Soundtrax: Special Edition
Episode 2019-3a, July 26, 2019
• SHAFT & THE BOYS
An Interview with Christopher Lennertz
By Randall D. Larson
Award-winning composer and songwriter Christopher Lennertz (SAUSAGE PARTY, HORRIBLE BOSSES, LOST IN SPACE, AGENT CARTER) rejoined producer Eric Kripke, creator of TV’s SUPERNATURAL, which Lennertz has been scoring for 17 seasons, to score Amazon Prime’s THE BOYS. An irreverent and unexpected take on what happens when a group of superheroes abuse their powers rather than use them for good. Based on an American comic book series created by Garth Ennis [writer] and Darick Robertson [designer and illustrator], THE BOYS tells of the powerless against the super powerful as they embark on a heroic quest to expose the truth about The Seven, and Vought – the multi-billion dollar conglomerate that manages these superheroes and covers up all of their dirty secrets. Lennertz’s score is unique in its gritty sound palette, mixing the scruffy Boys against the not-so-heroic Seven, and skewing the familiar concept of superhero music in a most intriguing manner.
I spoke with Lennertz earlier this week about his scoring of THE BOYS, as well as his previous score for New Line Cinema’s action comedy, SHAFT, the latest chapter in the film franchise that began in 1971. SHAFT was directed by Tim Story, with whom Lennertz has scored the RIDE ALONG and THINK LIKE A MAN franchises; for 2019’s SHAFT, Lennertz composed a score very much in the tradition of Isaac Hayes’ iconic score for the original Richard Roundtree film. -rdl
Q: What were your initial impressions of scoring SHAFT and how did you keep it within the musical spirit of the original film?
Christopher Lennertz: Because I’m such as movie fan, I’m a firm believer that iconic things in film should be respected. Some things have become so iconic that the popular culture is completely aware of it, especially in music. Luckily I’ve been really fortunate along the way to be able to dip into that with my heroes—I got to do the James Bond video games and use John Barry’s theme and I got to do LOST IN SPACE and use John Williams’ theme, I even did a GODFATHER video game and got to use Nino Rota’s music. So for me, if I go see a James Bond movie and there’s no James Bond Theme, I’m going to be massively disappointed. I felt very much the same with SHAFT. I’m making this for fans; I’m helping tell the story that continues this legacy. Tim Story, the director, was very much a fan as I was of keeping the “Shaft Theme” in the ‘70s vogue.
Q: What instruments did you use to authenticate your adaptation of the famous theme?
Christopher Lennertz: We literally went out and found as much information on the kinds of guitars, the kinds of wah-wah pedals, amplifiers, microphones, and the way things were recorded on the original SHAFT as we could. We did a lot of research on that. We watched tons of old youtube videos, where they even played the SHAFT Theme on shows like Dick Cavett and THE TONIGHT SHOW and we would sit there and pause the video to find out what gear they were playing with: “Ok, wait! What guitar is that? That looks like an original Cry Baby wah? No it’s not, it’s a Dunlop Cry Baby wah and there’s an MXR pedal and definitely a Fender amp!” We tried to discover exactly what equipment was used on those performances and then we’d go and try to find those things that made it what “Shaft” was. We tried to recreate that unique sound as much as possible, because I wanted to be true to that. I wanted the fans to feel like this was definitely a SHAFT movie.
|The Hollywood Studio Symphony performs on Christopher Lennertz’s score to SHAFT
Q: How did you delineate each of the Shaft characters?
Christopher Lennertz: In the movie, Shaft has a son, and Jessie Usher—who also happens to play A-Train in THE BOYS—plays the young Shaft. Jessie is John [Samuel L. Jackson] Shaft’s estranged son who is a brilliant computer hacker who works for the FBI. So at that point I got to be a little more modern and probably a lot more techy than any old SHAFT movie had. I felt it made sense, story-wise and character-wise, to be able to bring that in. Then, towards the end of the movie during some of the action sequences, the young Shaft gets involved with Grandpa, Shaft Sr. [Richard Roundtree] along with Sam Jackson’s Shaft, and there it makes sense to have all the guitars and things that are coming from classic SHAFT, and have some of the percussion and the electronics that come from Jessie’s younger version of the character. It was good to be able to bring that all together.
Q: With THE BOYS, what were your initial impressions of how you would support the various interactions between the bad boy heroes and the good kids?
Christopher Lennertz: That was really interesting. Eric Kripke, who created SUPERNATURAL and we had gone to college together, called me about it and told me it was coming, almost two years ago. He gave me a little nugget at the beginning and told me, “Look, it is as if The Avengers turned out to be the most horrible, corrupt, greedy, and morally-bankrupt people, but the world didn’t know it yet. The series is all about that betrayal, and our main characters, the Boys, become the everyday people who are trying to expose what’s going on. It’s such a fascinating concept. He does that kind of thing a lot—he did it in SUPERNATURAL but it’s also kind of like what Seth Rogan, who is also an exec producer of this show, did in SAUSAGE PARTY, which is in a weird way kind of in that same world. There are things like animation and parody and super-heroes, but they conceal a social commentary about social media and publicity and giant corporations, which is buried deep—maybe sometimes not too deep—but it’s definitely buried beneath this super-visceral fun, crazy, and slightly offensive adventure!
