Whether it’s spoofing Tori Amos or a Broadway show-stopper telling the story of Thomas Edison’s love for his elephant Topsy, quirky-yet-catchy music has always been central to Bob’s Burgers, the cult Emmy-winning animated series about a family-run burger joint. As a box-set is released coralling together 107 songs from the first six seasons, NME sat down with creator Loren Bouchard to chew the fat.
Was it originally the plan for music to play such a crucial part in Bob’s Burgers?
“Yes. For example we did the theme song when we were still the earliest development. There’s something humble about the ukulele that fit the humility of Bob and the restaurant. We knew we wanted Gene to be a hacky but passionate performer, so were constructing episodes from the beginning where we’d see him playing his Casio or, in the case of one episode, the triangle. We knew Linda would be a fan of musical theatre. What we didn’t know was the extent to which we could eventually get all our characters singing. Our plan was always to do little compositions to end each episode – we call it our Bollywood ending.”
How did Bob’s Buskers – where the likes of St. Vincent, The National, Stephin Merritt, and Lapsley are animated into music videos for covers of the show’s original songs – come about?
“I’m always too shy to ask people and assume we’re imposing, but fortunately I work with people who are braver and helped make those connections with Annie Clark originally and later on, Matt Berninger [of The National]. We got a special kick out of what The National did. When you see a silly song like ‘The Thanksgiving Song’ or ‘Sailors In Your Mouth’ reinterpreted in the style of The National, it feels like more than a cover. But also reaching out to Cyndi Lauper [who sang a ‘Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough’-spoof called ‘Taffy Butt’ in the second season] was a big moment for us. She was into it immediately. That’s the definition of game, right?”
Which bands would you like to work with in the future?
“So many. If we get people who are fans and want to play with us, we’ll take anybody! Future Islands have been really nice about letting us know they’re fans. The great thing about bands is they know about us because they binge-watch TV shows on tour – we basically want our show to be on every tour bus in America.”
EL VY are set to play Bob’s Burger Live in LA in June. What can people expect?
“Good question! We don’t know what it’s going to be like because we’ve never done it like this. We’ve only done a little bit of music before, but this is going to be hopefully exactly what the audience would have wished for if they designed their own Bob’s Burgers concert. We’re going to leave it all on the field – we’re trying to spend every dime and put on stage show so big it’ll rival Pink Floyd.”
Are there any plans for a Bob’s Burgers movie?
“Yeah, we’ve just started talking about it. If it had come up a few years ago, I think it would have felt too hard and not right for the material, but the shift has been because we’ve been able to write musicals. The idea of a Bob’s Burgers movie that is a musical is an exciting challenge that we’re interested in taking on, and we’re just beginning to discuss it.”
Have you seen the Bob’s Burgers porn parody, Bob’s Boners?
“I tell you what, they did it right! I’m glad they didn’t depict any of the children. They used the husband and wife making sweet, sweet love to each other so I’m all for it. They did a good job. They have dialogue in there too, and they seemed like they were trying to capture the tone of the show.”
What does the show have coming up in its eighth series?
“We have an interesting experiment in the fall. Our premiere episode, which guest stars John Early (Search Party), is going to be drawn entirely by the fans. We’ve been looking at fan art since the beginning. More recently, we held a contest and reached out and asked for submissions for this strange mash-up where every scene is going to be in a different style. It may be quite strange to watch but we decided it would be worthwhile because we love seeing the characters and backgrounds through other people’s eyes. This Christmas, we’re going to do an hour-long special and it’s going to be a real musical with at least a song in every act.”
What was it like working with Sleater-Kinney on the video for ‘A New Wave’?
“ We had a super-secret week of listening to the album before its release and ‘A New Wave’ felt like the song that would fit our characters. Looking back, it was such a leap of faith for them to let us gravitate towards one song and run with it. The music video was great fun to do – it was an honour to have our characters show up in Sleater-Kinney’s musical world.”
Tina Belcher has been embraced as something of a feminist icon…
“We created these characters to resemble the very people that are responding to them. We weren’t trying to do it in a way that was sycophantic or suck-upy or anything. We just wanted these girls and boys to feel real. It’s interesting when you see the kids walking around Comic-Con dressed as Tina and Louise – those characters were designed to look like kids walking around Comic-Con. It’s very circular. They’re just slightly heightened versions of the people watching the show.”
Six Memorable Bob’s Burgers Musical Moments – as chosen by Loren Bouchard
1. ‘Oh Bourbon’
From the episode ‘Nice-Capades’, 2015
“Kevin Kline [who plays eccentric eye-patch favouring mogul Calvin Fischoeder in the show] not only sang but played piano on our Christmas song ‘Oh Bourbon’. The extended version is this incredible piece of work. In anybody else’s hands – or should I say mouth – it wouldn’t have worked. It’s a perfect example of his talent to be able to make a song with that many repetitions of the same word as funny and pretty as it is.”
2. ‘Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl’
From the episode ‘Work Hard or Die Trying, Girl’, 2014
“We always had this idea that we could do a big school musical. Nora Smith, the writer of this episode had the idea of mashing up ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Working Girl’, two movies that came out in 1988, into ‘Work Hard Or Die Trying, Girl.’ It has a nice male/female duality too. When the show starts and you hear “I’m Agent Johnson/And I’m Agent Johnson/ And we’re from the FBI”, it feels like a real musical. I kind of wish it really was on Broadway. I loved the piano and kick-drum. We tried to honour that by drawing Ms Merkin, the music teacher, playing the piano and working the kick drum at the same time.
3. ‘Derek Dematopolis’
From the episode ‘Purple Rain-Union’, 2013
“The episode where Linda gets her old band back together was really fun to do. We were trying to do our own take on ‘Purple Rain’, but with Linda and her sister, Gayle. We love writing songs for Megan Mullally to sing. She has such a nice voice, even when she’s in character as Gayle who you wouldn’t necessarily describe as having the most melodic of voices. I was briefly in a band in high-school with one of the composers on the show – John Dylan Keith. We had one live show and dissolved immediately thereafter. It was a total disaster.”
4. ‘This Is Working’
From the episode ‘Lindapendent Woman’, 2013
“It’s from an episode where Linda gets a job in Fresh Feed, a supermarket. It was the first time we had our characters singing a duet. There’s something especially gratifying about this one because it’s Bob and Linda torn apart. Since then, we’ve tried to find the right spot for duets. Another example would be ‘Bad Things Happen In The Bathroom’ during our hundredth episode where Bob is glued to the toilet, where Bob and Louise harmonise.”
5. ‘Date Night Tonight’
From the episode ‘Adventures in Chinchilla-sitting’, 2015
“It’s just an end-credit bit that we did. It’s a little silly. Linda said those words in the middle of a show and it turned into such a good little song. If you’re married and have kids, once in a while you get to sing that song so it comes up in real life.”
6. ‘Coal Mine’
From the episode ‘Boyz 4 Now’, 2013
“I didn’t really follow boybands when I was a kid but boy oh boy, some of our writers knew an awful lot about that world, both historically and currently and they knew how to sing in that style. They really ran with that and I’m really glad they knew how to write a song like Coal Mine.