Soundtracking the City with Broad City Music Supervisor Matt "FX" Feldman

TV Features Broad City
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Since making its debut last year, Comedy Central’s Broad City has grown to become one of the hippest and most talked-about comedies on TV. A key component to the series’ signature style is its eclectic soundtrack that suitably reflects the show’s vibrant, New York setting. Credit for this unique soundscape goes to the show’s 22-year-old music supervisor, Matt “FX” Feldman. A New York native, Feldman got an early start in the business as a teenager when he stumbled onto an opportunity to work on MTV’s short-lived remake of the British series Skins. Since then, Feldman has worked several jobs, including the current FXX comedy Man Seeking Woman. He also works as a DJ, and releases original music under his project Scooter Island. One of the group’s songs, “Not Yours” soundtracked a particularly memorable scene this season when an overjoyed Abbi wakes up in her crush’s apartment, having agreed to use a strap-on the previous night.

Feldman sat down with Paste to discuss his unorthodox path to becoming a music supervisor, his love for Gorillaz and their influence on Scooter Island, and how a high school friendship with hip-hop raconteur Azealia Banks shaped his musical development.

Paste Magazine: In terms of bringing music to a project like Broad City, do you get ideas when there’s a rough cut, or can you brainstorm when scripts are being written?
Matt Feldman: Yes, it’s funny you mention that. In the first episode of Broad City’s second season there’s the big smoking scene with the kids doing smoke tricks. We used a song by Baauer & RL Grime called “Infinite Daps.’ I had pitched maybe 50 songs to the director for that episode, and she kept saying, ‘No, no, send me more.’ I put that song in almost as a joke and was like, ‘Ha ha, let’s see if she likes this.’ And she was like, ‘It’s perfect!’ I didn’t know what the scene looked like because I’m in a post-production position and I don’t get to be on set every day. But, in retrospect, if I had seen that cut, I would have known.

Paste: How does one enter this field exactly, considering how young you were when you first got started?
Feldman: You know, people ask me this question and I wish I could tell them the right answer. I think a lot of it had to do with being in the right place at the right time. I know LA has a much denser scene of music supervisors but, from what I understand, it’s like a lot of the other film and TV positions. You got to work your way up through interning and work with different people who have been doing it for a long time. I see myself as an outlier due to the circumstances in which I came into this.

Paste: How did you come in?
Feldman: I had a friend in high school that I had a huge crush on at the time. I was a senior and she was a junior. I invited her and her friend over to my house to show them the British program Skins. One of her friends, at the time, had seen Rent on Broadway like 143 times—she was that type of obsessive person when it came to things she loved. And she was equally as enchanted with Skins. When the creator Bryan Eisley came to the States to make the American version, somehow she tracked him down and became his intern. I was in Europe at the time and she sent me an e-mail saying, ‘Hey, Skins has this writers’ programs where they bring in teenagers to work on the scripts and talk about their experiences.’ It was kind of like a focus group. Luckily, I was available to get into the last one. I remember asking about music and Bryan was like, ‘Can you make me a playlist?’ The next day he said, ‘Yeah, I need you to quit your day job.’ I ordered a business card with ‘Music Curator’ on it, not knowing a single thing about the job [laughs].

Paste: Did you have any interest in pursuing music as a career before that?
Feldman: Definitely. My father was a conductor and worked in a bunch of orchestras. My mom said I sang before I spoke. For middle school, I went to this boarding school to be a professional boy soprano. I went to LaGuardia High School with Azealia Banks. I graduated senior class president doing both vocal and instrumental music. So it’s definitely something I wanted to do my entire life. It’s been my driving passion.

It’s cool because my father was someone who didn’t speak the romance languages so, when he was conducting, he never thought he’d be able to reach the heights of a proper conductor who can speak French and Italian. I relate to that because I learned instruments, and don’t have great technique, but I can play them a little bit and sort of sing. But music supervision and working with other artists on their tracks allows me to refine my peripheral abilities, while not feeling so down about not being the ultimate showman, you know what I mean?

Paste: Sorry, going back, did you say you knew Azealia Banks in high school?
Feldman: Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve been holding off on talking about that because I’m terrified of what she’s going to say! (laughs) The first day we met, I cut three periods and we spent the whole time in the cafeteria talking about indie bands. She schooled me on so much music. I was a choirboy and I was wearing a professional suit-and-tie. She was just like, ‘Tribe Called Quest! Interpol!’ and just throwing bands at me. She sort of cut out of school halfway through and stopped coming, so we drifted apart a little. But when we were freshman/sophomore, we hung out a ton.

