Gen V has taken the internet by storm after one stellar freshman outing. With the cast and crew now open to promote the show, Heroic Hollywood was lucky enough to sit down with Matt Bowen, one of the show’s lead composers, to talk about the music of The Boys universe.
The Boys is a twisted universe full of wanton destruction, exploding body parts, and fish fellatio. It shines a light on all the worst parts of a world filled with superpowers while providing one of the best franchises in the modern superhero landscape. All episodes of Gen V season 1, The Boys: Diabolical, and seasons 1-3 of The Boys are streaming right now on Amazon Prime Video.
You were a successful audio engineer for a while in the music industry. What spurred you to make the shift over to composing full-time?
Well, successful is all relative I suppose [Laughs]. Working is maybe the word I would use. But engineering and composing did kind of happen more on parallel paths. So it was less “I did engineering, and then I pivoted, and then I did composing”, and more of the parallel path thing. And I just had more immediate opportunities on the engineering side. But all the while I was still checking out composing. I guess I’ll just say I was trying to help friends or other established composers with projects so they were kind of parallel paths.
And an audio engineer, at least the way I was working, was with bands and so I would go away for a month or two months. I say “go away”, and it was all in town, but for intents and purposes, I was away. You know, as the engineer you’re there before the band and you leave after the band and you sync the drives and tidy up so the next day- so those projects would take 100% of my time, there’s no writing on the side when you’re working with a band.
But if there were a month or two of downtime that’s when I would be chipping away at my own stuff or any opportunities that came up on the composing side. I loved engineering but I really loved composing. There was a point where I realized, ‘if I can pivot, it is something that I want to be able to do.’
Most people view making music as a solitary art. However, on projects like Gen V you work closely with fellow composer Christopher Lennertz. How did you go about working as a duo in the studio?
I mean there’s not a lot of us sitting in a studio together, so it is still a very isolated process, to be honest. It was a gift to be able to have somebody that is also coming up with ideas and we’re bouncing stuff off of – you know, if you’re the only composer on a project you still probably have a team so there’s still people that you’re collaborating with, but it can be nerve-racking to be like “Oh, this is what I think is good and now I’m putting this in front of the showrunner”.
And so when you’re working with someone else, just in general, and then in my case that someone else is someone like Chris who has a ton of experience, it’s very liberating – it kind of almost helps my creative process because I know if I’m gonna take a big swing, my co-composer might say “Dude, you’re gonna get us fired with that,” or he might say “Dude, that was awesome! Let’s riff off that and let’s explore that” and then he takes it and runs with it. So it was very collaborative but it wasn’t a lot of us sitting in the same room, it was still us kind of in our laboratories so to speak, sending stuff back and forth.
How involved were the directors and showrunners in the process? Or did they just let you two do your own thing and check in at the end?
Oh, no, they’re very involved. I mean that’s their vision, you know, we’re not solo artists as composers. We’re not out there doing our own thing. We’re helping bring their vision to life. So before we write a note of music we have a lot of conversations about where music goes, and what kind of music it needs to be.
You know, in the case of Gen V, there were a lot of conversations about “Okay, we have the sound established on The Boys, how much do we want to lean on that versus how much we want to do something new.” So there’s a ton of conversations happening before we even write a note of music. And from there on there’s a lot of checking in. We want there to be a lot of checking in, we don’t want them to be surprised with “Oh, we veered off in the wrong direction.”
So we did, even though we felt like we were all on the same page. Chris and I did a presentation of just sketches. They weren’t to any scenes. We were just like “These are some possible themes for these characters, these are some ways we might handle an action cue on the show,” just to start the conversation. Some of the music written for that presentation was in the show and some of it never saw the light of day. It all served its purpose because it kind of perpetuated the conversation.
You touched on finding that middle ground between paying homage to The Boys and trying to find Gen V’s own identity. With projects like Gen V and other projects you’ve worked on like The Binge, how do you go about trying to keep that youthful energy the show is trying to have?
