‘Master of None’ Goes To Italy
Netflix’s Master of None, starring Aziz Ansari, is back for another season and, with it, more stellar music.
The show, which is loosely based on Ansari’s life, garnered a lot of praise in its first season for its soundtrack, as arranged by music supervisor Zach Cowie. Cowie had his work cut out for him in season two, which opens with Ansari’s character Dev decamped to Italy after a breakup, entrenched in a life of pasta-making and broken Italian.
To celebrate the show’s return, TIDAL spoke with Cowie about Italian disco, New York tunes and what he listens to when he’s not working. Check out our conversation — and an exclusive playlist from Cowie — below.
So this season starts out in Italy. I’m wondering what challenge that posed to you?
Zach: There were several challenges for me. Aziz knew pretty far in advance that that was going to happen, and he just let me know. He was like, “Dude, we’re going to shoot in Italy, so start loading me down with Italian music.” My collecting habits are really all over the place as a music researcher. At this point, there are not a lot of places that I don’t have some experience digging through.
I just started to hit him with some of my favorite Italian stuff. He gave a further direction to it by deciding to make the first episode black and white and the second episode in color, the Italian episodes. We worked together and determined that the best bet for the black and white stuff, since it’s such an homage to Italian cinema, is to just use actual Italian film score music. Almost everything in that first episode is all repurposed film score from the ’60s.
Then, the idea for the second one, since the full color hits, was to make it just more lively. Our decision for that was to feature almost entirely Italian disco, which was a very big movement there in the late ’70s, early ’80s. A lot of it was stuff that I already had around and just really liked. I had a whole life as a record collector and a DJ before I did any supervision. There’s just a lot of stuff that I’ve been through. It’s part of why I love this show, that we’re just so open format with the music and I get to pull from everywhere.
I hear you have 10,000 records or something like that.
Zach: Yeah. There’s that many of them in my living room here. It’s been way worse. This is a streamlined version of them.
You said you have resources that you go to pretty regularly to find music. Can you tell me a couple of those resources? I’m sure your own record collection is pretty good for that.
Zach: I think I come at this the old way. I started working at record stores when I was a teenager, and then learned how to DJ. I still just DJ with vinyl. I don’t do anything digital. Then I worked at a bunch of record labels for 10 years and DJ’d the whole time. Through all that, I just met so many other collectors, a lot of them being specialists in certain things. I just did the best I could to spend as much time with those people as they’d let me and just let them teach me.
I guess my number one source of information are these other collectors, and just spending years and years going on record buying trips. I’ve been all around the world at this point just meeting with experts and just learning everything that I can.
What would you say is the most obscure piece of music that was included in this season?
Zach: There’s a lot of it this season, even more so than the first. The first season, we were all figuring it out in every aspect. I’m so stoked with the way the entire thing turned out, but there were definitely some areas where I was afraid to get super weird, because you just never know how far people are going to go with you. I think the positive response to the music from last season pushed us to go even deeper on this one and just hopefully people will grow with us and stretch with us. There’s tons of weird shit this season. All the Italian things are unknown outside of Italy.
This guy, Lucio Battisti, we named the ninth episode after one of his songs. He was a huge pop star in Italy in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, but his music has never been licensed outside of that country. He had always denied it. He’s a superstar. He’d be on postage stamps there, but he’s unknown outside of Italy. We worked really, really hard — me and my co-supervisor, Kerri Drootin — on figuring out how to get a license for one of his songs. We finally figured it out just a few days before we had to mix the episode. That’s something that comes with working with more obscure music, is there’s a whole side to the story which is just figuring out who owns it, who’s published it, where these people are. It’s a real detective’s job. It’s a lot harder than getting a Drake song.
I’m wondering, the romantic lead has changed in this season. She’s more ‘out of Aziz’s league,’ quote unquote, from what I’ve read. How did that change the way you scored romantic scenes?
Zach: That’s a good question. I don’t think changing the person really does much to the sound of romance. Granted this girl is Italian, so we lean on that a little bit. I base a lot of what I’m doing just on the way something feels. It didn’t really cross my mind to actually change the sound of this new relationship. Maybe I should have.
In the past, Brooklyn music venues like Baby’s All Right have appeared on the show. Does location have anything to do with the music you choose?
Zach: There’s something that Aziz and I have worked pretty hard to define, and it’s something we just loosely call our “Master of None New York sound.” There’s a bunch that goes into that. I’m a huge fan of the record store A1 in New York. Their dance section, if you go into their new arrivals 12-inch section, that’s the sound of our New York. That’s sort of informed by a lot of legendary DJs from New York, like David Mancuso at The Loft in the ’70s, Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and then a lot of newer producers from the dance world that are picking up the reins from those guys.
I guess from my alternate life as a DJ – and I play in New York quite a bit – that whole community really does inform our New York sound. It shows up actually a lot more in Season 2 than in Season 1, in terms of consistency. You haven’t seen it yet, but we even have a big club scene in the ninth episode where [Eric] Wareheim’s character Arnold is DJing. That was a blast. We got to throw four big tunes in there and have a club dancing around.
I guess my last question is, what have you been listening to lately? What have you been really into?
Zach: Given that I work all day with music, there’s a weird thing that I listen to when I’m done working. I don’t know how I’d describe it. It’s sort of music to have on when I don’t want music on. It’s very spacious. I just love things that play with space and things that take their time.
When I made that playlist for you guys, that’s the kind of stuff I listen to when I’m not working, just things that just color the room. I hike a lot, too. That’s the kind of stuff I listen to when I’m on my headphones. A lot of jazz, a lot of classical, a lot of ambient. Really, not a ton of vocals. When it’s your job all day to figure out how to say something, sometimes you just don’t want to hear anybody telling you something.
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