across the office, which makes for a fun background soundtrack.

At home, Saturday mornings are usually tuned to KCRW’s Eclectic 24 station, and Sunday mornings are dedicated to playing vinyl records. I devote time each week to listening to new releases — it’s an old habit that used to happen every Friday morning, but now that releases happen on Mondays, I spread listening throughout the week.

It’s really hard to call out favorite tracks because I’m always digging for the next thing, but I do regularly update a handful of public playlists on Spotify. I’ve also got about 200 private playlists, where I obsessively categorize every new song that I like. Right now, I’m really into new house music that channels that ‘90s vibe – a fun hybrid of Future House and classic house piano riffs from artists like Jay Lumen, Shoe Scene, Redlight, Niko The Kid, and a bunch more. I love Shoegaze, and the latest album from Slowdive is fantastic. Hopefully, they inspire a wave of new bands that bring this sound back to the forefront. I’m also on the hunt for electronic artists that are bringing new approaches to African rhythms — there have been some incredible releases from Ribongia, Africaine 808 and Daniel Haaksman in the past couple years that have really inspired me to keep digging.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
My wife is a visual artist, and my seven-year-old son loves art, too, so we spend a lot of time at museums and art shows. I love being able to experience art through his perspective, especially as he starts to recognize artists and ask more detailed questions about what each piece means. His favorite is the Museum of Natural History, but this winter he decided he really likes The Met. I think my wife and I would prefer to wander through the galleries of the new Whitney, which is definitely one of the best things to happen in NYC in the last few years.


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