Well, with Gen V… it’s funny to answer with Gen V and The Binge in mind, those are [Laughs] different projects, I’ll just say. I feel very lucky to have been a part of both of them – they were both a ton of fun to score. Gen V had a very specific area to tackle, and that was “Okay The Boys exists, and it has a sound, and how much do we want to lean on that versus go with something new?” And I guess where I’m going with this answer probably applies to The Binge as well, because it’s a little more of just a “zoom out,” it’s kind of a more philosophical thing which is it’s always good to push things too far, and then say “Oh, okay, I see what you were doing, let’s just relax that a little bit” or “I like that part of that swing you took but I don’t like that part.” It’s easier to dial stuff back.
That’s actually something I learned while engineering, just to loop back around to that, when I was working with bands, it was nice because I learned how to push somebody else creatively and then became a creative myself. So when I’m working with somebody in a band we would often get our quote-unquote “Keeper take” and we’d say “Okay, we have this, we’re good. Now let’s do something outrageous. Let’s do something that we’ll laugh about when we’re taking a break,” right? And inevitably, I wouldn’t say most of the time, but sometimes that quote-unquote outrageous thing is where that real creative seed comes from.
And so that applies on the composing side too when you’re starting a project. Like, let’s really push things, not that we’re trying to – we don’t need to necessarily make a groundbreaking score, but let’s push things, and then we can see – you know, the worst note you want to get is “It’s not interesting enough” or “It’s not provocative” or “It’s not telling enough of a story.” And then you have to ramp stuff up and that’s way harder than saying “Hey, you’re at a nine and we just need to be at a seven,” It’s like, great, we’ve got the creative is done, now we’ve just got to pull back a little bit.
And that’s kind of what we did on Gen V. We really explored new ways of doing things. And everyone was kinda into all of those ideas, except the general consensus was “We veered too far away from the mothership”. So, it was like, great, okay! You like these new ideas, we have this established sound, and we kind of need to split the difference. We obviously know how to do The Boys thing! No problem for us to veer closer to that.
Speaking of those wild swings, is there any idea that comes to mind where you had a sound or a theming where you swung for the fences and you were surprised they took it all the way?
Yeah, I mean, I’m trying to decide which project to focus on. I guess on Gen V, our biggest swing was probably, not only the implementation of vocals, we brought in a female vocalist, but not just use it texturally or in an ambient way, but we carried the main character’s theme, Marie, on vocals. So it has this kind of rising line.
That may not really feel like that big of a swing to somebody, but coming from The Boys, it’s just absolutely something we would never do on that show. In that sense, it did feel like a big swing. But that was when I was referring to the sketches that we made and I said some of the stuff never saw the light of day, some of the stuff is almost used as is. Marie’s theme is used almost exactly as is the first time we see her early in the premiere.
As for the swings that didn’t exactly pan out, are there any instruments or motifs that didn’t exactly pan out that you’d like to revisit in a future project?
It’s all so project-specific, I mean I’m totally fine just leaving stuff on the cutting room floor. I really try to subscribe to the idea of “Nothing is too dear to me,” because it’s not about me. If I were a recording artist and the label said “We don’t like that song, we don’t want it on this album,” and that song meant a lot to me, then sure, I might try to keep that alive, but that wild swing, as we’re kind of talking about, it belongs to that project, it was inspired by that project, and it feels weird – I would rather let that next project inspire whatever the next wild swing is.
When it comes to harnessing that variety, do you feel you’re more able to experiment on smaller projects, or do you feel you get a lot of freedom on The Boys that a lot of people wouldn’t expect?
I don’t think that the bigger the project the more constraints there are, by any means. I guess just speaking from my own experiences, I haven’t really noticed- and maybe I’m just lucky to have been working with great people regardless of the size of the project – but I haven’t felt the difference in creative freedom.
Whether it’s a friend who’s making a 10-minute short for the first time, which happened recently, or whether I’m working on The Boys. They’re a creative bunch and they appreciate creativity. I felt completely free to do what I thought was the best. And then you get your feedback, and then you hone it in, for sure.
Is there a dream project in your mind, be it a director, studio, or concept, that you really want to tackle and compose before your career is over?
