Awards Daily talks to Yellowjackets music composers Anna Waronker and Craig Wedren about Alanis’s interpretation of their theme song, capturing the characters’ “collective descent” into madness, and that Javi sequence in the Season 2 finale.
For Yellowjackets fans, it was fun to hear Alanis Morrisette’s version of the theme song “No Return.” But for the show’s music composers Anna Waronker and Craig Wedren, who both came from ’90s bands That Dog and Shudder to Think, it was a little “trippy.”
“Anybody who was alive in the ’90s, but particularly anybody who was making music in the ’90s, has their own uniquely subjective relationship to Jagged Little Pill and to Alanis,” says Wedren, “so it was kind of beautiful and appropriate that it all came circling around.”
“I love the interpretation,” echoes Waronker. “I love the mall dream sequence [in Episode 4’s “Old Wounds”]. Anytime I work on a song that gets covered or sung by someone interesting, it’s so fun. I love the version, and I think it’s really effective in the episode, too.”
“In context of that episode, it’s Yellowjackets, so things get a little off and displaced,” continues Wedren. “That was cool that you’re like, ‘Something’s different about the opening?’ And it drops you sideways into the episode, which I thought was a neat little trick.”
‘Like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox’
Distortion is a theme throughout Season 2. Just as the music does, the series drops you in sideways and leaves you feeling as displaced as the girls. Stranded in the wilderness for months at the start of the new season, the team suffers from such extreme hunger and starvation that everything they see and hear becomes untrustworthy to both them and the audience. Waronker and Wedren took this idea and incorporated into the score.
“We took [musical] themes we loved from Season 1,” says Waronker, “and we turned them into a very different piece of music to highlight it. That was the first level of distortion that we thought was really clever until we got into the season and realized, ‘Oh, this is going to be a serious ride.’ As the story evolves and the trauma unfolds, the music follows that. Craig got these really cool ‘loopers and bloopers’ where a simple little vocal can turn into a bizarre distortion, like trauma does. We started incorporating that around Episode 6 when the trauma really started setting in.”
In Episode 6, not only does Shauna (Sophie Nélisse) lose her baby in the 1996 storyline, but Misty (Samantha Hanratty) experiences the death of her only friend.
“Everything starts fragmenting and disintegrating by Episode 6,” says Wedren. “You’ll hear themes or echoes of themes, and it does have that quality of memory where the more you repeat a story, the further you get from the original experience. It’s like a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. I’m aging myself. A copy of a copy of a copy.”
Wedren says that it became very clear that the producers wanted the music to drive home the idea that the team is losing their minds.
“It’s this collective descent. Toward the end, Coach Ben started to get his own themes. It would go through this mutation process, and they’d bend and warp and stretch and become ghosts of themes.”
‘The Hooks May Be Gnarly, Like a Lion Eating Its Prey’
Coming into Season 2, Waronker and Wedren knew practically nothing about the upcoming storylines—and they preferred it that way. Every week, the team would spot music for the upcoming episode over Zoom, going over tone and placement with fresh eyes. This was not only fun for the duo, but it was also nice for the producers who might be heavy into their work and ready for feedback.
The tribal, bongo music played at Lottie’s commune, with Natalie (Juliette Lewis) running through the woods, was music Waronker and Weddren already had completed ahead of the new season.
“We knew because of the last scene in Season 1 that there’s gonna be some sort of cult something,” says Waronker. “We knew it would be snowing, so conditions were going to be rough. We knew there was going to be a birth. I think I started the Natalie [theme], I laid it in, and I loved watching how the music falls with the picture. I remember cheering!”
“Both of us come from song craft as well,” says Wedren, “so for us, it’s all rooted in harmony and melody and hooks. The hooks may be gnarly, like a lion eating its prey, but you know when it’s a hook because your ears and your eyes and the back of your hairs perk up!”
Another hook you may have noticed is Taissa’s theme, the incessant kick that almost sounds like clicking your tongue to the roof of your mouth (it also sounds like the dripping that Mari hears).
“For some reason, Season 1 felt a little more grungy,” says Wedren. “Season 2, we need to introduce some beats here. We decided to go with Massive Attack/early Bjork kind of beats that are very ’90s but still have a ton of space and feel very modern. We’re looking for sounds or instruments that work in both timelines that feel modern and evoke something from that era. That beat, that kick, that warm deep kick, there’s so much space in between, which leaves a lot of room for dialogue and suspense.”
One of the most memorable scenes in the Yellowjackets Season 2 finale, “Storytelling,” is when Shauna “prepares” Javi. The music and the expert direction by Karyn Kusama work in tandem to provide one of the most emotional moments of a season already filled with devastating loss.
“The Javi scene is a medley really,” says Wedren. “We wrote it before seeing any picture before Season 2, and it was called Mink Trees. There’s a little bit of Mink Trees in there; I think some of Shauna’s stillborn funerial music, too.”
“Then we incorporated some from Baptism [in Season 1],” says Waronker. “We spent a lot of time on that one. The moment with the table. Craig had those vocals from Season 1 as avalanche vocals, and the big ‘ahhs’ as we brush off the snow.”
“[We put together] this descending choral thing we wrote for the last couple of episodes as everyone’s being sucked into the quicksand,” says Wedren. “When they’re brushing off the table, those are actually vocals that sound like an avalanche. We were putting tons of vocals through distortion. There’s an element from Episode 6 of the broken down harp motif as a reference back to [Shauna’s] baby.”
Yellowjackets is streaming on the Showtime app.