Paste: Were you at all surprised to see that she became who she is now?
Feldman: Not at all. She’s the exact same girl she’s always been, for better or for worse. Musically, she’s definitely developed a lot and obviously people mature. But not a single thing she’s said—good or bad—has surprised me. I think her record shows a really strong sense of who she is. Having MJ Cole on that “Desperado” track—that’s very much in line with her. She has this worldly view of music even though she’s a Harlem girl.

Paste: It sounds like you basically grew up in a musical environment. Unlike other musicians, was it easy for you to say to your parents, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to be pursuing music?’
Feldman: Right, definitely. I dropped out of college and my mom, who is Chinese, was very unhappy about that (laughs). I have a Jewish dad and a Chinese mom. She was super not cool with that, but otherwise they’ve been super supportive. They’ve been very happy for me and patient with me and my projects.

Paste: Working on these different shows, do you work in conjunction with the directors and editors? In doing that, do you have to adjust your approach based on who’s directing or editing?
Feldman: 100 percent. Some directors like to get their vision in first, before I even touch it. One of the shows I’m working on, Man Seeking Woman, the directors have an incredibly strong sense of music, and comedy is reinforced by the music they’re choosing. I’m really a ringer with them. I give them the one big tune of the episode. With Broad City, it’s working with the editors from the ground up. Showing the rough cuts, building the scenes, trying out five or six different things for big scenes, talking with the girls—it’s very, very hands on.

Paste: So have you gotten to meet [Man Seeking Woman and SNL producer] Lorne Michaels yet?
Feldman: I have not, but I look forward to shaking his hand…I guess, being a music supervisor, I do have to be a little intimidated, but knowing that my career in comedy won’t be ripped away at the drop of a hat, I don’t think I would be too scared. I was probably more scared to meet James Blake than to meet Lorne Michaels.

Paste: On Broad City, the show has used a lot of big tracks, most memorably, “Started from the Bottom,” but a lot of the music used is from underground acts. Do you take pride in trying to introduce these lesser-known acts to the public?
Feldman: Absolutely. With Skins it was like, ‘I don’t know how the show could use these [songs] but I hope the kids that watch the show could hear them and think the songs are cool.’ With Broad City, I’ve been doing this longer and DJing a bunch, and I’ve met a lot of producers. There’s a real big community of producers. I can see as many think pieces as I want about the New York scene being dead and whatever, but musically I think it’s such a hotbed of a lot of different genres. A lot of electronic stuff, but even then, it’s every style of electronic you can think. There are 20 or 30 producers making incredible tracks. The ability to share them is really cool to me.

Paste: Now that Broad City has made waves with its first season, has it been a bit easier to get clearance for songs?
Feldman: It’s hard to say because so many labels work with publishing companies in which half their music is signed over to that publishing company. They don’t see it as a situation where exposure leads to more sales. They see it as, ‘Oh, I’m not recouping my minimum? Then no.’ That is a really heartbreaking thing when an artist wants to do it, and the label wants to do it, but the publisher doesn’t care. That can be annoying. Otherwise, I think a lot of labels have been reaching out recently. It’s funny, because I finished the Broad City second season back in November and, since then, I’ve gotten so many emails with music I’d have liked to have tried out. But, got to wait until the third season.

Paste: In terms of keeping your ear to the ground for new music, how do you keep abreast of what’s out there?
Feldman: I’d said that 90 percent of the music I use comes directly from Facebook or from my own personal network. I used to keep up a lot more with blogs but, overtime, it’s been less and less of that. Every once in a while I’ll read something but, in general, I’ve got a bunch of friends doing great things and I try to push the artists I work with. There’s a pay-it-forward mechanism with Facebook. Recently, especially in the last year with the rise of private Facebook groups, there are little clusters of artists and producers that are sharing stuff every day.

Paste: And it’s probably easier to get in touch with them than it is with the bigger stuff?
Feldman:Definitely. And people already know the bigger stuff. That almost seems less fun to me. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I work on a movie with a humongous budget. I’ll literally be like, ‘Hey, I can save you a bunch of money!’ (laughs)

Paste: Do you know a lot of other music supervisors? Is there a clique of some kind?
Feldman: I know a couple out in LA, and one or two in New York but, in general, it’s a closed circuit kind of thing, and a lot of them are a lot older than me. I have yet to meet a bunch personally. I’m happy to work on what I’m working on, but I’ve never done a movie, and I think that’s more where they’re at.

Paste: So far, you’ve been largely involved in comedy. Would you ever be interested in doing music supervision for a more dramatic project?
Feldman: I would love that. I want to do movies more than anything, and there are three movies I could do—the next Riddick/sci-fi movie, the next Garden State—style movie and the next Tokyo Drift/Fast and Furious movie. Full throttle race movie, or sci-fi space movie—I have a ton of stuff for that. On the flip side, with the dramatic side, I can make you cry with some of the folk artists I know. In Broad City, if I put a folk artist on, it’s for the comedy. Even if the song itself isn’t being lampooned, the fact that it’s playing in the room would be a source of laughter. I don’t want to do that to the artists, because I know how serious they are.

