‘Up Here’ co-creators on how Brian Wilson and ‘Anne of Green Gables’ inspire them

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“Up Here” co-creators Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez cite classic novels and classic rock as the inspiration behind their Hulu musical. Photo courtesy of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are well versed in making impactful music, having won Oscars for Best Original Song for “Frozen’s” “Let it Go” and “Coco’s” “Remember Me.” Robert Lopez is one of the elite few to lay claim to the title of EGOT winner (that’s Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards).

As co-creators of Hulu’s new musical series “Up Here,” the married duo describe where they find inspiration to craft songs for their characters.

Kristen cites L.M. Montgomery's classic 1908 novel “Anne of Green Gables,” the first work she encountered that featured a messy female protagonist who had “big” feelings. She says that without the titular Anne Shirley, there wouldn’t be Anna from “Frozen,” Mamá Imelda from “Coco,” or Lindsay from “Up Here” — female characters she has helped both create and craft songs for.  

Robert considers Brian Wilson a favorite classic rock influence and a “genius.” His “song of all songs” is “God Only Knows” from the Beach Boys’ 1966 landmark album Pet Sounds, which Wilson produced, arranged, and almost entirely composed. 

More: ‘Up Here’s’ songwriters on the clarity of Y2K

This segment has been edited for length and clarity. 

Kristen Anderson-Lopez: I'm just wanting to riff on “Anne of Green Gables” because it's one of the first books that I ever read where I saw a female protagonist with feelings as big as mine, and feelings that made her make terrible decisions, and made her be incredibly emotional — and also strong feelings that helped her live a life that felt magical and meaningful, and the kind of life that I wanted to have when I read it as a girl. 

I bring that up because our protagonist in “Up Here,” played by Mae Whitman, Lindsay, wants to have a big life, with big feelings, and big risks, and big romances, because I think that she's getting in touch with all of the big yearning inside of her

I don't think Lindsay [“Up Here”] would exist, I don't think Anna [“Frozen”] would exist, I don't think any of my female characters – I don't think Mamá Imelda would exist from “Coco” – without “Anne of Green Gables” and this wonderful protagonist, who's messy and big and bright.

Robert Lopez: [Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys] was the musical genius behind a lot of their music, certainly a lot of the early music, and then really flowered into this incredible artist in his own right, who not only played with harmony, but also the different sounds that you could make in the studio and the recording techniques.

I would say one of my very favorite songs of all songs is “God Only Knows” from Pet Sounds. It's one of those songs that is a critical hit and an audience favorite. It's got so much love in it, but it's like a Fabergé egg the way it's constructed, between not only just the vocal counterpoint, but the basic relationship between the melody and the bass. [It] is one of the most complicated bits of harmonic and counterpoint work that you will see in a work of pop music. 

It's the kind of song that you can play over and over again, forgetting each little detail and remembering it again, and realizing that the forces that chose these notes were truly, truly inspired. 

It's really a musician's song, because it's the details that create the divine lifts that the song gives you. It would have been our wedding song, except for the very first lyric, which is “I may not always love you,” which is probably a very true statement in every marriage, but just not good for the first dance of a wedding.

More: Brian Wilson on KCRW’s SNAP (1988)



Rebecca Mooney