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- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Lil Between the Sheets (Interview with Shawn Coleman, Arranger and Co-Composer of "Too Many Cooks")

Welcome, blogketeers!  Today we have a very special treat for you: Shawn Coleman.  And not just "a" Shawn Coleman, but "the" Shawn Coleman, musician extraordinaire!  As the long-time sound designer, sweetener, mixer, and composer for [adult swim] powerhouse "Squidbillies" (or, as my wife calls it, "Squiggly-wigglies") Shawn has written such classics as "Hoofprints," "Rusty's Power Ballad," and "The Bin Laden Boot Scoot" (not making any of these up.)  He's also voiced Paul, the domestically challenged albino kaiju on "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," and most recently arranged, performed, and co-composed the music for super-mega-smash infomercial "Too Many Cooks."  Needless to say, I pooped my pants a little bit when he agreed to an interview.  So let's dive right in!

The man himself

SK:  Thanks for agreeing to be with us today, Shawn.  What was your path from the mean streets of Pittsburgh to the sound department of "Squidbillies?"

SC: I played in rock bands as a kid but was also pretty good with academics, so I thought “why not a recording engineer?” when college time rolled around. I went to University of Miami and got a degree in Music Engineering Technology which is a bachelor's in music with a minor in electrical engineering. I also got to meet/play with/record a lot of incredible young musicians and got hip to music that I hadn't checked out as a teenager.

Shawn, animated "Squidbillies"-style, from the episode "Clowny Freaks"

SK:  Which musicians inspired you coming up?  Johnny Cash?  Tom Waits?  Aqua?

SC: I was mostly into hair rock in my formative years. This is late 80's/early 90's. I liked the technical proficiency these dudes had on their instruments plus they were pretty like a girl. Of course Nirvana came along and wrecked that whole thing. In college I got really in to Phish for a bit; they were a great gateway band to different styles and sounds since they “do it all”. I thought they were the best funk band ever, then I heard Mandrill. I thought they were the best jazz band ever, then I checked out actual jazz. I also listened to a whole lot of hip hop around this time. I wasn't too in to country until I moved to Atlanta and joined a sort-of Americana band. Now I feel like I appreciate all styles (such a cliché) except I don't really mess with pre 20th century stuff. I'm waiting to get old to like that.

Shawn with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan

SK:  When we first "met" on Twitter, I recall you told me "I have my pants put on me one leg at a time, just like you."  Seriously, though, what's it like being an industry power player?  Do you have a Scrooge McDuck-style swimming pool full of gold coins?

SC: Well if you're getting in to audio post-production to get rich you may want to reconsider. I've been a staff engineer at Doppler Studios in Atlanta for coming up on 18 years and my gold coin swimming pool is only half finished. I do feel a certain amount of envy for hip hop and pop producers that can do the whole “I get $500,000 a track” trip. Is it because they worked 200+ hours on it the way I did on "Too Many Cooks?" I doubt it.

SK:  So, let me see if I'm telling this story correctly.  You and Michael Kohler sat down separately and wrote your own versions of the "Too Many Cooks" theme.  Michael's version gets picked because it's the stronger one, so that makes him the composer of the piece.  Then you took the initial theme and made all the changes for the "Battlestar Galactica" parody, the "Dallas" parody, etc., so that makes you the arranger.  Is that about right?  Can you tell us a little more about the process?

SC: Pretty much, but the style changes are extensive enough to grant me co-composer status. I re-tracked Michael's demo, programming drums and keys, playing guitar and singing both male and female parts. Then (writer/director) Casper Kelly and I worked on all of the false endings and little internal intricacies to get to the first style change (cop show). There was a lot of experimentation and trial and error to make it work. For example on the round table shot where we start adding the African-American characters I went for a joke where the music gets “blacker”. Maybe these white singers really go for it on the melisma. We ended up dialing it way back though.

Since it's one long music piece, everything has to dovetail into the next section without some weird 5/8 bar that throws you off. It was actually pretty difficult to keep everything organized and set myself up for the next style change in some pleasing way. I also did all of the sound effects and dialogue mix, so if I was starting to go crazy trying to work out some compositional moment I'd switch to doing Katie Adkins' footfalls as she's running away or some such thing.

I worked on "Cooks" off and on for a year, and frankly I probably could've poured another 2 months into it. But Adult Swim was like WE NEED THIS NEXT MONDAY and so I worked a bunch of overtime and weekends to get it wrapped up, since I was mixing "Squidbillies" at the same time.

Shawn's on-screen credit during the "G.I. Joe"-esque section of "Too Many Cooks"

SK:  So, I want you to picture the moment you finished work on "Too Many Cooks."  You pressed STOP or switched off the microphone or whatever.  Did you think to yourself, "This is going to be a viral hit" or was it just another day at the office or what?

SC: I'm not trying to be cute or coy when I say I had no aspiration for it to be widely seen. My goal was to put something on TV that made people say “what in the actual hell”, and hopefully hop on Twitter and recount that sentiment. I joked with Casper and (editor) Paul Painter the week that it aired that next time we shouldn't name the show after a famous idiom because my twitter searches of “too many cooks” were mostly people complaining about their recent sales managers' meeting.
I was excited when it was finally posted on YouTube because I could show it to my Facebook friends that didn't bother to tape it. Then on Twitter I noticed some tastemaker blogger types starting to talk about it and share it, and then it really blew up from there. I woke up one morning and Zooey Deschanel and Billy Eichner are singing it on Instagram. Simon Pegg tweeted about it several times. Luke Skywalker tweeted about it! I mean, come on.

SK:  Are you more of a Rusty or an Early?

SC: I'm definitely more of a Rusty, the pragmatic and sensitive one. But I'm a Lil between the sheets.

And a Lerm, politically, no doubt...

SK:  Well, thanks for being with us today, Shawn!  Do you have any parting words for your fans, or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to with this interview?

SC: My fans?? I love you Mom & Dad, see you next Christmas.

I'm sure you will, Shawn.  I'm sure you will.

If you're one of the two or three remaining people on Earth who haven't seen "Too Many Cooks," it's free to watch on YouTube or the [adult swim] website.  Or, you know, in the embed above.

Season 9 of "Squidbillies" is airing in reruns on television and seasons 1-5 are available on DVD:

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4
Season 5

The other seasons are probably streaming on Hula-Hoop or something.  I dunno.  I don't know how kids watch TV.


  1. I love Too Many Cooks!!! My fave line from the interview: " I liked the technical proficiency these dudes had on their instruments plus they were pretty like a girl." So true.

    1. My favorite line was wanting people to say "what in the actual hell?" Mission accomplished, gentlemen. Mission accomplished.


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