"The last three weeks have officially been the weirdest time in my life," says Zach Cowie as we sit down in his Los Angeles loft. "I can't even explain it." The music-lover, DJ, and audiophile has been collecting records since he was a teen, and over the last few years has put his extensive knowledge (and record collection) to good use as a music supervisor for television, film, and fashion, most recently working on the Netflix smash hit Master of None. Within hours of its release, the show—created by Parks and Recreation alums Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang—had viewers praising its satirical humor, criticism of pop culture's lack of diversity, and its killer soundtrack.
"I was just talking to Aziz, and we were saying that in the history of the internet, we've never seen so many people be so nice to something," Cowie says of the outpouring of love for the show. "It's been amazing to be a part of, and we all became so close—at this point, it's just like celebrating with your friends."
Cowie went straight from stacking crates at his local record shop, Laurie's Planet of Sound, to working for several record labels including Drag City and Sub Pop, eventually traveling the world as a DJ with bands like Animal Collective and his own project, Wooden Wisdom, with Elijah Wood. After settling in Los Angeles, two chance meetings with Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte led to Cowie collaborating with the sisters on their fashion shows, inspiring his own artistic growth in the process. "They're my biggest inspiration in everything I do," he says. "Just from observing them, you understand how important it is to have your own voice and not pay attention to what other people are doing."
A self-professed "film nerd," Cowie had always been drawn to the relationship between music and the screen. "Moments like The Doors song 'The End' in Apocalypse Now, it just makes the movie." When Ansari and Yang (who were already friends) approached him with the scripts for Master of None, he immediately knew he wanted to be involved. "They were so funny and so real, after reading them I was just like, 'Fuck yeah.'"
Cowie describes the entire process as "a dream come true." After discussing musical touchstones for the series, namely Serge Gainsbourg and Arthur Russell, they sent them to the entire production team. "I've always thought there is nothing that can bring a group of people into the same headspace better than music," Cowie says. "After we sent around Arthur Russell's 'A Little Lost,' it just brought everyone closer to this unified idea—it help flesh out our world."
Working closely with Ansari and Yang—both major music buffs in their own right—they would pass tracks back and forth, searching for the perfect fit. "Netflix gave us so much freedom, and it was so cool to work in television but with that openness and creativity," Cowie explains. "Like getting to choose a different theme song for each episode, that was so much fun, and it was another tool we got to use to create this world." The title sequences, illustrated by Jay Shaw, have become a fan favorite, setting the tone for each episode and lending some audio-centric foreshadowing.
"The response has just been so crazy, I'm taking a moment to just enjoy it," Cowie reiterates. "Throughout the show, my goal was always to support the story, but the other cool thing is that the show can be a vehicle to introduce people to new artists." Of his favorite musical moments in the series, there are several—including the entirety of the "Nashville" episode—but there is one track from the final episode that stands out. "Getting to use The Durutti Column song was huge for me—they're so underrated," he notes. "It made me really happy to give a band and a song like that a chance."