Thomas Mizer and Curtis Moore were fans of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel well before Amy Sherman-Palladino brought them in to write music for Season 3. With laughs coming a mile a minute from the stage, the Amazon Prime Video series isn’t one that relies heavily on a score. Instead, what Mizer and Moore do is compose the songs for the Emmy-winning show.
The duo wrote ditties for Shy Baldwin and Harry Belafonte, and they even took a stab at a fictional Broadway musical, for which they wrote at least five songs plus an overture even though the musical is only seen for a few moments in the series.
Mizer and Moore took a break from recording the fifth and final season of Mrs. Maisel to discuss their work on the show, their writing process for all the songs, and how the pandemic impacted that process.
Below the Line: The two of you have been writing music for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for a few seasons now. What first drew your interest to the project?
Curtis Moore: Oh my gosh. Well, we love the show. The funny thing is, we’ve been fans of the show before we were even involved with the show. From the get-go, we’ve been really excited about it. But we actually connected because we know the creator and director, Amy Sherman-Palladino. We had been paired up with her on a blind date, basically, to write together for a theater piece. We come from a theater background. We had been paired up with her and we had been working on a piece for a while. She said to us one day, she’s like, Listen, I’ve got this small show I’m doing for Amazon. It’s only going to last a couple of months but I’ll be back as soon as it’s over. And of course…
Thomas Mizer: No one’s gonna watch.
Moore: No one’s gonna watch it and of course, it ended up being Maisel, which was a huge hit. She brought us on it, basically, because we had been working with her in the theater.
Mizer: Sadly, that musical is a little bit on the shelf right now.
Moore: We had to put our stage project aside while we’ve done Maisel.
BTL: As soon as I heard there was a new series about a Jewish comedian, I immediately had my interest piqued.
Moore: Exactly, right. They do it so well. It’s just such a fun piece to be involved with.
Mizer: It’s like being — especially because we were fans for the first two years, knowing Amy but watching her show and just being blown away by every technical aspect of the show, from costumes to the production design, and the music. To be honest, it had such beautiful, amazing needle drops. We just got to enjoy this stuff, and there wasn’t a score. It was something that we could enjoy like, ahh, too bad there’s not original stuff. But they don’t have original stuff. Until the third season, they did.
BTL: It’s hard with a show about a stand-up comedian. With laughs going a mile a minute, when do you have time to fit in a score?
Moore: I know. Exactly. Exactly. It’s very crazy. It’s also interesting because, as Tom said, it’s not something you see very often. There’s almost always music written for a show and the fact that they can really pull off this entire really crazy, intricately edited show with not having score is a feat to Dan and Amy because they’re so good with knowing what kind of music they want. They’ve got this amazing Music Supervisor, Robin Urdang, who just totally nails out of the park all the time for all those moments.
BTL: How did the pandemic change up your usual process for the new season?
Mizer: It changed up everybody’s process, of course. For us, I live in LA and Curtis lives in New York so we already worked remotely. So for us, it wasn’t a huge leap. It was something that we were used to. We joke — I used to live in New York. I lived in Brooklyn, he lived in Manhattan, and we used to Zoom there because I couldn’t be bothered to go under the East River.
Mizer: We were fine but the issue was more that in Season 3, we were able to be in recording studios the whole time and on set. This time, there was more distance. I wasn’t able to be there for a lot of it. I stayed in LA and so I was zoomed into recordings, which just requires a level of trust and detail. It’s hard to focus. Everyone has to have their A-game to really listen and pay attention to detail.
Moore: Right. I think what was also different, just to get more specific, too, is when we recorded songs for Season 3, like “No One Has To Know” for Shy Baldwin, we did that live on a stage with everybody in the same space. For Season 4, we just we couldn’t do that. In fact, we’re still doing the same thing today in this space. For Covid protocols, we have to keep instruments and vocalists isolated. It just makes things a little more complicated and takes a little bit more time. But it’s also been really exciting watching everybody on staff make that work. We still managed to make all the songs sound like we were recording in the same space because we are, technically, we’re just divided. That sort of added an element of challenge, which I think also ended up making it a little more creative because we had to do a lot of things that we wouldn’t have done otherwise or we would have done a different way.
Mizer: I think Amy was really clear from the beginning of season four. She was very specific that she didn’t want this to be the season when people went back and watched the show that they went, Oh, season four, that must have been during Covid. She wanted it very clearly to still feel like the rest of the series and not cut those corners.
BTL: Sometimes when I’m watching something, it’s like, yeah, that was definitely shot during the pandemic.
Moore: Right, right. I love when people have been writing it into the show, too. They’d be some of the —
Mizer: Suddenly people are trapped in a room for a long time.
Moore: Exactly. Like, oh my gosh.
Mizer: But they still went to Coney Island.
