In this special bonus episode, host Brandon Jenkins breaks down the score of The Witcher, including Jaskier's infamous ballad, "Toss A Coin To Your Witcher." First Jenkins is joined by the series' composers, Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, and then by Jenny Klein, who wrote the catchy lyrics of "Toss A Coin."
In this special bonus episode, host Brandon Jenkins breaks down the score of The Witcher, including Jaskier's infamous ballad, "Toss A Coin To Your Witcher." First Jenkins is joined by the series' composers, Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli, and then by Jenny Klein, who wrote the catchy lyrics of "Toss A Coin."
Hey, welcome back to Behind The Scenes of The Witcher. I’m your host, Brandon Jenkins. Today we’ve got a special bonus episode for you all.
From pretty much the moment that The Witcher was released on Netflix, fans were clamoring for the soundtrack. And earlier this year, Netflix finally blessed our ears and gave us the goods.
And while we were listening, we just kept thinking… we gotta talk to the people who were responsible for this series’ epic score! So we got composers Giona Ostinelli and Sonya Bellousova into the studio.
Sonya: Every character in the show has a certain theme right?
This is Sonya. Right off the bat, Sonya broke down how she and Giona approached composing the music: by giving each character a theme.
Sonya: And it was very important for us to make this soundtrack very thematic because there's so much music in the show and then the soundtrack that, you know, we needed that those themes, you know, to guide us and to kind of drive the music throughout.
Not only do those character themes drive the music, but they also give more depth to the scenes themselves. Take that infamous tub scene between Geralt and Yennefer.
Sonya: So Yennifer and Geralt meet. We're an Episode 5. They're in a bath tub, this beautiful scene. Right, they're having their first real dialogue, right? That's a very kind of tongue in cheek conversation
Yennefer (clip): Fishing for a djinn seems an extreme measure to remedy sleeplessness.
Geralt: When extreme measures seem reasonable. Yes, I’m desperate.
Sonya: And it's what's interesting musically in that scene is Yennifer throughout the whole season has been portrayed by an oboe. So oboe her main instrument. Geralt, and his theme, is mainly hurdy-gurdy.
Hurdy gurdy is a medieval string instrument that uses a hand crank instead of a bow. More on that later.
Sonya: So what happens in that particular scene is that our characters meet, they start this conversation and we have this cue, this track, which is called “Happy Childhoods Make For Dull Company”. And we have Geralt's scene, which is played by Yennifer's instrument, which is oboe. So oboe plays Geralt's theme, which is very interesting because our characters just met. They don't know each other yet and they don't know that, you know, from this moment on it's going to be this very long relationship between the two of them. But musically, we're already uniting them and starting this relationship by having Yennifer’s instrument playing Geralt's theme.
The music is telling us that these characters are going to get along really well, even if the characters don’t know it yet. And that’s just one example of this level of detail and thought that Sonya and Giona brought to The Witcher. First, we’ll get into Giona and Sonya’s process across the entire series. After that, we’re dissecting the absolute earworm of a song, “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher” with the composers and the song’s lyricist, Jenny Klein.
Jenny: How much power can I pack into a punch, which is like the line, Toss a coin to your Witcher. Like feel for this guy. Let's all get behind him and and root for Geralt.
So string up your lutes and get ready to crank your hurdy gurdys, because this is Behind The Scenes of The Witcher: The Soundtrack.
Sonya and Giona have known each other for years and have worked together on all kinds of movies and tv show soundtracks, like Stephen King’s The Mist and Amazon studios' The Romanoffs.
They both started playing music when they were little. Sonya is a classically trained pianist from Russia and was considered a child prodigy. She was awarded with the Russian Ministry of Culture Award when she was just 13 years old. And Giona, he started playing drums at five years old, and piano at nine. He’s a Swiss-Italian, classically trained artist whose now scored over 35 films. But The Witcher is by far their biggest collaboration.
Brandon: How did you first get brought into this project, like were you all pitched? Did you sort of hear about it in the composer back-channels? I'm not really sure.
Sonya: What happened was that we actually worked with some of the producers before and other projects. So when they were, when they were starting The Witcher, they actually were very familiar with our work. So they sent us the scripts, we read the scripts. In case of The Witcher, it was a slightly unusual process because normally as composers, we would get brought on during the post-production period. But in the case of The Witcher, there were songs and dances that had to be redone before they started shooting. So we started I think it was like October 18.
Giona: Yeah, it was.
Sonya: We started writing songs, dances, and we wrote these thematic suites.
Giona: So, I mean, and writing music has to be fun.
Sonya: Like it has to be fun and it has to be creative. So when you spend so you know, such long hours in the studio, having the two of us there is just much more fun and I think much more refreshing. Right?
Giona: Yeah. And we can split who learns what instruments.