A dream project? Boy, I feel like I should have an answer to that! [Laughs] I mean, maybe, I don’t know how strongly I feel about this, but I’m a lifelong baseball fan, so maybe just one of those baseball movies. Like a Natural, but then I immediately get a little intimated thinking about Randy Newman’s score and think maybe I should just stay away! [Laughs]
A lot of your work, not just with Gen V and The Boys, but projects like Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever. have revolved around superheroes and comic books. Is there a particular draw to this genre or is it just where you landed?
Totally where I landed. Just totally happenstance. That said, I’m thrilled about it. It’s not a path that I carved intentionally by any means, but it’s an incredibly fun playground for sure. You just get to take real-world scenarios and turn them on their head. It’s a really fun genre just to score.
Can you go into how you got involved with The Boys specifically?
The answer is Chris Lennertz. This was his project, and I was fortunate enough to be on his team – we’ve worked together for over a decade – so that was not a random decision on his part. And he knew, also because of my engineering background, that living in a grungy rock production-heavy world would be comfortable for me.
I just kind of became a bigger and bigger part of the project and then ended up co-scoring a couple of episodes in [season] 3, and so when Gen V came up, it just seemed like a very natural thing, luckily to everyone, not just Chris, for us to do it together.
When the season is going on, at what point in the process do you actually start making the music, after all the conversations, when do you actually sit down and put, I guess, “string” to paper?
On a show like The Boys or Gen V, it’s all about the production. So there’s really no making sketches. If you’re working on a more orchestral-based project, you can show sketches, and even then they should be, obviously, very polished and they shouldn’t need much imagination to fill in the gaps, so to speak. But on Gen V and The Boys, when we’re showing concepts, they’re pretty fully cooked because so much of what we do is on the production side.
And then, when do we get started? It’s kind of all over the map. I mean they sent us scripts and we read them. And from the scripts, we actually did come up with a theme that stayed through and is throughout the episode for The Woods. Then they sent us some early cuts, but Chris really likes to wait until we’re in the room [with the showrunners], as much as possible.
You know, Gen V was a little different because we were starting over, so we needed to get involved earlier, but on The Boys, Chris really likes to wait until we’re in the room so that he can have the reaction that the audience will be having, and then we can immediately discuss, “Okay, what’s the emotion we need here? What do we need to bring to the story?”
Is there a favorite moment, in either The Boys, Gen V, or Diabolical, where you saw it all come together and it really stood out as “Wow, we made something amazing here.”
Wow…there is a fairly long sequence at the end of episode 7 on Gen V, and I guess….it’s been out long enough, I don’t know how much to dance around the spoiler.
I think you should be fine.
There was a sequence at the end of episode 7 that was… it was a slow burn. And a slow burn, sometimes those are challenging to score. Chris and I decided to do something a little more melodic than we normally would do in The Boys universe. But it just felt like it called for it.
So we went for it, Michele [Fazekas], one of the showrunners, was the one reviewing it and I still remember, I hope she’s okay with me passing along these words, but it’s ingrained in my brain, so sorry Michelle if I’m oversharing. But it gets done, and it’s a not insignificant scene, and it’s three-plus minutes, and it did feel like a big swing, and her words were “F—-ng masterpiece!” It’s like “Ooooh, okay! That… that feels good.” When that episode came out it, was just mixed beautifully. The acting, and the lighting, and the editing – it really just all came together and it felt really good to see that in a finished form.
Outside of that moment, is there a track on the Gen V soundtrack that really stands out to you as your favorite?
Hard to pick a favorite. Flashpoint was a lot of fun because it was at the end sequence of the premiere. And in the premiere, we kind of made a concerted effort to have a few cues that had these very new flavors.
So it’s like “Okay, we have a new sound, but we still are commenting on The Boys, and by the time it reaches its apex, we have this pretty epic supe fistfight, about as epic as it gets – that was when I really felt that the two worlds just got mushed together. So whether or not that’s my favorite piece of music on there I’m not sure, but I think from an experience standpoint, it was really fun to work really hard to establish this new sound and then take our already established The Boys sound and really smash them together in this fairly epic sequence.