Moore: Yeah, they still did all that stuff. When they couldn’t do on-site stuff, they just built really amazing sets. The Woolford set is incredible. I thought it was a theater but they actually built an entire theater at the studio in Brooklyn. It’s incredible.
Mizer: It’s incredible.
Moore: Really amazing. I kind of want to do our show there.
Mizer: We want them to just do one of our musicals there.
Moore: Exactly. Great.
Mizer: It just doesn’t have a roof. That’s it.
Mizer: It has lights instead of a roof.
BTL: In terms of the songs, what were you all going for with this year’s selection?
Mizer: This year was really about diversity. It was about Amy calling us up and every time she would call us, it would be the craziest, strangest new request that we didn’t believe was possible. We would think she was poking us. It went from, you’re gonna write a bunch of Burlesque tunes. Oh, you need to write a fake Broadway musical.
Moore: Yes, she literally told us we have to write the score to a Broadway musical that has one really good song and that’s it. And then it’s played over and over again. She also told us, Yeah, we have to write a whole bunch of stripper songs for this burlesque.
Mizer: And then to top it off, Harry Belafonte. Like yeah, you’re gonna write a song for one of the most iconic performers of all time. You know that everyone knows his songs. Oh, great. Thanks, Amy.
Moore: It was a real challenge because when we’re writing for Shy Baldwin, that’s a fictional character so makes sense that his songs are new and fictional. You know what I mean? One of the best treats we got in the studio recording was when one of the vocalists was like, I tried to find this song so we could know what the song was. I’m like, no, you’re not gonna find it because we wrote it originally. This is all new. But for Harry Belafonte, he’s a famous person. He has an amazing catalog. We’re not going to write a song better than what he’s already done and that was a real challenge for us.
Mizer: Yeah. We struggled to get that right until Amy actually — she’s just so good. She’s so smart. She gave us one note, which was, it’s not a pop song; it’s a wedding toast. Suddenly, it had story to it. It was about the band and Harry getting together and doing a little light teasing of Shy and his bride. Once we think of it as a best man’s toast, it opened up and we were able to then have a lot of fun with it and loosen it up, and not worry too much because it was in his style but it’s very much a personal gift to the bride and groom.
BTL: How much fun was it to write for a fictional Broadway musical when you have your own musical on the shelves right now?
Mizer: [Laughs] The fun part for me, I think, I would say was that it was a bad musical.
Moore: Yes, it was fun. I mean, the truth is, when we work on this stuff — well, first of all, you only see moments of the song on screen. We always write the whole song and record it. We wrote five or six songs from that musical and a whole overture. We literally could do They Came, They Danced as a stage reading at 54 Below in New York City. What do you always say? We should do it an “opposite Smash,” right?
Mizer: Yeah, we should do the music from Smash and then we come in and rap and do They Came, They Danced.
Moore: Exactly. There is a musical that exists. But yeah, it was very funny to get to do that. Also, what’s great about it is these things happen so fast. We always get to work with David Chase to do arrangements we need and he’s just the most fantastic orchestrator, fantastic guy. He’s amazing to work with so that was a real blast to do those Broadway tunes. It was also great because we were doing that — again, going back to your Covid question. We were doing that in Covid and one of our favorite things was [that] we got to bring in all of our friends who we work with in theater who have all been furloughed, let go, or their shows had closed. Everyone. We weren’t working at the time so suddenly, when Maisel came back in into gear, we got to really bring those people together. It was some of the first recording gigs that any of us had and it was a real treat. It was a very emotional moment to kind of have all of our friends together again, and actually performing, working, and making art. It was really great.
Mizer: I’ll never forget. Musicians aren’t usually the most emotional people. You can count on the actors to get a little huggy and teary. But that first day [of] recording with the orchestra, Curtis sort of gave a little speech about how wonderful it was to be in a room with people again making music. The orchestra got emotional. It’s so special to be able to feel that energy again.
BTL: I can’t even imagine. That just got me sidetracked.
Moore: I know. No, it’s okay. It really was — I mean, we have to remember that at the end of the day, we’re all just doing what we do. We’re doing what we love to do or what we need to do. It’s our job but it’s also what we love. It’s been a tough time for everybody and we’re very blessed, privileged, and lucky to get to do what we do. We try not to take it for granted. It’s been really, really lovely to be able to work on a show like this.
BTL: What was the writing process like for writing the new Shy Baldwin hit?
Moore: Oh, my gosh. It’s always a treat.
Mizer: The challenge on this was sort of twofold. We definitely wanted it to feel like his next album. We wanted it to feel like it’s the big single coming from a new album so his sound is progressed a little forward into the ’60s. We decided that Amy’s original idea for Shy was that he was sort of somewhere between Johnny Mathis and Sam Cooke, which might as well be like in different time zones. In season three, he leaned a little more on Johnny Mathis. He’s getting more Sam Cooke. There was just playing with the rising sounds of a sort of soul and R&B coming up and Motown coming up. We wanted to play with that on one side and then otherwise, it was the subtext.
