If the songs sung by Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and their pals seem to have a subversive sound reminiscent of “Flight of the Conchords,” that’s because the group’s Bret McKenzie was the man behind the music of “The Muppets.” McKenzie, who served as music supervisor for the film, tells PopcornBiz about the challenges of crafting lyrics fit for a frog.
Tell us a little bit of the back-story of getting involved with making music for “The Muppets.”
James Bobin, who directed the film, worked on [the HBO series] "Flight of the Conchords" with me. He was the director and co-creator, so I knew him very well. And he got this job and he had asked me to do a demo for the opening song. And then I ended up becoming music supervisor because they needed someone to make sure the songs stayed in the world of the Muppets. And we didn't want it to become the Muppets' with a contemporary sound.
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How hard was it to capture that particular established Muppets sound?
The main thing is as much banjo as possible! And, yeah, it was very intimidating because the Muppets have an incredible history in music. It was intimidating for sure. The songwriters were left alone. There were a few different songwriters who worked on the film. I did like three or four of the songs. And Jeannie Lurie did Kermit's song. And then I helped with one as well. But we were kind of left alone to do our thing. One highlight was working with Jason Segel in the studio. I was nervous because I didn't know if he would be able to sing this power ballad. But it turns out he has the voice of Meatloaf. I mean he really, out of all the actors – they all do a great job, but he takes it to the next level.
Did the Muppets performers sing with the Muppets in hand?
In the studio they don't have the Muppet in hand. But in between takes they often stay in character. So when you're asking Kermit to try again he talks back to you. It's as though you're recording Kermit. Which is a really cool experience. The other thing that was quite surreal was being in the studio as a grown man doing the voice of a penguin. And saying,"'I want to do it again. It's all right, It's great." One more thing I want to say it's interesting: the Muppets’ world has all these rules, so humans can talk, frogs can talk, but chickens and penguins can't talk. So I had to learn about the Muppets’ world. The Henson rulebook.
"The Muppets" is in theaters now