Jeff Toyne got to have some fun scoring Abe Sylvia’s new Apple TV+ series Palm Royale, a campy, hoity-toity, cutthroat, high-society dramedy set in 1969 Palm Beach, Florida, based on Juliet McDaniel’s 2018 book, Mr. and Mrs. American Pie.

The cast is killer: Kristen Wiig, Ricky Martin, Carol Burnett, Laura Dern, Josh Lucas, Leslie Bibb, Amber Chardae Robison, Allison Janney, Bruce Dern, Mindy Cohn, Kaia Jordan Gerber, and more. It centres around Wiig’s character, the aristocratically named Maxine Dellacorte-Simmons, and her intense desire to belong to an exclusive country club, and be perceived as a “money’s-no-object” socialite.

“At one point, the music brief was boiled down to Henry Mancini meets Bernard Herrmann, but Latin, so that was jumping-off point for us,” Toyne says of the score. “The geography of the setting lends a Latin flair to things; everything’s through a Latin lens.”

By the time he finished scoring all 10 episodes, over five months, almost everything was recorded live by a 19-piece big band and 50-piece orchestra. “It was a massive, ambitious undertaking,” he says, “because even more than the budget, the challenge to record everything live is the time schedule you have when you’re doing television. To me, it’s worth the effort. It adds that last level of polish and finish.”

Jeff Toyne, Palm Royale, main title

Select the image to play the YouTube video of Jeff Toyne’s main title theme for Palm Royale

Toyne, a Canadian transplant living in Los Angeles, has orchestrated more than 100 Hollywood releases, including The Super Mario Bros. Movie and District 9.  A frequent collaborator of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, he did string arrangements for the rock band’s latest album, So Much for Stardust. His film credits include Daughter of The Wolf (Richard Dreyfuss), 9/11 (Charlie Sheen), and Life on The Line (John Travolta). The first time Toyne worked for Abe Sylvia was on the 2011 film Dirty Girl (Juno Temple, Milla Jovovich), his first global release, then again in 2020 on the TV series Filthy Rich (Kim Cattrall).

For Palm Royale, he did a “deep dive into the primary sources” because it’s a period piece. “It wasn’t going to be an anachronistic score” says Toyne. “They were endeavouring to make the show as if the show was made in the late 1960s.”

The music supervisor, George Drakoulias – widely known as a music producer (Tom Petty, Primal Scream, Black Crowes, Jayhawks) and former A&R executive – selected songs ranging from Mel Tormé’s “Right Now” to Peppino di Capri’s “St. Tropez Twist,” to Peter Paul & Mary’s “Day is Done (Live).”

“Abe really likes music,” says Toyne. “He’s very comfortable having the score work hand-in-glove with the songs. They know the songs they want. They already had a big library of songs and ‘temp’ music placed in the episodes. All of the needle drops that they used were period-specific.  It was stuff that the characters could have heard on the radio, or bought at the record shop.”

Typically, he explains of the process, there’s always a “spotting session”: a meeting of the screen composer, the music supervisor, the showrunner, and often the music editor, “people who have something to say about the music, and need to know what the music is going to be for the episode.” In each meeting, they go scene to scene through the entire episode, and talk about what the music is going to be. Toyne then scores to picture.

“We thought about what kind of music these ladies would be listening to,” he says. “It’s not necessarily the music of that day. They’re older, or they’re conservative; they might be listening to music from the ‘50s, or even ‘40s. And then the other part, of course, is to start to work right away on finding themes for the characters. It’s a character-driven show, and we were going to have a thematic score.”

Toyne didn’t just assign thematic melodies to the characters, but also instruments and colours. “Maxine is a Dellacorte, Douglas is a Dellacorte, Norma’s a Dellacorte, all of their instruments are of the same [sonic] family, because it’s their family.

Jeff Toyne, Palm Royale,

Select the image to play the YouTube video of Jeff Toyne’s music for Norma’s Game from Palm Royale

“Douglas, the husband of Maxine, his instrument is chromatic harmonica, leaning into a ‘Moon River’ kind of sound. Norma, her instrument is accordion, which is more of a Lawrence Welk legacy kind of an instrument. But later, more and more her instrument becomes contrabass clarinet, which leans into the Bernard Herrmann, the nefariousness of her character.

“On the other side of the spectrum, Maxine is a clarinet. She’s an E-flat clarinet, the teensy tiny little clarinet, if you think of [Mancini’s] ‘Baby Elephant Walk,’ really high and small. I took inspiration from [the movies] Valley of the Dolls and Breakfast at Tiffany’s; Maxine’s music has that do-or-die sparkle that Norma references in the first episode, so she has a very sparkly high vibraphones, celeste, piano, harp, and very bright, high clarinet; those are her instruments.

“All of those instruments – the accordion, the harmonica, the clarinets – they all make sound the same way, they’re all single-reed instruments, so, to me, that was a way to connect them as a family, a family of instruments.” Toyne says these “intellectual connections” are dramatic devices he likes to use to allude to the presence a character in the scene, even if the physical character is not. “That happens a couple of times in the show,” he says.

The music Toyne wrote for Martin’s bartender/pool boy/caregiver character Robert Diaz was the easiest, he says, because he plays trumpet on screen. “The first time you see him, he’s playing a flugelhorn instead of a trumpet, and he’s playing with a Harmon mute,” he says.  “That’s a very particular sound. They had originally just put in a regular trumpet playing open, and I recorded for them. I said, ‘Look, this is what it actually sounds like, a flugelhorn with a mute,’ and they’re, like, ‘Well, we want to take some artistic license.’ There was a lot of back-and-forth, whether it had to be exactly correct.”

Told that his instrumental character identities are his own secret Easter eggs, Toyne tells us about one more.

“Maxine’s always drinking grasshoppers,” he says. “I hadn’t had one, and so I was making myself grasshoppers. My wife came home in the afternoon, and she’s, like, “What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m working,’” he says with a laugh.

“But it occurred to me that the ice in the martini shaker, and then the women, the characters popping pills all the time, too, and then the pills in the pill bottle, these make great shakers. So, for the Latin part of the sound, we had to use the ice in the ice shaker and the pills in the pill bottle. You wouldn’t know to hear it, but that’s our own secret connection that we draw between the script and the score.”

As the old Kung Fu master once said to Caine, “Well done, young grasshopper.”