Literally, everyone knows the iconic Addams Family theme, especially its double snap. How does a composer bring new energy to such an iconic franchise? That was the challenge Chris Bacon, one of the composers of Tim Burton’s Wednesday series, working with composer Danny Elfman, starring Jenna Ortega in the title role, faced and conquered. With his new music and themes for our favorite macabre family, Bacon demonstrated himself as a worthy contributor to the Addams musical canon.
Bacon was part of Rhapsody PR‘s event “Supersonic: Behind the Music,” where he, among other composers and sound mixers, detailed his work in the TV industry. We were fortunate enough to catch up with him after the panel to discuss Wednesday, his own inspirations as a composer, how he aimed to have his music stand out from what came before, and so much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BUT WHY THO: The Addams Family is such a beloved franchise, including their iconic musical theme. But how did you aim to differentiate your score from the previous music so many people know?
Chris Bacon: We weren’t setting out to [play] homage. We were setting out to reference [it] many times. There are a couple of times when we use a little classic Addams theme and flourish them out. But they’re really set up to be a new thing. What did she say that was or was that like? What does it sound like? What do these characters represent and how do we dramatically represent them emotionally through music?
It really starts out kind of similar to the way I start any project. What is the tone? Get in there and with Wednesday, it was especially fun and challenging. And tricky, because it’s so dark. It’s funny, it’s kind of a macabre element, and there’s a very sweet, loving element. So getting in there and reading those needles. We found that it was better not to be funny. It’s very dramatic. Play the drama of it. And don’t try to be funny. Don’t try to be too cute with it. Lean into the macabre. It actually lands better and becomes funnier.
BUT WHY THO: Yeah, and I think that’s really what Tim Burton brought the project because he has funny moments scattered throughout this process, but it’s very morose in a really great way that a lot of people really appreciate. So what was it like working with Tim?
Chris Bacon: Well, Tim is an icon for a reason. And you look at his history. These things just become cultural touchstones. Because he has a very unique way of telling stories. He has a very specific visual style. He uses color palettes and obviously, he’s very comfortable in the morose, the macabre, [and] the dark, but he’s a very sweet guy. He’s very well spoken and he’s very, very smart, but also just a little left [off center]. That’s really great about him and also, being able to collaborate with Danny Elfman. Obviously, their relationship goes back 40 years, I think. Part of my job was to [not] step on the toes of that established thing that was going on but it was really flattering and very fun and very fulfilling to get to do that.
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BUT WHY THO: Obviously Wednesday would not exist without her titular amazing star Jenna Ortega. I’m curious if you got to talk with her at all, but even if not, what was it like just watching your score onscreen with her amazing performance?
Chris Bacon: Right so, I did get to cross paths with her at the premiere but there’s no real particular conversation we had [about the music]. As you said, the show doesn’t exist without her performance. The way that she captures this is very sincere, very dark, and kind of, “I don’t know if I want to be alone with this person,” but also still being likable and still being relatable in a way where she could literally say that “I much prefer you being dead than alive” as a compliment. Something like that, and to have it land and be funny, but also sincere and have it be authentic to who she is. That does inform the music a lot.
We [also] play the emotion that she’s presenting, which often is not very much emotion at all. You will see her smile with teeth once in the entire season. Other times you have grins with a sense of macabre. It’s somebody else’s misfortune [that brings that out], and so just being inside of that character…yeah, it really provides a canvas for you [to work with]. [Her] being dark, but allowing things to play on their own.
BUT WHY THO: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of macabre, I can’t help but think of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saëns and other composers. I’m curious about composers that have inspired you. If they’re in the horror or macabre space, whether they are film composers or not, who has inspired you in particular?
Chris Bacon: Wow, how much time do you have on your desk? It spans from John Williams to James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith. Very melodic, very expressive composers who could wide range of love for melody [like] Bernard Herrmann, John Adams, and Rachmaninoff, for example. A wide variety. I’m drawn to melodic composers. John Adams might not be considered melodic, but there’s a lot of texture and there’s a lot of movement, a lot of motion and energy, and the way to create a motor that’s interesting and that’s minimal for a reason. It all sort of just contributes to the stew that is [my inspiration]. Hopefully, I’m able to get to where I’m the sum total of everything we’ve ever heard. And then, finding our voice through the combination of those things. So this study moves things through the subconscious way that those things marry with. Sometimes it’s fun to look back and see how something may have happened while not trying to overtly be reminiscent of, or tapping into something. Sometimes it’s only in retrospect that we recognize that.
BUT WHT THO: As we already mentioned Jenna before, the show would not exist without her performance and those of the other amazing actors and writers on it. So is there anything that you can say to comment on the Strike and you know how you hope it may be resolved?
Chris Bacon: I’m very supportive of the writers and the actors and all of the people, singers that are involved there, too. Their plight is our plight, in their efforts to be treated fairly and respectfully, as are all of our efforts. It’s a very synergistic field, and it’s a completely new world now than it was even five years ago, 10, 20 years ago, and the things that are being done, the things that are being pushed now, they’ve never been pushed for a buck where because we didn’t know these things have existed. So I’m very supportive. And then I’m also very hopeful that there is a solution to demand that is equitable and values the work of the people that are creating the work.
Bacon and his fellow composers are perfect examples of the crucial human element in composing music. As they draw on musical traditions from previous films, TV, and classical music, they resulted in Wednesday’s soundtrack being an energetic force of macabre delight. We can’t wait to hear more from Chris Bacon and his fellow musicians going forward.