Interview: "Anchorman 2" composers John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein

by Garrett Tiedemann, Special to Minnesota Public Radio
March 20, 2014

California composers John Nau and Andrew Feltenstein have had quite the career together. They've crafted the music for some of the last few years' comedic gems such as the recent Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and the TV miniseries The Spoils of Babylon. Their collaboration does more than simply supply music for support: it defines much of the films' character and sensibility.

I was able to chat with both artists about their recent work and how they've come to compose together so seamlessly.

How did each of you get started in music? Was it an instrument, a composer, an album?

Andrew Feltenstein: Well, John's older sister played piano but he discovered the blues from a neighbor and was hooked. John actually began teaching himself the piano around the age of eight.

John Nau: And Andrew loves writing songs and listening to Bob Dylan. Bob was probably his early influence.

You two have worked together on a few projects now. Can you talk about how your collaboration came to be?

AF: John and I met in a studio in Venice, California. It was kismet. We became fast friends and decided to open our own studio. We did, and called it Beacon Street Studios.

How do the two of you work together on a film? What's the process for collaborating?

AF: John and I read the scripts individually.

JN: We respect each other and just treat every day like the first. Then we gravitate to whoever has the better idea. On [Anchorman 2], [writer/director] Adam McKay's trust and respect went a long way. He trusted us with his baby and we respect the heart of it.

When you start on a film like Anchorman 2, do you know ahead of time what other music is being used and compose just for specific scenes, or is the process not that dissimilar to any other film with much composed that goes unused?

JN: On this project we were asked to write original songs that were pre-scores. All told, [there were] maybe 40-50 minutes of score. We also co-wrote several of the songs, including "Doby."

AF: Those songs set the tone early for the film. That said, we ended up doing a heavy orchestral post score. That, we did not see coming.

What do you think is the musical signature of Anchorman 2? Is that something you knew from the beginning, or is it just looking back that you are aware?

JN: We wanted it to be new and a true evolution of Ron's character and of the time 1979. That's where we both come from.

AF: We have the knowledge of and have played 70s and 80s music. When we play to these eras, we cut and produce/record [music] exactly the same way they would have.

JN: Our set-up is not reflective of today's modern studio recording.

AF: The musical signature might be John Nau's "Walter's Sonata" that Ron's son plays in the film. It's a pivotal moment in the film.

JN: We knew it would be in the film, but we didn't know it would be the climax.

AF: Seriously. It is the one track that defies all that convention. It's a timeless piece of music.

Subtlety isn't really the way of these scores. How do you approach the way this music works with the film, in comparison to something that may play under scenes a bit more? How do you find the balance so it doesn't steal the movie?

JN: You have to play everything really straight — that's the key. You have to play it so straight that it becomes over-the-top. We read the script individually, and came away with a melodramatic feel to the story. Ron is uber everything, so the music needed to reflect that, but we didn't score the comedy. We played for the heavy dramatic moments. The comedy comes in the setup.

AF: Really, our job is to be felt, not heard. Sometimes that means be subtle, sometimes not.

You've also done music for the new show Spoils of Babylon; can you speak a bit to that? How did that come to be?

JN: The vocal performances were top-notch and the music we wrote is reflective of the record collection of the writer and of the director and their love of 60s music. Specifically the main title piece — it's done with earnestness. Traditionally we're not huge fans of TV sagas.

AF: Though I suspect you harbor a secret love of Dallas.

Was Anchorman 2 very different from other work you have done?

JN: Anchorman 2 was different in that there was a broader demand: the music ranged from funk soul music to classical piano, [from] melodramatic orchestral music to songs.

Do you draw from any particular artists when you sit down to find musical notes? Anyone that comes to mind that really provides direction? Or do influences change with each project?

JN: Anything I have ever listened to and worked on over the years influences me. It is more of a sum of who you are.

What's your next musical adventure?

JN: Spoils was picked up for season two and we are super excited about [that].

AF: Also keep your ears open for Better Living Through Chemistry.

Garrett Tiedemann is a writer, filmmaker, and composer who owns the multimedia lab CyNar Pictures and its record label American Residue Records.

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