The end of the first season of Netflix’s critically lauded Orange Is the New Black left its lead character in a fairly dark place – Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) seemingly transformed from a straight-laced innocent into an impulsive miscreant. It was hard not to wonder if Piper was headed down the same path as former Jenji Kohan lead Nancy Botwin (played by Mary-Louise Parker on Weeds), who began that series as the ‘everywoman’ protagonist only to later become the destructive antagonist by series end.
With less than 48 hours until the premiere of the second season, Orange Is the New Black Composer Gwendolyn Sanford, at a panel hosted by Netflix, briefly discussed the darker tone of the impending season and how that reflects upon her work. “Season Two is much darker in terms of music and story” she confided “It gets pretty heavy. It’s definitely harder to take watching a scene where somebody you really love is getting beat up and then having to underscore that moment again and again and again.” For more on the making of the show and how the composer got involved in the first place, hit the jump for our interview with Gwendolyn Sanford for Orange Is the New Black season 2 interview.
Gwendolyn Sanford on how she first met Weeds and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan:
I can actually say I got discovered in Hollywood. Not a lot of people can say that but it actually happened to me… It started [with] a film called Chuck & Buck. They wanted Marlo Thomas’s ‘Free to be You and Me’. They were hoping to get the rights to use those songs. I was working with a composer of that film and [he was] like ‘Hey – do you think you could write a children’s song for the film we’re doing?’ I wrote the ‘Freedom of the Heart’ song for [Chuck & Buck] which became the main character — Mike White’s — theme song for the movie.
A couple of years later, a friend of mine said ‘You know — everybody loved that children’s song. You should do more of them.’ I was like ‘OK. I’ll do a few more children’s song.’ Then I put a band together and passed around a few songs to the neighborhood preschool and we played a few shows and we became an instantaneous hit with the parenting crowd…
We made four records for kids. But one of our first fans was Jenji Kohan. She had a two-year-old son and ended up having two more children so she grew up with her kids listening to our music. Her husband was a journalist and had written a piece about us and splashed our picture over the New York Style section. I knew her husband more than I knew her; but I would see her occasionally at shows. I didn’t know she was Jenji Kohan – the great television writer and creator. On a lark, she asked us to audition for Weeds in its second season. They were looking for a composer with a different unique sound. I think it was just one of her ideas – ‘We should get that children’s band we love so much to audition.’ That’s who she is — very spontaneous.
Sanford on getting the job:
SANFORD: We had done seven seasons of Weeds — and Jenji asked if we would like to audition for a new show — Orange Is the New Black. The last time [she] asked me to audition for a show, it turned out really well, so I [said] ‘yes’. We put together some pieces of music for her. [Jenji] told us she didn’t want it to sound like Weeds. She said it’s not Oz. And I was like ‘Sure, sure, sure…’ I knew it was a prison show and I had read the book. She didn’t have Regina Spektor [the singer/songwriter responsible for the show’s theme song ‘You’ve Got Time’] yet; but I knew she wanted her. They had licensed a bunch of songs from Regina for Weeds. Jenji was a big fan. [So based on that] we came up with a feel for the show.
[Jenji then] told us ‘I love [the music you’ve done]. It’s totally wrong for the show but you’re [hired] because it has it’s own point of view and it doesn’t sound like Weeds.’ Over the next three months — we just felt our way, dug deeper and tried this and tried that. Eventually the sound came out of experimenting and sketching…
The sound of the show is very cavernous because of where they shoot it. It just sounds like an institution of some sort. You can just hear the sound bouncing off the floors – so we try to [emulate] that… I started out as a theater major — and for me composing is acting with music. I simply act what needs to happen in a scene through music.
Sanford on the harsh schedule:
SANFORD: It seems like we’re in a fast turn around for Orange Is the New Black. We have less than a week to create [each episode] and it’s an hour-long drama. For us it’s very challenging. We have about as much time as we had on Weeds and twice the work. My husband Brandon [Jay] and I did Weeds [and now Orange Is the New Black] together… Early on, while we were sketching, we knew Jenji wanted Regina Spektor and that sound. I was like ‘Well– we should get the keyboard player from our children’s band — Scott Doherty — because he knows every Regina Spektor song on earth.’ So we got Scott over and immediately I knew and I looked at Brandon and said we should invite Scott to help share the workload because he’s got a great instinct. Scott had been doing some reality television on his own but he had the work ethic and the instinct and we needed the help. Usually it’s just Brandon and I working together or Brandon and Scott working together or Scott and I working together. Well — Scott works all the time and then we work with Scott. Brandon and I usually work late at night once our five-year-old falls asleep. That’s one of the ways we’re able to be parents and work on the show together. We have Scott as our anchor and one of us is working with him all the time and the other is at the preschool. We try though to work banker’s hours. We try to get everybody home for dinner.
Sanford on working with Kohan and the producers to craft a score:
SANFORD: We create as much of a library for [the producers] to temp in as possible… With a show like this there’s so many characters, you’re constantly creating themes because every episode could be a different focus or main character. We just try to remain flexible and have our template… I feel like the producers on this show have a deep knowledge and appreciation of music and we’re all working as a team. There’s a shorthand and when it works, it works; when it doesn’t, we all know it.
This is great example of how we collaborate with the producers. We tried something and Jenji [tells us] ‘I really want it to sound like when that voice is just screaming in your head.’ When I went home, I just turned the microphone on [and] hit a high note and it really worked for the scene. We don’t have any boundaries. We’ll use what we want, however we want, whenever we want to.
The second season of Orange Is the New Black will be available via Netflix June 6.