Sonya: Yes. About that, because we in the studio we have a great amount of instruments which both Giona and I play and recording and performing these instruments. It's a very important part of our creative process. So, you know, by being there, the two of us, we can split who plays which instruments? Like, for example, in the case of The Witcher, beyond recording the amazing soloists and ensembles that we recorded just between the two of us, we performed and recorded. I think calculated, was 64 instruments on this soundtrack,
Brandon: Which is nuts.
Giona: Which, you know, at first when we started like, oh, this is a great idea. Then when we receive the instruments like, you know what? How do you play his instrument? Then you realize it wasn't so smart, but it's a push for creativity. I mean, look, you don't have to be afraid of picking off something new. You just have to go with it and figure out. I mean, we're not masters with these instruments, but we come up with ideas like with the contrabass. We came up with playing four hands.
The contrabass is an upright bass, like what jazz musicians play. But Sonya and Giona gave it a whole new sound by playing it with four hands.
Sonya: Because the idea behind that was that the Witcher universe is just so diverse and so broad. Like, look at all our characters. We have witchers, we have humans, we have elves, we have dwarves, we have all sorts of monsters. So we wanted to make sure that we are representing these diversity in the soundtrack so we order it all this unique instruments. A lot of them were crafted specifically for the Witcher. A lot of them came from all over the world. Some came from the United States, some came from Russia, some from Hungary, China, Malaysia, Portugal. I'm sure I'm forgetting something else.
Sonya: However, beyond using those instruments in their traditional sense, we also wanted to find ways to use them in a much more contemporary manner. And for example, take Episode 3. So during the long sequence of Geralt's battle with striga and Yennefer's dramatic transformation, we have the same hurdy-gurdy. However, in that case, so it's a it's a solo hurdy-gurdy, but it has a lot of distortions and amplifiers and other effects apply to it. So it completely does not sound like a hurdy-gurdy, but it sounds much more like an electric guitar.
Sonya: And it's really funny actually because a lot of fans have been asking us, have you guys used an electric guitar in the score? And no, we did not. We just use the hurdy gurdy, which is an medieval instrument from the 13th century, but it sounds like something completely different, something much more contemporary.
This is what that hurdy gurdy sounds like solo’d from the song “You’ll Have To Fight Until Dawn.”
Brandon: Well, it seems like you have contemporary instruments. You have historical instruments. You have sort of rebuilt in customised historical instruments making new ones. I'm wondering outside of that, were there any non instruments that became instruments to make a sound that would fit this show.
Giona: Oh, absolutely. Like for Brokilon, we were trying to oh, my goodness. We're trying to look for a, you know, ethnic but kind of cool and different sound for Brokilon. I like we have all this woodwinds. And usually I'm the one playing the woodwinds. And I am sick and tired of playing all these instruments. I want something new.
Sonya: But it's not just that. It's not just something you like. None of this woodwinds, we were really giving us the primary sound that we were looking for.
Giona:Yeah. So then I just I'm just walking around. I'm like, what about this glass bottle of water that we just use to drink water from now, like what happened? So I start using it, blowing it, blowing through it. And, you know, of course, comes out. Pitch sound. I was like, oh!
Sonya: This is exactly what we're looking for. So what we did is for Brokilon, for the moment when Eithne appears
Eithne (clip): What is your name?
Ciri: Fiona. Where am I? How did I get...
Eithne: You’re in Brokilon Forest. Follow me.
Sonya: We have this woodwind instrument, which is in fact a bottle, a glass bottle of water. And to control the pitch, we just had to, like you either pour in more water or take out some water. So it was, you know, run into the kitchen for in the water out or pouring the water in, then back to recording and then recording other notes.
Giona: Which it sounds simple in a way. But now let's just, you know, shed the light on the fact that Sonya has perfect pitch. So every time I pour water in and she's like, yeah, you're a few cents flat, I'm like, oh, my, I can not control this instrument.
Sonya: And I'm like, yes, you can go add some more water.
Giona: And then, you know, just maybe a milliliter of more water it's like. And I said to sharp, I'm like Oh, my goodness. So we probably like spent, I remember it was like a whole day just to record it, maybe like a few notes.
Sonya: It wasn't a whole day. It was a couple of hours.
Giona: You know, I'm Italian, I can maximize, I can exaggerate things.
Sonya: Yeah. So that became one of the most prominent instruments that we use for Brokilon, which is bottle of water.
Giona: Yeah. Other thing, for example, would purchase a harp and arrived in this wonderful crate. I call it like a coffin because it looks...
Sonya: It looks like a coffin.
Giona: It's like a coffin for a harp.
Sonya: It's a wooden box in the shape of a coffin.
Giona: Yeah. And you can fit in. It's amazing. I mean not amazing. Yeah. I mean.
Sonya: I don't think amazing is the right word.
Giona: But now so, jokes aside. We were there. I was helping create a very low rumble that i....
