Composing duo WAZ-Jackson talks scoring upcoming Life Sentence and Youth & Consequences

By Dan Moore

With shows such as Rush Hour, Undateable, Surviving Jack and the comedy Cougar Town under their belts, husband-wife composing duo Waz and Jamie Jackson, known as WAZ-Jackson, are no strangers to the world of sitcom music. On top of composing hit television shows, they have also written songs that have been featured on The Vampire Diaries, Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, American Idol and Pretty Little Liars to name a few. Their latest projects, the CW’s Life Sentence and Youtube Red’s Youth & Consequences, both premiere on March 7, so we decided to speak with them exclusively about what fans can expect from their upcoming projects. Read the full interview here:

How would you describe your score for Life Sentence?

The score is guitar driven modern indie folk with touches of ethereal piano pieces that support the tenderness and vulnerability of this family. We support the comedic moments with orchestral pizzicato pieces. We also wrote the theme song for the show with an up and coming modern folk artist named Jamie Drake who is also the featured vocalist alongside Brandon Kinder on BGVs. It’s called Learn to Live Again.

How did you become involved with Life Sentence?

We have been lucky to work with Bill Lawrence on multiple projects for the last 9 years. He hired us for our first job as composers on the show Cougar Town in 2009. His longtime production team really took us under their wing and taught us all of the ins and outs of working on a television series.  We read the Life Sentence script and were so inspired. The creators Erin Cardillo and Richard Keith have really tapped into something very special.

Life Sentence has a few different directors. Did each director have their own input on what they wanted their episode to sound like? If so, how did you keep a cohesive sound between all the episodes?

It’s our job to keep the show cohesive throughout the season while supporting the creative intentions of everyone involved in the process from start to finish. The director’s cut happens early on and they are given space to explore any score ideas they may have with temp. Sometimes they pull from the bank of score we’ve created. We really developed the sound of the show with Bill, Erin and Rich while working on the pilot so the general soundscape was established when starting Season 1. They are music lovers and have great taste.

You are also scoring Youtube Red’s teen drama Youth & Consequences right now. Can you tell us about that score and what you wanted the vibe to be?

We actually wrapped Youth & Consequences in December. We scored the entire season in 3 months.

The show has been appropriately being described as a “woke” version of the film ‘Mean Girls’. It is indeed “woke”. It’s very inspiring to work on a show that touches on important issues of our time. We don’t want any spoilers so we won’t get specific but the creator, Jason Ubaldi, did an amazing job of writing very multi-dimensional characters. We wanted the score to support all of these layers so we have a handful of musical genres. It takes place in a high school. We used the driving energy of a marching band drumline to keep the momentum going from scene to scene. We also tapped into an edgy, sarcastic/ biting comedic orchestral score. We also used some modern electronic percussion, vibes and mellotron to keep it youthful and quirky. The heartfelt moments are supported by ethereal piano, synth and electric guitar pieces.

Cary Elwes plays Farah’s (the lead character) father in the show. One of the episodes focuses on their relationship. The editor of that episode Tamara Maloney wanted us to try stepping outside of the show’s sound.  We recorded some jazz for several scenes. It worked so well with the way that particular episode was shot. It’s unexpected and so cinematic. We live for these kind of moments in the score.

What was one of the biggest challenges with scoring Youth & Consequences?

Our showrunner, Blair Singer, was very much open to taking risks and trusting us. When he initially hired us he said “I want to stay out of your way and let you do what you do” and he did just that. Unlike any other show we’ve worked on, this was straight to series. There was no pilot process so while we were developing the sound of the show and working intensively to get that sound approved for the first episode, episodes 102 and 103 were also being edited and sent to the studio and network for approval. It was challenging to establish the soundscape while working on 3 episodes. Like all television production, it was fast and furious. We brought in our comrade Al Sgro to help us with the score. He’s a very talented drummer and writer that we love working with.

As a composing duo, do you each focus on specific things when working on a project?

Waz’s background is rock ’n’ roll. He was Pete Yorn’s guitarist and on the road for many years. He can play any string instrument but focuses on guitar, drums, and bass. I studied classical piano and music theory. I also come from an electronic pop background so I focus on the orchestral, piano, synth and electronic modern pieces. We pass pieces back and forth. We are very different creatively so when we agree on a piece we know it’s good.

You both have also been in bands before. What is one thing that you learned while being in a band that you now apply to your composing work?

You can take years to make a record and sometimes you just get a few hours to create a piece for television and film. Though there isn’t much time to experiment with a very fast paced television production calendar,  spontaneity, mistakes…. humanness bring so much life to score even when you feel that there’s not enough time.

Are either of you going to be lending your vocals to any tracks for either of the series?

For Life Sentence, we could’ve sang the theme song but we really felt that Jamie Drake and Brandon Kinder were absolutely perfect for the tune.
Maybe if the shows are renewed you will hear some vocals from us. Anything is possible!

Learn more about WAZ-Jackson here: www.waz-jackson.com

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