Martin Carr chats with The Boys composer Chris Lennertz…
Stuck in traffic and heading back across L.A., Chris Lennertz, musical maestro behind Amazon Prime’s newest superhero serial The Boys, took time to talk composition, creative process and working with Hollywood mavericks Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg…..
Was it always an early ambition to be involved in music composition, or was it a gradual progression?
Up throughout college I thought I was going to be a professional guitar player and play in bands or make my own records or things of that sort. But then I went to USC to study guitar and took an elective composition class and ended up really liking writing and realised I wasn’t a guitar prodigy either, because there were a lot of amazing guitar players. So started writing arrangements for my guitar ensemble and it turns out I was probably better at doing that than I was at actually playing guitar. So I did more writing and someone suggested I should think about scoring movies and I grew up with John Williams and they had a friend who was a keyboard player, who said ‘why don’t you check out a session’ and I ended up sneaking into a scoring session and seeing Henry Mancini. At that point everything changed and I thought this is exactly what I have to do. I loved the fact that it was stylistically eclectic and you could do all different kinds of music and really help tell stories, so that point going forward that was definitely my main goal.
So how would you describe your creative process?
Frustrating, glorious, all of the above. As I get older and get more experience I feel that the more I let the story guide me and let the characters guide me, that’s really the answer. My job is to musically help tell the story the director and producer want to tell. My process usually involves getting as familiar and trying to get into the hearts and minds of the characters as soon as possible and often that comes with everything from talking to the director and producer and getting their mind set. But it could also be on something like Shaft which I just finished where I did tons of research which included watching the original artist performing the theme song live, to find out what sort of amps they were using, what types of Wawa pedals, what types of drum sets and things like that because I wanted it to be really authentic and Sam Jackson’s character needed to be authentic so I really did that research which got me in that mind set. So for me, almost in a little bit of a method way putting myself in the mind set of the characters I am writing for. And usually that’s where the most authentic music comes from.
How did they initially approached for The Boys?
Luckily for The Boys I was approached relatively early because Eric Kripke who created Supernatural and Revolution who also actually was my next door neighbour in college and one of my dearest friends at film school, who I did the short films with and everything, called and said ‘look I’m developing this comic book into a series and I want you to do the music for it but its early on’. When he called he said he was doing it with Seth Rogen and that was in the middle of me doing Sausage Party when I first heard about it. So I was having a great time working with Seth already so about a year later they called and said alright we got greenlit doing the show for Amazon and we want you to do it. So before anything was shot I did my research and read all the comics, then read the scripts and their take on what it was going to be and they were the ones early on who said ‘look we really want this to sound different, we want it to be disturbing and nasty and violent and garagey and sloppy and dirty and gritty and all that kind of stuff. And we really want to push it that direction, so luckily because I was involved early on I was able to do a lot of experimentation and we ended up buying all new instruments. Old amps, broken amps, all kinds of stuff to try to get that distorted grungy sound and it was fun to have that time to play.
You say you like to get under the skin of your characters and considering The Boys is perhaps quite strong subject matter, what other elements did you consider with this project rather Lost In Space for example?
Well the two big sounds of The Boys are for our heroes who are not the super heroes, that’s The Boys and that sound is very much coming from the world of guitars and bass and drums and garage rock and British punk because Karl Urban’s character Butcher who leads The Boys is British and very violent and so we really wanted something that came and tipped its hat to things like The Clash and Sex Pistols and things like that. Whereas the superheroes which are The Seven, which are our super hero team start with a very traditional modern super hero take with orchestra and it’s supposed to be very commercial sounding, like it was built by a corporation. But then what we decided to do was record this orchestra and then afterwards we used electronics and all kinds of things to manipulate it, so the orchestra as things go wrong with the super hero team and they are doing things which are not very heroic, we start to turn things in another direction. We take the orchestral music and slow down or speed it up, bend it out tune, flip it in reverse. Sometimes we throw it through distortion or broken speakers to really make it feel like the thing that we all as a society think of when we think of super heroes now in this culture where Avengers: Endgame is the biggest movie of all time, everybody thinks they know what a super hero is and what it’s about is taken and crushed by us. Which is really the concept behind the music behind The Seven. Those two styles are sort of a juxtaposition and then by the end of the series things get intertwined a little bit more and you will hear elements of the rock and garage mixing with the super hero elements. Which hopefully creates a really unique and disturbing texture to go along with the story.
What were your reservations if any over the subject matter bearing in mind you came on board as early as you did?
I was never going to say no because it was Eric and it was Eric and Seth so I knew we would get along great and things would go well. But for me and I think Eric agrees with this and even Sausage Party was a great example of something where on the surface something might seem either shocking or juvenile or perhaps gratuitous, but once you see the whole run of this show, you realise there is actually a lot of social commentary going on. And without actually saying it there’s a lot of things that this show says and makes you think about, in terms of the way social media works, in terms of the way corporations work, in terms of the way corporations work with governments and politics and money. It’s actually a very topical show, that’s perhaps probably the most, without being political at all, probably the most political show I’ve ever done. Because it really has a lot of strong opinions about money and politics and greed and power and what it can do to society when they put too much faith in it. And it’s pretty impressive that Eric and Seth are both real geniuses in terms of being able to disguise things that are very smart and philosophical behind things that are just really fun at the same time.