Sonya: No, I think Before that, we wanted to throw it away.
Sonya: We were just about to throw it away. And then, you know, a light bulb...
Giona: Literally came up and I was like, what if I grabbed the the mallet of the gong, which is huge, like it hits you on the chest and you can feel this thump and you hit this wooden crate, what's it gonna create. And it was this wonderful low sound.
Sonya: Very low, very resonant kind of the bass drum type of stomp. But it's not really a bass drum, but it gives you exactly that frequency. And it's amazing. So from that on, we just started using it as a bass drum pretty much on all the cues.
Giona: And we went, you know, you did two units, maybe an octave, two octaves. It becomes this low rumble and you're like, this is really cool and gives a lot of lowy-ness.
Sonya: Like in a lot of scenes when Ciri's in Cintra and she kind of walks in the empty hallways or in episode seven when Geralt is walking through those same hallways looking for Ciri, you hear that low kind of bass drum thing and then a low bass drum tremolo. So that was that box that created that sound.
Giona: Or another thing is this is crazy, but there is this Middle Eastern drama I'm forgetting. Of course, this is gonna come back. Where do we use it? No, we didn't use it because it's like it's been used so much. We can do something now. So we had up. And it's not the commercial. We had this pack of Pringles of chips laying around.
Giona: And like, you know, if you turn it in the back, there is the the metallic side as like what happened if you started playing on it like on this Middle Eastern drum. Oh, my goodness. It's so painful for the fingers but it's so fucking awesome and so amazing.
Sonya: Yes. So we did use the Pringles boxes for the sound. Well, then in this case, since we're going that direction, so we have, you know, a studio chair and we're all looking for that kind of percussive sound, which is a little muted and muffled. So we're like, well, what if we grabbed the mallets and try to hit it on the side of the chair, like on the chairarm? Ah, yeah, we recorded that. That became another percussion sound.
Giona: So we are you know, we're always looking for odd things that we can transform into instruments.
Sonya: But also in case of this soundtrack, like it was really asking for it. Again, it was asking for the diversity. Yeah. Because otherwise I don't think this world would have been properly represented musically. And that's what we're we're trying to achieve,.
Brandon: All these Easter eggs, all these secret tips.
Sonya: Quite a lot of them.
So if Sonya and Giona are bringing this kind of creativity to the score you hear in the background of a scene, you know they’re going to bring it for the songs that are front and center. And the crown jewel of this soundtrack has got to be Jaskier’s “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher.” I mean this song debuted at number one on iTunes’ Top Soundtrack songs when it was released. Not only was it stuck in my head for weeks, but I even heard it out in the wild.
Brandon: Well, by day, I'm a podcast host, I guess, but also at night I deejay and I've mostly deejay, like hip hop clubs, dance clubs. And in the club I heard a remix that I'd never really heard. And then it was the song. And so having worked on this series and watch the show, the beat was dropping. I'm kind of not in my head. You know, it's mixed in with everything else. And then I hear Toss A Coin and it's being looped in back and it's like it's heavy bass and the clubs are going crazy for it. And it blew my mind because at one I'm hoping that they all watch the show. But to me, it's the fact that this song can kind of be remakes in in a hip hop club. It was wild.
Giona: Look, it doesn't make sense because we wrote so many versions of this song. I think we wrote seven versions and one of these version was a rap, hip hop version so...
Sonya: Indeed, Toss A Coin kind of goes, well, was everything. So just to give you some backstory, because that was one of the very first pieces of music that we wrote for the show. We were still exploring the musical style and, you know, looking for the right balance and the right musical language appropriate for the character and for the context where the song appears. So we wrote, yeah. I believe it was seven versions that we wrote, anything ranging from very kind of medieval and historically accurate to something very contemporary. So along these versions. Yes, there was a rap version.
Giona: So it makes sense that, you know, the deejay was able to create a really cool, groovy version for it. And, you know, the dance floor went crazy because, well, that's was us in our studio when we were doing it.
Brandon: So if I would've heard a hip hop version just being played in the tavern on the show, I would’ve lost it.
Giona: Well, yeah, as I said, that version existed.
Brandon: I'm curious with Toss A Coin To Your Witcher, were there any specific sort of, I'm going to use the word historical instruments that you wanted to make sure that you use for it?
Giona: Hell, yes. That's the short answer.
Sonya: Do you want to talk about the lute?
Sonya: OK. So what happened with Toss A Coin. So that song went for a long journey. So we wrote seven versions. Then we finally settled on the right version. Then we did the whole production of the song before even Joey got on board.
Sonya is talking about Joey Batey, who portrayed Jaskier in The Witcher.
Then Joey got onboard. Then they shot the song. And then we finally recorded the whole song. I believe it was July, it was actually 4th of July, right? Yeah. It was 4th of July. While everyone was celebrating, we were working on the song and recording, with Joey.
