Emily Brecht, from left, CG, Ryan O'Connell, Johnny Sibilly, Devin Way, Jesse James Keitel, Jaclyn Moore, Kim Cattrall, Juliette Lewis, Stephen Dunn and Fin Argus arrive at premiere of "Queer As Folk"
( Richard Shotwell
Melissa Harris-Perry: In 1999, the British network Channel 4 debuted a radical new show about the lives of gay men living in Manchester. Full of nudity, sex, drugs, and hedonism, the show took a frank look at gay culture and took on taboo subjects.
Speaker 2: How old are you?
Speaker 3: 18.
Speaker 2: What year were you born?
Speaker 3: 1981.
Speaker 2: Bollocks, you had to think about it. How old are you really?
Speaker 3: 15.
Melissa Harris-Perry: A year later, Showtime debuted the US version of Queer As Folk which ran for five seasons and frankly changed the game for American television representation of LGBT culture. Set in Pittsburgh, the US series started off as a literal remake of the British version but quickly found a voice of its own and eventually outlasted the original's run. Now there's a new Queer As Folk reboot. It reflects a much more diverse LGBTQ representation in terms of race and gender identity, and it's based in New Orleans.
The show premiered on Peacock on June 9th, and it follows the cast of characters as their lives intersect within queer friendships, family, love, tragedy, and everyday struggles like Mingus, a non-binary high school skateboarder, and drag performer.
Mingus: If I don't get into drag school, then I'm going to be forced to spend the rest of my life matriculating with these basic ass [unintelligible 00:01:36]. As a fellow member of the two SOGBTQD Club, I hope I don't need to gaysplain the importance of community to you.
Speaker 6: If I do this, will you stop speaking Twitter at me and leave me alone?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Their teacher Ruthie is a trans woman and a new parent.
Speaker 6: If you really wanted to come--
Speaker 7: No, babysitting is the least I could do.
Speaker 8: You mean parenting?
Speaker 7: Right. Yes. What did I say?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Do you hear that instrumental percussion music right there? For the series, showrunner Stephen Dunn expressed his love for unique found sounds, and so for the relaunch of Queer as Folk, composer Jasha Klebe took inspiration from sounds around him to score the show and create specific character themes. I feel like there must be this moment when you get the phone call and the phone call is like, "Hey, you're going to be working on the Queer as Folk reboot." Was it an actual phone call? Was it a text? How were you feeling when you got it?
Jasha Klebe: It was a phone call from my agent Jeff and it was a very exciting moment. I'd gone through an extensive interview process and met with the team and I had read the pilot script and I was so excited by the show. I had just been keeping my fingers crossed that they liked what I was talking about and that a demo that I had done resonated with them, so it was a very exciting moment when it came in.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I have to say, we always like to think of The Takeaway that gets broadcast as one thing, but so much of what The Takeaway is actually just these conversations that the team is having that's never broadcast anywhere, and a recent conversation we had was around the use of the word queer and the designation and trying to think through whether this is generational or if it's about walking around with an academic as you're a host. There's a part of me that just wants to ask how are you feeling about working on a show that's so unapologetically queer, but then I thought maybe I'll also ask you about the word queer.
Jasha Klebe: Yes, no, as a person who identifies as a gay man myself, working on a queer show was an incredibly moving experience because from the cast to the creators, it's entirely built from a queer group of people. What queer looks like today is so entirely different than what it's looked like just 10 years ago. There's so many nuances in how you can identify yourself, what it means to you in expressing yourself. I think it's a really exciting time to come out with this show and really show the world what the queer community looks like. Being myself, being involved in the community, it was exciting to just be able to have these conversations with the creators, feel like you could just openly express yourself.
We all had this common thread in line where there was just this mutual understanding of we have shared experiences, and it immediately felt like a family and something to just feel comfortable in. I think that's what this show is really about, creating a space for people to just look at a screen and be able to see some part of themselves in it, feel love, feel like they can express themselves in this way that they can be themselves. That's I think what was such an inspiring part of being on the show and what made me so excited about the show from the very beginning.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You talk about seeing yourself on screen but what about hearing? What is the work of hearing unapologetically queer composition?
Jasha Klebe: I love this question because I actually went through an experience in the middle of the show that I was not expecting to happen. Amongst all the strange and weird instrumentation that I ended up using for the show, one of the things that was used was my own voice. I do not claim myself as a singer. I have to do many takes to get the right notes and whatnot, but there was a moment when the creator Stephen Dunn had requested vocals and you're working in a fast-paced environment where I was at midnight and I needed to get some vocals in there. I just laid down my own voice almost as like a temporary holder until I would replace it. Stephen absolutely loved it.
In that moment, it was an incredible confidence booster for me because speaking just from my own experience, as a gay man, your voice can often be a struggle early on when you're trying to discover yourself and realize who you might be, your voice is often perceived as a giveaway. People say, "Oh, you have a gay voice." "Oh, your voice sounds more feminine. It's too high." That has always been something that I've been self-conscious of, whether being just on the phone, I will try to lower the tone of my voice just to appear not so feminine because I've been told my voice could be too feminine.
In this moment when I started to record my voice, I was being given a space where I didn't have to worry about what my voice sounded like and I could just be me. It was just a surprising thing to happen that I was not expecting to happen on the show. It was really a fulfilling and meaningful experience for me to have that happen.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love that. Tell me a little bit about other things that inspire for you the music that you composed for the series.
Jasha Klebe: Well, the new reimagining takes place in New Orleans. However, early on in conversations, we discussed that we did not want to do anything too obvious on the nose, here's New Orleans jazz sounds. We took inspiration from just the imagery and what could we pull from that. Stephen Dunn was very interested in the idea of found sounds and this homemade feel. That set me down a path of I mean I literally started just going around the house and just collecting items that could be an instrument. At this point, nothing was off the table. We were just going to be as unconventional as we could. From there, we took things like the sound of beer bottles clinking together.
We took the sound of stilettos walking across the floor, that became a percussive instrument. I even took the sound of someone vomiting and that became a crash symbol that we used throughout the show, down to drawing inspiration from one of the opening scenes of the show. I took sex toys and we whacked them against buckets, and that became this deep bass drum hit sound that we used throughout it. From there, we looked towards street performers and took plastic buckets, and that was an instrument that was used throughout. We used wine bottles. You blew into the bottles to give that airy, puffy sound. It was very rhythmic and very energetic.
Then, at the same time, contrasting that with things like I had mentioned, vocals with more emotionally hard-hitting instruments like just simple pure piano or some more raw intimate string sounds just to pull out some of the more intimate emotional moments. The overall feeling was just really trying to use a sonic palette that felt different, that felt a bit messy, a bit chaotic, energetic, and just raw and fun.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Jasha Klebe is composer for the relaunch of Queer As Folk for Peacock. Thanks for joining us on The Takeaway today.
Jasha Klebe: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.
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