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HomeMusicYellowjackets Composers Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker Create a Spooky Goddess Vibe

Yellowjackets Composers Craig Wedren and Anna Waronker Create a Spooky Goddess Vibe

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Yellowjackets music
Yellowjackets cast (Showtime)

Music is vital to any television show, but the music in Yellowjackets takes the Showtime series to the next level. At times loud and jangly, occasionally quietly sinister and otherworldly, and always inventive and unpredictable, it amplifies the heebie-jeebies, complements the gross-out factor, and drags you down the rabbit hole with the cannibalistic plane crash survivors in both timelines. Anna Waronker and Craig Wedren took over as composers from Theodore Shapiro, who composed the show’s theme, but only worked on the pilot. Waronker and Wedren went deep and dark in season one and even deeper and darker in season two. They’re a huge part of why Yellowjackets is so equally disturbing and compelling.

Below the Line recent engaged Waronker and Wedren in a joint Zoom interview. During the chat, they discussed how they met, building on their work in season one for season two, their favorite season-two cues, the vital contributions from other members of the music team, and more. And be on the lookout for a cool Randy Newman mention. Here’s what they had to say… 

[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length]

Below the Line: When did you start to take notice of music in movies and TV?

Craig Wedren: My friends and I growing up, we were living in Cleveland. When we were kids, it was music and movies. We were obsessed. Mine was a little more music than movies. And my friends were like a little more movies than music. And we still work together, them making movies and me making music with them. So, very early on, it was like a twin obsession, growing up together, staying friends, and working together. So, that was kind of like a before memory. It’s like that point in your life before you’re aware that those are things that people do. And then once you realize that’s something people do, it’s like, “I’m in.”

Anna Waronker: I watched movies and TV, and the music would always stand out to me. Like, Tommy, which I shouldn’t have been watching when I was really little. Mel Brooks movies. Musicals and weird movies like Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Lord knows why I was watching whatever I was watching. But I was watching all of these really cool things that I realized later influenced me. And also, the classic theme songs of the ’70s and ’80s sitcoms and television shows are deeply within me. My father’s best friend is a film composer, and so I watched him compose before I really understood what that was. There was a TV on the piano and he was writing the music out. 

BTL: Who was the composer?

AW: My dad grew up with Randy Newman. They were best friends as babies and are still best friends, as elderly babies. They worked together throughout Randy’s career and my dad’s career. But when I was a kid, he was just Dad’s friend Randy. I’d go over there for a bit and see him do this thing that I didn’t realize would shape my brain. Well, a lot of his music actually shaped my brain. But just seeing that, I thought it was so cool. And I didn’t even know I was a musician yet.

BTL: How did the two of you connect?

CW: We met through mutual besties, one of whom is one of Anna’s lifelong BFFs. They kept trying to fix us up professionally and friendship-wise, because we have very parallel stories with our bands and with our trajectories. We finally met at a seven-year-old’s birthday party. And it was like this (twists two of his fingers together).

AW: We’ve known each other for probably 10 years now. We didn’t start working together just yet. We had these very parallel experiences in bands and we both started composing at the same time. He stayed more on track about it and I would bounce in and out and do other things. We both have sons and they went to the same school. They’re one year apart. So, when we landed at the same school, we would see each other all the time. And we were like, “Let’s find something to work on together.” Then went out to an official lunch and talked about, “What would we want to work on if we found something?

CW: We did? I don’t remember that.

AW: Oh, yeah, we went to the Beachwood Café.

CW: I must have been drunk.

BTL: Have you two met?

CW: We’re telling freakishly different stories.

AW: I know, oh God. But then we were both up for a show called Shrill.

CW: Oh, yeah. That was actually interesting because it was through totally different connections. 

