The YouTube Red show Cobra Kai, which offered viewers a chance to return to the ’80s Karate Kid universe, has been so well received by both fans and critics that the men behind the excellent score, Zach Robinson and Leo Birenberg, are performing the show’s music at the Whisky this week. We chatted with them about it all…
L.A. WEEKLY: How did you have to prepare for this Whisky show, given that you’re normally “behind the scenes” score guys?
ZACH ROBINSON: The first thing we had to do was elongate the material itself, because most of our tracks, the original cues, are very short. Most of them are between a minute and two, and the longest one was three minutes. That’s on the long end. Most of these we needed to turn into real songs, instead of just television music. So it actually feels like you’re going to see a band play songs, rather than just the composers playing minute-and-a-half TV music cues. Once we designed all the new songs, we put together a band: It’s me and Leo, we have a keyboardist, a drummer, bassist and another guitarist. I’m playing guitar, Leo is playing keys and the EWI which is an Electronic Wind Instrument. We’re just getting together and rehearsing the tracks.
How did you originally get the Cobra Kai gig?
LEO BIRENBERG: Honestly, we cold-called, blind pitched for it. We read that it was happening in Variety or one of the industry trades, and then felt that this would be a good fit for our particular aesthetic. Zach and I come from a diverse musical background, though we have a lot of overlap between us, and he is an amazing guitar player, grew up playing in rock bands and loves the ’80s. I am a woodwind player, into ethnic flutes and Japanese music. This seemed like a good collaboration, so we made a reel of what we thought the show sounded like. They called us in for a meeting and we had an awesome bonding experience with the three creators and got hired.
Is this your first TV show?
LB: I did a show called Son of Zorn on Fox, and I already did a show called Big Time in Hollywood, FL, on Comedy Central, which was small but mighty.
ZR: We come from more of a movie background. We also did a YouTube Red show called Sing It! We worked on Ant-Man, Edge of Tomorrow, Frozen…
LB: We both worked for another composer, Chris Beck, for five or so years.
Are you Karate Kid fans?
LB: Absolutely, in the way that that was one of those movies that was always on if you went over to a friend’s house to hang out in the basement. I always say I’ve seen that movie from a million different start points but almost never from top to bottom in one go.
ZR: When we met with them, we pitched a nostalgic but new approach, and that’s basically what they had decided to do as well.
You can’t do “You’re the Best” over and over…
LB: We had said to them that we want to take elements from the Bill Conti score but mostly from the soundtrack, including “You’re the Best.”
What can we expect from the live set?
LB: Zach has played live concerts like this before. I am very new to this arena.
ZR: I grew up in L.A. and this is a homecoming for me — I’m very excited. When I was 15 or 16, I used to play the rock scene with my band all the time. I even wrote my college essay about it.
LB: I was in a quasi Dave Matthews cover band in high school and we did win Battle of the Bands 2006.
ZR: What we’re the most excited about is that the Whisky could not be a more appropriate venue for the type of music we’re gonna be performing and for the show. We like to say that Johnny and the boys would frequent Sunset Strip 1984, prime time for the boys. Just the perfect venue for what we’re doing.
You don’t see a lot of score composers going out…
LB: Especially not at the Whisky. I think that film and TV music is having a moment right now, and people are much more interested in the music in general and watching it performed live. But it’s usually on the scale of going to the Hollywood Bowl and watching Raiders of the Lost Ark performed by a live orchestra. It felt like we were doing a show that has a lot of music in it, that people have been really into.
Usually you guys are faceless… What are you expecting it to be like?
ZR: I want it to be rowdy, and I want to feel like a rock god.
LB: I think the audience is going to be really into it. We’ll have lights in sync with the music, amazing musicians. Our openers are great — Myrone plays ’90s video game metalcore, and he shreds on the Cobra Kai soundtrack, and then we have Droid Bishop who has an electro-dance vibe. We really wanted the show to be just like a fun show to come to on a week night. It doesn’t have to be a giant packed bill. We wanted it to be high energy and rowdy.
What’s next for you both?
LB: There is a season 3. We’re also performing at the MOSMA Film Music Festival in Málaga, Spain. We’ll be going there in July and doing a smaller version of the set we’re doing at the Whisky, and we’re also doing an orchestra concert of Cobra Kai.