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Beyond geekdom

Rocker parlays early TV work to prolific film career

Ten years ago, when Michael Andrews was hired as the composer of an NBC series about high school life in early ’80s Michigan, the San Diego-bred indie rocker had several albums under his belt but only one solo composing credit.

This turned out to work in Andrews’ favor; his score naturally captured the pathos of teenage life, punctuating the triumphs and humiliations of high school with sweet licks and ominous riffs. The show only ran for a single season but “Freaks and Geeks,” created by Paul Feig, directed by Jake Kasdan, and written and executive produced by Judd Apatow, is now revered as a cult classic.

The multi-instrumentalist Andrews followed “Freaks and Geeks” by developing his self-described “handmade” sound on prestigious independent films like “Donnie Darko” (which yielded a No. 1 hit in the U.K. with a moody cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”) and Miranda July’s “Me and You and Everyone We Know.” However it’s safe to say that the short-lived series has carved the most indelible path in his career – — in much the same way he helped its creators define their own cinematic voices.

Andrews has scored every Jake Kasdan picture to date, from “Orange County” to “Walk Hard” (for which he also wrote songs) and he’s on deck for the Cameron Diaz-Justin Timberlake vehicle “Bad Teacher,” which Kasdan is now shooting. He also worked on Paul Feig’s “Unaccompanied Minors” — “a straight-up kids movie,” says the composer, with all the cartoonish orchestrations that implies.

Meanwhile Apatow, now producing, writing and directing, enlisted him for another short-lived TV series, “Undeclared,” and then brought Andrews on board for last year’s existential dramedy “Funny People.” Known to prefer non-traditional scores, Apatow wanted something that sounded “like a guy, alone, making music — like Paul McCartney or Skip Spence,” says Andrews. “I work well with people that don’t like their score to sound like score. I can operate in a very natural way in that world.”

Before summer is out, we’ll get to hear two new projects from Andrews: “She’s out of My League” is in theaters now, and “Cyrus,” which premiered at Sundance, is slated for a July release. Both scores were primarily recorded at Elgonix Labs, Andrews’ home studio in Glendale, where cutting-edge technology shares space with tube equipment from the ’40s and the same kind of board Vangelis used “when he did those crazy synth scores.”

A glossy romantic comedy with a dorky leading man and mild gross-out humor in the Apatow vein, Jim Field Smith’s “League” has a score that runs the gamut from funk and R&B jams by Andrews’ longtime band, the Greyboy Allstars (with whom he continues to record and tour) to ripping prog rock to grand, swelling strings (played by a proper Hollywood orchestra) when said dork finally gets the girl.

“It’s fun to do movies like this,” says Andrews with a grin, “because it allows me to exorcise all my stylistic demons.”

For “Cyrus,” the highly anticipated follow-up to the Duplass brothers’ “The Puffy Chair,” he scaled things all the way back to simple, acoustic guitar ruminations and found sounds. The mumblecore mavens had heard his 2006 solo record, “Hand on String,” and imagined something similarly thoughtful.

“I sort of consider myself John’s internal voice,” says Andrews, referring to actor John C. Reilly, who, as a lonely fortysomething in the film, falls in love with Marisa Tomei’s character and finds himself having to deal with her strange adult son (Jonah Hill).

Although stylistically (and budgetarily) quite different, Andrew says both are “dark comedies with earnest emotional elements. The plotlines are different and the comedy is different, but it’s still the same balancing act: trying to let the jokes breathe and hitting the emotional points without seeming saccharine or contrived.”

Given the choice between sweet or sarcastic, though, this recent father says he’ll play it straight every time. “I think most people any good are writing from their heart when it’s appropriate.”