Paste: In terms of your own music, is that something you want to pursue in conjunction with music supervision, or is that something you want to do more of outside of your current work?
Feldman: Oh, I think in the next year or two I’m going to be doing a lot more stuff in music. With supervision, I can work on it alongside other things I do. If anything, I’ll DJ a little less. With the Scooter Island project, it’s been a year and a half since the process started. I just color corrected our first video.

Paste: Because you’re always surrounding yourself with all kinds of different genres of music was it difficult to figure out what type of music you yourself wanted to release with Scooter Island?
Feldman:It’s been more difficult juggling the side of me that wants to be DJing parties, and the side of me that wants to be songwriting, and balance that. When you listen to Scooter Island, there’s hip-hop, there’s electronic influences, there’s a lot of guitar work—it comes from everywhere. Gorillaz was such a huge, huge band for me growing up because it allowed me to get all that in one sitting. The first Scooter Island project is really an ode to that kind of album-making. It’s almost like a show to me.

Paste: Did you ever see a Gorillaz show when they were touring?
Feldman: Oh man, I got to see the Plastic Beach show at Radio City and it was so incredible. When I was in high school, one of my friends actually ended up interning for them as a stage intern at the Apollo. Watching videos on the Apollo where they have a children’s choir and an orchestra and a band—they’re really doing it…I think in a way, with Scooter Island, I’m following in my father’s footsteps. I sing on a couple of tracks, I play guitar on a couple of tracks, but more than anything I’m an artistic director for the album. When we start doing live shows it will have a very larger-than-life feel—nine people on stage, everyone’s playing…I spent the last week looking at rehearsal spaces. Hopefully we’ll come out of the other side and it’ll be a really good show.

Paste: Have you parents listened to your music? How do they feel about it?
Feldman: My mom hates rap music, so that’s not going to change anytime soon. (laughs) Musically, I think my dad knows what I’m going for. Other than classical music, I was raised on a lot of Beatles, where there’s something to be said for the way melody comes in and out and harmonizes. A lot of the Scooter Island tracks have more than one vocalist and, by the end of the track, the vocals will have layered together to have a big finish. That inspiration comes from the stuff my dad raised me on.

Paste: There’s always that moment where we move away from the music our parents listen to and start forming our own. What point was that for you?
Feldman: I think there was a lot of that in boarding school where we really tried to rebel. I remember getting the White Stripes in sixth grade. There was a game for X-Box called Jet Set Radio Future that was a cell-shaded, Japanese roller blading, graffiti game and that soundtrack was fucking incredible. Cibo Matto was on the soundtrack and it had a lot of art-punk and rap. That was the music I hated at first and then, with the first year of high school and meeting Azealia—that really helped me to listen to new shit.

Paste: Do you feel like you share some of the same sensibilities with [Broad City stars/creators] Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer?
Feldman: I think we have a Venn diagram of music we agree on. When I first came on the show, I felt like I knew them already. Growing up in New York, you know girls like that and what they listen to. It was a blend of what they said they liked, and then me trying to figure out what they would like. Luckily, a lot of it does fit. I don’t think either of them are up to go to a club for five hours and dance all night. I don’t think that’s their jam.

Paste: Because you were the young guy coming in, are you ever afraid of the new young guys coming up and taking it from you?
Feldman: A little bit. Sometimes I wonder if I’m already too old. I love cooking as much as I love music, so I always joke that I’m going to start a restaurant if this fails. Not that restaurants have any higher success rate than trying to make it as a musician. I’m pretty sure they’re around the same. But I could always cook.

Paste: What type of restaurant would you want to open?
Feldman: I don’t know. Eventually a small empire. (laughs) But I would start with a fast, late night style restaurant in which the food you order feels and looks like it’s gluttonous and big in calories, but clocks pretty low—something that a drunken couple can agree on. Just healthy enough, but also feels like you’re eating way more than you should at three in the morning.

Paste:One final question—what are a couple of albums from last year that you would like to see get more attention?
Feldman: Album by an artist called Photay, he’s all over Broad City and he’s such a brilliant producer. He gives me the kinds of shocks and tingles that I got when I heard James Blake for the first time. Everyone needs to listen to his EP. It’s just a journey. Also there’s an artist named Taro—he’s a rapper and raps on Scooter Island tracks. His debut is great. It’s good, old school hip-hop. I love what he does.

Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.