AW: My other best friend, not the one who introduced us, co-created and co-wrote and produced that show. We’d always talked about me working on it. I actually said to her, “Maybe this is something good for me to do with my friend Craig.” And we just left it there. Then, she called me one day and was like, “Hey, is your friend Craig Wedren? Well, the director just brought him up.” I was like, “Great, maybe it’s something we could do together.” So, we talked about it, and we got excited and we had a great meeting. We did three seasons, and it was really fun.

CW: And the call that I got was through the director of the pilot, Jesse Peretz, who was also one of the EPs on the show, who happened to be a dear friend and a former roommate from the buzzbin 90s. He was the former bass player for the Lemonheads. So, it all connects up.

Yellowjackets music
Yellowjackets cast

BTL: Yellowjackets, to me, felt like a cult show that found mainstream success. One, do you agree with that? And two, what was it like to have a front row seat to people’s massive response to the series?

CW: I would agree with that. It definitely felt like a cult show, even in its vision, I mean, it’s very unique. Visionary shows like that, there are more of them than most people know, and almost none of them break through. The obvious one that comes to mind is Twin Peaks, where something becomes a cultural phenomenon that’s a very distinct, personal, unique, audacious, ambitious vision. I think when we started working on Yellowjackets… I’m trying to remember. What did we think in the first season?

AW: It was a whirlwind. We were watching it out of order, the first season. We worked on it out of order. So, we were like, “What is going on?”

CW: I just mean, did we did we have any inkling that it was going to be mainstream?

AW: No. We were confused. We were like, “People are gonna love this or hate this.” We had no idea. And, for me, I don’t like scary horror. I don’t generally gravitate towards that. So, I really had no idea. But what I did know is that the plot, the soap opera element to it all, it grabbed me.

AW: Also, the female relationships, particularly the young ones, were so next level. Things were magnified, almost surreal, surrealistic, like dream-size. And the emotions and psychic warfare and the friendships… all of that seemed incredibly fresh and well handled.

BTL: What did the music in season one establish? And how did you build on that for season two?

CW: Our friend Theodore Shapiro composed the music for the pilot. And he brought in Caroline Shaw, who’s an extraordinary Singer and Composer in her own right, just to sort of collect vocal ideas, because he wanted there to be this female choral presence,

AW: Karyn Kusama, who directed the pilot, she suggested creating a female presence in the wilderness, musically, figuring out what that was. And so, I think that was part of what Caroline was really helping to bring to the table with Teddy.

CW: She was the wilderness. Teddy made this really beautiful template with the pilot. There was a year, maybe two, between making the pilot and Showtime picking up the show, by which point Teddy couldn’t do it anymore. Teddy and I had worked together in the past, and Karyn and I had worked together in the past, and we were all friends with Karyn. So, it was just a very all-in-the-family kind of fit.

My gut said that this show was gonna get much crazier than the pilot was hinting at. So, very quickly, especially with the first scene of the second episode, which was the plane crash, we needed to really bloody up the thing. More experimental, more wicked and delicious. More funhouse, kaleidoscopic. But still rooted in these beautiful, feminine, let’s call it, vibes. Because it’s not all female. I sing on it. So, there are all sorts of different energies that go into the score we make. But it’s this sort of spooky goddess vibe, I would say.

AW: I think you have a spooky goddess vibe!

CW: Then we just took it and ran into the blood machine with it.

BTL: And in season two, the characters evolved from going crazy to being crazy…

CW: Hence, the audience actually seeing what happened as opposed to guessing or wondering.

AW: In the beginning, we thought, “OK, from the second episode to the last episode of the first season, we’d created this whole thing. We’re gonna get ourselves set up for season two.” We took some preexisting themes and wrote some new themes, and then created these pieces of music that we thought we would just be able to pull from all the time, which we ended up doing. But we didn’t understand the level of depth they were going to go to…

CW: And the exponential complexity and insanity that was going to happen in the second season versus the first year, and how much (work) it was going to be to keep track of. We had to think, “What are we focusing on? What’s the main plot point? What’s the relationship?” We were trying to help the audience, hopefully, track what’s happening.

