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Loren Bouchard on Writing the Charming, Accessible Songs of The Bob’s Burgers Movie

The series creator digs into napkin holders, sonic explorers, and the appeal of untrained singers

Bob's Burgers Loren Bouchard Interview
The Bob’s Burgers Movie (20th Century Studios), photo by Amy Sussman/WireImage
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    Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard wants to make it very very clear that he is not, in any way, shape, or form, glad for the COVID-19 pandemic.

    But one small silver lining he took from the unexpectedly years-long delays to The Bob’s Burgers Movie originally slated for release in 2020 before eventually coming out Memorial Day Weekend in 2022 — was that it gave the creative team time to spend the time they needed to make it “the best movie we could make,” Bouchard told Consequence over Zoom.

    And to their credit, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is the most Bob’s Burgers thing you could imagine, a feature-length extension of the long-running animated sitcom about a working-class family stumbling to make ends meet in their little burger joint in a sleepy seaside town. All the ingredients of a good Belcher adventure are there, from the fast-paced jokes to the corny burger puns.

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    But the slice of American cheese on top is the show’s use of music, with Bouchard, co-writer Nora Smith, and a host of others having crafted a robust songbook of quirky, offbeat songs that are charming in their simplicity and deceptively catchy hooks. (They’re also, naturally, incredibly funny.) Of course, the tradition continues in the film, with a select roster of big musical numbers that fit the show’s distinctly approachable brief.

    In the below interview, edited for clarity and length, Bouchard opens up about the show’s uniquely wholesome fanbase, explains the key to a good Bob’s Burgers song, and breaks down each major number in the movie. Oh, and we get to find out what spawned Gene’s weird napkin-rubber-band-fork instrument — the one that will “revolutionize American pop music.”


    The Bob’s Burgers Movie has had a very, very long road to release, 12 years into the show’s run and enduring delays due to COVID. How does it feel for you now that it’s out in the world?

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    I’m so glad to live in a time of social media, because I not only get to read the reviews, but also hear from fans directly. That’s a really nice place to be, you know? To be able to pick up my phone and have dozens and dozens of fans giving me their reaction from the theater, or even as they walk in. It’s the moment we imagined all these years while we were doing this, and here we are.

    I’ve also been doing this long enough that I know what it’s like to do animation in a time before the Internet, and it’s quiet.

    I have to imagine that’s a pretty unique position to be in; I can’t think of a lot of creators with shows that have fandoms around them that are grateful they can see every response a fan has ever had about their work. There doesn’t seem to be a “toxic fandom” of sorts around Bob’s Burgers

    They’re so, so nice. And I really take it for granted. I appreciate you pointing that out because I should appreicate the fact that this group is so sweet. I’ve met them from the beginning at Comic-Con, and they do create the sense that they’re the nicest people in the world. I always had this little naive thing where I pretended that we were the only show that had them at all, which isn’t true. But it’s definitely easy, when you’re with Bob’s fans, to believe that.

    You mentioned that the COVID delays gave you a rare opportunity to improve on the film. Were there major elements in particular that you really focused on?

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    It was absolutely everything. It gave us time to craft the story, improve the pace, and even just make it shorter. There’s that famous [Mark Twain] line, “I wanted to write you a short letter, but I didn’t have time so I wrote you a long one?” The delays gave us time to do that.

    The same with animation, which was affected heavily by the pandemic; our original plan was not going to work if we didn’t have more time to make it prettier. We didn’t want this thing to come out looking half-baked in any way. There’s still tiny things I would go in and fix — the size of somebody’s pupil in a shot or whatever. But for the most part we got to do everything on our list.

    Naturally, we have to talk about the music, which is an element of the show that people really appreciate; I was grateful that the film has three or four really solid numbers. What balance did you want to strike in terms of musical real estate for the movie?

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    Originally, I thought it somehow had to be six or seven or eight songs, just loosely accounting in my head what a classic Disney musical would have. But it was helpful to realize that I’d rather have people say “oh, there weren’t enough songs,” than have people say there were too many. I wanted the songs that demanded to be made, and not a single one that felt extraneous; the songs shouldn’t be the fat. We didn’t want to make a musical, we wanted to make a Bob’s musical, which is a little more sparing.

