Cobra Kai, a new YouTube Red series that continues the story started in Karate Kid, premiered on the streaming service to very positive reviews and a part of that is due to the soundtrack created by composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson.
Cobra Kai’s soundtrack is a careful mix of a wide range of sounds. But before getting to the show, we took a trip through each composer’s past …
Leo: “I grew up playing the saxophone and clarinet; singing in the choir. I play flute too and pretty much all woodwind instruments. I also sang in a lot of musicals; I was a bit of a theatre kid. So, I just come from that band geek theatre nerd background. It wasn’t until the end of high school and going into college that I took to writing music. For me, something about that clicked in my brain that I would prefer to be the guy behind the scenes putting things together rather than playing or performing. That works better for my micromanaging … control problems.”
Zach: “I started off on guitar and rock instruments. I played in bands growing up; played around L.A. a lot when I was in high school. What got me into music were bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin … but I also had an affinity for film scores, specifically Ennio Morricone and the Spaghetti Western soundtrack. My rock background evolved into more cinematic sounds from there, and I studied that in college and ended up at Christophe Beck’s studio.”
At some point, the two strangers met and their musical inclinations were a great fit together.
Zach: “We worked together for a composer called Christophe Beck. We met at his studio. By the time we left the studio in late 2015 we had worked on another YouTube Red series called Sing It!”
Leo: “Zach and I both have different musical upbringings and backgrounds, but it’s also both so broad that we have a lot of overlap. We have an easy time bouncing ideas back and forth. We can speak each other’s language.”
Zach: “Creatively, Leo and I work very similarly. We knew that when Cobra Kai was going to be a thing that it was the kind of project that would fit both or our expertise and our personalities.”
How does a composer start creating new music for a well-known franchise with an iconic soundtrack?
Leo: “The challenge with something like Cobra Kai is that there’s an established sound, a palette, that fans of the series … it brings them back. We knew we had to pay respects to that original palette. So … let’s break down the original movie and movies and what about those define the sound? If we were listening to a Cobra Kai soundtrack, what would we want to hear?”
Zach: “It was a very collaborative process with the creators and the other people involved in the show. Everyone was very open to what we offered them and encouraged a lot of different musical ideas.”
Leo: “The first three movies are pretty similar. The second one is a little more Japanese in terms of percussion and the use of traditional Japanese instruments. That was something we wanted to do. We took the first three movies as one kind of ‘sound world’ and broke that down. The orchestral elements; the Japanese elements; the more contemporary music from the period. We used that to move forward.
What about nerves when dealing with a beloved franchise?
Leo: “Nerves weren’t too bad. We were really excited to do it. We were so stoked when we were getting started. Any nerves we had were overwhelmed by enthusiasm.”
Zach: “It was really fun for us and, I think, for everyone else who worked on the show. It was an enjoyable project to work on.”
What can viewers expect from Cobra Kai?
Leo: “I think what really works about the show isn’t just the nostalgia effect; it throws you in to this expansive continuation of the story. We’ve even discussed whether the word sequel is even appropriate. The story and web of characters is so good that you get hooked into the story from the get-go.”
Zach: “It’s a total tonal shift from the original story. It’s approaching a similar story but from these wildly different perspectives. Both the tone of the characters and how they interact within their world is something not seen in the original films. It’s also more of a comedy with dramatic elements which I don’t think is how anyone would describe the original films.”
Leo: “I think what’s really cool about it is that it’s this coming-of-age story for two generations. There’s a lot going on storytelling wise that feels really at home with the original series.”
The digital soundtrack is already available. But there’s more coming …
Leo: “A physical release [of the soundtrack] on May 22nd, through La-La Land Records and I believe a vinyl release next month.”
Check out the soundtrack and a preview of Cobra Kai by clicking HERE!