By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Mike Andrews is walking through his Glendale Craftsman on a sleepy tree-lined street, strumming a 3/4-size 1950s Martin guitar. Mid-century furniture and stacks of art and architecture books are offset by faded window shades left over from the house’s previous owners.
“Wanna see my studio?” he asks.
A fashionably landscaped backyard leads to a recording studio where the 38-year-old soundtrack composer/record producer/singer/songwriter works most every day.
“It represents total freedom,” he says. “I built it so no one could ever take away my ability to make music. I spend most of my time [here]. I feel best about myself when I am making something. The more time I spend not doing things and looking around to see what I can do, that’s when I get dissatisfied.”
With his long neck, lanky 6-foot-1 frame and his brand of wide-eyed discovery and slight broken-heartedness, Andrews, who scored the neo-cult classic Donnie Darko andlast year’s Cannes Festival Camera d’Or winner Me and You and Everyone We Know, directed by Miranda July,seems as if he might have just walked out of July’s idiosyncratic film, or one of Wes Anderson’s for that matter.
“I am not 15 years old. I don’t want to hear people complain,” he says, adjusting his glasses and pushing his moppish hair from his face. “I want to see a more beautiful life. I want something to aspire to. I don’t think there’s anyone [who] isn’t aware of how ugly the world can be. So, why do you need to spread those thoughts? A lot of times people will say, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful,’ and it’s almost a knock. Like you have to do something that’s ugly and fucked up for it to be cool. What’s wrong with something beautiful and carved?”
Andrews, whose conversation is littered with words like tight, solid and stoked, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in social science before recording a couple of albums in the ’90s for Virgin Records with a former band, The Origin. He made another six with soul-jazz collective the Greyboy Allstars and three more with DJ Greyboy. A few years back he made a pop album under the moniker Elgin Park. He never set out to score films.
“It was something he tripped into,” says director Jake Kasdan, who is Andrews’ friend and frequent collaborator. “His soundtracks are not informed by any of the clichés of the form, and are honest expressions of himself.”
These soundtracks, complete with Andrews’ bittersweet sense of irony, seem to be in sync with what could be described as a new genre of film and TV — projects that, like many films from the ’60s and ’70s, set out to celebrate a certain authenticity and existential exploration of their central characters.
It was Kasdan, a fan of the Greyboy Allstars, who first hired the group to score his 1998 debut, Zero Effect. Since then, Andrews has independently worked with the director on the TV shows Freaks and Geeksand Undeclared, as well as the film Orange County, and Kasdan’s latest, The TV Set, a stark low-budget about a writer who has his TV pilot bought by a network and goes through the heartbreaking experience of getting it made.
“Another great virtue of his, for me in particular,” Kasdan adds via cell phone, “is that he’s great at writing music for comedies in a way that’s funny but not cute. For a show like Freaks and Geeks,that was a major part of that show, and something very difficult to find.”
“I think there’s a through line in my work that is a slightly sad space, sad but beautiful,” Andrews says, when asked to describe his own music. “That would be the one negative comment I can get when I am making music for a movie: ‘It’s too sad.’?”
But filmmakers, especially independent filmmakers, love Andrews’ ability to do almost everything himself.
“He’s a mad scientist,” Kasdan says, “a guy who plays every instrument, but really his instrument is the recording studio. [Usually] it’s just him running around playing all the instruments and one poor engineer trying to get it all down. It’s something to watch. He has a great set of players that he [sometimes] uses, but really the eye of the storm is Mike.”
Because of its limited budget, Andrews played all the instruments on Donnie Darko,including piano, which he taught himself to play after the director requested there be no guitars. It’s probably his best-known score, thanks to its Gary Jules cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” — a track Andrews recorded in his basement in less than an hour, but which went on to become a No. 1 hit on European radio and a KCRW favorite.
For Me and You and Everyone We Knowhe wrote all the thematic pieces in a week, but scored the entire film almost twice through before arriving at its final version.
“The idea was to make it very pedestrian and unmusicianlike, embedded and constructed around dialogue. Miranda has a very specific aesthetic and perspective; she wanted it to be as simple as possible: no technique,” he says of July, whom he dated briefly during the project. “We both wanted it to be magical and fantastic, made from instruments that everybody could buy at Sears or Kmart or RadioShack, so that’s what I used.”