FX's You're the Worst is currently one of the hottest sitcoms on TV (not to mention one of my personal favorites!). I got a chance to chat with the show's composer Adam Blau about his music writing process, some of his other projects and more.
What can you tell us about your percussion expertise? How have you used that tool when scoring or arranging for films?
I’ve had the chance to work on several films as a percussion arranger in a variety of styles. On scores like Mark Isham’s for The Express or Chris Beck’s for We Are Marshall, the composers wanted to use a drumline style incorporated throughout the score to evoke a collegiate/sports/marching band feel. I was brought in for those films as well as a few others to arrange and orchestrate parts for our percussionists, as well as to produce the percussion sessions. Which, by the way, were recorded in a massive series of overdubs, with 3 or 4 drummers playing each individual part one at a time along with a click track — not by recording a full band at once. Film scores being what they are, it is important to have that flexibility when mixing — the ability to mute a snare drum part can be a critical thing at the last minute when mixing against dialogue and effects. I’ve also worked with Joel McNeely on each of his gorgeous scores to Disney's Tinker Bell series of films, complementing his music cues with an array of world percussion.
As far as my own compositions, I have an early background playing funk and rock piano, and so much of how I write music often comes from that same rhythmic sensibility. Whether it’s the retro jazz Burt Bacharach/Swingle Singers-style pieces I wrote for the Robin Williams film License to Wed or the more electronic beat-based cues I use on You’re The Worst, the television show I’m scoring now, I find a way to incorporate a percussive sensibility all the time.
Which film project best represents your work?
This is tough, because I’ve worked on a fairly diverse bunch of projects, which is actually something I love — the variety of it. It’s part of the reason I’ve enjoyed doing single-camera television comedies lately. I enjoy the challenge of not only coming up with an original score to suit the characters, but also to be able to fade in and out of styles as needed for punchlines — to mimic a particular type of music cue, whether it’s an Oceans 11-style heist or a Usual Suspects-type reveal or who knows what. It’s fun to figure out what makes different types of cues tick, and to try to create my own version of it.
I guess along those lines I’d have to say that for film, a score I did for an indie called Fuzz Track City has all the things that I enjoy best — a score in a vintage style (in this case, the style of 1970s scores like David Shire’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and those by Ennio Morricone), but ending up in a moody/serious place more influenced by current styles of scoring. We worked hard to find creative ways of getting a good musical product on a shoestring budget. For instance, I also worked with the director Steve Hicks to find some awesome vintage songs to fill the film with, primarily found by digging into the deep, deep back catalogs of production music libraries. There’s some great stuff in those collections, and the tracks we found really lend a unique vibe to Steve’s stylistic visuals and just plain cool story for the film.
What is the coolest film festival you have been to? Have you ever been awarded for your music or songwriting?
I have! For "Fuzz Track City," in fact. We won Best Score at the Downtown Film Festival LA, and also took home the music prize at Beloit International Film Festival, as well.
In License to Wed, where can we hear your contributions?
Anytime you hear the 60s-era retro-jazzy Burt Bacharach/Swingle Singers-type music, that’s my stuff. It’s interwoven throughout the film, right from the opening. You get to hear it in its purest form in the closing credits, where we do a long suite of it. I have to say that while I know this style of music is straight out of Squaresville for some people, I have a major soft spot in my heart for it. And to be able to record a 90-something-piece ensemble on the Warner Bros scoring stage with a blazing rhythm section that included the legendary Jon “JR” Robinson on drums, and vocalists that included actual members of the Swingle Singers — it was just a huge thrill for me.
What was your favorite part about working on Fuzz Track City?
Aside from getting to work in that 70s groove style for the score, which itself was a blast, I’d have to say that one of my favorite parts was collaborating on the musical vibe of the film with Steve Hicks, the director. There’s a huge overlap in our musical sensibilities, so it was fun getting to dig deep into our shared love of those older scores. He’d already temped the thing with so many vintage scores, and I enjoyed our discussions about them, and finding ways to integrate their vibe into the film through both the score and the licensed tracks we discovered.
Music often comes so late in the process of putting together a film or television show, and it’s important to be able to communicate quickly and clearly with the director and producers. Every project is different, and music can be such a critical part of a film or television show’s vibe. It’s why I love the collaborative process that’s inherent in working on comedy projects — whether it’s framing a particular musical moment to set up a gag, or to know when to pull back and let the dialogue speak for itself, timing is everything. I try to achieve that sense of collaboration in each project I work on — like in You’re The Worst, show creator Stephen Falk and I have reached a point after working together for several years where we’ve developed a bit of a shorthand, and I can often get a sense of what he’s looking for simply based on our history at this point, even when he wants to try something in a totally different direction, which happens a fair bit on that show. Any time I can have a good collaboration with the creative minds behind a project, it is incredibly rewarding — and I found that to be the case on Fuzz Track City, as well.
What have you been up to at Formosa Music?
Formosa is a music editorial company, and I work with their fantastic group of music editors in a variety of capacities. When they are just starting to work on a film, for example, I’ll consult with them about scores to consider when they’re creating their temp tracks — the music previously written for other films that will help set the overall tone and pacing of music for whatever film they’re working on now. I maintain our massive and constantly-expanding collection of scores that the editors use to temp with. It’s great getting to stay aware of all the new scores, and I find this knowledge extraordinarily handy when writing my own music.
In addition to helping with temp scores, I’ll also help music editors when they’re hunting for production library music to place in their films — that is, easily-licensable tracks that can be cut in for moments where score or well-known artist tracks won’t fit the bill. In fact, I’ve become so fond of some of the more esoteric corners of these libraries that I’m gearing up to launch a podcast (called Rarefied Air) that focuses on some of the more enjoyable vintage tracks from a few of these collections that have been around for decades. It’s a labor of love, but I find that some of these relatively unheard-of production music tracks are just great listens, and I’m looking forward to highlighting them on the show.
Do you have a website and/or social media links?
If I’m anywhere, it’s usually Twitter: @adamblau