‘The Buccaneers’ Music Team on Taylor Swift and Those ‘Bridgerton’ Comparisons

“I went straight to Austin Smith to start talking about whether Taylor could be involved,” supervisor Matt Biffa tells TheWrap

"The Buccaneers" Episode 1 Deb Ball (Apple TV+)

“The Buccaneers” might look like “Bridgerton” at first glance, but the two are very different, and the music and soundtrack heavily differentiate the shows, in addition to their plots.

Adapted from Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel, the Apple TV+ drama tells the story of five young American girls who clash with stuffy English society when they enter the marriage market in search of husbands. Nan St. George operates as the central character, and she doesn’t exactly have love or marriage on her radar, but of course she eventually finds herself in a love triangle situation between Guy Thwarte (Matthew broome) and Theo (Guy Remmers). Nan’s sister Jinny St. George more actively seeks out a husband, while their friend Conchitta Closson (Alisha Boe) gets married in the first episode. The Elmsworth sisters Lizzy (TK) and (Josie Totah) also navigate the mix in their own ways.

Music supervisor Matt Biffa, producer Stella Mozgawa (who plays in the featured band Warpaint) and series composers Anna Phoebe and Aisling Brouer, together known as AVAWAVES, explained musical curation decisions behind individual moments in the show as well as the broader sound and score.

How did you arrive at the penning introduction song that plays at the beginning of each episode?

Matt Biffa: It is an anomaly though, in terms of the overall musical concept of the show, which was originally to try and create something that was as different from “Bridgeton” as it could possibly be. That was what they came to me asking, and so I went away for a few days and then I came up with this idea, and then I idiotically pitched it to everybody, for basically no cover versions. No licensing of original songs, nothing. Basically, only new songs written specifically for the show, as a love letter to the entire history of American music from the blues to the present day to reflect the clash between cultures and the American invasion. They said, ‘That sounds awesome. Go away and make it happen’. Which is when I was like, ‘Oh, golly, what have I done to my life?’ I was a massive fan of Stella principally as a musician. And I felt that in order to do this ridiculously ambitious thing justice, we needed a great musician who could also produce who was also female as well. Warpaint are an inherently LA band. So, the fact that Stella is Australian, I felt I could kind of bend that a little.” 

Stella Mozgawa: We had a long period of testing different songs for the opening scene, which is where the main character Nan, walks into the universe of “The Buccaneers.” We tried a million different options that were tied to a million different concepts that we were still trying to figure out. There was this real kind of Trojan horse let’s say, of the whole show — once we get that one in the door, then we’re good. And as we were testing out a lot of different songs. My engineer and myself, my engineer on Omar Yakar 9/0. We were putting up a lot of LCD Soundsystem songs. In the process, we played “North American Scum” against the scene, and the lyrics felt like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so funny and cheeky and appropriate to the entire concept of the show.’ We pitched it as a cover maybe for the show, which thankfully it felt like we could maybe break the rules a little bit for the main title. I felt like that song, particularly with some female voices, could really work for the general story and the overarching theme of the show and the American culture clash as Matt’s said. It just felt like a real wink to the audience.

How did you choose the Taylor Swift song “Nothing New” in the first episode?

Biffa: Having been told to go away and make this happen, I thought, ‘I’m gonna start as big as I can get’ and I went straight to Austin Swift to start talking about the show and whether Taylor could be involved in some way, and we had many different discussions. On the side, I was basically listening to all her repertoire. One afternoon, I’m out walking the dog I’m just listening and ‘Nothing New’ popped on. I’d specifically been thinking about that that scene at the debutante ball where the debs are coming down the stairs because that, for the longest time was score, and I just immediately had that thing where it’s like, ‘Oh my God, that that could be perfect.’ I kind of went home, crudely tried it to picture and I rang up Beth, the producer and said, ‘I have something controversial to try’ and she sort of like sounded slightly panicked, but said ‘Well, okay.’ So I spoke to our music editor. I you know, we laid it up, we sent it to them. Katherine Jakeways, our showrunner burst into tears. We wanted our audience to feel really seen.”

How would you describe the tone you’re trying to establish with the music?

Aisling Brouer: We went through many different experimentation phases trying to find the sound of the show. We were lucky enough to have some time at the beginning of the series where we could really just throw paint up the wall and see what worked and what didn’t work. In the end we ended up coming back to our sound as AVAWAVES that we’ve written over the years together. Even within our own sound, it was really important to us to find a balance between the big beautiful expanse themes, juxtaposed with really understated eerie, haunting voices because there’s so much of what these girls go through and what what the women in there are processing at any given time that we also felt it was really important that we’re not only showing this beautiful outside conception or impression of, period dramas that’s like big perfect balls and the big dresses and all these girls look so perfect and everything’s perfect and they’re all very well behaved. We were excited about showing the other side and being like ‘No, these are women like us that have hopes and dreams and want to be defiant and want to do things their own way and break rules and it made it exciting for us to be able to kind of delve into that and express that and show the rawness of emotion.

Anna Phoebe: We didn’t really know what the end point was because we hadn’t received the whole script or seen the whole series. So it felt like, musically, we were responding episode by episode and really going through this journey with the girls together. In a way that allowed a fresh response to the score because we had no end points. We had Stella creating her tracks. You have Matt in there for the music supervisor who is bringing in Taylor Swift, who is bringing incredible women performances and and well-known songs and finding not so well known songs and throwing it all into the mix. And then you had us as composers of the score, who kind of provided a threads throughout  the whole thing. Because we have these bold moments of punk and indie and pop, it gave us a chance to really sit back and and not take up that space. And not feel we have to push our sound when it when it wasn’t necessary. But then the moments when you have these big scenes and the ball and the wedding and you have cliffs, we were able to really go full dial up to 11 with the melodies and the strings and and the vocals and have these big epic l cinematic moments. It really gave us quite an open remit because the other tracks that Stella was bringing were so bold. It allowed us to be this bridge between the classical world and this modern, present day world.

Guy Remmers and Matthew Broome as Theo and Guy Thwarte in “The Buccaneers” (Apple TV+)

Was there a certain sound that you built up as the love triangle progresses?

Phoebe: As the series goes on, and the girls get bolder, they become emboldened and they’re faced with the intricacies of love triangles and having to make choices and facing trauma as well. What we wanted to do with with that is reflect that in the score, so we had three orchestral sessions, and we play a lot of the instruments on the score, but then for the biggest of string sections, and obviously Imogen’s vocals, we had these sessions, and by the third session, it was like, ‘We don’t need all those high strings. It’s about the grit and it’s the low end. So as the score progresses, you get less melodic, it becomes less. It’s like stripping all of these frills away as we get to know the girls.

Brouer: It also has to be said, some of the performances in this show are absolutely incredible and there’s nothing to add. We really tried to find a balance where we’re not overscoring the show or trying to make the audience feel a certain way because the performers are so strong. Sometimes less is more.

Phoebe: In period dramas I think the score can be quite didactic in telling you how you’re meant to feel, and in a weird way, it shuts off the emotion from the viewer and what’s going on. It comes between the experiences of empathy or empathizing with that character. And there’s a couple of scenes, without giving anything away, where you see a woman and she’s crumbled and she’s alone and she’s vulnerable and we don’t need anything to come between us. I think those moments of not scoring — and those were bold choices by the directors and the producers also to say we don’t want any music here — it shows the trust in the actors, the trust in the cinematography.

The first three episodes of “The Buccaneers” are now streaming on Apple TV+.

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