We're just a few weeks into the debut of Harley Quinn, an adult-oriented animated series that is currently delighting fans and critics alike on the DC Universe streaming service. The series follows its titular antiheroine (voiced by The Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco), as she breaks things off with The Joker (Alan Tudyk) and becomes her own supervillain in Gotham City.
As fans have already seen across the first three episodes, Harley Quinn is bringing an outrageous, feminist, and truly entertaining take on the DC Comics mythos. That attitude is brought home in a pretty significant way with the series' score, which is brought to life by composer Jefferson Friedman. Friedman is a Julliard alumnus who has developed a varied filmography in recent years, including Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, New Amsterdam, and XX. Friedman previously collaborated with Harley Quinn creators Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Dean Lorey on Powerless, a short-lived NBC sitcom that followed employees of an insurance company in the DC Universe.
Friedman's Harley Quinn score is about as effortlessly zany as the series itself, jumping from timeless sounds to a punk-rock moment with ease. In celebration of the series' debut, we got a chance to chat with Friedman about finding the series' unique sound, his relationship with comics, and composing for a new kind of DC world.
ComicBook.com: What is your origin story into the world of composing? How did you get started in this world?
Jefferson Friedman: Well, I grew up playing classical piano, I played piano since I was a little kid. And then I ended up going to Julliard for grad school and doing classical composition, like concert music, orchestra music, et cetera for about 20 years. And then I moved here seven years ago and switched over to film and TV.
I know you've worked with this show's creative team before on Powerless, which I'm a huge fan of. How did working on that influence Harley Quinn, especially when this series has such a wider scale?
First off, Pat and Justin and I have always gotten along creatively, but going through the process of Powerless really helped us dial in what they want out of me. And I got to figure out how they work creatively. And so that was a good sort of stepping stone to Harley Quinn, which I think is a fully-developed sound that matches what they're trying to do as well as they can do. And as far as having a wider scope goes, I got to write tons of themes to all sorts of superheroes and supervillains. That was one of the most fun parts of the job.
What is your relationship with DC comics? Are you a fan, or was it something you've kind of discovered through doing Harley and Powerless?
Oh no, I was always a fan. I wouldn't call myself a rabid comic book fan. When I was in junior high and high school, I would go into Boston every Saturday for classical piano lessons at New England Conservatory, but then I would also skip music theory class in order to go to Newbury Comics to buy all the latest punk records and look at all the comic books and stuff. So this show is kind of perfect for me. It's my whole... It just instantly made sense to me, because my roots are in orchestral stuff and in punk stuff, and also I've always been into comic books too.
What characters were you into? Both as a kid and now I guess.
I was big into Batman, the Frank Miller stuff. I like Watchmen. Maus. I mean, I know that's not DC, but some of the more niche comic books, I guess. All that R. Crumb stuff, et cetera.
Is there anything that you're reading right now or that you're particularly into?
Actually, I've tried to avoid watching anything or reading anything that's comic book-based. Because, since I started this project... For example, I had to write a Batman theme, right? Which was totally frightening, for one because there's a lot of good Batman themes. I know the Hans Zimmer theme, and I know the Danny Elfman theme, but I purposely tried to avoid listening to them so that I could come up with my own version of whatever Batman sounds like. And in the same sense, I just want to immerse myself in the world of the show that we're working on.
What was your approach to the Harley Quinn score in particular? You mentioned that it has a fully-realized sound, and I was curious what you had hoped to convey with the music.
The music has a lot of different stuff that it does. There's the traditional orchestral score, and then there's a more contemporary orchestral score, and then there's the whole Harley punk-rock palette. And then there's the sneaky heist music, and then all of the sound-alikes and everything. I mean, we didn't have any licensing budget for this show. So every stitch of music, including the elevator music and stuff that played in the background in the bar, that's all me.
So it was like I had the opportunity to just sort of create the only music that takes place in this particular version of the DC universe. I got to just basically invent that, what the music sounds like in that world. So it's pretty special.
I love Harley's main theme in particular. I feel like the more and more that you watch the season, the more recognizable and fun it gets I was wondering if you could kind of dive into the punk-rock of that all, because that's a really interesting aspect of the score for me, and knowing that you're a punk fan makes that even better.
Yeah. I mean, so we originally... I started putting together a list of a Spotify playlist of all my favorite power punk with ladies singing. So The Muffs, and Joan Jett, and Slant 6, and all that stuff that I love. And so when they sent me the first animatic of the show, they had temped in Joan Jett's version of "Love is All Around", The Mary Tyler Moore Show's theme song, which I think they used for one of the promos as well. But that was the first thing that came to mind when they started working at the pallet with Harley, specifically the character's sound. And so it was just like we were already on the same page between the creators and me.
For example, the big fight sequence at the end of the first episode, that has her full theme song playing when she's kicking ass, they had temped the Joan Jett song in there. So that was a huge inspiration to me. But I wanted to respect Harley's history and the fact that she used to be dressed in a harlequin outfit. And so her theme is kind of like a cross between punk music and carnival music. I don't know if you can hear that in her theme, but there's kind of like off-kilter organ stuff. Anyway, I tried to take her two looks or her two vibes and make it into a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of theme songs.
What surprised you the most about working on this series?
You know, I was surprised and I wasn't surprised - because Pat and Justin and I have become friends and they are super sweet, nice guys - but I was actually surprised at the depth of the characters and the three-dimensionality of them. How emotional the story was at times, and how deep these relationships between these characters can become. So not only did I have an opportunity to write themes and score fight sequences and action sequences and heists and stuff, but I had the opportunity to write the Harley-Ivy theme, a friendship theme, and really dig into the emotional side of the story, which I think is definitely there.
Is there a particular episode or a particular sequence that you especially love the score for?
Let me think. I think that the Aquaman episode might be one of my favorites. I think it's hilarious, and I'm really excited about the theme that I wrote for him. I remember that the fight scene with the Legion of Doom, that score was really good.
I guess [the series] sort of starts off as episodic, but there's a through-line and then becomes more of a multi-episode arc kind of situation at a certain point. When we were working on it, I don't know that I thought of the episodes as episodes, but more as just sort of part of one big thing.
Now that you've dabbled in the DC TV space multiple times, is there another franchise or property that you'd love to compose for?
This my first animated project and I've really, really enjoyed working on it. I'd like to do more adult-oriented or deep animated stuff because I think the way I write music, which is kind of big and bold, goes along with animated. You can get away with a lot more score in animated stuff just because everything's recorded in a studio and it's much easier to have a bigger, more prominent score in animation than you can in live-action. So something like BoJack Horseman or Rick and Morty, those kinds of shows. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but I think Pat and Justin are in the process of working up something else. So I'd love to work with them again, too. And obviously I would like to do a big superhero movie. That'd be fun.
Speaking of that, one of my favorite things about doing the music was I got to write all of the DC logos that were different for each episode. And it's a funny story, because when we were doing the score review for the first episode, it was completely silent over the DC logo. And I made a joke about how "Oh, I forgot to write the music for that", just assuming that they were just going to plug in the music that they always use for the DC logo. And they were like, "Actually, there is no official DC logo music."
And so at first I was like, "Well, I'm available if they need someone to write it." And then too I was like, "Oh, well this is a great opportunity, we can sort of set the theme for every episode. I'll write something that leads directly into the first scene and sort of set the vibe for the first scene or relates to something that happens in the episode." So that was a really fun opportunity and an opportunity that you hardly ever get as a composer, to force people to listen to just your music for 15 seconds at the beginning of every episode.0comments
New episodes of Harley Quinn debut Fridays exclusively on DC Universe.