While in L.A. for the #MuppetsMostWantedEvent, we had a few moments to speak with songwriter Bret McKenzie. I’m so happy that we had this opportunity because we got to listen to this very talented songwriter break out into song along the way.
I even got to find out one of his top picks for favorite power ballads. Want to know? Without You, written by Pete Ham and Tom Evans (he even sang it). Okay, that’s the random trivia that I have for you from the interview. The rest is all about his work on the Muppets Most Wanted film.
Check out Bret’s answers to some of my favorite questions.
Was there any pressure to meet the standard to win an Oscar while working on Muppets Most Wanted? [Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for Man or Muppet in The Muppet Movie]
BRET: …There was a lot of pressure because of the Oscar, but really what could I do? There’s always gonna be downhill, I just had to.I was appreciative, but then I had to get on with the job and just forget about that. Because I didn’t work on the last Muppet film to win awards, you know.
How fun was doing work similar?
BRET: James and Nick Stoller sent me the script and they’re lots of fun, great ideas for songs and then I got to add new ideas and the first song “We’re doing a sequel,” they had the original idea then I just started looking through the history of bad sequels and qualities of sequels and there’s so many. And there was one lyric, the–– the first song, the first lyric in the song, “We’re doing a sequel, that’s what we do in Hollywood, but everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good,” that felt like a great start to the movie because it lets the audience know that it’s a, first of all it’s a sequel and then we–– we know that it’s possibly not as good as the last one.
And it’s like that’s the way they wanted it because he wants…the audience can’t but help go, “Oh is this gonna be better than the last one? Let’s see what they do.” So we kinda let them in on that. That’s what I love about the Muppets is they can do that, you can, the Muppets can turn to the audience and look straight at camera and talk to them about how they’re making a movie, and there was one lyric in that I just went through and looked at bad sequels and the qualities in them. There was one lyric that Rowlf the Dog was gonna sing that was in the soundtrack but not in the movie where he goes, “We’re doing a sequel, how hard can it be? We can’t do any worse than the Godfather III.” So yeah it was a bit of a zinger so we took that one out. Then I like how Piggy can talk about how “there’s no need to disguise,” “the studio considers us a viable franchise,” there’s some fun, it was really a fun song to write, yeah. It was good.
Trailer – “We’re doing a sequel”
What’s the process like when you’re told like what kind of song, just the idea of the song but how do you get the ideas going in your head and you don’t write lyrics first, the music first?
BRET: They send me a script with the idea of a song and then I…but it’s usually quite a loose idea. And then for example the ballad it was originally called “Love Ain’t Easy,” and it was a Piggy ballad. And first of all I was nervous because Piggy is a great character, a great comedic character, but not a great singer, and I was worried about her carrying an emotional ballad because there’s only so much of her voice that the audience, I think, wants to hear, you know.
Thirty seconds is great, then a couple of minutes you’re really start being a bit painful. So I suggested we try and get a singer to help her and we were really excited when Celine Dion agreed and I’m hoping that these two divas get like a Las Vegas Celine Dion/Piggy Diva Night…that’s–– that’s my dream. Yeah. So then I would write the song and then adapt it for the characters and I’d go to James Bobin and play it to him and I’d, one of the stranger experiences on the job is I go to the Disney offices to play the songs to them.
And I sit at the piano and I having done two Muppet films now I can do a fairly okay impression of a lot of the different characters so I would say, “This is Miss Piggy’s ballad,” and I’d sit down in this room with all these suits, these Hollywood suits, and I would go, so Miss Piggy, she turns to the camera and she starts doing like this, [IMPERSONATES MISS PIGGY IN HIGH-PITCHED SINGING VOICE] “How can something so right, be so…” literally a crazy job that, but kinda fun yeah so, I can do all those Muppet voices. What else about the process?
Then sometimes you get a someone like Tina Fey who got the role of prison guard and I always wanted to do this doo-wop song in there and then I started working with her and I adjusted the song to suit her voice because it was the wrong pitch and we kinda worked together on find out what her strengths are, where her voice sits. That’s one of the benefits of being the songwriter and producer of the songs as well is if it’s not working I can just change the song.
Because I’m allowed to whereas if it was someone else who’d written it I’d have to call them, “Do you mind if we change the melody?” That was kind of a fun part of it too. And Ricky Gervais, of course, some of you might know he was a–– a sort of failed pop star in the ’80s…so he’s actually a really good singer. So it was handy.
Do you have a favorite song from this film that you wrote?
BRET: …But I do like “I’ll Get You What You Want” [Cockatoo in Malibu, which is––the bad frog trying to woo Miss Piggy.
Watch Bret singing “I’ll Get You What You Want” [Cockatoo in Malibu]
When you have writer’s block what do you refer to for inspiration?
BRET: YouTube, it’s kinda fun writing songs in the studio we can look through. There’s such a great history of recorded music now, you can look at ’70s and ’80s songs, I mean, and I’m a real sucker for power ballads. Just looking at, looking at old clips. For this film I would look back at a few old Irving Berlin songbooks, old Broadway show tunes that influenced the opening couple of songs.
I could go on, but whew! What a fantastic interview. Loved, loved, loved all the singing. Plus anyone who loves power ballads is a winner in my book!
Did you get a chance to go to the theater yet to see Muppets Most Wanted? My kids are still singing along to the soundtrack pretty much every day. Be sure to read my Muppets Most Wanted posts for the full Muppets experience.
More on the Muppets
Get the Muppets Most Wanted sound track.
Muppets Most Wanted Toys and Games.
Disclosure: This was included as part of an all expense paid press trip. I received no monetary compensation for this post. All opinions are completely my own.