Briarpatch composer Giancarlo Vulcano discusses the USA series

Briarpatch composer Giancarlo Vulcano. Photo Credit: Ken Jones
Briarpatch composer Giancarlo Vulcano. Photo Credit: Ken Jones /

Giancarlo Vulcano is the man behind the music of USA’s newest crime drama Briarpatch, and explained to Precinct TV how he created the sound of the series.

Briarpatch is a very different TV crime drama, and so the USA series needs a very different composer. The person responsible for the score that viewers hear every week is Giancarlo Vulcano, whose resume includes comedies like NBC‘s 30 Rock and Netflix‘s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

So how did he end up making music for a crime drama? Was anything that he’s learned on those critically acclaimed series applicable to what he’s producing for the Rosario Dawson-led freshman series? Precinct TV asked Giancarlo those questions and others in our latest composer interview.

Learn more about Giancarlo Vulcano in our interview below, and then watch the next episode of Briarpatch on USA this coming Monday, March 16 at 11:00 p.m.

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Precinct TV: What interested you in Briarpatch? It’s so different from anything we’ve heard from you on TV before?

Giancarlo Vulcano: I love film noir. I love darker subject matter. Those are the two main things that really attracted me to it. Also, there’s a certain weirdness that Andy Greenwald has put into this show, which really resonates with me too, and as you said, those are all big departures for me.

PTV: So how do you get that weirdness off the page of the script and into the music of the show? How do you realize those quirks through the music?

GV: There’s all kinds of ways to do it, but generally it’s not by going weird with the music. Sometimes when something really strange is happening on the screen, you’re accompanying it with something that’s a very basic musical idea. I think the weirdness comes out even more. You’re accompanying something strange, [like when] music has to be in an elevator, or something. And it’s very much an effective way to pronounce its weirdness.

Then there’s also moments where music can sound weird. It can sound like it’s falling apart. It can sound almost like the chase is melting. They’re all different things that you can do. There’s not one way to do it. But I did find myself scoring some very strange things with the most sweet, basic of music, and I thought that worked pretty well.

PTV: Every composer has a different approach to the craft. What was yours for Briarpatch? Did you alter what you’d normally do because this was new for you?

GV: I just said, direct me. A lot of the things that I’ve done that are well known are comedies, but I’ve done lots of things which aren’t quite as well known. I’ve been working in darker areas for a while. And as a listener, as a lover of television and film, and as a student of all that, I’m certainly checking out things that aren’t comedy. My consciousness of that style and my vocabulary was always there. This is my opportunity to have people hear it.

But in terms of how you work, it’s not unlike what I’ve done on other shows, where themes are developed for different characters, or for different places, environments, or even for sort of different moods. Things are getting funky here, things are getting a little tense, so there’s a certain sound that we put into that. And the themes grew.

Let’s say there was only a little snippet of a feeling in the script, but I brought maybe a five- or six-minute piece of music that was more amusing than the material in the script. As the season progressed, we found places to use all these longer themes, and it developed nicely because [Briarpatch creator and showrunner] Andy [Greenwald] and the whole team, they had all the themes that I had written, and so they were able to cut [them] in as the story unfolded.

PTV: On a show like Briarpatch, which is predicated on surprises, do you then have to change those musical themes to reflect what gets revealed about characters or storylines?

GV: That’s the challenge, and it does involve that for sure. And that’s such a pleasure because I have these themes that I feel the viewers should know, and it’s comfortable, and then getting some variations or upgrades to it is really satisfying because people know the source material, and now they know the sort of the way it’s being developed.

But, I like shows where themes, you hear them more than once and they’re not developed. That’s just a very effective way to set moods, and sort of reset. If something really intense happens, and then you hear a piece of music you’re familiar with, that sort of resets the mood in a very effective way. I like both things.

PTV: How do you avoid spoiling those big moments with musical cues?

GV: It is sort of easy to give things away. On this project I had Andy Greenwald and some amazing editors, who are living with the material on their end, and they were very protective of the mystery, or certain pieces they wanted to hit. I feel like if left my own devices that danger is a big concern, going too dark too soon. But I think having good sounding boards, people like Andy, and other editors who are watching and listening to my music, is a very good safety net to make sure you don’t get into any situations.

Next. Meet Prodigal Son composer Nathaniel Blume. dark

Briarpatch airs Mondays at 11:00 p.m. ET/PT on USA.