How does Bret McKenzie follow up winning an Oscar for his work on The Muppets for Muppets Most Wanted? Well, as the Academy Award winner said in our exclusive chat, you have to put that aside or it’s a killer to the creative process. As we stated in our Muppets Most Wanted review, the soundtrack has some of the catchiest Muppets songs in history!
McKenzie also talks the varied genres of songs that populate the film, teased in this Muppets Most Wanted trailer, from the old school Hollywood musical number to a disco track to a 1950’s sounding classic from Tina Fey. And does he adjust his songwriting if he knows he’s penning songs for people who don’t normally sing -- like Fey and Ty Burrell?
Movie Fanatic: After winning an Oscar for your work for The Muppets, when you sit down to write songs for the follow-up was there any nerves or did you feel any pressure?
Bret McKenzie: There’s a little bit of nerves and pressure because it was so fun winning an Oscar [laughs]. It was kind of cool to go to those fancy parties [laughs]. Obviously, that quickly gets put aside and the job takes over. It’s an unhelpful thing to think of and I think if you start creating things to try to win awards, it’s never going to work.
Movie Fanatic: The thing that struck me about the songs in this movie are that there are so many styles, from old school Hollywood song and dance to disco to very Broadway-type numbers…
Bret McKenzie: Because I was doing all the songs for this movie, last time I only did a few of the songs. This time, I was doing the whole film. I wanted to have a mixture so that the film had variation. In some ways, it’s like doing a show and when you write a set list, you can’t have all ballads. You can’t have all rocking numbers. You have to feel out the rhythm of the show.
Movie Fanatic: Starting off the movie with a big musical number like that with We’re Doing A Sequel...
Bret McKenzie: Classic musical technique! James (Bobin) did a great job with the Busby Berkeley musical number and in my mind that is one of the most successful moments in the movie. It’s a great number. We see all the Muppets… they nail it. It was James and Nick’s (Stoller, co-screenwriter) idea to start with a song about doing a sequel and I got the idea from a line in the script. My job was to write a song about doing sequels. I love that the Muppets could be self aware and keep the audience in on the joke. The pressure of a sequel just leaves the room once that song is through.
Movie Fanatic: The first time you saw the number in all its glory with all the visuals, what did you think?
Bret McKenzie: When I first see it, it’s pretty rough. But, by the time it was done, I thought it was a big, successful show number -- on a budget [laughs]. I look back at that Busby Berkeley stuff and it is unbelievable what they were doing. There are like 100 people dancing, we had like 30. I really wish that those big Hollywood musical things were still part of the canon.
Movie Fanatic: Do you have a favorite?
Bret McKenzie: It’s animated, but I do like The Jungle Book. And I really like Mary Poppins. Those ones from the Sherman brothers are unbelievable. They really got the job of the movie songwriter. You write songs that work and move the story.
Movie Fanatic: When you’re writing songs for a movie like this, do you have to adjust that you’re writing songs for people who don’t normally sing… like Tina Fey or Ty Burrell?
Bret McKenzie: Because I produce the songs as well, I do… which is good. I can adjust the song. I might re-write if it doesn’t work for their voice. With Tina, we moved the key to try to make it sound best for her voice. To be honest, I just write for myself. I sing it for my voice and once I get in with the actor, then I adjust it.
Movie Fanatic: Who are your songwriting influences? Given the vast spectrum of tracks you have on Muppets Most Wanted… they must be all over the place?
Bret McKenzie: The Sherman brothers, Irvin Berlin I looked at for this one. His lyrics are so playful. Then, I always fall back on Paul Williams and Harry Nilsson… we share a sense of melody.
Movie Fanatic: How has the songwriting process with James changed over the years? Or has it?
Bret McKenzie: We have a lot of trust. We work really well together. He sends me an idea and I hear them in my head. He pops by the studio and tells me what he liked about it and what it could sound like. He suggests ideas and I incorporate them. He was filming in London and I was working here, so now, he kind of leaves me to it!