Conchord On Composing Music For Muppets

Bret McKenzie, one half of cult TV comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, has landed an Oscar nomination for his songwriting in The Muppets’ new film.

The chap responsible in part for such masterfully crafted pop hits ‘Business Time’, ‘Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros’ and ‘Bowie’s In Space’ has penned 3 songs for Disney’s latest Muppets movie. But supposedly, they’re rubbish.

“Jim Henson said if the music’s too good, it’s not right, so I took that to heart and kept the songs slightly shambolic. Also Miss Piggy can’t sing very high or very low, otherwise she loses the sound of Miss Piggy.”

As a common Conchord staple, Mckenzie’s heart sank when he was told “there couldn’t be any dirty gags. I was shut down on any ‘motherfrogger’ joke early on.” Seemingly total creative control was not a given either, as his lyrics were persistently questioned in the studio. The muppeteers refused to allow Kermit and Miss Piggy sing anything “that didn’t feel right”.

“I had one gag where a Muppet was reminiscing, ‘I remember when I was a piece of felt’ and that got taken out, because the Muppets are real. It was a bit of a stress, they were pretty much ‘method Muppets’ in the studio”.

It was director, friend and FOTC co-creator James Bobin who managed to persuade the incredulous McKenzie to submit a home-demo for the film:

“I did a few different versions of this one. There was a lot of good demos too. Jim James from My Morning Jacket wrote one for ‘Man or Muppet’, he wrote a great version but it was incredibly mellow, and Disney got scared. It was a little too beautiful and it needed to be beautiful and ridiculous at the same time.”

I’m sure there won’t be any problems here, as the new film has already been a success in the US, grossing $87m (£55m) last year. But I’m not quite sure how ridiculous this all is. Man gets asked to write the worst songs he can muster up, within a limited vocal range. Is nominated for an Academy Award, up against only one other contender…

“The chances of winning could not be any better, unless they only had one nominee. But I guess that would make the awards ceremony very predictable.”

But what about the sheer legacy the chap’s up against? Either way I think he’s captured the brief perfectly, with his comedic sense of irony inscribed on the lyrics. When the excitements all over, McKenzie can be seen in one of the most anticipated films of the year, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.

The Muppets comes to UK cinemas February 10th.

The 84th annual Academy Awards will air Sunday, February 26th, on ABC.

‘Man Or Muppet’

-James Godwin, February 11th, 2012

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