‘Waffles + Mochi’: How the Series’ Songwriters Made Umami Sound Like Motown

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Kristen Lopez
·4 min read
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Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci create earworms about eggs and salt. If you’ve been watching Netflix’s new children’s series, “Waffles + Mochi,” then songs like “Crack Me Up” and “Umami” are already embedded in your head. But for the songwriting team, known to most people as the duo Garfunkel and Oates, found the series offered them a whole new opportunity: To cement themselves as individual songwriters — just Riki and Kate — and write and create the exact kind of music they want.

It all started with a song about a tomato. That was the pitch presented to them by series co-creator Jeremy Konner, who’d worked with the two on the Comedy Central comedy “Another Period.” “He, at first, asked us to write a song when he was pitching the show; it was a concept,” Lindhome told IndieWire. “He called us and said, ‘Hey, can you do me a favor? Will you write me a song about a tomato?'”

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The rest, so they say, was history. Host and executive producer Michelle Obama loved it and the pair were invited to do songs for the entire series (though, sadly, neither Lindhome or Micucci met the former First Lady). The songwriting process wasn’t difficult to get into and was similar to what they’ve done before, with the pair brainstorming before Lindhome wrote the lyrics and Micucci worked on the melody.

“We’d would just sit there and go, ‘What’s the funniest thing an egg could be doing? What if it’s [about] an egg in the style of ‘Danger Zone’? and we went from there,” Lindhome said. Konner and fellow creator Erika Thormahlen generally dictated the musical styles, and if anything, the specifications for each episode helped. “It was nice to have parameters that we had to stick to,” Micucci said. “They’d be like, ‘Okay, it’s about umami, but [you] need to hit these things and make it sound like Motown.”

Lindhome and Micucci wrote multiple songs for each of the 10 episodes, which means some weren’t utilized in the end. A rap song about spices and an old-school Broadway number about salt called “Everything in Moderation” ended up on the cutting room floor. (Release the Lindhome/Micucci cut!) “It’s that thing where it has to be what’s best for the episode,” Lindhome said.

The duo take the good with the bad, especially as it’s something they’ve experienced in the industry for years. Lindhome and Micucci have been writing music for film for the last six years, particularly for animated features. In several instances the films have been canceled, or their music wasn’t needed in the end, Micucci said. Working on “Waffles + Mochi” was a nice change of pace because it was a guaranteed job.

“We would pay musicians, and engineers, and singers and then [the project] would be like ‘Well, now the song about a butterfly [is now] about a child in San Francisco [and] the butterfly song’s not gonna work anymore,” Lindhome said. Knowing the majority of their songs would actually be used in the series gave them plenty of breathing room.

In a landscape where female songwriters for film and television remain under the radar, it’s hard not to think there’s an air of misogyny that’s kept Lindhome and Micucci from truly breaking out. “Let’s put it this way,” Lindhome said. “Every male comedy songwriter that you can think of has been offered full soundtracks of movies. We had to make our own movie to get the soundtrack. Our contemporaries were the auteurs of these amazing things and we never even got those meetings.”

The animated movie they created was “Steps,” a project set to be released on Netflix. Not only are the pair writing the songs for the movie, but Lindhome also wrote the script. “Even at the stage of pitching we had so many songs written for the movie,” Micucci said. “We’re in the thick of it. We’re figuring out what works and what doesn’t and it’s all very exciting.”

The two recorded six songs as part of the pitch, reaching out to producers, including Amy Poehler. Though Netflix actually bought the project in the room, Lindhome initially thought they had passed on it. Poehler corrected her and told them the movie was picked up.

“They [Netflix] were at a point where they were looking for new voices and animation is pretty bereft of women,” Lindhome said. “We said at the time, ‘We want a female director’ and to do that it had to be a first-time director. We had to take a chance on someone and they took a chance on us.” Student Academy Award winner Alyce Tzue will helm the project.

Lindhome, herself a first-time animation writer, said Netflix hasn’t asked them to prove themselves anywhere but in the work, and that she hasn’t felt the need to advocate for herself. “They have the same vision as we do,” Micucci said.

All episodes of “Waffles + Mochi” are now available for streaming on Netflix.

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