    Let’s start with “Sunny Side Up Summer,” which is the big opener, a sweeping re-introduction to the Belchers and their wants/needs/anxieties. Did you want to make sure audiences going in had a solid primer on these characters, if — for whatever reason — this was their first exposure to Bob’s Burgers?

    We always knew we wanted a song in the beginning, and we were made aware of the idea of the “I want” song, a formulaic thing from the world of musicals where the character says early on in the show what they want, and everything about their interior life and hopes and dreams. It’s a wonderful thing to know the secrets that they don’t necessarily share with others. In the case of Louise, for example, this is a very secret thought that she hasn’t said out loud to anyone, and we knew we wanted to say it right from the beginning.

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    I also think we just love the sounds of [the cast’s] voices together. We’ve done it here and there, but to hear all their voices at once was kind of fascinating, musically. They each occupy their own little frequency band, and they really complement each other even though none of them are trained singers. (Well, John Roberts is a singer, but the rest of them wouldn’t claim that.) And yet, we wanted to hear them belt that sucker out as if they were Broadway-bred.

    What’s the songwriting process itself like, especially for that track?

    Nora Smith and I write a lot of music for Bob’s together, and selfishly, as we set out to write the movie together we also wanted to write the songs. Sure, if we got professionals to help us — the show’s composers, or outside musicals — we’d have better songs. But if we wanted the most Bob‘s music, we had to do it ourselves.

    So Nora was at my house, and she only knows a few chords on the ukelele. She strummed them for me, and we agreed they were great; I took the ukelele out of her hands and strummed the strings outside-outside-inside-inside. And that was the basis for the song, not just the melody but we wrote in horn parts that fit that. From there, we were off to the races with both that song and “Lucky Ducks” [a Gogol Bordello-like ditty in which the Wonder Wharf’s carnies lament their lot in life]. We developed both alongside each other, to the point where they speak to each other a bit. They’re almost too similar, I’ve been afraid of somebody calling me out on that! But in the end, we decided to embrace it.

    For [“Not That Evil”], that came as a result of needing this incredible amount of exposition to happen [for the villain’s monologue]. So we wrote this long, weird thing that goes in and out of spoken word and has falsetto. Then the fourth number [“The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee”] is a nice big closing number that also closes out Gene’s story. It’s this joyful, strange little thing that you can imagine the kids perform on stage, that also morphs into our end credits.

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    And I love hearing the twang of the Bob’s Burgers theme in there as it builds into the final moment.

    Oh, we had to have that there, absolutely.

    Speaking of Gene, his central (and literal) object of fascination throughout the film is this incredible napkin-rubber-band-fork contraption. How did you come up with that and how did you fit it musically into the film?

    We’ve always loved making and inventing instruments on the show, and we imagine Gene finds music wherever it might be found. Whether it’s his fart sound effects things or sampling his grandparents on the Casio, there’s the idea that he’s a sonic explorer. We knew we wanted him to find something in the restaurant to make sound. So we explored napkin holders, ketchup bottles, fry baskets, etcetera.

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    But the napkin holder was especially interesting to me, because it has this little spring in it that pushes out the napkins. As soon as you add a spring to something metal, you get this reverberant quality, almost like the spring reverb on an old guitar. Sensing there was something there, I took spoons with a rubber band and created that actual sound in my kitchen, just hoping this would be interesting enough that you would believe that Gene liked it, but no one else would.

    It does feel very Gene in that in context — it’s very annoying, but in the correct context, there’s a way to make it sound cohesive.

    Yeah, in success you both like and hate it at the same time.

    Going back to the deliberate imperfections of the songs and the voices, part of the draw for the show’s songs is that the vocalists are comparatively unpracticed in a way that’s really appealing. Everyone can carry a tune, but it’s not Glee, nobody’s really showboating. It’s effective in its simplicity.

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    I heard Nora say something the other day in an interview that had never occurred to me before: The more she listens to the untrained singers on Bob’s, the more she prefers it to trained singers, because it feels a little more honest somehow, more human, to have them not be practiced. A trained singer is the most incredible thing; there are singers who can make you cry with their voice. And yet, I love that there’s a world where you can flip that upside down, and the passionate amateur can win the day sometimes. It’s fun to realize there’s room for us to play.

    The Bob’s Burgers Movie is in theaters now.

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