Y: The last man has graced our TV screens for several weeks now, finally bringing the beloved Vertigo Comics series to life in live-action. The series, which is based on the comic book of the same name by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra, focuses on a unique post-apocalypse, where all mammals with Y chromosomes died in a mysterious event, outside of a single man named Yorick Brown (Ben Schnetzer) and his pet monkey Ampersand. As Yorick tries to reconnect with his girlfriend, Beth, the remaining survivors – including his mother, Jennifer Brown (Diane Lane) and sister Hero Brown (Olivia Thirlby) attempt to rebuild a new world.
There is a lot to Y: The last man that fans have already dissected, from its fresh take on source material to its unintended real-world relevance to its star-studded (and largely female) cast and crew. Among the people who bring the series to life is Herdís Stefánsdóttir, the series’ composer. While Stefánsdóttir is best known for her work on The hate you give, the sun is also a star, and We are here, Y: The last man marks his most important and ambitious work to date. ComicBook.com recently had the opportunity to speak with Stefánsdóttir about her membership in the series and the various genre influences she has drawn inspiration from for her sound. We also talked about the score making experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of comic book adaptations, and more!
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ComicBook.com: What prompted you to work on Y: The last man?
Herdís Stefánsdóttir: In fact, I didn’t know the graphic novel before. But I got an email from my agent – and I remember it was late at night, around 11:30 p.m. I was about to fall asleep when I saw this email appear: “Y: The last man. “And then I opened it up, and there was a brief on the story and what it was about. You know when you get that instinctive moment? I was like, ‘I like that. Anyway, that sounds really good. “This is how I first heard about it. Y: The last man. And then my boyfriend gave me all the books for Christmas, and I didn’t have time to read them all, but it was really cool getting to know him. And I can’t believe it’s been twenty years without my knowing it exists.
What was your overall approach in creating the score? It feels like you’re doing such a good job balancing the seriousness of the world and the lightness at the same time.
When I started I had checked the first graphic novel. I had read part of the script – not the whole script, I didn’t know the whole story – and had seen the first two episodes, which I found really important, just to get a feel. To me the cinematography, the colors, all of those things – the aesthetics of how the show is done – really have an influence on what kind of score you create. What became the most interesting part of the way I wrote the score was that at the very beginning I just released the episode and started writing lines. And then I was like, “No way. This story is way too big. It’s way too complicated and expansive for me to work like this.” So I started reading and reading, and I wrote the entire score to the scripts and the story without even touching the picture. All the themes, the sound world and everything that has been developed, have been written for pure inspiration from the story.
Main title theme
It’s incredible. It is so fascinating. From there, what was your approach to the main theme of the title?
It was actually a conversation that me and Eliza Clark, the showrunner, had. She was like, “This is becoming a lawless world, and there are no rules. The infrastructure is crumbling. But in the graphic novel, there is this levity and humor there, despite the world becoming in a fucked up situation. ” Suddenly, we thought that a somewhat ironic reference, but which still has this kind of funny thing, was to take inspiration from Western cinema music initially created by Ennio Morricone, and just old lawless western cowboy stuff. Which was super interesting for me, because I had never touched this kind of music before. But I’m a big fan of Ennio Morricone, and The good, the bad and the ugly is one of my favorite sheet music of all time. I think everyone knows the harmonies and the sound that it brings. So I took inspiration from that, but I wanted to create something that would feel new, and maybe a little weird version of what we call western music.
Actors and crew
How has it been working with Eliza and the mostly female cast and crew on the show?
It was very cool. I have never had this experience before. We would have Zoom meetings where we were maybe twelve women. Editors, cinematographer, directors, Eliza, music editor, supervisor, etc., sound producer and mixer, all women. And I thought it was really inspiring and really cool. Absoutely. In a way, it’s weird that most of the time it’s mostly men, and you get used to it, then a woman here and there. It was really a nice change to be in an environment like this.
What was the work experience during the pandemic? I spoke to other composers working on a show score during this time, and they told me it was kind of weird doing everything from a distance.
I think, because I live on a rock in the North Atlantic Ocean called Iceland, where you can’t go anywhere except a plane and it’s far from everything, I’ve been doing this all the time. I don’t know anything other than doing Zoom meetings and doing it remotely because no one is going to go to Iceland to see what I’m doing.
Do you feel the extra pressure to create everything from a distance?
I think as a songwriter I’m so used to being alone all the time in my studio. We had it pretty well in Iceland during the pandemic. So I was able to save. I was able to go up north and record a choir, which was not possible anywhere else in the world due to COVID. You could do string orchestras, but not anything with a mouth. So, I was basically in the only place in the world where you could record a choir during the pandemic. And this is the basis of the score. It is the heart of everything. It is essentially the sound of the score.
What do you think surprised you the most about the experience of working on the Y: The last man Goal?
After doing a few things, it can sometimes be incredibly difficult. And I think what was really cool about that, [Eliza] was very free-spirited with this, and she gave me a lot of confidence. She didn’t ask me to do this or that. She was just like, “You do you.” I really had a free hand to create this or that, and a lot of support. It was honestly one of the funniest and smoothest processes of writing music for film or TV that I have tried. And I don’t want to hurt myself, because I don’t know if it’s gonna be this fun again, but it was really, really cool.
Did you keep an eye on people’s responses to your score? Even seeing the discussions on social media, it seems your work is resonating with viewers.
Oh, that’s really cool to hear. I don’t have Twitter. I have Instagram, so I haven’t seen it. But please I would like to hear from people if they like it.
It’s awesome. I’m jealous that you don’t have Twitter.
Yes. I just decided never to go into this wormhole. I might be better. But I have Instagram.
Y: The last man has such a unique position in the comics and genre space. Are there any other comic book or genre franchises that you would like to compose for?
I think, especially with this one, that I might [gravitate towards] those who take a little more artistic touch. I really liked Watchmen. I loved the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for that. So here is. Whatever adaptation might be willing to push the boundaries a bit, musically, I’m in it. Because I find myself totally in this world of a little magical realism.
New episodes of Y: The last man debuts Mondays exclusively on FX on Hulu.