Disclosure: Disney provided me an all expense paid trip to help promote Muppets Most Wanted and other Disney projects. All experiences and opinions are my own. Yours may differ.
There was a lot of energy flowing as we were sitting in a conference room of The Beverly Hilton Hotel. I was very excited to be apart of the interview of Bret McKenzie. Music is a huge part of my family’s life and so I was very interested especially in this aspect of Muppets Most Wanted. Bret has already found great success in working with the Muppets. He won an Oscar for Best Original Song “Man or Muppet” in Disney’s “The Muppets”. He has worked on several other films and shows including one of my favorites – “Austenland” which made him even more of a superstar in my eyes.
After a few jokes we got down to business starting off the interview talking about his Oscar and the pressure he may have felt because of that.
Q: While working on the music for this film did you have any pressure to try to meet that kind of standard again?
Yeah I was, obviously yeah there was a lot of pressure because of the Oscar and, um, but really what could I do? It was, there’s always gonna be downhill, so, uh, I just had to, you know, I mean I was appreciative but then I had to get on with the job and just, you know, forget about that. ‘Cause I didn’t, I didn’t work on the last muppet film to win awards, you know. Yeah.
Q: So how fun was doing the lyrics?
Oh it was really fun working on those, James and Nick Stoller sent me the script and they’re lots of fun, great ideas for songs and then I got to add new ideas and, um, the first song “We’re doing a sequel,” um, they had the original idea then I just started looking through the history of bad sequels and qualities of sequels and there’s so many. And there was one lyric, the–– the first song, the first lyric in the song, um, [SINGS] “We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood, but everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” that is, felt like a great start to the movie ’cause it lets the audience know that it’s a, first of all it’s a sequel and then we–– we know that it’s possibly not as good as the last one. And it’s, you know, like that’s the way they wanted it ’cause he wants kinda the audience can’t but help go, “Oh is this gonna be better than the last one? Let’s see what they do.” So we kinda let them in on that. And then, um, and that’s what I love about the Muppets is they can do that, you can, the Muppets can turn to the audience and look straight at camera and talk to them about how they’re making a movie, and, um, yeah there was one lyric in that I just went through and looked at bad sequels and the qualities in them. Like there was one lyric that Ralph the Dog was gonna sing that, uh, was in the soundtrack but not in the movie where he goes, um, [SINGS] “We’re doing a sequel, how hard can it be? We can’t do any worse than the Godfather III.” So yeah it was a bit of a zinger so we took that one out. But then I like how Piggy can talk about how “there’s no need to disguise,” um, “the studio considers us a viable franchise,” there’s some fun, it was really a fun song to write, yeah. It was good.
Q: Do you get any inspiration from Flight of the Conchords for your songs on the Muppets?
Those guys are a big influence on me, um, uh, not, I mean, in some ways it’s the same sort of thing, writing comedy songs, so I’ve done it for, um, sorry I was (his phone started ringing), that’s my wife hang on. Do you guys mind if I, no I’m not gonna. Um, okay, um, inspiration, uh, I guess that’s where I learned how to write comedy songs. So I’m using the same techniques, yeah.
Q: What’s the process like for when you’re told like what kind of song, just the idea of the song but how do you get the ideas going in your head and you don’t write lyrics first, the music first?
(After making sure everything was ok at home because his wife called again)
Um, well they send me a script with the idea of a song and then, um, I, but it’s usually quite a loose idea. And then for example the ballad, um, it was originally called “Love Ain’t Easy,” and it was a Piggy ballad. And first of all I was nervous because Piggy is a great character, a great comedic character, but not a great singer, and, um, I was worried about her carrying, you know, an emotional ballad because there’s only so much of her voice that the audience, I think, wants to hear, you know. Thirty seconds is great, you know, then a couple of minutes you’re really start being a bit painful. So I suggested we put, um, you know, try and get a singer to help her and we were really excited when Celine Dion agreed, um, and I’m actually hoping that there’s a, I’m hoping that these two divas, you know, um, I’m hoping to get like a Las Vegas Celine Dion/Piggy, uh, Diva Night, um, that’s–– that’s my dream. Yeah.
Anyway so then I would write the song and then adapt it for the characters and, and I’d–– I’d go to the, to James Bobin and play it to him and I’d, one of the stranger experiences on the job is I go to the Disney offices to play the songs to them. And I sit at the piano and I, um, having done two Muppet films now I can do a fairly, uh, not good but I can do an okay impression of a lot of the different characters so I would say, “This is Miss Piggy’s ballad,” and I’d sit down in this room with all these suits, these Hollywood suits, and I would go, so Miss Piggy, she turns to the camera and she starts doing like this, [IMPERSONATES MISS PIGGY IN HIGH-PITCHED SINGING VOICE] “How can something so right, be so…” literally a crazy job that, I mean, and, uh, but kinda fun yeah so, I can do all those Muppet voices. Yeah. Uh, what else about the process? Um, and then sometimes you get a someone like Tina Fey who got the role of prison guard and I always wanted to do this doo wop song in there and then I started working with her and I adjusted the song to suit her voice because, um, it was the wrong pitch and we kinda worked together on find out what her strengths are, where her voice sits. And that’s one of the benefits of being the songwriter and producer of the songs as well is I can, if it’s not working I can just change the song ’cause I’m allowed to whereas if it was someone else who’d written it I’d have to call them, “Do you mind if we change the melody?” Uh, so that was, it’s kind of a fun part of it too. And Ricky Gervais, of course, um, you, some of you might know he was a–– a sort of failed pop star in the ’80s, and his song, uh, his–– his little pop, yeah so he’s actually a really good singer. So it was handy. Yeah.
