”You’re the Worst” is a dark, filthy, sex-addled comedy that’s been praised for its attentive handling of gravely serious issues like death, mental illness and reproductive rights. Welcome to television in 2016.
Created by Stephen Falk, the show centers on a quartet of friends (and a few comically genius hanger-ons) who struggle with unceasing anxiety and a perpetual desire to flee from life’s problems. Gretchen the publicist, Jimmy the writer, Lindsay the housewife and Edgar the veteran caper through the Los Angeles area, finding unlikely friendship ― and even love, for Gretchen and Jimmy ― in each other. It’s not a typical romantic comedy, Google is quick to tell you, and that’s what makes its hilarity so biting.
But beyond the show’s writing, and the actors’ abilities to juggle subtle depictions of depression with rip-roaring moments of vulgarity, there’s the music. Composer Adam Blau is behind it all ― at least, the original music you hear throughout the show’s three seasons. The wordless tones that play in the background of a threesome? You can thank Blau for that. (That particular song has 9,000 listens on SoundCloud, actually.) The yacht rock ballad that Edgar plays in a solitary struggle with his own PTSD? Blau wrote that. (And somehow recruited a hit-making ‘70s band to bring it to life.) The songs Sam, Gretchen’s unruly client, raps? Blau made those, too. (Along with Falk, who Blau jokingly confirmed is on tape rapping Sam’s Odd Future-esque lines.)
Ahead of the Season 3 finale of “You’re The Worst” ― which has been renewed for a fourth season ― we checked in with Blau to hear more about his role in one of FX’s most millennial-friendly shows. And yes, he talked about “New Phone Who Dis?”
How did you get involved with “You’re The Worst”?
I had worked a bunch with Stephen Falk, the creator of the show ― we have a long history of working together and it seemed a good fit.
Did you see the pilot before you began working on the show?
No, I worked on the pilot. I saw cuts of it while it was being put together. But, yeah, it was in its early stages and then there were some tweaks made between the pilot and what turned into Episode 1 of the first season.
Working as a composer for a TV show ― I think the only insight into that job I have is from Jason Segel’s character in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” [in which he composes the music for a crime procedural show]. Is that depiction at all accurate?
[Laughs] It’s not completely far off! There are moments when it’s like that. I would say that working on “You’re The Worst” is pretty unique because there are so many different facets of it. Everything from the score to any time an in-show song appears in an episode ― whether it’s the soft rock song that Edgar plays in his car this season to all of the songs that the hip-hop group in the show plays, you know, Sam and those guys ― they are all created for the show. So it’s definitely a lot of variety.
I definitely want to get to that variety, but first I wanted to ask you about one of the words I’ve seen thrown around a lot in descriptions of “You’re the Worst”: “malaise,” usually in reference to a feeling of being uncomfortable or uneasy in your late 20s or early 30s. Have you found yourself thinking about malaise while working on the show?
I see what you’re saying ― presumably you’re talking about the malaise within the characters themselves. I don’t know that we focus on malaise strictly as malaise, but what I would say that [the show] is very unlike your sort of traditional sitcom. When a season is done, I compile all the music cues and, looking at them, if you play them all the way through, it does not play like a traditional sitcom. It definitely has some more dramatic turns in there, especially in the second season once we started dealing with Gretchen’s depression. And some of the stuff we were dealing with this season with Jimmy and his dad[’s death]. Or Edgar dealing with his PTSD. It definitely skews a lot more toward the dramatic. And it’s a question of striking the balance there.
So I would say if there is malaise, it’s not necessarily straight-up malaise, it’s just the characters living their lives and sometimes there’s malaise and sometimes they’re struggling with interacting with each other, but also sometimes they’re just having a grand ol’ time, and we try to reflect that in the music.
Yes, there are moments in the show that are almost near-slapstick humor ― like when Jimmy dressed up as a really obscure British character for Halloween. What is it like for you as a composer to pivot from those different moments in the show?
I love it. It’s so easy, when you’re dealing with a project for a long time, to sort of go on autopilot. But [the variety] keeps it pretty fresh. I work closely with Stephen and so I like to get all the scripts early and trace the arcs of where the characters are going to go and see if there are any moments that will warrant a closer look musically. And so if we’re doing things like the Halloween episode, we might want to pay a little more attention to it.
