INTERVIEW: Jared Faber Talks Composing Splitting Up Together
Jared Faber talks to us about collaborating with Emily Kapnek on Splitting Up Together, his work in Cuba, and more.
Jared Faber is a composer, music producer, and songwriter, and the work he’s done speaks volumes about his limitless talent. At a very young age, Faber started playing the guitar, and the rest is pretty much history. Coming up at the end of July is the release of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, which Faber composed, produced, and wrote songs for. He composed both the score and songs, and is bringing a very action-packed feel to its music.
Most recently, he has worked on ABC’s Splitting Up Together, and worked for many years alongside showrunner Emily Kapnek in a total of five shows. He is currently working on the music for the Dreamworks/Netflix series The Epic Adventures of Captain Underpants, which will be an ongoing project for some time.
His resume is extremely diverse including shows like Nip/Tuck and Dexter, and then switching back and forth between animation and live-action. Faber’s talent is an inspiration, and his enthusiasm to keep things fresh and exciting by taking on a diverse set of projects is commendable. It was a joy talking to him about his background, inspirations, and what he enjoys most about creating music.
What inspired you/led you to becoming a composer? What was that one defining moment(s) that made you realize this is what you wanted to do?
Well, I think I started off playing guitar as a kid, and I was really enjoying that. At some point, my dad took me to watch Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll which was a documentary about Chuck Berry. And I remember when I saw that movie, I left the movie ironically thinking this is what I want to do. I knew music was it for me. As far as specifically being a composer, it came down to initially figuring out how I would make a living as a musician. I had always been interested in technology and recording and it went hand in hand. I just found my way in that way!
When you’re working with the director of the show/movie, how does that collaboration process work?
I’ve been really fortunate to work with some directors and producers who are very, very musical and have a specific musical aesthetic and creative points of view. They are music lovers! A lot of the times it’s very collaborative. Most recently, I just finished working on Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and the director, Peter Michail, he’s the co-writer of all the songs in the movie. He and I have been collaborating on projects for years, and he had a lot of really specific thoughts and input on the score and we would go over it all together. It really wasn’t simply a matter of me creating music and waiting for feedback. It was much more collaborative than that.
Similarly, I’ve worked with Emily Kapnek for years, my first show with her was As Told By Ginger, and since then we’ve worked on Suburgatory, Selfie, and now Splitting Up Together. She also has a very particular aesthetic and is a music lover and knows what she wants to hear. We’ve written theme songs together and written songs that have appeared in shows together. It’s just all very collaborative!
What is your process like from start to finish when you begin a project? And do you have a special way you prepare for projects to get you in the zone?
Usually, it starts with some conversations with the directors and producers, and the people putting the shows together. Starting off with getting a sense of what they’re imagining and what they think the music should sound like. A lot of times, if there is time to do this, I’ll work on some music ahead of time to get the juices flowing and try some ideas and make some music that is inspired by the show or the movie.
Some of the pieces get used by the shows, or sometimes they’re scratch ideas like a sketch. Sometimes it comes from finding an instrument I haven’t used before or a new approach. Something like when I was working on Suburgatory a few years ago, we used a melodica. It’s a funny little instrument I had never used before and it became a signature on the show. Or a guitar pedal that gives me a unique sound. I look for sounds before I start and I hope it works out and I run with it.
Later this month, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies comes out – you have done quite a bit of work on it ranging from composing to producing to writing, and even did the score and songs! Not to mention, you got to work with Michael Bolton and Lil Yachty as well. What was the process like for creating music for this movie and what musical elements did you bring in to make it come together?
It started with the songs and again, with conversations about the direction of it and what they wanted the score and songs to sound like. In the TV show, there’s a lot of beat and electronic oriented music and we thought we would try to do that in the movie as well but on a bigger level. We started out writing a bunch of songs, and it just flows from there. Eventually it came time to score it and we talked about how we were going to approach that using synthetic elements, mixed with an orchestra, and mixed with electronic and beats. Ultimately, we jumped in and started throwing ideas back and forth. We didn’t have a tremendous amount of time to do it but it came together.
You have a diverse background when it comes to the type of projects you’ve done, which include movies, TV shows, and even video games in the past! What are some of the challenges you face when working on one over the other?
I think one of the challenges with TV is you don’t have a ton of time to work on the show. There isn’t much time within in a show so you don’t have long established shots to develop a piece of music. The dialogue is dense and moments happen quickly. I’ve only worked on half hour shows, I don’t think I’ve worked on any hour long shows. A half hour show is actually 23 minutes so you have to get to the point and do things quickly.
We have to talk to about Splitting Up Together because it was one of my favorite new shows to watch this past season, and I’m so happy we get to see more of it next season. I fell in love with the theme song that is sung by Lenka, “Everything’s Okay”, and I just love the upbeat and often dramatic musical pieces embedded within each episode. Can you tell me about your work on this series?
