Awards Daily TV talks to music supervisor Zach Cowie who worked with Aziz Ansari to provide a rich sonic tapestry for Master of None.
Aziz Ansari dives head-first into the second season of Master of None, now streaming on Netflix. The season features with some very familiar tales of human companionship, some sly and slapstick wit, as well as pays homage to some renowned Italian cinema.
Following on in a similar vein to the first season, Ansari received some expert help in the music department. With music supervisor Zach Cowie collaborating, they were not only able to share music tastes on a shared playlist but also give Master of None a rich and addictive soundtrack to compliment the scripts.
Zach Cowie, to start, what are some of your favorite soundtracks from film, television, or stage?
The things that inspire me? I am way more of a film guy than a TV person. I am a big fan of all Kubrick’s film music, one of my biggest inspirations. Contemporary inspiration, there’s Adam Curtis a filmmaker from the BBC. He is like one of the best at putting the right sound to the right vision. In his latest film HyperNormalisation, which came out a few months ago, really blew my mind. And I am a big Hal Ashby fan. Films like Coming Home, obviously Harold and Maud. Love Robert Altman. The use of Leonard Cohen songs in McCabe and Mrs. Miller.
You like Nashville?
I love Nashville. I’m also a massive Werner Herzog fan and love the collaboration with the German group Popul Vuh with a lot of his films in the 70’s. I am really obsessed with the film Paris, Texas. One of my favorite original scores.
Ry Cooder, one of my favorites.
Yeah. On a similar tip, I loved the score to The Hired Hand, what Peter Fonda made after Easy Rider. It was just Bruce Langhome playing solo guitar, very similar in feel to the Paris, Texas score. I think a lot of my really favorite things are from the 70’s independent films. As a record collector, my tastes do lean towards the more out there obscure kind of thing. I am a huge Max Richter fan, and I listen to him a lot. I came to him through the classical music world, that s how he came on my radar. My agent was like “You know he scores TV shows now.”
Master of None is really interesting. The first season was known for its music as well, and this second season follows the trend. But this time the music plays more of a part, Aziz [Ansari] playing homage to the Italian movies. Are you a fan of those movies and the music?
Oh absolutely. I have been collecting records for 20 years, and there is a ton of places that I haven’t dipped in and found some records. Aziz called and said, “We’re thinking of going to Italy.” It was his idea to do the first one in black and white. We used all purpose film scores, almost all of that is late 60’s, 70’s film scores – something we both totally love. And then the second episode was full color version of Italy, which we agreed to use Italian disco for which I spent a lot of time researching.
I have seen the whole second season, but I also listened to the soundtrack on Spotify. It does feel like somebody who loves music has pulled it from their own collection. Even listening to it isolated it tells a story.
Yeah, we were so lucky with the show as the subject matter. It was so universal it allowed us to get a little wilder with the music. You can use music as a tool to bring everyone together, like a touchstone. Really helpful when you are telling a far out story, but we are telling a story that happens to everybody. So, it allows us to lean on the music as a texture. It’s a perfect scenario for me as my tastes gravitate towards the lesser known stuff.
What I noticed was not just the setting of Italy and when he returned to New York, there is also a bit of nostalgia depending on how old you are. You are pulling music from people’s background as well. You feel the different tastes. Was time and place part of the story for you?
I like to think I don’t think so much of time and place. It is just when I see these scripts, stuff starts popping in my head. I think if I had been in similar situation what would I be playing to match the mood or comfort myself. But there is one thing we really lean on for what I call the New York sound of the show, the work of two DJs from the 70’s and 80’s. Larry Levan appeared in his garage, and then David Mancuso in a club called The Loft in the 70’s. There is a lot of stuff in the show that we take from their set list when they were playing those New York parties. Aziz and I both loved that era. We both read this great book Love Saves the Day by Tim Lawrence, a history of American dance music culture in the 70’s. That was a big touchstone to what our New York was going to be in the show.
The song “Dolce Vita” was a great transition because lyrically we’re still in Italy, but it reminded me of being young with the 80’s pop.
I am maybe guilty of over-thinking things here and there. I spend so long with music in my life, usually the hard part is trying to remember what the song is. Walking around with the verse in my head all day. And then its like “Dolce Vita.”
Did a lot of the song choices represent the character of Dev? And how much input did Aziz have on that collaboration?
Well, he and I were hand in hand for the whole season. Dev in a way is kind of him [Aziz], so it was appropriate for his taste to go into that character. We started exchanging song ideas before he started writing the script, and that’s just the way his head works. He thinks of the music just like I did. Often times this can provide a way for everyone to be on the same page. It can help him write the scripts and start identifying songs and whatever else he wants in there. We had a playlist and would dump stuff in there all the time. There is a lot of stuff we can’t work on. You have to see certain scenes to see if it works, but in other cases the songs are in the scripts.
A lot of the time it does feel like when we have all been in that position. Where perhaps we like somebody or are a bit sad or ponderous, you put on a record. And although [Dev] has not physically put on a CD, it does feel like he might have that song in his head.
I have worked on all sorts of stuff in different aspects of the music business, and this was one of the favorite things I have ever done. And this is down to Alan [Yang, co-creator] and the team. They are just the dream collaboration. They work really hard. There is no ego. We just work together to find what we think is best for the story being told.
So you had quite a lot of creative licence. It sounds like something you’re really passionate about, reminds me of Rob from High Fidelity, with his top fives, the passion and expression for music.
Yeah. I grew up in Chicago and was around for a lot of the making of that movie while I was working for a Chicago independent label. I grew up working in record stores, and I can tell you with some authority that they got the movie right.
Do you have an abundance of music material you didn’t use that you wish you could have?
Well, there’s still a ton of stuff in the shared playlist. There was some stuff from Season 1 that we didn’t use and ended up putting in Season 2. We keep those ideas around. Everything about this job is so case by case, and I find that thinking of keeping that proverbial song in your back pocket, but it doesn’t really do much for you. The situation and the people you are collaborating with determines the music. The best thing I can do to prepare myself in this job is to just keep on researching all types of music and learning something else every day. Look at it like a painter. The more music I have in my head, the more colors I have. There are songs I would love to use someday but am not counting on it.
The “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” song at the end was a genius move.
I think that one was Aziz. I don’t remember, but we were like, “Yes! Perfect! Go!” That’s another thing I love about my job. A lot of the time I can do my best to stay out of the way, and that feels good. I have been in situations were I had to speak up to make sure I am adding some value. But with Master of None, when it works, it works.
Its great talking music with people who have great tastes and have a passion for it. Maybe we can do this again for Season 3, and hopefully you can use that song in your back pocket.
Fantastic. Thank you.