Scene & Heard: Master of None Music Supervisor Zach Cowie, Part 2

A master class in Italian disco and the original NY club scene, courtesy of music supervisor Zach Cowie and Master of None season 2.

Zach Cowie
Zach Cowie in front of his massive vinyl collection.

The highly anticipated sophomore season of Master of None arrived on Netflix today and you’re probably already furiously binge watching. And getting obsessed with the mind-bendingly diverse soundtrack.

With a goal of exposing viewers to new music, Zach Cowie is the music supervisor and mastermind behind the show’s sound, in close collaboration with show creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. Season one was a cult hit on Tunefind, sending viewers into some deep research rabbit holes to find the obscure tracks featured on the show.  (We talked earlier with Zach about season 1.)

Cowie is hoping season two will have you just as excited for the hunt, as he takes us on a whirlwind tour through the origins of the 70’s club scene in New York to the Italian equivalent of the Beatles. From Italian film score to John Legend, the season is full of unexpected and thoughtful choices.

Below we continue our chat with Zach, focusing on the season 2 soundtrack of Master of None, his demented love of deep music research, and how 2ish decades of cratedigging have made him appreciate history.

 

Dev (Aziz Ansari) in Italy.
Hi again, Zach. After talking with you about the music in season one, now we shift gears to the new season, some of which is set in Italy. How did this influence the music?

We have two episodes shot entirely in Italy. The first one is in black and white, and it’s an homage to Italian cinema, specifically a film called Bicycle Thieves. For that episode we repurposed Italian film score, lot of which is by Ennio Morricone, so the entire episode is 60’s Italian film music. That was so fun. I love that stuff and went through hundreds and hundreds of songs. I know that sounds demented but I had such a blast.

Then, Aziz came up with the idea for the second episode, that we turn to full color to turn it to Italian disco. We’re both big fans, and we switched the sound up to all these Italian bangers and I loved it.

After the first two episodes we flip back to New York, but we’re still feeling a lot of Italian influence, right?

The Italian theme stayed through the whole season, but definitely picks up on the last two episodes. We used two tracks by this really big ‘60’s Italian pop star named Mina in the first and the final episodes. Aziz loves her. And one of the last two episodes has a song that’s going to drive everybody nuts because it’s not available to stream anywhere. I’m so psyched about that.

Master of None soundtrack
The season 2 soundtrack is available on Mondo records in June.
We’ve talked before about how you’re obsessed with using stuff that people haven’t heard elsewhere. How obscure and under-the-radar are we talking here?

Well, we’ve released a Master of None soundtrack (iTunes | Amazon | Spotify | vinyl via Mondo) that will help out a little. But that’s something that I love about Master of None, and I hope Season Two drives everybody crazy. I hope that Shazam picks up nothing! Seriously, I want to encourage people to go out and find music. That’s a big secret direction that I have with this job is to offer these reminders that there is so much out there. If you put a little work in, you can find shit that’ll be your favorite.

When I worked at a record store as a teenager, you’d get people coming in and they’d be like, “Do you have that one that goes like this?” And then try and sing it to you. It’s cool to see the same thing happening on sites like Tunefind. The dialogue is so important, in this internet era. There is a real danger now of having an algorithm tell you what you like.  I love that this show lets us break that apart and that people respond to that.

What were some of the other highlights for you working on season 2?

I’m so proud of this whole season and I owe Alan and Aziz everything for letting me go nuts with it because it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. But if I had to pick favorites, I love the ninth episode. It’s one where we go an hour, where all the rest of them are closer to half hour. I love it for two major reasons.

Arnold (Eric Wareheim) spinning.
Arnold (Eric Wareheim) spinning.

One of them is the club scene that Eric Wareheim’s character, Arnold, is the DJ. And it’s at a bar that I really like called The Good Room in New York and I got to fully honor my roots as a DJ in that scene, and to honor some DJs who are my idols.