I didn’t write the theme song, but Emily Kapnek found it and we decided to use it as the theme song because it fit perfectly. Working with Emily, she has always has just a great sense of when things feel right emotionally. That’s really always sort of the goal, that’s always what we’re shooting for, to make it feel right emotionally. This show is a comedy, but it has real, poignant, emotional moments and you want to make them feel genuine, and not feel saccharine or feel artificial. We are always going for genuine and make things resonate.
On the flip side, we have to play the comedy a bit and we try not to overplay the comedy and let a lot of it just play in the performance and the writing. But we do some comedic scoring as well. This is the fifth series I’ve done with Emily so we have a good shorthand, I know what she’s looking for and she knows how to communicate with me. Emily and the Music Supervisor picked some great music for needle drops that complimented the sound of the show. This was the first time Emily and I didn’t write the theme song, she found this one and thought it’d be a great for her show.
You’ve done projects that are strictly animation and then also done sitcoms and comedy movies. Do you have a favorite genre you like to work with?
I think I’m always looking to work on something that I haven’t done before. When I get too stuck in the same thing, I start to feel like I need to find something new. I started out with a lot of opportunities in the animation world, and then I quickly felt like I had to get out of this and do some live-action stuff or stuff that’s not geared towards kids. When that happened, then I found myself wanting to do some more animation stuff.
The vast majority of my work has been in comedy, and I love being a part of it. But I’d love to do a one-hour drama or a dramatic film because I think it would lend itself to a whole new thing musically. I definitely like to keep moving.
In 2006, you traveled to Havana to continue on a project you had started with your partner Kool Kojak. From there you were involved in a variety of Latin projects that went on to win Grammys! Tell me about your time in Cuba, the projects you were involved in, and what ultimately led you there/your inspiration.
It’s funny because everything is intertwined, i was working on another show called Emily’s Reasons Why Not, which is another Emily Kapnek show. The show came to an abrupt end when it was cancelled. And my partner in some music at that time, Kojak, was about to go to Cuba and I thought I wasn’t able to go on this trip because I was on a TV show. The very first thing I did when the show was cancelled, was not mourn its cancellation but go to Cuba. He and I had already started working on a project at the time. It was vaguely Latin and had some sort of electronic beat oriented thing with some Cubany type of rhythms and stuff. When the opportunity to Cuba came up, we took the tracks down there and Kojak had worked with a Cuban guy that was living in Havana previously and he linked us up with some musicians and a studio and we started recording. That became our first Urban Legend project!
So when I came back with that project, which did very well on the radio and NPR stations, through it I started meeting a bunch of people involved in the Latin alternative scene in LA so i started writing with people and working on songs and meeting everybody. When we made the second Urban Legend record, it was made here in LA, but every track was a collaboration with a indie Latin artist. That’s really how it started and how I wound up working on a few other records in Spanish and winning a few Latin Grammys and working on cool projects. It opened up my world musically because I got to meet so many people.
I still work on projects but I haven’t had much time to pursue it recently. But it’s definitely not gone and continues to be a big part of my life. Unfortunately, at the time I’m not working on any records.
When working on a song with vocals/with actors who can sing, does that influence or change the way you create music?
It’s amazing because a lot of the times it’s almost assumed that the actor can sing before they even ask them. But I have to say, I have had such good experiences with that and such good luck. I’ve had so many people come through who are really great – we did a lot of this on Suburgatory! Everyone on that show could sing, it was amazing!
I find that most of the actors are fairly musical but sometimes, some of them are not comfortable singing because it’s not what they do. So the real challenge is usually coaching them through the sessions sometimes. We always get it and sometimes I have to adjust the music one way or another to make it right but that can be the case for a professional singer as well. It’s one of my favorite things to do, I love working with singers and actors, because it brings it to life. Especially when we do something with a demo singer but when we bring in the actor, it’s just the character coming to life.
What is your go-to instrument when composing?
Guitar is the instrument that I play the best. But a vast majority of my writing is at the piano/keyboard, but I go back and forth.
Is there a project you’d love to work on but haven’t had the opportunity?
I’m a big fan of Noah Baumbach, I’d love to work with him. I love smaller more intimate stories, slice of life pieces with humor! I really love the work I’m doing and I hope I can continue to do it. I love songs and score being involved, and I love when I get to work on something that’s poignant.
What composers have been your biggest influence?
I think a lot of my musical influence comes from pop music and records, and the music I loved growing up more so than it does film composers. I go through phases like we all do, but I think I always draw from the music that tells stories like Paul Simon, The Beatles, and Stevie Wonder.
If you weren’t a composer, what do you think you would have been doing?
I think I would probably be a lifeguard at a tropical resort.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians/composers?
Stay open to all kinds of stuff but focus on what you love because you’re always going to do that in the most genuine way.
What are some future projects you’re working on?
I’m doing Captain Underpants currently, and will be doing for some time, and then we have the second season of Splitting Up Together which I’ll start working on at the end of the summer. And I’m doing songs for the next season of Teen Titans.