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Ask any fan of Bob’s Burgers why the Fox animated series is so special and its musical moments are sure to come up — as is its sweetly comedic bravado.
Ahead of its midseason return Sunday, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with series creator Loren Bouchard to discuss the show’s collaborative process, the magical combination of music and animation and why John Roberts’ improvisations are so integral to the show. Plus check out an exclusive clip from Sunday’s episode.
What do you think it is about the show’s music that makes people respond so fervently?
It’s partly just our sweet little characters. I would think, secondarily though, that animation and music go together really well. I think back to The Muppet Show a lot, and to some extent even Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock, all the Disney movies; these things are really bonded together in a really fundamental way. I’ll go a step further — this is a theory that I’ve actually never said out loud and I hope it doesn’t sound ridiculous; I don’t have any science to back this up, but — there’s a lot of research out there that proves music enters our brain in a different way. They’re doing MRIs on people listening to Bach, and they’re showing that it lights up your brain in a very specific way. My theory is that I think animation my enter your brain in a different way, too.
Obviously my experience is limited, I have never worked in live action, but I do get to interact with fans of the show and I’ve worked on other shows, and I’m starting to suspect that when you like a character that’s animated, it goes in a little deeper and might light up some of the same parts of your brain that music does. So in a way I think we’re doubling the potency of our formula. Maybe unconsciously without really thinking about it. When we started adding music to Bob’s — which we pretty much wanted to do from the beginning — we were figuring out ways to make this chemical compound stronger, if that makes sense.
Can you talk to me a little bit about how the music on the show gets made?
John Dylan Keith is a composer in Los Angeles, and we have another team of composers who are out of New York — John and the Elegant Too — whose names are Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez. They’re what I like to call real composers and real musicians. They have to do all the underscores, the bumpers and all the cues and transitions that fill up the show. And on top of that, we often ask them to do the end credits song or montage music, so they are the real heroes of the story. What I’ve done is save little plum assignments for myself. So I saved the theme song for myself, and here and there I’ve composed songs.
I’ve also extended the same offer to the writers. They’ve turned out to be fantastic composers, too, either writing the lyrics to the song and somebody else writes the music, or they come with songs fully formed and all we have to do is execute. One of the writers in particular, Nora Smith, has co-composed a lot of music I’ve worked on. Recently we added another team member, Tim Dacey, who has been instrumental. In Sunday’s “Itty Bitty Ditty Committee,” Gene plays keyboard, and his sisters play straws sticking out of the lids of to-go cups. You know that sort of squeaky sound? Tim built me a little instrument, of digitally sampled to-go cups from the Taco Bell across the street and we were able to create this little vibe.
John Roberts’ improvisation of Linda’s lyrics on the show — how does that all happen?
He doesn’t just improvise the lyrics, John Roberts often improvises the lyrics and the melody. He is a musician in his own right, but he’s also just an old-fashioned musical person. He thinks in song chunks. Music just comes out of him, and he has another fantastic ability to do it in character. So he can be Linda, and be singing the silly songs that we will often give him lyrics to, but he’ll improvise the melody. When we were working on the Valentines’ Day episode two years ago, I don’t think we wrote a single word down for the songs. They probably indicated in the script, “Linda sings a song” or something like that. And he just sang, “Two people together forever, security in life and someone to love you, instead of being all alone, such a lonely existence I’d kill myself.”
And he improvised that whole thing?
Yeah — almost in one take. And all we had to do for the end credits with figure out what key it was in and what chords sounded nice underneath and, bam, you’ve got a song. It’s so her. And it’s a great gift John has that he’s able to give it to us again and again and again.
Bob’s Burgers airs Sundays on Fox.
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