Steven Universe: Rebecca Sugar on revisiting the show's soundtrack
Steven Universe fans have been asking for an official show soundtrack for a while. And now, they finally have one.
Steven Universe Soundtrack Vol. 1 features the show’s biggest songs — music is integral to the Cartoon Networkanimated series — and has been digitally remastered by the show’s composers Aivi Tran and Steven “Surasshu” Velema for optimal listening pleasure. The result is both a reminder of just how far the show has come since its premiere in 2013, as well as a showcase of show creator Rebecca Sugar’s ability to blend ear-catching harmonies with deep, meaningful lyrics as evidenced in a number of tracks including “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth,” “It’s Over Isn’t It,” and “What’s the Use of Feeling (Blue).”
Listening to the soundtrack will also allow fans to take a trip down memory lane. The show, which follows the adventures of its young half-human protagonist as he takes his mother’s place in the Crystal Gems (a team of Earth-defending alien guardians), has come a long way from Steven’s early adventures accompanying the Gems on various missions. Thanks in large parts to the music that’s been built into the series’ narrative storytelling and emotional arcs, Steven has had the chance to lead his own missions, deepen his friendship with his best friend Connie, and most recently, explore what his mother’s legacy means to him.
With the Steven Universe soundtrack providing fans with blasts from the past, EW spoke to Rebecca Sugar about what it was like revisiting the show’s music from the beginning.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Steven Universe has featured so many great songs during its run so far. How did you go about curating a soundtrack for the show then?
SUGAR: We try to keep it very honest. All of the songs from the start to episode 120 are on. All of the major songs. Some of the shortest ones we omitted. But we included all the songs in order. I really wanted you to be able to see or hear when you listen to it, the way we progress as a show. I didn’t want to re-color that experience. I wanted you to hear you Zach grow up. I want you to hear all of us evolve as songwriters. And the one thing we did do was remaster and remix every track so that it would sound the best it ever sounded.
What was it like going back and listening to some of the earlier songs all the way up to now? The show’s come such a long way since then.
My eyes were watering. We’ve made so much stuff. I just am always plowing ahead thinking about what I have to do next and this was the first time we really sat down and looked at all these major songs we’ve written. And there’s 37 of them that we wanted to include. There’s just so many. And going back and listening to songs I hadn’t listen to in a long time re-mastered, like “Giant Woman,” feels like a lifetime ago that I wrote that. It just puts me right back there to where we were and how we thought when we were starting the show. Dreams we didn’t even have yet. It’s really been interesting to revisit. Not to just revisit these songs, which I was always so proud of and loved so much, but to hear them sounding like this. To hear them without sound effects with this totally new mix. I grew up listening to so many burned CDs of music from cartoons. I probably listened to Songs in the Key of Springfield like a thousand times. I just get really emotional thinking about these songs and wondering if they have a place in people’s lives and in their childhoods.
When you are coming up with new songs for the show, are you thinking of having to tie it back, at least musically, to a song you’ve already written?
Well, it depends on the song. For example, “Stronger Than You” was like such a difficult endeavor. I felt a lot of pressure writing something for Estelle. I wanted to establish this theme for Garnet’s songs. There’s a faint hint of it in “The Answer” when Ruby and Sapphire have their song. That comes back in but is treated sort of differently. I want certain melodies to feel like codes for certain feelings once they’ve been established and I want to reintroduce them in different contexts as we introduce those characters in different contexts. I don’t think I could have done “Here Comes A Thought” if I hadn’t done “Stronger Than You” because I wanted to have the two complement each other. “Stronger Than You” is Garnet’s pride and victory, a celebration of Garnet as a manifestation of love. But “Here Comes A Thought” is how she maintains and protects that love. It has a completely different goal. And all of the strength and forward momentum of “Stronger Than You,” I wanted to contrast with the calm and the struggle and the collection that has to happen to maintain that in “Here Comes A Thought.”
The Gems are dealing with a lot more complex emotions than we first saw in season 1 when Steven was just singing about “Cookie Cat.” As the show has been getting more complex, are you trying to tackle more complex emotions?
It happens naturally because of the stories. As you get to know the characters better, you get to build on what you know about them. So the character stories are able to become more complex because you are exploring deeper and deeper depths of who they are. Now that you know more, you know that this character acts like this. But what breaks that? What allows that to happen? How do they need to grow? What happens when they grow? Now there’s another level and another level of who they are. They’re not who they are when they started the show but you can only understand that if you follow them on that journey. I think that ends up happening with the music as well. We can build on ideas we’ve established and that allows the songs to become more complex.
What are you most excited about in terms of people hearing the soundtrack?
It makes me feel really happy because I’m always thinking about the show all the time. There are certain things that we just don’t have time to do because it’s television animation. There are just certain feelings I don’t have time to explore because you’re telling a story from start to finish. But I think part of that feeling is blasting this music in a car with your family. Part of this music is playing this game with your sibling and your friends. And if that can happen, then for me, it rounds out the experience of the show.
Steven Universe Soundtrack: Volume 1 is currently available for purchase. You can catch up on the show on Hulu, with new episodes available to stream on the Cartoon Network app and website.