Giona: It was the best way to celebrate honestly.
Sonya: Yeah, it was. It was amazing. So we were in London in the studio. And then we also had to record lutes because, you know, an essential part of just carrying his character is that he plays a lute. Well, what happened?
Giona: That we've got an education in lutes, to put it simply.
Sonya:Yes, because the parts that we wrote was quite virtuosic and something like that was unplayable on just one lute.
Giona: But also because I mean, we wrote it. I mean, it's more like.. it's not traditional medieval song, you know that you play on lute, it's more like pop. So there are certain limitations on the lute.
Sonya: Absolutely. So we were very aware of that. So we were collaborating with this wonderful musician, Arngier Haukkson, who brought literally, I'm not even kidding you. He brought a minivan of lutes and different string-plucked instruments.
Giona: From. From from middle ages.
Sonya: Yeah, from medieval times. So we had anything of lutes. We had like different versions of tunings.
Giona: In different tunings.
Sonya: In, different tunings. Then he brought different baroque guitars. He had like a five course baroque guitar, a four course baroque guitar. He had several mandolins.
Giona: And then on top of lutes, we also played ourself hurdy-gurdy.
Sonya: There were yeah there were a lot I don't really remember all of them anymore. It was hurdy-gurdy, so I performed all the hurdy-gurdy solos. There were sultries. There were harmoniums. We recorded a string section.
Giona: Well, percussion. We had a lot of medieval percussions that we were playing along with.
Sonya: We had a lot of percussion. One of actually actually one of the percussion that we used was it was a metallic trashcan that proved to be an amazing percussion instruments.
Giona: Which, You know, if you if you think about it, no, it's not a medieval instrument. But do you bet that in the Middle Ages, someone will use a trash can this, you know, to groove. Come on. Come on. I'm sure someone did it.
Sonya: So we've got this vintage trash can. It's metallic. It's like it's hollow inside. So it has a lot of that type of metallic echo and resonance. So playing it with brushes. Hell, yeah. It's amazing.
Brandon: The drum pattern that I hear in the song 'cause I talk later feels like there's sort of like this bass that kicks in.
Giona: That low base that you hear when it comes out, I think in the second verse or something like that comes in. That was a synth bass because they were like, Hey, can I just make it meet med-, you know, medieval song. Let's inject some...
Sonya: I mean, we were aiming for something more contemporary,
Giona: like, you know, how cool is going to be up until now has been very traditional. Now, let's put it some modern music in it.
Sonya: Yeah. So bottom line is we utilized a lot of these beautiful historical instruments, but in a much more contemporary context.
Giona: And with more also modern instruments, which.
Sonya: With some modern instruments, yeah.
Brandon: OK, so now I have to ask you with a song, with a breakout song like Toss a Coin To Your Witcher. How do you know you have a hit? Do you know in the studio or is it like when you're going and you're humming, sort of on your own away from it? Or is it really when the audience is just crazy for it?
Sonya: I think it's a little bit of everything.
Giona: Yeah, I think it's a combination. The recipe is a combination of all of these that you mentioned.
Sonya: Yeah. It's, you know, it's a lot of, you know, technicalities on how the song, the structured, you know, whether you have like a certain hook element to it.
Giona: How to climax. where to climax.
Sonya: Yeah. How to develop it, blah, blah, blah. So there are, there is obviously a very important technical aspect to it which kind of determines the success of the song. Then there is the melody. Right. In case of Toss A Coin To Your Witcher. We want you to make sure that this is something very catchy, something that you can just sing along. We worked closely with Jenny Klein, who is the writer of the episode and who wrote the lyrics for Toss a Coin. So one of the ideas that we discussed a lot was Jenny is, you know, for this song to be just something that, you know, you can toss your beer can too, and just sing along. And to be this type of anthem that will take us out of the episode. So we try to make it very catchy and very memorable. And that's, I think, the next factor. Then the important factor is obviously performance and working with Joey was amazing.
Fun fact. Joey was sick during the, during the recording of Toss a Coin because we were in London. It was a couple of days. And we had to record a great amount of music, including recording Joey. And then he shows up in the studio and he's sick. But he was a super trooper. We were giving him hot tea with honey and lemon the whole day. We’re like, Joey, more tea, more honey, more lemon, let's do more. And he did a fantastic job.He gave us a lot of material. All of his material was very versatile because we wanted to make sure that Jaskier, because on screen, he just has such a kind of bubbly presence, we wanted to make sure that this is represented in the song. And he gave us exactly the material that we were looking for. It was versatile. It was excellent. It was very even theatrical in some places, which is exactly what we were looking for.
Joey Batey solo voice: He's a friend of humanity. So give him the rest
That's my epic tale. Our champion prevailed. Defeated the villain. Now pour him some ale
Toss a coin to your Witcher. Oh, valley of plenty. Oh, valley of plenty, oh.
