Bluey Composer Joff Bush Confirms We’re Not Overthinking A Show About Cartoon Dogs

The Brisbane-based musician spoke with Romper about just how much thought (and tears) goes into scoring a seven-minute episode.

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It isn’t long into my interview with Bluey composer Joff Bush that I make a confession: like many parents, I cry pretty much every episode. There’s always something, it seems, that makes me well up (best case scenario) or cry myself into an emotionally unstable puddle (a common occurrence). This of course, brings us to the subject of “Sleepytime” — a fan-favorite episode about a child balancing her desire for independence with her continued need for her mother via a whimsical, celestial dream sequence, made all the more moving by its soaring original arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter.” “I cry like an infant every time my family watches that episode,” I tell him. He leans in, smiling. “You think it was hard for you? I have to watch that 200 times making it! I was just mess after!”

It’s 11 p.m. at his home in Brisbane, Australia as he speaks to me via Zoom. The hour is both a gracious courtesy he’s extended to me — 15 time zones away in Connecticut — and a personal preference: “I’m a bit more alive now,” he assures me. Throughout our conversation, Bush is lively and animated (no pun intended, though you can in fact see him in animated form as the tertiary character “Busker”). His genuine enthusiasm for his work is evident in the thoughtfulness of his answers, even when I cheekily ask him how he feels knowing Bluey routinely makes full-grown adults cry on a daily basis, in no small part due to the emotionally weighty score.

“I love [series creator] Joe Brumm's answer to this question: ‘You’re parents, and you’re tired, of course you’re going to cry,’” he laughs. “But even before music, the episodes hit me really hard, and it’s hard work to match that with the music; it’s a lot of emotional energy, but it’s worth it.”

And it almost didn’t happen.

Bush is the inspiration, and voice, behind the character Busker.Disney+

When executive producer Daley Pearson invited him to come on board as the show’s composer, Bush hesitated. The pair were longtime friends — classmates at Queensland Conservatorium of Music and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School — and had been collaborating since they were teenagers. Bush was lukewarm on the idea of scoring a show for preschoolers: he didn’t really do that sort of thing. But then he met series creator Joe Brumm and began to appreciate his approach to the material and got a chance to look at a few episodes in early animatic form.

“I was just in tears,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well, I have to do this now.’”

Scoring an episode starts about five weeks out with “spotting sessions,” where Bush and a team of creatives — Brumm, the animation directors, producers, and Jazz D’Arcy, the series’ music assistant — decide where the music should go in a given episode. He describes these sessions as “playful,” but not unserious. “We spend as much time talking about that episode for seven minutes of a Bluey episode as we would an hour-long drama,” Bush says. “It can get really cerebral. There’s sort of a philosophical approach to it — it’s so involved, it’s so detailed.”

If you think you’re overthinking Bluey, you’re not: hours of “cerebral” conversations spring up around a 7-minute episode.Courtesy of Joff Bush

Validation, parents: it’s not just you overthinking a show about cartoon dogs. The creators are putting just as much thought into making it. “What's so exciting is there's so many ways of telling stories of music and we try to go through a lot of them with Bluey.”

Bush finds episodes often fall into one of two categories: episodes that lean into silliness, and episodes that that a domestic situation into something that is bigger than the world. “We often say ‘let’s take the domestic into the sublime.’” For those episodes in particular, Bush and his team of assistants and collaborators often turn to classical music.

Episodes frequently use classical music — Bizet, Bach, Mozart, Ravel — but that’s not the only influence. From video game scores (Bush cites Civilization as being influential in “Flat Pack,” another episode that makes me sob) to EDM (“though when I try it never sounds like legit EDM — it sounds like me trying to do legit EDM”), anything can work its way into a Bluey episode, musically speaking, and that’s what keeps it interesting for Bush.

“I love novelty and the reason why Bluey keeps me going so much is that we get to play with so many different types of music and novel ideas and different ways of, it keeps me really excited to make it. Every episode we get to start from scratch and try and create a whole different world. But yeah, which in terms of my sleep patterns was a very bad decision. In terms of satisfaction, it’s great.”

This diversity of styles can be found on the two records based on the series. Bluey: The Album (2021) landed at #1 in both the Australian ARIA chart and Billboard’s U.S. Kid Albums chart, and Bluey: Dance Mode, which comes out on April 21 and features music from the series as well as a new version of “Rain” sung by D’Arcy entitled “Rain (Boldly in the Pretend).”

Bluey: Dance Mode is available on April 21.

Bush says he often wants to invoke a sense of nostalgia with the music. In addition to returning to particular musical styles, Bush says the perspective of the music is more often than not focused on the internal lives of the child characters rather than the action on the screen.

“I think there’s often with film scoring, particularly for children’s TV shows, there’s an approach of doing music that has an external point of view that’s telling you, ‘this is a bad guy, this is a good guy.’ And it’s very much about reinforcing what the storyteller wants you to think about people,” Bush explains. “With Bluey, we often take a more internal approach. So it’s more about the kids’ perspectives. The music is to bridge the audience with how the child characters are feeling and seeing the world. That was always my favorite thing when I was a piano teacher: seeing the joy and the wonder of the world through kids’ eyes.” He pauses before collapsing in on himself just a bit. “Oh God, that sounded so earnest...”

But it’s that earnestness that sets Bluey apart — a story-first, true to life series that seeks genuine connection with its audience through simple, universal moments. It’s a show, I suggest to Bush, of big ideas found in little moments — and the thought put into it shines through in the finished product.

“It sounds really cheesy,” he admits, “but I wish I could watch Bluey complete for the first time. I’d love to experience that.”

I highly recommend it.

Bluey: Dance Mode is available online and in stores on April 21. An exclusive Record Store Day 2023 release of the new album will be available on zoetrope vinyl picture disc, featuring the Heeler family individually dancing to their own groove, will be available on April 22.

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