Considering your involvement across a wide range of titles from Lost In Space to Sausage Party and now The Boys, how do you decide what projects to work on?
Honestly the first thing is do I like the people and are they collaborators I have worked with that I love, or are they collaborators that I haven’t worked with yet but admire and respect. I think that’s even more important than the project. So that’s my first thing if I really want to work with people, get involved and say yes. Then my second one is am I intrigued by the story. I am intrigued by a story of what if super heroes were bad and I am also really intrigued by a story about a family lost in space trying to survive. I feel that if I can describe a story in one or two sentences to myself and step back and say wow I want to be part of telling that story, which in the case of all of those projects was yes, then at that point I’m all in.
What are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg like to work with?
They are both brilliant and sweet geniuses. I had never met Seth before Sausage Party and the first day we sat down and watched the movie, which I thought was absolutely hilarious and smart and crazy, and then afterwards we started spotting the movie Alan Menken, Seth and I and Evan were all in a room spotting this with Conrad the director. Seth’s musical instincts are just so spot on and so smart. Much like anyone I respect whether it be him or Kripke or Tim Story they make all of their decisions in terms of furthering story and character. So they will say things like ‘you know what it’s too early to bring that scene in because they haven’t developed enough to warrant it yet’. Or ‘you can’t blend that theme and that theme yet because they don’t have a relationship which is deep enough yet’. So there are a lot of those really smart things, even when we are literally talking about a hotdog and a bun like in Sausage Party we were having conversations like that. And Seth would say something like ‘ you know what Frank is not there yet, he hasn’t decided to become a hero yet, so we can’t play his heroic theme, or we can’t treat that heroically because deep inside he doesn’t have that confidence yet’. Then later on in the session he would say ‘here you can tell by what Frank does physically he has now decided to take on this action and now we can get there’. Those kinds of comments and direction from somebody like Seth and somebody like Evan is just priceless. For me to have someone who is so smart and so in tune with their characters and story means I would do anything they wanted me to do.
Did you collaborator with any of the directors on The Boys?
In television you don’t collaborate with directors very often except maybe the first episode which I did which was really amazing. I didn’t get a chance to work with Dan Trachtenberg a lot but he directed 10 Cloverfield Lane and he is really smart and very cinematic. Then the last episode (Eric) directed himself and on Supernatural I ended up writing a couple of those shows that Eric directed, so I always like working with Eric as a director because he doesn’t get a chance to do it all that often. He usually does series finales and things like that, so it’s always a really important episode. And it goes back to when we were young and working on short films in college and I consider Eric to be a sort of soulmate, in terms of the way we tell stories and kinds of music we like, that’s it’s almost like we have a short hand about it. So we always get to tell great stories and go further and it was also interesting to go from the first episode and working with the characters at the beginning of their story and someone like Dan Trachtenberg who comes from this world of movies, who was telling this starting point story but also the characters hadn’t experienced everything yet, so when we get to the last episode when the characters have gone through their turmoil and Eric is telling a very different story. Where the character’s eyes have been opened to the realities and horrors of what’s really going on with these super heroes. So it’s a very different experience because it’s turned into a very different show and I feel those two book ends were very unique.
If you had a super power what would it be and why?
I think part of me wants to say invisibility because I’d be able to sneak around like get into people’s minds and figure out what they are really thinking, but I’d have to go with fly just because it would be so fun. Just because it looks like it would be so invigorating plus I’m sitting in LA traffic right now and there is nothing I would want to do more than jump out of the car and fly home without sitting in traffic.
In terms of forthcoming projects what have you got coming up which you excited about?
So I have Lost In Space Season 2 which I am in middle of and finishing working, writing probably the next month or so and it comes out before Christmas. And I have a film which I am co-scoring called Lexi which is by the same people who did Bad Moms, which is a really smart romantic comedy which is what Jon Lucas and Scott Moore do really well and should come out this fall. Then it looks like I will hopefully doing Tim Story’s next movie, which is a Warner movie I can’t talk too much about, which should be out next spring. Then Season 2 of The Boys which has already been picked up, so we will probably start working on that later in the fall and that will be done over the fall and spring and we get to see how this story ends up with these characters.
Describe your perfect Sunday afternoon.
My perfect Sunday afternoon would have to start with my kids and my family probably out by the pool. Let’s have fun with it, I would probably take the kids to the Hollywood Bowl to see something like Empire Strikes Back with John Williams conducting a live orchestra, and then for fun John Williams would have to get kidnapped and I would then take my family and much like The Incredibles, my family and I would go and rescue John Williams from the hands of the dastardly, nefarious, evil genius who tries to kidnap him and harness his melodic super powers.
Many thanks to Chris Lennertz for taking the time for this interview.