“Too Many Cooks” Songwriters Share Their Recipe For Success

The Adult Swim short “Too Many Cooks” has been a massive viral success in the past week, racking up more than 2.5 million views since debuting online last Thursday (it originally aired unannounced on TV at 4AM a few days prior). If you haven’t seen it, here’s the gist: A corny ’80s-style sitcom intro segment keeps going and going and going, adding more and more characters, settings, and genres until they’ve stretched the whole “too many cooks” gag way past the point of absurdity, and along the way a vicious cannibalistic murderer stalks and kills them all. All the while, a corny synth-pop theme song bops along, interspersed occasionally by genre interludes. You should definitely watch it if you haven’t.

Adult Swim composers Shawn Coleman and Michael Kohler (Squidbillies, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Archer, Harvey Birdman) wrote the music for “Too Many Cooks,” and Shutterstock wisely saw fit to interview them. Here’s some backstory from Coleman:

Casper [Kelly] came in with the lyrics and wanted a 45-second loopable theme. We had a YouTube party the first day and watched a bunch of the iconic ’80s and ’90s themes and tried to isolate what made them so good/bad, from instrumentation to song structure. I really liked the ones that have that built-in husband and wife dynamic, like Family Ties and Growing Pains. The whole song is an adorable conversation or playful fight.

I did 2 or 3 demos, but they didn’t have the right zazz. Michael’s demo was great. I took it and re-recorded it, singing both the guy and girl parts as a scratch track. The longer you live with the demo, the more you get married to the performance (“demo love”), so my voice ended up making it all the way through to the end. I got a terrific writer/singer/friend named Cheryl Rogers to do the “wife” part.

Casper and I spent a while arranging the first three minutes, massaging the annoying-to-funny loops and making the false endings as dumb as they could be. The initial idea was to have the same theme looping away through the whole thing, but some visual pieces didn’t agree. Casper asked for each style to melt into the next setup, almost so you didn’t notice it was changing. I inched along with each transition, sending it around to him and (editor) Paul Painter, got feedback, tweaked, then tried to ease it into the next transition. It took a long time.

And here’s some more from Kohler:

On my end, the process started with Casper asking me if I would write an ’80s sitcom-style theme song for this new project. He gave me a rough edit of something he and Paul Painter had cut together, and some lyrics he wanted me to make work. For that edit, they had looped the theme song from The Facts Of Life, and that ended up being our best reference point for the overall feel.

It doesn’t often work like this, but I can tell you that as soon as I read Casper’s lyric, “too many cooks,” I began to sing it the way you hear it now in the show. It just happened, and I couldn’t stop singing it to myself for weeks. The rest of the basic song popped into my head while in the shower, and I sang it into my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget it before I had a chance to lay it down at the studio. The funny thing is, I just read in one of Casper’s interviews that “Too Many Cooks” was a shower idea for him originally. I had no idea. Maybe there is something to that.

I tracked a basic version of the tune with drums, bass, synths, and my scratch vocals, and sent it over to Casper. A couple of weeks later, I called Patty Mack and Michael Magno in to try a little male and female back-and-forth variation of the vocals, and that’s when Shawn took over to make all the versions and do the final mix.

There’s much more where that came from, so read the whole interview here.

Tags: Adult Swim