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‘Awesome’ LEGO song has local roots

Athol-native Shawn Patterson’s “Everything Is Awesome” is played through-out the new LEGO movie.

INNIS CASEY PHOTOGRAPHY

Athol-native Shawn Patterson’s “Everything Is Awesome” is played throughout the new LEGO movie.

It’s wonderfully poppy and incredibly catchy. It’s incessantly chirpy and unabashedly cheesy. And as Dick Clark used to say, it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. The song “Everything Is Awesome” is peppered throughout “The LEGO Movie,” its sound working as the film’s main theme music, and its lyrics (“Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team”) working as the theme of the plot that drives meek little LEGO man Emmet to stand up to his self-doubt and save the world.

The version that’s heard over and over in the film was produced by former Devo leader Mark Mothersbaugh, and is sung by the pop duo Tegan and Sara, with an assist from the Andy Samberg-led pop trio the Lonely Island. But it was written by Athol-native Shawn Patterson.

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Reached by phone at his Los Angeles-based music production company, Hamhock Studios, Patterson was clearly excited about the opportunity handed to him with the “LEGO” assignment.

“This is a big career bump,” he said. “This is a big win for me.”

Actually Patterson, 48, has been doing pretty darn well for a while. He’s composed for the TV series “Robot Chicken” for the past three years, and scored for the series “Titan Maximum” before that. Both of which followed his stint as music editor on “The Ren & Stimpy Show.” He’s also written songs for “MADtv” and “The Annoying Orange.”

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Patterson credits his initial interest in music to Steve Martin, dating to when he saw him performing standup on TV in 1977.

“He was doing his routine, and then he picked up the banjo and just started ripping,” Patterson said. “I went, ‘Whoa!’ It was a weird combination of comedy and music. I had no aspirations to get into comedy or anything like that, but seeing him, it struck me that why shouldn’t music be fun and funny? So I talked my parents into getting me a banjo, and I was studying bluegrass for a while, then I picked up a guitar and really got into music. But when I heard John Williams’s scores for ‘Superman’ and ‘Star Wars,’ I decided that I needed to write.”

It took some time for that dream to be realized, as Patterson got more involved in playing guitar.

“I went into a serious bebop period, playing in clubs and bars and restaurants all over Massachusetts,” he said. “I was also teaching and playing in rock bands and pop bands and blues bands. But I still wasn’t writing, and I was growing dissatisfied.”

He relocated to the West Coast in 1986, studied at the Grove School of Music, and “started sniffing around for writing opportunities. I started submitting music to trailer houses. One of the first jobs I got was writing music for the trailer of Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Fisher King.’ ” After selling a few more trailer pieces, he landed the “Ren & Stimpy” gig.

Success in Hollywood often depends on right time-right place situations or connections. There was some of both involved with Patterson getting on “The LEGO Movie.” The film’s co-directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, had previously made the animated feature “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” which was a favorite of Patterson’s. He introduced himself to Lord, who would in short order have “Robot Chicken” director Chris McKay as an animation director teammate on “The LEGO Movie.”

“I worked with Chris McKay on ‘Robot Chicken,’  ’’ said Patterson. “He called me at some point and said, ‘There’s a moment in ‘The LEGO Movie’ where it would be great to have something very specific and tailored to the story and the characters: the message of Emmet and his naïveté and optimism, and the general message of working together.’ So I started writing the song, and he gave me input.

More input came from Miller and Lord, who had already finished their second feature, the raunchy and violent action comedy, “21 Jump Street.” Given their collaborative history, it’s not surprising that, although “The LEGO Movie” works as a sweet kids’ film, there’s also a subversive edge. There are clever jabs at uniformity and consumerism in the plot, and there’s a dose of inanity hidden in the song’s lyrics (“Blue skies, bouncy springs, we just named a few awesome things. A Nobel Prize, a piece of string, you know what’s awesome? Everything!”)

“As the song started coming together [Chris and Phil] gave me some lyrical ideas and general stuff,” said Patterson. “It was more like adding their comedic sense to it.”

Patterson believes there was even more input when Tegan and Sara and the Lonely Island went into the recording studio.

“My take on them is that they had the basic concept of what I wrote and they expanded it,” he said. “They blew it open.”

Though the raucous Tegan and Sara-Lonely Island version gets played the most times in the movie, anyone sticking around for the end credits will be treated to a lovely acoustic version sung by Patterson and session vocalist Sammy Allen.

“I call that ‘Everything Is Awesome Unplugged,’ ” said Patterson. “I sort of did that tongue-in-cheek. The idea was that there would be a forlorn, kind of tragic lonely guy on a stage with an acoustic guitar, singing that tune. I think it’s a nice complement to the techno-y, dance kind of arrangements of my song that are on the soundtrack.”

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.
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