It’s a shout out to David Mancuso, who sadly passed away recently and who started a New York party called The Loft in the early 70’s that continues even to this day. He invented dance culture, the idea of streaming records together to kind of take people on a journey. We were also paying tribute to another DJ, Larry Levan,  who is well known for being a house DJ at one of the most influential clubs ever, The Paradise Garage in New York.

Aziz also loves those guys, so we picked tunes that you would’ve heard at either one of those spots. One of which, a lot of people know now, is a track called “Mystery of Love” by Mr. Fingers. A lot of people know that because it was sampled in the baseline from Kanye’s “Fade.” I loved doing that scene. We pre-cleared all the music so everybody’s actually dancing to it at the club rather than us just sticking it in later.

I love it. From Italian Disco over to the ‘70s New York club scene. And the other reason you love episode 9?

Lucio Battisti. His song “Amarsi un po” played a big role in shaping the season’s music. I’ve had the record for a long time and when Aziz told me that they were thinking of shooting in Italy, it was one of the first things I sent him. Little did I know, the translation of the title – to love each other a little – reflects the story arc for the season, out of pure coincidence.

Aziz really fell for that song. The ninth episode was always untitled in the first few scripts that I got, until one day the script showed up and it was called “Amarsi un po.” He had written in that song to close the episode.

That’s such a great testament to how integral the music is to this show.

Absolutely. But it opened up a crazy rabbit hole. Battisti’s music has never been licensed outside of Italy for anything, though he was one of the biggest pop stars in Italy in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. He’s their Beatles in terms of level of fame and influence. Kerri [Drootin, Cowie’s co-supervisor and clearance guru] and I got obsessed with figuring out how to use it. It took six months. No joke, a week before we had to mix the episode we got an approval. We’re the first to ever license his music.

To get that call from Kerri was the happiest moment in so long. I couldn’t do this show without her.

Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim sample cheese
Dev and Arnold sampling cheese.
Were there any other challenges you had to grapple with?

Yeah, there were. A lot of the Italian disco stuff we liked wasn’t properly dealt with publishing- and licensing-wise at the time, and some were covers of American songs. We heard a lot of, “You don’t want to mess with this one. It’s unlicense-able.”

But thankfully the disco scene in Italy was gigantic and very rich. We paid homage to some Italian DJs, too, especially a guy named Daniele Baldelli, who is known for claiming the term ‘cosmic’ in disco. He got big in the late 70’s and early 80’s and he still plays out now. He’s one of the masters.

In some shows emotion or tone are a key driver for music selection; here it feels like history and context is just as important.

Yeah, it’s a weird thing about the world today. Ever since streaming took off, there is no history delivered with the music. Where I come from, it was all about record collecting; I worked at record stores before I even worked at labels. You had to learn. And it’s also a very linear thing. If you are into something in the 60’s, it makes sense that you research that and see what came after it, what came before it. But now, it’s really just music.

I was cracking up after season one when we used “Edge” by David McCallum in the last episode. Everybody thought it was a Dre rip off when in fact it was what Dre samples. People were like, “They jacked Dr. Dre for this.” I was like, “Uh, no man. It’s the other way around.”

Any other projects coming up we should look for?

I did a movie over the summer called The Little Hours that’s out in June. I’m mixing a movie now called State Like Sleep. Michael Shannon is in it, and he’s one of my favorite actors ever.

I still produce records with the label called Light in the Attic. I have a project that I’m a co-producer on that’s all Japanese, what they call city pop, this amazing AOR boogie sound that came out of Japan ’75 – ’85. We have a retrospective of that sound that just got announced a couple weeks ago and should hopefully be up by the end of the year.

I also work with a fashion line called Rodarte and do all their runway music. We’ve got a couture show in Paris in July.

And hopefully another season of Master of None! Thanks so much for talking today, Zach.

My pleasure! This stuff is so important to me and I love talking to people about it. Especially to Tunefind because I lurk your site hard!

More Info

〉Check out all the songs featured in Master of None on Tunefind

〉Read part 1 of our Q&A with Zach Cowie

〉Follow Zach on Twitter @turquoisewisdom