So performance. Definitely check mark. We had that aspect covered. Then the whole production of the song, again, we wanted to make sure that we're keeping that medieval quality but still making it more like a contemporary song. So, you know, instrumentation, how you know, the whole arrangement, the structure then develops. We wanted to kind of keep it also catchy and cool.
Giona: But I also think it's one interesting aspect about it's like it's very different from anything that's out there.
Sonya: Definitely because you get this contemporary song, but it's not like really contemporary because it's kind of medieval at this time. But it's not like 1000 percent medieval. So, yeah, a lot of different factors. So I think when we finally got the full product, when all the recordings were complete and we listened to it were like, yeah, that's, that's great. And obviously the context within which, you know, the song appears in the show, it's the very end of the episode. Right? So it needed to be that the anthemic epic climaxing song. So that definitely helped a lot.
Brandon: Well, you know, you’re composing the entirety of the music for The Witcher series, but I'm curious how, if at all, Toss A Coin To Your Witcher was different than the majority the music you created for the show?
Sonya: Actually, I don't think it was different because.. Since so we wrote the whole score, we wrote and produced all the songs and folk tunes and dances for the series. So that's quite unusual because usually you have different people responsible for score and songs. So since we did both, one of our goals was to make sure that songs and score don't feel separated from each other, but are in fact inspired by each other. So what we did with Toss A Coin. Toss A Coin happens at the very end of episode two. But in fact, the theme of the song starts appearing in the score from way earlier. So the very first time we you hear the theme of Toss A Coin is in the beginning of episode two when Geralt and Jaskier just meet each other and they're walking up the hill and in the score you'll hear the theme of Toss a Coin
Sonya: And then it continues developing throughout the episode. And then there is another track on the soundtrack called The Great Cleansing, which plays during the scene when Jaskier and Geralt are with Filavandrel in the caves at the edge of the world. And you hear also the theme of Toss A Coin. But it appears in a completely different manner. It's much more menacing and it's darker. It's more dangerous because we don't know what's going to happen to our characters. Right? They might die. So in effect, you keep hearing the theme of Toss A Coin throughout the whole episode before you even hear the song. And then when the song comes in at the very end, it still feels very new and unexpected. But it feels like you're already familiar with this material.
Giona: And it also goes back to if, you know, previously when we're saying it's so we love coming onboard earlier because, you know, the fact that we had a song composed early early on allowed us
Sonya: To plant these seeds in this score.
Giona: So, you know, to then approach the score with these thematic material. We already know where we are going. So we already know the end point. We just have to get there. But musically, we already have the path.
Sonya: And then, for example, with Toss A Coin and with other Jaskier songs, whenever our characters are in a tavern and embarking on a new adventure, we thought because, you know, beyond Jaskier, there are other bards and musicians on the continent. So and at that point, he's already a famous bard. So why not have other musicians covering his songs in taverns? So whenever our characters are in a tavern, which you hear in the background is feudal arrangements of some of Jaskier's songs.
Giona: So basically what's happening in the real world right now of all the fans making covers. We also did it ourself for the show. We made covers ourself of the songs because that's what would happen.
Sonya: And with Toss A Coin, our idea for Jaskier musically was to kind of make him...You know, we jokingly between us call him the Freddie Mercury of the continent, because we went to. Yeah, we wanted to make him like this type of rock star of the continent.
Giona: But as you know, if you watch the second episode, the first song he sings “You Think You're Safe,” I mean, it's not....
Sonya: Such a huge hit.
Sonya: Right. And he's not the same style as Toss A Coin, which.
Giona: It's quite simple.
Sonya: Right. It's just voice and a lute. Yeah.
Giona: Stylistically is different because we wanted to imply to that point, Jaskier wasn't such a rock star. he didn't really have this...
Giona: Following you, he didn't, you know, musically, he was still discovering himself.
Jaskier (clip): The pike with the spike that lurks in your drawers/ or the flying drake that will fill you with horrors.
Giona: And then, you know, it goes through it. And then at the end, he finally finds his tone, his musical voice. And...
Sonya: And this is when Toss A Coin happens. So in this case, you know, musically, you can already see the transformation of his character from just, you know, being a regular bard at the tavern to being the Freddie Mercury of the continent.
Giona: And hence also why perhaps Toss A Coin you were saying sounds a bit different from other songs. Well, because Jaskier, you know, becomes this rock star.
Brandon: You all are crazy. That's amazing.
Giona: I mean, look. We have we had so much fun and we're like, why we can do this? I mean, how many other times you get an opportunity for this? It's crazy. But it's so good.