AW: And we did do it in order (in season two).

Yellowjackets music
Yellowjackets (Showtime)

BTL: What season-two cues are you happiest with?

CW: Episode 6 (“Qui”) was paint was emotionally painful, particularly for Anna.

AW: That’s the one when Shauna has the baby and the hallucinations. I’m a mother and I could relate to a lot of it, not obviously being in the wilderness without medical care, but I could relate to a lot of whatever they were channeling in their writing. I realized that was a very important moment for the show. It was when the show changed where the acting, which was already phenomenal, went to a whole other level — for everybody. I felt like we both emotionally kind of gave ourselves to the wilderness. Even though some of the music is a little calmer, because there’s a lot of stillness, and we’re only in one location for the most part, I’m just so proud of that whole episode.

CW: That was that one was emotionally difficult to get through, musically, but it was actually lovely to work on because there’s something elegant. It vibrates, but it doesn’t explode, necessarily. There’s an austerity to that episode, and an overt emotionality to it, which was really nice to work on, especially in the middle of the season, where there are all sorts of other crazy plates spinning. Definitely the final cue of the episode when house burns down, that was an exciting one.

AW: That was super exciting, but there’s another one that we’re forgetting which is…

CW: Lottie’s presence, when it’s like the threesome. Travis and Natalie are finally sleeping together successfully, but Lottie keeps appearing. That was an exciting one.

AW: I really liked working on the one with the Queen of Hearts. That was super-fun because it went in and out of the time periods. It was the first time we got to marry certain sounds to the adults and the younger cast at the same time. 

CW: By the middle of the season, the producers were like, “OK, now all the themes need to start blending and mixing.”

AW: But you know what? Actually, the Javi cue.

CW: The final Javi cue, when they’re carrying Javi’s body.

AW: I mean, that final one where they’re going to carve him up…

CW: It just hurt.

AW: We worked really hard on it. It was beautiful.

Yellowjackets music
Yellowjackets cast (Showtime)

BTL: What was it like to bring Caroline Shaw back in season two?

CW: Caroline was great. She sat on the couch and we put a mic next to her in the studio. We had all of these themes written. Anna and, in some cases, I had done all the basic vocals. So, all the major themes and melodies were there, and we bolstered them with Caroline and then were like, “All right. More phlegm more growling.”

AW: “What do you got? What’s your your witchiness? Let’s go!” I think she had a really fun time because she got to do stuff that she normally doesn’t do. We had a great time. It was like the opposite of season one, where we kind of used her vocals as those solid, pretty details, and then we added all the scream-y, creepy weird stuff. This was super-fun. I wonder how we’ll use her next time.

BTL: There’s a five-year plan in place for the show, and the hope is it will get there. But can the two of you think that far ahead, or do you just go episode by episode?

AW: I want five years, but we do it episode per episode.

CW: We have no idea what’s going to happen, no idea where the story is headed.

AW: And we don’t want to know. We need to know what we need to know. Like, we need to know anything major plot-wise-ish. They don’t give it away to us. Even though we get scripts, they like to watch my, our reaction to it.

CW: They like to watch Anna’s reaction on Zoom.

AW: Sometimes, they just like to watch me because I don’t gravitate towards horror. I am like a grandma in that way. I’m like, “AAAAAHHHH” (cringes). Not that I’m not saying grandmas can’t like horror. Of course, they can. I’m just saying that my inner Golden Girl comes out. And they love it because they can gauge, “OK, how is somebody who likes maybe comedy and reality TV going to respond?”

CW: But also just because they’ve been in the deep end of whatever episode we’re spotting for so long by the time we’ve spotted that it’s a fresh perspective. So, it’s nice to watch Anna. It’s also comical.

AW: We get screenshots of me like, “AAAAHHHH!” But we are both so into it as well. They do want to see both of our reactions.

Yellowjackets, seasons one and two, are available on Showtime. 

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