“Supernatural” demands so much music that it takes three creatives just to keep the show supplied with the right sounds: composers Christopher Lennertz and Jay Gruska and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas.
“The tension and the scare” is job one, says Lennertz, who has a 2006 Emmy nomination for his “Supernatural” music. Creator Eric Kripke “wanted the music to sell the scares that really hadn’t been done in primetime. It’s an updated sort of Bernard Herrmann approach,” he explains, referring to techniques of the legendary “Psycho” composer.
Equally critical is underscore for the family dynamic between the brothers and, in the first two seasons, their dad.
“Musically, it’s been a great place for me and Jay to go,” says Lennertz. “I write at least a quarter of the show in a very emotional, heartfelt tone,” often adding a real flute, oboe or guitar to the synthesizers and samplers that are the bedrock of the score.
“The foundation of the sound is orchestral,” created with electronic means, notes Gruska (who alternates episodes with Lennertz). But layered atop that foundation are “otherworldly sounds, things that are bowed and scratched and scraped, that you wouldn’t recognize coming from an acoustic environment.” They help to create “those hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck standing-up moments,” he says.
“You treat every episode like its own little movie,” adds Gruska (whose own Emmy track record includes nominations for “Lois and Clark” and “Falcone”). Each composer writes an average of 25-30 minutes of music for each episode, doing the job in five or six days, they say.
Despite the ongoing presence of angels and demons, what you won’t hear in “Supernatural” are the religioso musical cliches from horror films, such as choirs chanting in Latin. “Eric wanted it to be spiritual without ever feeling traditionally Roman Catholic,” says Lennertz.
The occasional comedic moments provide a little respite from the darker, more dissonant sounds, and those are done “in a very tongue-in-cheek style,” adds Lennertz. “We tip the hat to the classic rock that Dean loves so much, with a little distorted guitar, old rock organ, things like that.”
Those classic rock songs are where Patsavas comes in, helping to find tunes from “the most recognizable, awesome bands of the ’70s,” she says: groups such as AC/DC, the Allman Brothers, Survivor, Foreigner and Bad Company.
“It can be expensive,” she concedes, “but this is a show that embraces the music, and not in an ironic way. This is music that our main characters love and relish and talk about.”
Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” has become a “Supernatural” standard, used annually to recap the previous season’s storylines.