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‘A Million Little Things’ Composer Breaks Down His Musical Approach and ‘Modern Family’ Cameo

Gabriel Mann is probably best known for his wild big-band theme (“Hey Hey!”) for ABC’s hit comedy “Modern Family.” But during the 2018-19 television season he spent most of his time on ABC’s “A Million Little Things,” the hourlong drama about friends who re-examine their lives in the aftermath of an unexpected suicide. It is a series that draws on all of his skills, from composing to singing and songwriting to music producing.

How did you come to work on “A Million Little Things”?

I had worked with the [pilot] director, James Griffiths, on a show called “The Mayor.” I had an idea based on the script: There’s a guitar player in it, so I thought the score should be guitar-based.I was really anxious to work on it because I felt like I could really make a difference. This was really in my wheelhouse.

The opening scene is a critical setup. How did you decide on the musical approach?

It’s a massive montage with dialogue, and it culminates with Jon jumping off the building. Trying to find an existing song that accomplishes all of that, really hits the beats and isn’t just slapped in there, was essentially impossible. They found this Killers song [“All These Things That I’ve Done”], I did a cover, everybody liked my version, and that’s what stayed. Then that became a thing, something we could lean on.

You not only compose and perform the score, but also produce and usually sing the covers of songs?

It’s like a triple job. The songs are custom-made to fit the scene first, and then I go back and turn it into a song that you would listen to on a record. What we wanted out of the songs was to do things that the score would do. They have this added bonus of lyrical content that is appropriate, and a vocal that is emotional. Every major cue is centered around a particular instrument, usually a piano or an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar.

Meanwhile, you’re still doing “Modern Family,” and you found a new way to make a mark by appearing in an episode.

Haley and Dylan were getting married, and Phil figured out that Dylan’s mother was the hot chick in a music video for some glam-rock band in the ‘80s. So I wrote a song called “Sex Kitty.” I sang the demo — I happen to have a good glam-rock growl. It was my absolute dream come true. I did three hours of hair and makeup with this huge wig, and we shot a full video. It’s hilarious.

What inspires such risk-taking?

I just like working on different stuff. It’s emotionally draining to write music for “A Million Little Things.” So to get to yell and scream on camera for “Modern Family” for an afternoon is a total release. If life is about balance, I have a really good career balance right now.

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