OK, Computers: The Inside Story Behind The Music Of ‘Silicon Valley’

Silicon Valley’s 2014 series premiere featured two prominent musical moments: 1. A washed-up Kid Rock performing for a tiny crowd of awkward computer dorks; 2. Our introduction to the show’s opening theme song, a glitchy, oddball jam specifically penned by Thomas Fec, better known as Tobacco and the frontman of experimental outfit Black Moth Super Rainbow.

Although internet gizmos and the brainiacs behind them remain the main focus of each storyline, music has grown to become an important part of the Silicon Valley DNA. Like its incredibly witty, geeky and downright crude humor, specific beats and songs have helped to frame important scenes and even certain characters.

In the show’s second season — which just wrapped up Sunday night — alone, one of the biggest plot turns (Pied Piper discovering they’re being sued by Gavin Belson and Hooli) is soundtracked by Run the Jewels’ magnificently ferocious “Blockbuster Night Part 1″. And one of the season’s most interesting new characters, the disgustingly rich Russ Hanneman, makes his debut to the flaccid nu metal of Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie”, which blares out of his fancy car with its gosh-darn fancy doors.

As Season 2 comes to a close, we had the great privilege of speaking to Rudy Chung, one of the show’s music supervisors. Chung, who oversees the show alongside Jason Alexander and is part of the larger music supervision company Hit the Ground Running, reflects on what he calls the “nerd swagger” of Silicon Valley’s music and the variety of artists included in each episode (Sade! Spoon! Crazy Town!). He also weighs in on the very apt choice of song for the finale’s closing moments, hips us to the coolest upcoming releases, and guesses what kind of bizarre stuff Jared, also known as “effeminate k.d. lang,” would have on his personal playlist.

UPROXX: Hi, Rudy. Can you tell me a little bit about the background of Hit the Ground Running?

We’ve been music supervising film and TV for about 12 or 13 years. It’s a dream job. We sometimes ask ourselves if this is really happening. Somehow we’ve met people along the way who keep hiring us for gigs and it’s amazing.

Prior to Silicon Valley, Hit The Ground Running has handled the music for shows like Entourage, Everybody Hates Chris and the entire CSI franchise, which all have pretty distinct musical identities. How would you describe Silicon Valley’s musical identity?

Nerd swagger, essentially. Our characters are so strange and intelligent and funny that they’d be listening to interesting music in real life. It also probably means a pretty broad palette musically. They’re trying to create a game-changing business in a pressure-cooker environment, so the sounds need to reflect those stakes and those pressures. It’s a comedy, but in some ways the music we’re using is more intense than that.

The show makes use of a wide variety of artists across all genres, including Run the Jewels, Tobacco, Spoon, Green Day, Bassnectar, Sade, Blake Mills, Flo Rida, Shakira, and Alabama Shakes. But how much is the music reflective of the actual storylines/characters themselves versus your own personal tastes? I can totally see an out-of-touch Russ Hanneman-type blasting Crazy Town out of his fancy-pants car, but perhaps you’ve been dusting off some of your own ’90s nu-metal CDs?

We feel this is what these characters would be listening to. Although I’m not afraid to admit I know full lyrics to a lot of 311 songs (laughs). The show’s music isn’t about our tastes, it’s about what best serves the show. It just so happens we love a lot of the music that we get to use.

The way you end scenes is particularly great — always fun, yet very punchy. For example, when the screen goes to black on the “Binding Arbitration” episode and that Danny Brown/Portugal. The Man remix kicks in with the credits, it’s almost as though you’re extending that episode’s energy well after it’s actually ended. When you’re thinking of setting a particular scene to music, what are you considering — the characters involved? The plot at hand? How to segue into the next scene?

Credit needs to go to Mike Judge and Alec Berg, and our editors Tim and Brian, for really getting the most out of the music in the show. They are so hands-on in the edit with music. A lot of our job is to load them up with music and sort it into folders of where they could work, and they go in and marry it to picture. We learn a ton on every project we work on, and Silicon Valley has been like working with masters of the craft. I mean, have you seen how Mike Judge used music in Office Space? They make us look good, definitely.

What’s been your favorite scene/musical moment on the show thus far? Why?

There’s been some song highlights for sure, but we’re pretty thrilled to feature a lot of beats from producers we admire. These beats are part of the fabric of the show. Guys like E*Vax from Ratatat, Pretty Lights, Michna, Hot Sugar. And to have a main title by Tobacco is pretty exciting to us. It’s such a weird main title. We’re trying to give the show an identity with music that’s assertive but still left of center, just like its characters.

Zach Woods’ Jared character doesn’t strike me as the type of person who listens to anything terribly loud or risqué (Hanneman would disagree, though, as he describes Jared as “the guy in the house doing all the f*cking”). What would be on Jared’s playlist? Anything surprising?

His whole playlist would probably be surprising. Dark, subversive sh*t. I’m thinking a lot of Scandinavian death metal and obscure opera.

Have any of the actors or writers on the show ever asked to have a specific song featured on the show? For some reason, I can just imagine T.J. Miller (who plays Erlich Bachman) requesting something insane.

Surprisingly, they’ve left us alone. We were expecting T.J. to hit us up with ideas for his mushrooms episode last season, but maybe he’s got other things to worry about. Though I can’t think of anything more important, personally.

The finale just aired Sunday, and, as usual, it ended on a memorable note. Can you talk about those last few minutes and what made you decide to go with Pusha T’s “Changing of the Guards” for the closing moments of Season 2?

We knew that Pusha T song was destined for a big moment the second we heard it. The lyrics are just so good. Our editors were saving it for something special, and the end of Season 2 came around and it just worked. We have a few of those songs saved up for next season.

Finally, what have you been listening to lately? What releases are you looking forward to?

A ton of stuff. I’m a big fan of the new Jamie xx album and have really enjoyed some new stuff by Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Ateph Elidja, Amnesia Scanner, Protomartyr, Slum Village, Kiasmos, Flume, Haxan Cloak. And the new HEALTH album is bananas. So much good music out there, it’s gonna be a great summer!

And enjoy a playlist of all the songs on Silicon Valley: