For composer Mark Rivers, there were three keys to cracking the tricky “Big Mouth” Season 1 song “Totally Gay”: the hopeful lyrics, the Queen-inspired melody, and finding a singer who could really sound like Freddie Mercury.
“If he couldn’t do a good Freddie Mercury, the whole thing would’ve just been kind of subpar,” Rivers said in an interview with IndieWire, while in production on Season 2 of the Netflix original series. “When I very fortunately found the singer, Brendan McCreary, he actually did a better high, rockin’ Freddie so he actually pushed the range level higher to where his Freddie sweet spot was.”
Unlike other productions, Rivers wasn’t given lyrics or music, so he settled on the composition’s tone largely on his own, right from the start.
“Obviously the genre was ‘It’s a Queen Song,’ but we didn’t really discuss what variety of Queen songs — whether it was a rocker like ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ or something [else]. I wound up defaulting to a ‘Somebody to Love’ feel, just because that’s what came out when I started thinking about Freddie melodies.”
After submitting the demo, he added the opening a cappella because the writers “wanted something more spectacular to launch into the song.” Luckily, “Somebody To Love” also starts with a similar vocal exclamation point, so all Rivers had to do was come up with the lyrics — you know, the words to a song about a kid who thinks he’s gay thanks to the encouraging words of famous, openly gay ghosts like Freddie Mercury.
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While such a delicate undertaking may have been a daunting task for other songwriters, Rivers also has a background in comedy writing. After playing in various rock bands during high school and college, he made sure to always have his “foot in the comedy world” after moving to Boston. His friendship with David Cross connected him to up-and-coming comics who made it big, like Marc Maron and Janeane Garofalo. After writing the theme song for Cross’ HBO comedy “Mr. Show,” Rivers moved to Los Angeles and continued pursuing music and comedy. He’s written for “The Kroll Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and “W/ Bob & David.”
“I have two careers as a composer and comedy writer, and over the last 20 years I’ve been doing both of those, hopping back and forth between the two,” he said.
That background helped Rivers craft a funny, insightful song that still matches the boundary-pushing tone of the series. He worried if Andrew had been afraid of discovering he’s gay, it “could’ve taken it to a really ugly place” but the “positive” perspective — celebrating the teen’s would-be coming out — helped ensure even glib-sounding lines clearly came from a good place.
“It’s sort of a turning point, when [Andrew] accepts the positives of being gay and he’s embracing it,” Rivers said. “I think that makes the whole thing very forgiving. […] Even the stuff that might be borderline — like, ‘bears and queens and Catholic tweens’ — I’m not sure that [line is] exactly lauding the gay lifestyle. [But] I think it’s all in good fun and ultimately strikes a positive tone.”
With the smart lyrics, sweet Queen melody, and one helluva voice, Rivers’ work earned “Big Mouth” its only Emmy nomination in Season 1.
“Luckily, we all kind of found it,” he said. “We found the Queen magic with his vocal and all these other elements coming together.”
But Season 2 looks to return to the race with a slew of notable numbers. Executive producer Andrew Goldberg told IndieWire there’s a running joke in the writers’ room that, whenever a new song is pitched, it could be Rivers’ next Emmy-nominated number.
“My favorite song I’ve written so far for the show is toward the end of Season 2, and it’s a song the Shame Wizard, voiced by David Thewlis, sings that’s sort of part menacing Disney song and part David Bowie, I guess,” Rivers said. “It’s called ‘Shame’ or ‘The Shame Song.’ That’s my favorite song so far. It came together great, and he provided a great vocal for it. And the animation is fantastic, so look for that one!”
“Big Mouth” Season 2 is expected in the fall of 2018 on Netflix.