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How One Guy Scored ‘Rick and Morty,’ TV’s Weirdest Cartoon

“Rick and Morty” creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon employ a team with a diverse set of talents for their TV show—but it’s possible that nobody’s job on the show is more demanding than composer Ryan Elder.

Elder is a young man who can often be found sporting a V-neck T-shirt, a beard trimmed tight to his face and a well-coiffed haircut.

“I’ve been with ‘Rick and Morty’ since before the beginning, and I’ve seen all sorts of music requests come in,” he says, bracing himself with a deep breath.

“Rick and Morty” is an animated adult science fiction sitcom following the misadventures of a cynical mad scientist named Rick and his kind but often distressed grandson, Morty. It’s as strange as it sounds, but that’s part of the fun.

Elder knows Roiland and Harmon are liable to call at any moment of the day to ask for music for scenes unimaginable to the rest of us. And Elder says he never knows what to expect.

“I need to know what a frog planet’s instruments would sound like,” Harmon called in one time. For another scene, he asks for “an intergalactic race riot ... but it’s a love story.” And then, of course, who’s not always on-the-ready with musical ideas to represent “a royal march for an insect species that thinks it’s koalas.”

Sometimes it can be so much work, it feels Elder must actually be a team of people, or at least capable of cloning himself. But, nope, he’s just one very busy guy, and Elder says fulfilling the vision of his bosses takes, more than anything else, a lot of creativity.

He remembers getting stuck on a scene in Season 1, Episode 2, when he had to create music for an alien bondage dream sequence. He tried everything but couldn’t come up with the right feel, until he turned the clock way back to the Gregorian chants of 9th century Europe for soundtrack inspiration.

Another episode, called “Get Schwifty,” features an alien band. Elder says the challenge with creating instruments from another planet is that, as an Earthling composer, he only has instruments from this planet available to him. To find sounds unfamiliar to his audience, he turns to percussion instruments from all corners of the globe.

Elder loves the creativity that comes with the job. Sometimes he gets to sing background lyrics to his own music (like in his favorite song, “Goodbye Moonmen”), and he really enjoys sneaking in Easter eggs for his most dedicated listeners. In Season 1, for example, he wrote a song called “Human Music.” If you’re listening carefully, he reveals, you can hear that same song again in the lobby of Jerry Daycare in Season 2.

It’s this creativity that keeps things feeling about as far from a “normal job” as one can get.

“It can get a little weird,” Elder laughs, thinking back to a time Harmon asked for five versions of a rap about the flu. “But, you know, I like weird, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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