Interview: Prepare to enter the dojo with the composers of ‘Cobra Kai’

Photo by Michael Sandoval

With season 3 of the YouTube sensation on the horizon, “Cobra Kai” fans are diving deeper into every aspect of the nostalgia-fueled reboot. Since the ’80s, “The Karate Kid” film series has been woven into the very fabric of pop culture. Now that creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald have turned the classic into “the most in-demand digital original series in the world,” a new generation of fans has immersed themselves in “The Karate Kid” world.

Whether it’s seeing our favorites return to the screen 35 years later or the introduction of new characters, audiences of all ages have their hearts invested in the continued storyline. New “Cobra Kai” headbands are now all the rage. And, just as in the original films, the music has taken on a life of its own.

Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson are the composers of the popular YouTube series. On June 12, at the famous Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood, the pair put on a show featuring the music of “Cobra Kai.”

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“Enter The Dojo: The Music of Cobra Kai LIVE” brought in a packed house. Fans, friends, and family in attendance included the show’s creators, as well as “John Kreese” himself Mr. Martin Kove, and William Zabka aka “Johnny Lawrence.” In a surprise twist, Zabka joined Birenberg and Robinson on stage to perform “Ace Degenerate” (Johnny’s theme). Witnessing Zabka’s guitar skills was the highlight of the evening.

The entire set list had you feeling as if you were inside of an episode. It was somewhere between Comic-Con and “Cobra Kai,” or, 1984 and 2019. The Sunset Strip was the perfect home.

The Burn-In caught up with Birenberg and Robinson before the show, to discuss their partnership and the music behind “Cobra Kai.”

The Burn-In (TBI): When you met, did you have the same vibe? How did you start composing together?

Leo Birenberg: We both have very diverse musical backgrounds, but centered in different areas. We overlap in terms of ‘getting it’ amongst a lot of genres; so, we kind of just vibed.

Zach Robinson: Yeah. We also spent a lot of time in rooms next to each other, working at Chris Beck’s, so we were always intercomming each other. You know, it starts as a friendship first. Everyone that works at Chris’ is awesome. We just happened to click musically, and this was the perfect project for us. It is the perfect amalgamation of all of our backgrounds. Everything that we have ever done has led us to this moment.

LB: It is infused in the show somehow.

TBI: I want to hear how everything came together in the first season? How did this all start?

ZR: We knew Jon, Josh, and Hayden; we knew their vision. They were approaching this with a really heavy hand of nostalgia but, as we know now, it’s a total twist on what you think it’s going to be; and the music needed to reflect that. Part of that was also scoring Johnny, who had never been scored. That was a really important thing for us. Now we’re here at the Whisky which is where the Cobra Kais probably came in 1984. We did a lot of back and forth with the creators to get the sound right.

LB: People love the original score [from the “Karate Kid” movies], but they also love just the soundtrack. We wanted to take elements of that soundtrack to give it a more, kind of rock-pop feel throughout, for the score. So, that’s a lot of what you’re going to hear tonight.

ZR: The cool thing that we actually had to do for tonight is, like, most of the music is short; it’s maybe a minute, a minute-and-a-half. But, the songs, we elongated them, so they’re about four to four-and-a-half minutes. So, they actually feel like real songs; so much so that we actually want to get back in the studio and record them.

LB: I think we did a couple of new things that will definitely be in season 3.

TBI: So, what can you tell us about season 3?

LB and ZR: We really don’t know anything.

LB: I think the cast is the same [smiles].

TBI: Do you have any ideas about where you want to go, musically?

LB: You know, what was fun about season 2 is that everybody is in [a] shades-of-gray zone. You don’t know who the good guys are, you don’t know who the bad guys are, and all of the characters are being influenced by other characters in a way that we really wove all of our ideas and sounds together. Now I think I’m ready to just do that to the extreme and rip it apart.

ZR: I mean, if you watched season 2, you saw, even just from the finale, how much they all one-upped it, and we had to one-up it because of them. I imagine they’re not going to go down. So, we’re going to have to figure something out to get crazier.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Sari Cohen is a journalist based in the Greater L.A. Area. She began her career in the entertainment industry as a stand-up comedy writer/performer and over the years has developed scripts for both the stage and screen. She currently covers music and live entertainment for AXS, reviews movies for Hollywood First Look Features and writes for InLove Magazine. She also pens funny stuff for popular sites such as Cracked and Screen Rant. You can often find her at concerts or on a red carpet somewhere, talking to someone about something. From on-the-scene reporting to exclusive interviews, she tackles every topic from music, movies and television, to fashion, lifestyle and politics. You can check out more on Twitter at @ask_sari or follow her adventures on Instagram under @thesavvyscribbler.