Former Tony! Toni! Toné! member Raphael Saadiq has entered a new act of his career, as the onetime R&B star-turned-producer has become an in-demand composer for television as well, having worked on Underground, L.A.’s Finest, Insecure and NatGeo’s Genius: Aretha. His most high-profile job to date reteams him and his musical collaborator Laura Karpman with Underground’s Misha Green for her ambitious new HBO fantasy series Lovecraft Country which debuted on Sunday (8/16).
Lovecraft Country‘s score is an unusual, very 2020 undertaking: Saadiq and Karpman recorded the 30-piece orchestra online, with individual musicians recording in isolation at their homes all over the world, and using Zoom to communicate. The results were then stitched together, with Karpman and Saadiq’s contributions added into the mix. “There were some hurdles in the beginning we had to address for sure,” Saadiq told Variety. “Luckily for me and Laura, we both self-engineer ourselves to record, which was something I had seen my friends like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis do over the years. I had been pretty much a kept [musician], I’d always have engineers at my beck and call. But a few years ago I said, ‘This can’t work, I have to engineer myself. I know I can do it.’ I just wanted to keep that part of my vessel for my creativity.”
Karpman told Variety the unusual recording process shaped the feel of the score. “Suddenly a bass clarinet or a contrabass clarinet is a beautiful double for low brass, and because it’s isolated, you can have as much volume as you want. A unique sound has started to emerge. It’s fun to be in front of an orchestra, conducting, but these players don’t need me.”
Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he meets up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael K Williams). They encounter monsters of every kind, from racist policemen to actual many-eyed, many fanged-beasts, while the show weaves in history and sci-fi into a thought-provoking, thrilling and very entertaining package.
Saadiq and Karpman work in some pop moments too, like Alice Smith‘s cover of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” which was recorded specifically for the series. They aren’t afraid to add in anachronistic song cues, either, which just adds to Lovecraft Country’s surreal tone
Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, along with showrunner Green, are among the executive producers. You can watch the trailer below.