Rick and Morty Composer Ryan Elder is the world’s first “African dream pop” artist.
Music producer of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, Ryan Elder, gives YR Media’s Merk Nguyen and Nyge Turner the backstories behind the psychedelic tracks heard throughout the show, including fan favorites like “Get Schwifty” and “The Rick Dance”! He gives an inside look into music-making producing (yes, it involves a lot of WTF moments) and admits to some of his REAL nerdy hobbies outside of the studio. Oh yeah, did we mention he’s the pioneer of African dream pop?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 6 – Nerd ISH).
Merk: How much acid do you have to be trippin’ on to compose scores for a show that feels like an acid trip itself?
Ryan: It’s definitely a headspace you got to get into. But other than coffee, I’m generally fairly unmedicated when I work on the show.
Nyge: I know Justin [Roiland], the voice of Rick, does a little method acting sometimes. Like in season 2 when he actually got drunk in the studio to do drunk Rick.
Ryan: He said the only thing that can get him to do those burps right is light beer. So…if he’s doing a lot of burps, he’s drinking a lot of light beer.
Merk: There’s an episode where Rick himself is actually trippin’ on something. He dances with a bunch of people from all sorts of universes. He’s jammin’ to a bop you made called “The Rick Dance.” What’s your priority when it comes to composing music like that for specific episodes?
Ryan: I asked Justin and Dan [Harmon], what does “The Rick Dance” sound like in your heads? And Justin was like, “Watch this YouTube video of the ‘Do The Urkel‘ from Family Matters.” I’m like, “Okay. Let’s check out the Urkel.” It’s got this kind of old school hip-hop beat and a cheesy little chorus. I asked my friend Lauren Hillman to sing the vocals on it.
Merk: You also composed something that a lot of us young’uns were like OMG! What kind of throwback vibes does Disney’s The Wizards of Waverly Place theme song give you?
Ryan: When did I write that? That was in the mid-2000s probably. Every so often you start writing a cue or a song that almost writes itself. When I sent it off to Disney, I really felt like, “This one is going to be good, they’re going to like this one.” And it worked out.
Nyge: What do you nerd out about?
Ryan: I once played on the “Magic: The Gathering” Pro Tour. I also now play one-day long versions of the TV show Survivor. I have friends who will host these survivor games at the park and we all vote each other out. And it’s pretty fun!
Nyge: What are some requests you’ve gotten that really stick out in your mind?
Ryan: There’s a scene where Beth’s co-worker puts some music on. He’s like, “Hey, do you like that? That’s African dream pop.” And that’s all I got. I had the words African dream pop and that’s it. I called up Dan and Justin was like, “What is African dream pop?” “Oh, you know, it’s African dream pop.” So, my first step was listening to a lot of African music and then listening to a lot of dream pop and finding a way to overlap and then create the one and only song in the genre of African dream pop.
Nyge: What’s the story behind that theme music of Rick and Morty?
Ryan: I’ve worked with [Justin over the years] on several pitches and we were pitching another animated show called Dog World to another network, but it was more for kids, on a planet where dogs have evolved from men. He wanted a piece of music that had a really dramatic, energetic, adventurous, sci-fi kind of build to it that exploded at the end. So, I wrote this piece and he fell in love with it. Dog World unfortunately didn’t go anywhere. Fortunately for Rick and Morty, we still had the music.
Nyge: One of my favorite musical moments on Rick and Morty was the famous song “Get Schwifty“. I can’t help but wonder where that came from.
Ryan: That’s all Justin. He’s an improvisational genius and the story behind that song is actually really interesting. [Adult Swim] made a little flash game during season 1 of Rick and Morty. In the game, you control Morty and go around into Summer’s bedroom and find her iPod that has three songs, one of which is “Get Schwifty”. The writers just loved these crazy songs so they’re like, “Let’s just write a whole episode around these crazy songs from Summer’s iPod.”
Merk: Based on what you know about our show Adult ISH, if you had to write a theme song for our show, what would it sound like?
Ryan: Fun, for sure. Got to be up-tempo. Maybe a little danceable. I think I would do some old school hip-hop. You guys seem like you are vibing on that. I would start there. Maybe I’d give you an alternate version that’s a little more modern and let you decide between the two. Yeah, number one, it’s got to be fun. Got to be a little bit unhinged.