Rachael Cantu on Little Brutes and Writing the “One Big Happy” Theme Song

Rachael Cantu is best known for her solo work, but her duo with Harlan Silverman, Little Brutes, has ushered in an almost entirely new sound for her. While she used to be more of a folk-pop artist, the out singer/songwriter is now accompanied by more electronic elements, and her silky chanteuse vocals have been elevated on the recently released Little Brutes EP, Desire.

A stand-out track on Desire is the sexy soul-pop-driven “Make Our Own Way,” which also happens to be the theme song for NBC’s new show, One Big Happy, created by Rachael’s wife, Liz Feldman. The two were married in 2013 after meeting during the filming of Liz’s talk show, This Just Out. Now that the show has returned, Rachael gets the fun off-camera job of holding a buzzer to hit any time she thinks Liz should stop doing whatever it is she’s doing, whether that’s flirting with a guest or getting too personal. It’s all in good fun, and Rachael seems to enjoy her participation behind-the-scenes.

RachAllisonPharmakisGreyshirt1photo by Allison Pharmakis

We spoke with Rachael about her evolving career, writing songs for TV and why she was reluctant to write a theme song.

AfterEllen.com: Let’s talk about the name of your EP, Desire. I kind of love that word. What made you think about using it?

Rachael Cantu: I guess it’s because I’m in a happy relationship. [laughs] I feel like all my old stuff was pretty dark, pretty sad. Not in a super depressing way, just different now that I’m in a nice, loving happy relationship. It’s all pretty positive and I think that comes across in the whole EP.

AE: Definitely—it’s very romantic and sweet. I’m wondering how you write differently for yourself as part of Little Brutes as opposed to writing as “Rachael Cantu.” Do you have a distinction when you’re writing for the two separate things?

RC: It’s funny: When I write lyrics with Harlan, I always seem to write positive stuff, and I don’t know why that is. Ever since the beginning when we did an EP before, that was a little folksier—I don’t know! Maybe I don’t like to show my dark side in front of other people. It’s easier to do solo. With him, he brings out the goodness in me. I love writing with him. He’s so talented and the music he comes up with just inspires that positivity and happiness.

AE: So your song, “Make Our Own Way,” is the theme song for One Big Happy. Did you write it for the show?

RC: Liz came to me and asked if I would try to write a theme song for it and I said no. [laughs] Because I got into my head too much, like “I don’t want people to think that’s why it’s the theme song, because of my wife.” A little bit of pride came into play. So she asked me another time and  then a third time, and she asked, “Don’t you just want to try?” And at that time, I wasn’t doing music. I hadn’t been writing for quite a while, trying to figure out what was the next step in my career and so I said, “OK, OK, I’ll try. I’ll meet up with Harlan and we’ll see what I can come up with.” And luckily a great song came out of it. I mean we like it, so either way, we have a song that we like and we’ll do something with it if they don’t like it. But luckily they did. It went up the ladder without anybody knowing it was me, which made me feel better. Because then it was just genuinely that they liked it and wanted to use it. But yeah, that’s how it happened. She brought it into the producers and they said yes, took it into the studio and they said yes, and then brought it into the network and they said yes. It happened pretty genuinely.

AE: There are a lot of iconic theme songs out there—did you feel any kind of pressure to create something like that?

RC: Not really. She gave me a good reference—you know, she was on 2 Broke Girls and they use a Peter, Bjorn and John song and I was just like, “We’ll just write a cool song and if they can use little bits and pieces here and there, that’ll be great.” We didn’t have that in mind, like the increments and little parts that they use throughout the whole series. So I knew a little bit of that going into it, but luckily Harlan is just a musical genius and he said “Sure, I’ll make up a little guitar riff for a couple seconds here and there, a little melody.” Liz didn’t want something like that [a traditional theme song), something too jingly. We did write a second version that you’ll hear: me whistling, and it’s little faster. So we did write one that’s a little more of a jingle, but it’s not something we’re going to release—it’s just for the show.