Sonya: But I think the show was also asking for it because, again, that world is so diverse. It was asking for diversity in the score. And we wanted to make sure because we have such a great amount of music, that it's all kind of cohesive. And thematically it makes sense because, yes, we have also one kind of long storyline that develops throughout the season, but also every episode is a bit different from each other because in every episode our characters embark on a new journey in a new adventure. So we wanted to make sure that also thematically we can accomplish that and have themes that will develop throughout. But at the same time, also give each episode its uniqueness and its unique music sound.
Brandon: You're ready kind of brought into this world historically. And then it feels sort of contemporary. And I think it's is that challenging to sort of bridge both those worlds and still feel true when you're watching it in the show?
Giona: I don't think it’s that challenging.
Sonya: I think the tone and the look of the show itself and the acting and especially Jaskier in his acting, it's much more contemporary. There is definitely a very strong and a very prominent historical aspect, but with that being said?
Giona: Yeah, it's not it's not doing the documentary.
Sonya: So since we're going for Freddie Mercury, I mean, had to be done. Yeah.
Brandon: Yeah. And if you're gonna go Freddie Mercury, you've got to go for Freddie Mercury.
Giona: Yeah. So you cannot, you cannot go halfway there. Oh yeah. Yes.
And who would Freddie Mercury be without his iconic lyrics. While Sonya and Giona composed all the music for Toss A Coin, it was Jenny Klein who wrote the words.
Jenny: Yeah, I wrote all the lyrics into the script because Lauren said I could. So I was like cool.
Jenny is one of the writers on The Witcher. She first met the series showrunner and executive producer, Lauren Hissrich, in the hallways of Marvel, when Lauren was working on Daredevil and Jenny was working on Jessica Jones. But when Jenny was tasked with writing episode two, she realized she had never written a song before.
Jenny: When I was younger, I wanted to be a poet. And I know it's, it's not the same thing. But when I had the opportunity to introduce Jaskier in this episode, we knew from Lauren that she was down to have to for him to have like original songs unique to the show. So that was really exciting. And as a storyteller, I really saw this song as a piece that could serve multiple purposes for the episode and for the season going forward. Like Is it okay if I...if it's like a long origin?
Brandon: No, Tell us. We're here for that.
Jenny: Okay, cool. Whoo! So basically I get to introduce Jaskier. Right? And Geralt story in the episode is based on the short story “Edge of the World”. And in that short story, it's not like the first time where Jaskier is appearing. And so in this episode, as we're breaking it,
Brandon: Breaking it just means figuring out the beats and plot of the episode’s arc.
Jenny: We’re kind of wondering why does Jaskier get to, like, continue with Geralt, he's obviously very delightfully talkative. Well, you might think that wears on the Witcher's patience. So why does he get to continue on in these adventures? And so one thing that the song did was become a way for Jaskier to earn his stripes, to prove his worth and his use to Geralt using his trade: songwriting and singing. And so for me, I got to write the song, the lyrics to the song in Jaskier's voice, which is why they're like a little silly. I'm like, I'm not acting like it's Joni Mitchell over here. And so that was really fun. And I also knew from the pilot that we got to use these modern idioms, right? Like Geralt says, things like, “well, that's not a thing”. There are these little like flashes of modern language. And so I felt like free to sort of pepper that into the song as well. Like got like a ride along, like, that's a cop thing, stuff like that.
Jaskier (clip): When a humble bard, graced a ride along/ with Geralt of Rivia, along came this song.
Jenny: It was an interesting sandbox where the the barriers were a little wider than it would be, unlike a straight down-the-middle like medieval show, because we were, we were in a totally different continent, different world with a different tone that had been set. So Jaskier sort of comes out of this really sad scene, you know, with the elves and we're learning how they're totally disenfranchised in this world. And as I'm sure careful viewers noticed, we sort of wove this the history of elves on the continent through the both Ciri, Geralt and Yennifer's timelines. Basically the song helped us launch a PR campaign by Jaskier for Geralt, for his friend and make him the hero that he sees him as.
Jaskier (clip): When the white wolf fought a silver-tongued devil/his army of elves at his hooves did they....
Geralt: That’s now how it happened. Where ‘s your newfound respect?
Jaskier: Respect doesn’t make history.
Jenny: It sort of repackaged the plight of the elves in favor of the Witcher and we learn in Yennifer's storyline how history has totally been re-envisioned. So there's that meta-level to the song about this, like rewriting history as Yennifer is learning that like elves were the original mages of the continent. And it's totally been papered over in favor of humanity. So there was that. And then on an emotional level, what was cool was Jaskier's singing this song that is about Geralt. But this song that plays over this ending sequence that energetically pulses us out of the episode and in a way we can emotionally thread Yennifer and Geralt. Sort of tie them together at the end, where even though they weren't in this episode, they weren't together in this episode, it can feel at the end like they are. And that was my intent of "a friend of humanity”. Because I'm looking at these two characters. And these different storylines that are going to be our heroes. And it's like, wow, these are two extraordinary outsiders who have to roam among humans, being like, "Don't be afraid of me, people. Like, I’m a friend of humanity, I just like have magic. But don't be scared." And so a friend of humanity at the end, it's Jaskier referring to Geralt. But it is playing over Yennifer's face as the very last image that we see.
