Zach Cowie, a DJ and record collector, is still coming to terms with the early success of Master of None, the rom-com Netflix series created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, which premiered over the weekend to rave reviews and a lot of enthusiastic tweets. While Cowie, who served as music supervisor for the show’s debut season, was incredibly proud of its 10-episodes, but had some worry that the show would not translate to a mass audience.
“I think a lot of us were bracing for Friday because our show is so different and it’s scary to be different, but every once in awhile, that gamble pays off,” he said in a phone call with The FADER from his home in L.A. on Monday afternoon.
Cowie is perhaps best known as one half of the DJ duo Wooden Wisdom, with his friend and actor Elijah Wood. But he also has a brief but impressive resume working as a music supervisor in movies like Celeste & Jesse Forever and Public Enemies.
His taste clearly played a key role in the show’s success—a Spotify playlist of the music from this season was quickly assembled on Saturday morning in the wake of fan demand. On Monday evening, it had over 12,000 subscribers.
Below, Cowie speaks on why the show and its music came together so well and how an incredible wedding led to his favorite musical moment of the series so far.
ZACH COWIE: I DJ a lot and [Aziz and I] both knew each other through stuff in L.A. I think the first time he noticed me as a music supervisor was Celeste And Jesse Forever, this movie I did five years ago. I remember he talked to me about it and I was like I did the music and he was like holy shit. I knew Alan [Yang, the show’s co-creator] from L.A. and when they got this deal they hit me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. I jumped on it quick because they sent me a script and right away—I don't want to dog on other scripts but it's so rare to read them and actually laugh. I was just consumed by this thing right when they sent to it. I had an idea of what to do with it and it really helped.
There were a few things in initial conversation that were landmarks to where we wanted stuff to go. A big one was Serge Gainsbourg. We all love him and when I say we all, I mean like producers, writers etc. Music has a way of getting everybody on the same page fast. Another one of those was Arthur Russell, especially because of the New York-ness of the show. He's one of our all-time favorite musicians. That track, “A Little Lost” that we put in the “Mornings” episode was like massive for us. We even considered using it as a theme song until the title card idea came up. I like those things as our little touchstones. All of the title cards became really important. We went through hundreds of songs for each one.
What I think is weird is that nobody talked about all the dance music that's in the show. That's just what we all like to hear at night. I think Aziz used to DJ a long time ago? But we're all housey-discoheads too. That's what was fun about this show—we got to play with so much different shit we like. I actually recently went to India to research music and I got to use that stuff in the “Indians on TV” episode and the “Parents” episode, which was so rad. I guess that's the through line of the show, it's crate digger style. Even though this music may be all different, it comes from a place of research.
We had a lot of fun doing the background music—that's where we put stuff that we really like that didn't necessarily keep the story moving. It just had to be like realistic shit you might hear in a New York place. I've been a DJ forever, so I always just pretend like i'm DJing in those places and put on things I've been playing lately.
The stuff in the background of the scene at Baby’s All Right is a really good example. I used a lot of producers that I really like right now, like Suzanne Kraft and Todd Terje. I think the deepest hidden background track is this Durutti Column song, I think it's the last episode, playing under the part where Aziz is reading from The Bell Jar.
No names will be told, but that episode is inspired by a real wedding that Aziz and I were both at. This wedding just blew everybody's minds because it was so fucking perfect and the vows were so next level that it truly did make who was there analyze their own feelings and relationship. Aziz remembers it too, he writes about it in his book and everything.
So I was affected by things at this wedding and I am a massive Durutti Column fan, they're like in my top 10 of all time. I just got so fixated on their record Vini Reilly, and was playing it non-stop after the wedding. So that's what I put in that montage. Aziz had so much to do with this music. He picked a lot, I picked a lot. The entire thing was a conversation between us and then Kerri [Drootin, Cowie's co-supervisor from NBC Universal], who had the hardest job of keeping track of it all. So I sent the [Durutti Column song] to Aziz and I told him the story of where it was from and we both started laughing, like, "If it worked in real life, it could work in TV."