I am a fan of comedy, for sure. I like to figure out those comedic timings for those scenes. But it’s a whole different ballgame when we shift to a different mode, and the challenge is trying to fit it into the world without the bottom dropping out and feeling like you’re in an entirely different show. Unless that’s the intent! Like scoring the “Sunday Funday” episode like an adventure movie. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one.
You’ve been working with these various characters now for three seasons. When you are composing, do you end up crafting different musical profiles for them?
I think there’s an extent to which we do. Jimmy and Gretchen have a little thematic motif that’s been there since the first season. The other part is that we really try to use the music wisely and we’re dealing with two characters who, although they’re dealing with navigating through this relationship, they run away from the more emotional moments. So if we scored the entire thing so closely like a traditional romantic comedy, it would be the exact opposite of what Jimmy and Gretchen would want, you know what I mean?
For the more emotional stuff with them, we’ll try to bring that theme out. I think it came out early on in the scene in the movie theater when they were eating Chinese food, when they started to click. And then toward the end of the first season when they move in with each other ― it pops up at critical relationship moments. This season, there’s been something with Jimmy struggling with his dad. I would say those moments are there. Otherwise, we’re sort of just playing tone.
How would you describe the sort of sonic, thematic motif that you used when Gretchen was dealing with her own mental illness?
It plays at its most full at that moment in Season 2 when she delivers this monologue about the Mars rover to Jimmy. And it sort of plays twofold: it’s a series of three descending chords, and over it you had a little “de ne ne” motif that plays for Jimmy and Gretchen. It’s so hard to describe, but it has a sort of soft, gauzy sound.
Do you base any of this on particular musical inspirations?
I think we’ve developed a kind of palette for this show that is sort of a mishmash of music the characters might listen to. It’s a combination, at this point, of beats and indie, garage-y sort of guitar and ‘80s synths.
You mentioned that you write Sam’s music.
Stephen and I work together on almost all of the in-show song moments. And there is a pretty hefty collection of them. So this season we have the yacht rock song that Edgar’s brother had given him. And yes, all of Sam’s music ― “New Phone Who Dis?” was Stephen and I together. And even stuff that’s so deeply in the background. Like last season when Jimmy’s family came to visit, they were watching the Eurovision-style contest, so I did four really ridiculous songs for the show. Very over the top. This season, during “Sunday Funday,” there’s an old jazz standard that they find on a scavenger hunt that’s a clue. So we wrote that as well. “Happy Toes.” Jimmy sings that at the end.
What are the musical references for Sam’s hip-hop group?
Odd Future is chief among them.
What was the most fulfilling scenes or episodes for you to compose for?
One that sticks out in the most recent season is “Twenty-Two.” It’s one of the more dramatic ones where Edgar is struggling with his PTSD throughout the entire episode; it’s a very heavy and serious episode. The song itself that plays throughout ― I was looking for a ‘70s-style yacht rock song, which is a genre I am well-versed in and totally love. So I tried to create this mellow, grooving song. We were able to bring in some musicians to play on it. We got the lead singer from Ambrosia. They sing “Biggest Part of Me,” an early ‘80s hit.
The way it’s featured is that Edgar goes through this whole journey and breaks from reality at some point. At the end, he reaches a little resolution within his story and he blisses out to the song. Given the emotional task, that one was a really rewarding one to work on. And they are now selling the song on iTunes to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, to help soldiers who are wounded or are dealing with issues like PTSD.
Overall, what’s it been like as the composer to watch the show dive into these heavy topics and see the resonance ― your song going out into the world like that?
It’s a testament to the show itself and the characters and Stephen’s writing. The show itself is affecting people and really reaching people. And to have the music play some part in that ― of course, it’s incredibly rewarding. To be able to make some real world difference.
Can you tell us anything about the season finale ― the third to last episode left fans wondering whether Jimmy and Gretchen will or won’t part ways?
Obviously, I can’t give anything away one way or the other. But I will say that the show stays true to form and it’s a good watch. I’m working on it now and I’ve seen the early cuts. It should be enjoyable. I hope.
“You’re The Worst” airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.