If a friend called one day and said, “Look, I need you to write a song for Michelle Obama,” what would you do? Likely, you’d have to stay up and work for weeks, writing and rewriting drafts to eventually send your music to one of the most famous and regal people on the planet. But Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci didn’t get that advance notice. In that way, the duo, known for the songs they write under the moniker, Garfunkel and Oates, was spared intense anxiety. But when they found out that a silly demo they’d written about a tomato had found the former First Lady, there was a moment of sheer surprise. Friend and show creator, Jeremy Konner, called to say that Mrs. Obama loved the tomato track he’d asked them to write as a favor weeks prior. But there was more good news. Mrs. Obama’s approval portended the new Netflix food-centric kids puppet show, Waffles + Mochi (out now), and Lindhome and Micucci were tasked with writing its child-friendly songs.
“I was like, ‘Michelle Obama heard me sing!’” says Micucci.
For the show, the songwriting duo wrote seven tracks. Topics ranged from tomato’s dual role as fruit and vegetable, the versatility of eggs, the richness of umami and more. When they’d composted the initial demo track, the two friends and collaborators knew the potential puppet show was up for the Obama’s production company, Higher Ground. But they had no idea Mrs. Obama was set to star in the show. Yet, she does so as the owner of a grocery store in which the show’s lead characters, Waffles, and his palm-sized pal, Mochi, learn about the histories of foods and the qualities of ingredients like salt and sugar. To create the songs for the show, Micucci says, was an especially fun mission.
“There was a lot of joy in seeing how this worked,” she says. “It was fun having a very specific assignment. Like, okay, we’re writing about umami and we have to hit these points but still make it sound like Motown.”
To compose the tracks, which were performed by artists like Sia, Jack Black and Mandy Moore, meant something of a balancing act, says Lindhome. The song’s content had to be keen and informative but also clear enough for a young audience to follow closely.
“Lyrically,” she says, “I had to challenge myself to simplify things to the most essential, to make it digestible for a child audience. But I also had to infuse it with joy and excitement so kids would like it.”
One doesn’t just pluck songs from thin air to complete a project of this magnitude. The product comes in the rhythm of the continuous workday. When Konner reached out to Lindhome and Micucci, they’d been in the middle of writing songs for a number of projects, from kids shows to new movies to their own Garfunkel and Oates duo. Indeed, the two artists are prolific. Today, they are working on writing and overseeing all of the music for a forthcoming original animated musical for Netflix, called Steps, for which Lindhome also wrote the script. The duo is also working on an upcoming Broadway musical. It’s a far cry from two people who met at music camp on the east coast at 9 years old and who later bonded in Los Angeles in the lobby of Upright Citizens Brigade.
“Kate walked up to me in the lobby and said she recognized me from commercial auditions,” Lindhome says. “She introduced herself and we exchanged numbers and became friends. It started from there.”
“I just knew I was going to know Riki in some way,” Micucci says. “It was like, I feel like this person is going to be important in my life.”
Both Lindhome and Micucci grew up playing music from a young age. Lindhome began at nine years old with the flute. Micucci started at four with piano. Much more recently, the musicians have earned significant recognition as actors. Among other roles, Lindhome has appeared in the acclaimed film, Knives Out, and Micucci has appeared in the long-running series, The Big Bang Theory, in which Lindhome has also guest starred. In fact, the duo wrote this musical number for the show. The two, who began writing together in 2008, later hosted a monthly show at UCB where they began to earn fame.
“Everything unfolded one step at a time,” Lindhome says. “There wasn’t a grand plan. It was just one carrot after the next. All of a sudden, we were comedians!”
But Lindhome and Micucci can pinpoint a single moment when they knew they’d found their shared creative voice. They’d come to a place in a song that needed a quick lyric. In the space, Lindhome offered a crass idea while Micucci blurted a tender one. They burst out laughing. The juxtaposition was a perfect foundation upon which to build their chemistry. Together, they boast a delectable creative range. Making music delights the two. In fact, after writing their very first song together they hopped in the car to drive to a friend’s just to play it for other people. It was so early in their career that they didn’t even have a case for their guitar. They just put it in the back and drove.
“It’s easy to look back and go oh my gosh,” says Micucci. “I think we were both amazed by it as it was happening. The first time we sat down to write a song, we had a giddy feeling.”
Photos by Elisabeth Caren