Brandon: You know, you're saying like not Joni Mitchell, but these songs are doing a ton of lifting. You know, both for the audience that likes to listen on a on a maybe to say more surface level, right? They just like saying enjoy the tune of it. But also, it's packed with lyrics that have what amounts to a ton of social discourse, a ton of conversation about the world of The Witcher.
Brandon: Yes. I wouldn't, I wouldn't sell yourself short. That's, that's really great songwriting.
Jenny: Oh, thank you. I, thank you. I I just wanted to approach it from like a character standpoint. And I was just really feeling, I was feeling bad for Geralt because I was reading the books and sort of realizing this guy doesn't, he gets, he doesn't get paid for his work. He's he's kind of this underdog who we can all get behind. But I think this underpaid outsider, which I think, we can everybody can relate to in a way.
Jenny: And and then I realized, like because the story takes place in what is called the Valley of Flowers in Elder Speak, which is the Elven language on the continent, is Dol Blathanna. And that means like Valley of Flowers, Valley of Plenty. And I was just like, how sad, sad, funny is it to not get paid for your work, even in the Valley of Plenty? Toss a coin to your Witcher, people.
Brandon: It all makes sense now. And so I'm curious when you kind of source some of the inspiration for the lyrics. But I'm also wondering, like, were there specific passages in the books or was it totally original to the show or did you even draw sensibilities from, I don't know, from a Joni Mitchell or maybe a more contemporary like pop artist?
Jenny: Like I didn't pull lines from the book. But certainly the whole plight of the Witcher and packaging his plight was the inspiration for the song. And I knew that I wanted it to be up like up, like energetic. And for you to end this episode feeling like, “oh, I got to watch the next one. And like that rocked.” So I didn't have like specific lyric inspiration. I just tried to write a really simple song that could go to it like a simple meter, basically, and with a catchy chorus. And then Sonya and Giona took that song and made it a song. Like the catchiest thing I've ever heard. And they were just geniuses. Like they... Well, they gave us the different versions, of course, that because they're respectful composers and were feeling out what we wanted. And Lauren and I were drawn to the, the more modern like sort of poppy rock version. And we were all kind of like this could be like a Queen song, which was so cool of Lauren to see what like, because that's kind of a leap of faith. You know, it could backfire because it's it's a little bit out of, it could be like out of the world of the show. But instead, it deepened the world of the show, which is always the goal.
Jenny: So when Sonya and Giona came back with this like a rock ballad...Oh, we had we adjusted we'd had to tweak some of the lyrics to fit the meter that they had in mind because I am not a psychic. I didn't write it perfectly to what the song was so we made some tweaks like I think I had like “and the devil minced meat”. And so it had to be like “minced our tender meat”. Like we had to add two syllables. And she and Giona repeated like the, It's like my favorite the song where they added the like, "oh."
And that's where it gets you. And you all start singing along and and repeating what they chose to repeat. And it was just brilliant songwriting on their part. And I'm very grateful for them.
Brandon: Well, I'm curious, you know, you write for character, you write for story. But adding lyrics is sort of like a new piece in the arsenal that can help tell the story. Are there different muscles that you use when you're writing for character or story than you would or I guess between those three: between character storyline and lyrics.
Jenny: For sure in the storyline you're kind of at…. You're like, you know, a thousand feet up in the air and looking down. Especially when you're interweaving these three main characters. And so you want to sort of feel like their stories are bouncing off of each other and informing each other. And especially at the beginning of a Season 1 show like there's so much worldbuilding that you have to do. And when it comes to the lyrics, it's like it's more like a puzzle brain where you, which I love. You have limited words. And how much power can I pack into a punch, which is like the line, Toss a coin to your Witcher. Like feel for this guy. Let's all get behind him and and root for Geralt. So it's more of like an economy challenge, like economy of words that's more microscopic almost.
Brandon: Yeah, I guess it within that sort of small real estate to write, you still manage to include what I'm pretty sure is The Elf on the Shelf reference. Is that intentional?
Jaskier (clip) He thrust every elf/ far back on the shelf/ high up on the mountain/from whence it came.
Jenny: It is. I, yeah, I.. Well, a mountain is a shelf. What it was in Jaskier. It's Jaskier wouldn't know what that was. So you could argue that he, these are like the Jaskier's lyrics. All right. But then for us viewers watching this, it's like a little Easter egg in there. And there's also like, there's a silly pun". Like he can't "he can't be bleat."
Jaskier (clip): While the devil’s horns/minced our tender meat/ and so cried the Witcher/ he can’t be bleat.