So when I first heard that, I knew it was going to need something that wasn’t superhero fare specifically, because your heroes are not the superheroes in this show. I knew we were going somewhere different, but when I started turning in the first demos, probably about this time last year, Eric kept coming back to me—and we’ve been working together forever, so I always expect him to be honest—and he said, “You know what? This is all great music but it’s just not messy enough.” This show is messy—literally it’s messy morally and everything is grey; there’s no black and white in this show. So I kept pushing it further and he’s like “okay that’s better, but…” After we’d watched the first couple of shows and talked about Butcher, the Karl Urban character, who’s British and who’s messy, we started talking about The Clash and Sex Pistols and just the grittiness of British punk and things like that. One of the things I realized then is that I can’t record this the way I usually record things and I can’t produce this the way I usually produce things because, normally, people want it to sound as perfect and expensive and polished as possible. This score wasn’t about that at all.
|Christopher Lennertz records his SHAFT score with the orchestra.
This score reinforced in me the lesson that film music is not about music at all, it’s about story, and it’s about the characters and the world that they live in. The world that these characters live in is messy and noisy and moody and ambiguous and dark and gritty and sloppy and that’s really where the music had to go to.
So I went on a shopping trip with my assistants and two of the instrumentalists and bought the shittiest gear and beat-up old instruments from we could find. We bought old pedals that were rusted and held together by duct tape, and just went on this massive pawn shop shopping trip to find not only instruments but also things that we could make into instruments to create this very messy soundscape. Once we started doing that, Eric said “Oh, you’re getting a lot closer!” I did some demos with my assistants and had people in the studio playing the instruments, including instruments we don’t normally play. I played drums on a couple tracks, and I’m not a drummer at all. We have drums but I don’t play them, I’m a guitar player. And then I turned those in, and Eric goes “Yes! That’s what I’m looking for!” So we needed not-very-good performers performing on really crappy instruments, and that worked! So of course this score reinforced in me the lesson that film music is not about music at all, it’s about story, and it’s about the characters and the world that they live in. The world that these characters live in is messy and noisy and moody and ambiguous and dark and gritty and sloppy and that’s really where the music had to go to.
That makes up a large portion of the score, and then the portion of the score that is orchestral, which is based in the world of what people think of as superheroes, was recorded in Budapest but that recording was processed by a multitude of things. We were changing pitch and slowing the orchestra down or speeding it up, running it through distortion, so that even the orchestral music in the show is meant to sound a little warped and wrong—sometimes a lot warped and wrong. Sometimes it turns into something that barely sounds like orchestra at all.
Q: You’re really utilizing the music sound to capture the attitude, the arrogance, and the dark characters that The Seven are really embodying.
Christopher Lennertz: The funny thing is, it was literally two days ago since THE AVENGERS took over as the highest grossing film of all time, and so this show is now appropriate. Superheroes used to be somewhat relegated to the world of comic book fans and didn’t have worldwide dominance the way it has since IRON MAN led this new charge to where it’s become worldwide and everybody knows what a superhero is; now it’s to the point where it’s such a part of the pop culture that it’s ripe for skewering. But it demands, when we’re skewering it, that we start from a place of expectations and stereotypes, and say ok this is the kind of chord structure that a corporate manufactured superhero image would come from.
Q: It’s like you said, the time is right to explore an alternate view—between BRIGHTBURN and this and who knows what’s coming afterwards—taking a look at the dark side of the super-hero. You mentioned a few bands, earlier – how did they influence the musical approach you took on this score?
Christopher Lennertz: We chose older material as our example because it sounded nastier; more low-fi because we wanted a sound that was much more raw and gritty. Anything you use that’s current will also sound much more polished. A lot of this came from the character of Butcher, who is the leader of The Boys. He is a forty-something, gritty Brit who takes shit from nobody, and is so scrappy that it just makes sense that this kind of music would be going on in his mind. I definitely thought, “This is what’s going on when he’s taking a baseball bat and smashing a room to smithereens. It’s going to be that!” And then from there came this hybrid of things that were influenced by British punk but also because we’re in America, there are certainly guitar tones that are reminiscent of everything from The White Stripes to Hendrix. There’s a lot of that mixed in and mashed up in there as well.
Q: As the story goes on how did you merge or offset the music for The Seven and the music for The Boys when they’re clashing?
Christopher Lennertz: There came a point where they really start battling each other, where they’re very much aware of each other’s existence and they’re dealing with that. Not to give away any spoilers, of course, but at that point you will find situations where you’ll have the rhythmic bed of this rock stuff as The Boys are taking care of business, but then you’ll also have melodic material on the top, which is this out-of-tune orchestra and things of that sort—or it can be vice-versa where you’ll have the orchestra thing leading the charge, depending on what our perspective is, and then the low drums or the bass of The Boys’ music comes in as they begin to over control of a situation.
Q: Are there specific themes for other characters?
Christopher Lennertz: A few. Hughie, Jack Quaid’s character, is our everyman who gets us into the story, has a motif. He’s from New York and is probably a little more wide-eyed and hopeful at the beginning. I gave him some piano material; a kind of old rock piano structure that’s heard in some of his more emotional moments. It almost has a bit of a Billy Joel/Elton John thing to it, but within the context of score. Then you’re got Starlight [Erin Moriarty], who is this hopeful young superhero who comes from Iowa to join The Seven. She’s pretty wide-eyed also, and as she and Hughie become friends you’ll hear this Americana guitar mixed with some old classic rock piano. It all gets mish-mashed in certain ways but it’s usually decided by whatever the scene is calling for—in terms of who’s perspective the scene is from or who’s in control of the scene at that moment.
Special thanks to Ray Costa Communications for facilitating this interview, and to Christopher Lennertz for sharing his time and perspectives on scoring these projects.
SHAFT scoring session photos by Dan Goldwasser and are courtesy of scoringsessions.com