The first season of Love, the Netflix dramedy series created by Judd Apatow, Paul Rust, and Lesley Arfin and starring Rust and Gillian Jacobs, presents a bittersweet reversal of sitcom conventions while also offering a somewhat rare depiction of Los Angeles as a personality in and of itself. Helping both of those aesthetic aspects along is the score by songwriter Lyle Workman, best known for creating the music for Superbad, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The longtime Apatow collaborator created the music for Love in the same way he’d write songs for a band, using a variety of tools ranging from typical rock band equipment to contrabass and Mexican folk insturments. The resulting score stands out for blending rock, Mariachi and other genres, and reflects the characters as much as it does much of the city in which Love takes place. (Listen to a sampling of it here.)
As the show winds down its Emmys campaign, Deadline had the chance to talk at length with Workman about his music for the show, the jam session approach to scoring it, how his own background played into it, and more.
DEADLINE You’ve worked with Judd Apatow a lot, and I understand you began to work on the music for Love before you saw anything from the show-
Workman I started without seeing anything, though I’d read the pilot script. So my first conversation with Judd, I think he wanted to see where I’d go on my own. He just wanted me to get writing, so I’d submit some stuff, in a certain genre – I did something that was a little more electronic. As it turns out the very first thing I wrote ended up being the main title theme, how funny is that?
DEADLINE That’s a great thing to get right off the bat – “here’s the official theme song.”
Workman Yeah, and I think he wanted me to just keep writing and experimenting, and when we started looking at music to picture what stuck was kind of this organic, weird hybrid of Mexican folk instruments and kind of pop songwriting in a way, guitar, percussion, things like that. It kind of melded into a big swirl.
DEADLINE Something that struck me watching the show is how present Los Angeles is instead of just being a generic setting. Your score seemed to reflect that, but was that a deliberate choice on your part?
Workman I’ve been living here for 20 years, so definitely a lot of that creeped in. But oddly enough, I grew up in the Bay area and just happened to live in an area which was heavily populated by Latinos. I’ve got cassette tapes of me playing with my friends, I played some mariachi music when I was a kid with my friends’ parents. That also includes extended family members. That culture has been a big part of my life, that sound and that music.
Once I’ve got those instruments in my hand, an instrument will coax certain things out of you. But in writing the soundtrack there was nothing genre specific it was more technical, rather than writing straight up mariachi. It kind of created itself in a way. People ask me about the process, and a lot of it is a mystery to me. I pick up instruments, I watch the characters, and all of that filters in.
DEADLINE: How did you go about writing that?
Workman There’s two methods of writing for the show. One was kind of a standard composer method where you watch a scene and pick up a guitar and start to build it from scratch. But Judd had this idea of putting me in the studio with musicians to just write music for the show. Not to picture, just with the show in mind. That portion of the score ended up strongly featured throughout the season.
I really haven’t worked like this before. Normally you’re writing a scene, you’re just trying to get the music to fit a moment or dialogue. This way you’re more trying to tell the whole picture, but there’s a certain freedom in that, all the attention is on the music, it’s a complete meal in the right places just like a great song. Song placement in a show is a really powerful thing, and this was a thing that was just running with integrity, just writing music without trying to hit marks. That yielded great surprises when they put my music to certain scenes, like a wonderfully happy accident.
DEADLINE Any examples?
Workman There’s one episode where [Mickey, played by Gillian Jacobs] is out looking for her cat, putting up posters. There’s a little montage with a a really nice piece of music. Not written for that scene, just written as music, thinking about the whole show. We’re going to continue to do that on the show. It’s not the complete method, but it’s nice to have these jam sessions.
What’s unique about them is I come to the studio with only a skeletal idea in my head, maybe just a guitar line, a bass line, in the most skeletal way. I’ll mash up the arrangements, then it’s up to the musicians to play that and come up with their little bits and pieces to add the flesh to that. And maybe 20%, 30% of the final soundtrack came from them.
DEADLINE You’ll be continuing that into next season. Is this how you prefer to work?
Workman I think so. Judd has such a respect for the songwriting process. And it just yields something different. But I like both approaches, because they don’t work for every scene. Some scenes require something much more sensitive to the scene.
The original score to Love is available on Amazon and other music services.