Jenny: And which I think at one point I explained to someone on Twitter, I'm like, you know, it's like a goat, cause he fights it a goat man, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. That's part of what I love about the Witcher is just the opportunity to have fun and not take ourselves so seriously at certain points.
Toss A Coin To Your Witcher can only be described as a medieval banger. And Sonya and Giona, the composers of The Witcher, they feel all of your love.
Brandon: How you are reacted to the love that Toss A Coin To Your Witcher received from from the public.
Giona: Look, it's fantastic. It's amazing. It's so great to see it because everyday seeing how much fun the fans are having with this song, it's exactly the idea that we hide behind because we wrote this song with so much fun, so much passion. And we were hoping that this will translate into the song and the fans are picking up on it and even creating new version every day. They're having fun, they're creating great covers and it's fantastic.
Sonya: And I remember when we wrote it, it just got stuck in our heads. Like, I remember going to yoga and you know, instead of, you know, lying there in my savasana and meditating, I was like, “Toss a coin to your Witcher. Oh, valley of plenty.” So it just got stuck in our heads. And usually when something like that happens, that means that the material that you wrote is catchy and it's worth developing. And hopefully the audience will respond very well to it, which is exactly what happened. And now seeing all the fun that the fans are having was the song, all the covers that they're creating and all the love that they're giving us about this song. It's it's just fantastic. It's the best.
Jenny considered Toss A Coin to be a workout anthem too.
Jenny: Sonya sent me a track because Joey hadn't recorded it yet and so was Sonya singing on this demo, basically. And I completely freaked out. I put it on my workout playlist and I was like listening to it and like, it was...Basically the first time I heard it, I was like you guys knocked it out of the park. It was it was stuck in my head. So I never assumed it would be stuck in anyone else's head. And then when Joey recorded his version and it was in Jaskier's voice and of course, Sonya and Giona did their finessing to the final version, it just really soared.
And it soared all over the Internet. And we want you to know that Sonya, Giona and Jenny, they’ve heard all of your amazing covers of this song.
Sonya: It's incredible because there is anything ranging from like super, super classical to like hard rock and metal.
Giona: But there is one that recently popped up and we saw it, which is great and super funny, which is “Toss A Shrimp To Your Kitten".
Sonya: Oh, my goodness. OK. So there is there is this incredible cover. It has a kitten singing this song in a very operatic manner, singing something like “Toss a shrimp to your kitten. It's bowl is empty, its bowl is empty. No, no.” It's incredible. I mean, you have to check it out. Yeah, that one is amazing.
Giona: We were laughing. So. It's so much fun, this one.
Sonya: So it was actually Declan Debar, one of the writers and producers on the show. So he said, sent us this cover. And we just couldn't stop singing, get it then. Oh, yeah. There is a cover done by the Russian full choir, very, very Russian, very operatic. It's it's incredible.
Giona: Yeah. It's brilliant. And there’s so many like rock versions coming out and in any genres coming out. And it's so good.
Sonya: Yeah, I think all the reactions are absolutely mind blowing. And it's just it's the best. Yeah.
For Jenny? Her favorite cover is closer to home.
Jenny: OK, so my nephew Evan just started, like he got a guitar for Christmas and that was like right before the song came out and it's on like his guitar tabs app and he like taught himself how to play the song. So that's one of my favorite covers is my my my nephew.
Brandon: Shout out to Evan.
Jenny: Evan, Evan on his guitar. He's really, it's really cool. He's getting really good.
So big congrats to Evan. And Jenny and Sonya and Giona. And thank you all for tuning into our bonus episode. That’s officially it for this season of Behind The Scenes of The Witcher. Make sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so you don’t miss the next season of Behind The Scenes. Who knows, the next show we feature might be your favorite.
Behind The Scenes of The Witcher is a Netflix and Pineapple Street Studios production. I’m your host, Brandon Jenkins. And I’ll let Jaskier take us out. Till next time.
When a humble bard, graced a ride along with Geralt of Rivia along came this song.
When the White Wolf fought a silver tongued devil his army of elves at his hooves did they revel.
They came after me with masterful deceit. Broke down my lute and they kicked in my teeth.
While the devil's horns minced our tender meat and so cried the Witcher “he can't be bleat.”
Toss a coin to your Witcher. Oh, valley of plenty. Oh, valley of plenty, oh. Toss a coin to your Witcher. Oh, valley of plenty
At the edge of the world. Fight the mighty horde that bashes and breaks you and bring you the morn, oh.
He thrust every elf far back on the shelf high up on the mountain from whence it came.
He wiped out your pest. Got kicked in his chest. He's a friend of humanity. So give him the rest
That's my epic tale. Our champion prevailed. Defeated the villain. Now pour him some ale
Toss a coin to your Witcher. Oh, valley of plenty. Oh, valley of plenty, oh. Toss a coin to your Witcher. A friend of humanity.