Pro wrestling and music go together like Randy Savage and Queen Elizabeth. Whether it’s capturing the unbridled love story or toxicity of pro wrestling—both of which are also ingredients in Randy and Liz’s romance—music in wrestling is used to tell a myriad of stories. It captures the ominous tone of a monster heel, lightens the mood during comic relief and music even did the heavy lifting in place of crowd noise for countless cinematic matches during the pandemic.
But through Wrestlers on Netflix
Wrestlers deftly illustrates the life-or-death career path of a pro wrestler. The soundtrack goes a long way in conveying the series’ deliberately melodramatic tone.
“When I talked with [Wrestlers production staff], and I watched the cuts before I met with them, I was like ‘oh my god, this is not what I thought,’” said Zach Robinson in an exclusive interview.
“They came to me with this idea of it being almost like a Vaudevillian troupe that tours the country, and that got me thinking like Americana music from 100 years ago. I was thinking of ballet, like Aaron Copland, really classical stuff—orchestral stuff—mixed with this bit of Tom Waits, kind of like vagabond ensemble music.”
The relationship between a music composer and a pro wrestler is an underappreciated one. The perfect wrestling theme song requires the composer to understand the motivation, quirks and overall energy behind a wrestler. It’s a high-pressure job, because they’re essentially scoring a wrestler’s first impression.
An effective theme song is the proverbial cherry on top of a well-crafted gimmick. Longtime former WWE music composer Jim Johnston excelled at this. When describing his process behind creating The Rock’s iconic theme music, Johnston talked about matching Rock’s charisma with the perfect sound.
“When I did rock ‘n roll, that didn’t fit at all. And when I did a big orchestral thing, that didn’t fit at all,” said Johnston during WWE’s YouTube series Behind the Theme. “Mysteriously, what seemed to work was this incredible, simple bass line. That was the genesis of it.”
A wrestling fan who admires Attitude Era theme music in his own right, Robinson would embrace the challenge of creating theme songs for the wrestling stars of today.
“Are you kidding? I would do it in a second. If somebody hit me up, I would do it,” said Robinson. “I know the vibe and the tone so well with that stuff, I think I could knock it out really quickly.”
“There’s a character in Twisted Metal called The Preacher. And the direction from the showrunner on Twisted Metal was ‘I want him to feel like The Undertaker.’ So I was like ‘alright, be careful what you wish for, because I’m going to make it sound like The Undertaker.’ And I think it’s actually one of his favorite cues in the whole show because I think I just nailed the prompt. I knew exactly what he was talking about.”
As a music composer, Robinson possesses the innate ability to translate emotion through song. While Robinson did not create any wrestling theme songs for OVW, he was able to effortlessly name the instrument that came to mind when I brought up various characters from Wrestlers. Haley J was the cello. “She just has a sad story, and a lot of this show is redemption for her, and a lot of it is therapy for her,” said Robinson.” “The cello can be a beautiful and sad instrument, but it can also have a lot of uplifting qualities.”
Cash Flo was “a lot of piano. Big guy, delicate instrument.” OVW booker Al Snow was the bass clarinet; Freya the Slaya was a violin; Jessie Godderz was guitars; Mahabali Shera was viola and percussion.
“That one was interesting,” said Robinson of scoring Shera. “We didn’t want Shera’s palette to be Indian. We didn’t want you to hear tablas and things like that, but we did want it to have some sort of a little bit of foreignness to it, like the instrumentation.”
Finally, OVW owner Matt Jones was a “tension piano” as Robinson admits Jones was cast as the heel of the show in the early episodes.
Robinson’s decorated career in television includes memorable sounds featured in Cobra Kai, The Boys: Diabolical, Pitch Perfect and Twisted Metal. While scoring Wrestlers, Robinson worked closely with Greg Whiteley. Whiteley allowed Robinson to create the perfect sound to capture the heartbreak, desperation and dark humor of a struggling pro wrestler chasing their dream.
“Greg Whiteley, the director, wanted to convey in the series that wrestling is essentially therapy for these people, and they let it all out in the ring. And I think the music needed to reflect the love that they have for wrestling and what it means to them.”
“Wrestlers” is currently streaming on Netflix.