I really encourage you to get the soundtrack! There are so many great songs in the film, plus the soundtrack features some bonus tracks of Bret McKenzie singing some original renditions of the songs and bonus verses of some of the songs. It is pretty incredible.
Q: Do you have a favorite song from this film that you wrote?
I really like the, um, I really, I mean, I like how all of, sometimes I write songs for these things and they, I don’t like the way they turn out in the final film because I don’t like the video or something changes in the edit and, um, but I–– I really think, uh, the music’s kinda, I think it’s, the film works really well, you know, I really like the–– the final film was made and I guess my favorite would be, I don’t know, I mean, the opening’s pretty fun. I think it really gets the movie off on a–– a great note. But I do like “I’ll Get You What You Want” brackets Cockatoo and Malibu closed brackets, uh, which is–– is the frogs, the bad frog trying to woo Miss Piggy. And it kinda comes out of left field and it’s a genre that I have a–– a, I really love, that kind of early ’80s Lionel Richie, Michael McDonald, Doobie Brothers sound, um, you know, like I keep forgetting, uh, all that stuff. And so I was trying to get this bear, it’s kind of, it was kind of fun to make a Russian frog sing like as Michael McDonald might sing. I don’t know if you got that, if that came through, but…
Q: What do you have on your top 3 playlist that you listen to?
I listen to a lot of Harry Nelson, um, uh, one great album if his is The Point, it was an animated TV show that he, um, scored, did all the music for, all the songs. Uh–– uh, what else? I like, um, what have I got at the moment? Um, let me have a look, eh? I’ll see what’s in here. Um, I think I downloaded the Beyonce album by accident. Um, I’ve been running to that. Not too bad, it’s a bit sexual for running. You’re like, even when she’s drunk in love and I’m like, “Oh yeah I’m just trying to run another 10 minutes.”
Uh, where is it? What else? Um, oh sorry, I can’t find my music. What else? Uh, that and, um, oh there’s a great New Zealand band called Phoenix Foundation, which lots of my friends are in, it’s really cool indie band I like them. Yeah.
Q: When you have writer’s block what do you refer to for inspiration?
Um, YouTube, it’s kinda fun writing songs in the studio we can, we can look through, there’s such a great history of recorded music now, you can look at, you know, at ’70s and ’80s songs, I mean, and power bal-, I’m a real sucker for power ballads. Um, so yeah just looking at, looking at old clips. Or then for this film I would look back at a few old, they’re not on YouTube but like Irving Berlin songbooks, old kinda Broadway, uh, show tunes, uh, that kinda influenced, you know, the opening couple of songs.
Q: Would you care to sing a little bit of the “I’ll Get You What You Want?” for us?
I would love to, yeah. So, ’cause then when we, it’s just on Satur-, on the weekend we filmed a music video for that and I’m in this white linen suit, I’m gonna cut together me singing this love song to Miss Piggy, so hopefully that will be done in about a week, but, um, yeah that’s, that was probably my favorite song to sing. Um, and it goes, I wish I had a piano…
Here is where you get to listen to this!!
It was so amazing, I am so blessed to have been in that room with Bret McKenzie and hear all the singing he did as well as the fun facts of writing the songs to Muppets Most Wanted. You can thank me later for sharing this AWESOME music video he was referring to of Bret McKenzie trading off and on with Constantine in “I’ll Get You What You Want“. Do not miss this!
Q: Alright so if you could be a Muppet, which Muppet would you be?
I would probably, um, it’s tending to be one of the two old guys, ’cause they get a lot of the best jokes, um, it’s between them and Animal for me, yeah. Yeah. Animal’s great. My new Swedish Chef I’ve got kids and Swedish Chef is a guaranteed laugh at home. If I do a Swedish Chef impression, I mean no matter what the situation, trying to get kids to finish dinner, they’re, it, something about Swedish Chef, you know, [IMITATES SWEDISH CHEF] Snoop du beshdabeers. You don’t need to be on a, I mean, everyone can do a Swedish Chef, and the kids just, kids love that character. Fair enough he’s pretty fun.
Q: Whose idea was it for the last end number to repeated one from [Muppets Take Manhattan]?
“Together Again?” Uh, that was James’s idea and it’s a reprise of an original Muppet song, so a lot of the audience won’t know that, but it’s a, you know, one of the classic Muppet songs and, um, let’s see, yeah “Together Again,” but of course it’s “Together Again, Again.” Yeah.
It was so amazing to talk with Bret McKenzie, to hear some behind the scenes of making Muppets Most Wanted and most of all to hear his beautiful voice sin for us in person! When he was leaving we asked him about a few of his favorite power ballads from the 80’s and so he did sing some of those songs as well. It was incredible!
To read about all of my amazing Los Angeles adventures with Muppets Most Wanted, Captain America and ABC shows please click the #MuppetsMostWantedEvent tag.