Moore: Yeah. This one I found was so interesting. Because we’re writing Shy — what’s great about being involved with Amy from the get-go on this project is that we’re brought in with the story in mind. A lot of times the scripts aren’t even finished yet — they know where the story is going to go; they know what’s going to happen. We can write the songs with a little bit of context. We’re not just writing a pop song for Shy, we’re writing a pop song for Shy knowing what his character is going through and what he’s done. We knew what happened with him in season three. In season four, he’s getting married and it’s kind of sad a little bit. A) that’s part of what sort of enlivened and sort of inspired what Harry Belafonte does but it also lets us continue the storytelling that we do as songwriters, which bubbles underneath. We can sort of insert a little bit of our own commentary into the song that he’s singing.
Mizer: There was one line in the script, really from the earliest version that we saw, that mentioned that “City Lights” was written by Reggie, his manager. When you think about it from that perspective, those words are actually coming from his best friend who he’s leaving behind because of this business deal, basically. When he sings about having a home, traveling, and seeing the world and you’re my home, when you really think about it, it adds a little bit of bitter sweetness. Shy has to sing this song for the rest of his life. It’s a big hit and he’s always going to know it’s really about Reggie. That’s what I hope comes through. That’s the kind of stuff that we put there because we care about the story and hopefully it adds texture so it’s not just another needle drop. There’s a reason it’s original.
BTL: How much of the direction comes from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino?
Moore: It depends. They’re very, very specific and very active in what we do. But a lot of times, they really give us a wide berth. They sort of tell us a general idea of what they want and then we’ll often go away and write two or three or four or five or six different songs for that moment and give them options because we find it a lot easier to talk about something when it exists as opposed to just sort of abstractly talking about something. We end up writing a few different versions and then they know that’s the one and we’ll go back in and tweak it. Sometimes there are questions about — can it go a little more [in] that direction? Or can we have a little more feel like this? Or can you get this idea? We’re like, yes, but a lot of times, they know it when they hear it and we give them the options.
Mizer: There’s a wonderful inner plan of collaboration that we’ve found really exciting, that beyond just turning in the song, we’re a part of the process beyond that. If the camera move Amy has in mind takes a couple of beats longer, we’ll work with the song and figure out oh, yeah, okay, great. We will work with that. If there are certain instruments you’re seeing on stage, we want to make sure that what you’re hearing is what you’re seeing and that kind of stuff. It’s great that they don’t just take our demos and we walk away. We’re part of it to the very end.
Moore: Going beyond that, too, it’s really great to be involved in all the orchestration arranging. I get to conduct these things. It’s just beautiful to be part of the entire process and create an entire fabric of the intent of the piece and feel so supported by the team.
Mizer: It’s a little exhausting right now because we’re literally in the middle of Season 5 right now. If we turned up the volume of what’s coming from here, you’d have big spoilers.
Moore: I know.
Mizer: We can’t let that happen.
Moore: We can’t. Look this way.
Mizer: Just don’t. Don’t look over here.
BTL: I guess that takes out my next question — can you give a preview of what’s to come in Season 5?
Moore: All I can tell you is it continues to be the craziest requests we’ve been getting from Amy and Dan and it is a blast. We’re super, super sad it’s the last season because it’s been such a blast. But we are having a ball and it’s going to be amazing.
Mizer: We’re gonna go out with a bang. That’s for sure. They’re not just letting us disappear. We’re here and it’s gonna be fun.
Moore: It’s been amazing.
BTL: When it came to writing the music, how many songs from the 60s did you listen to with trying to get a vibe for what you’re going for?
Moore: All of them.
Mizer: Every single one.
Moore: I mean, we really do immerse ourselves in it. What’s interesting is that both Tom and I, our parents are from that era. They listened to all that music and we heard them listen to it growing up. It’s all very much in our DNA. Tom grew up in Detroit and Motown was your thing.
Mizer: Motown was a point of pride in the family. It’s what we listened to.
Moore: Of course, when we get into writing, we try to get a little more specific about what’s actually happening in 59, not just in the 50s or 60s. We want to be as specific as we can and we try to get as authentic as we can. At the same time, we don’t confine ourselves to—there is some leeway to have some creative freedoms there that we allow ourselves.
Mizer: It definitely wants to—I don’t think we’ve ever put it this way but we tried to transport ourselves to 1959-1960. We don’t want to sound like other people writing from then. We want to sound like us writing then if that makes sense.
Moore: Like if we were working in the Brill Building, what would we write?
Mizer: It still has our personality, our take on what’s happening in the musical world at the time.
All four seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are streaming on Prime Video.