For the past week, the kids of Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek have been building up to and teetering on the brink of war with one another as part of the third season’s “Capture the Flag” arc. Despite all the obvious warning signs, there was little Craig to do to stop his fellow Creek Kids from being won over by King Xavier’s promise of free candy for in exchange for total control of the Creek.
As the Creek’s balance of power shifted under Xavier’s draconian rule, Craig immediately began to feel as if his personal connection to the space and his friends was being endangered, particularly after Xavier found a way to get Craig grounded and stuck at home. As each episode within the “Capture the Flag” arc has found different ways of textually showing how Xavier’s takeover the Creek sets off a real personal crisis for Craig, the arc’s music has also stood out as an important part of Craig of the Creek’s storytelling.
Like the original, the new arrangement of Craig of the Creek’s ending theme from series composer Jeff Rosenstock is much more relaxed and low-key than the high-energy, pop-punk opener. But where the original has a more relaxed and contented vibe to it, the new arrangement’s been decidedly more foreboding and hopeless, something Rosenstock told Gizmodo via email was his goal. After series creator Ben Levin established that each of the “Capture the Flag” episodes would open with a silent title card, Rosenstock set out to match that ominous tone.
“The terror in this arc feels real, so I wanted this arrangement to feel empty because essentially the soul is being sucked out of the creek,” Rosenstock said. “I stripped everything but vocals out at first ‘cause I was picturing an empty creek, and it was a little too weird (and not very good), so I brought back in this one timpani from the original version and added a tense synth playing some minimal dark tones. It was cool to see that it scared some of the internet.”
Though the “Capture The Flag” episodes aren’t the first time Craig of the Creek’s put a special spin on its ending theme, Rosenstock explained how the series sound has grown and evolved organically as more characters like the 10 Speeds — the local kids’ biker ‘gang’ of trick cyclists — and the Tea Timers — the rich kids of the Creek with a passion for fancy afternoon teas — becoming part of the story.
“As the plotlines have grown more intricate as more of these kids interact with each other, I try to take advantage of the freshness that adds to the show and see where mixing these different ingredients up will take me,” Rosenstock described. “I wanna ride those waves, grow alongside the show and keep trying to improve my music so I don’t mess it all up at the end of the process! And I want to do that without losing the vocabulary of ska and punk that has always been at the core since the pilot — even if that hasn’t historically lent itself to cinematic scores — because it adds a fun energy to the heavy moments.”
As much of an exciting experience as scoring “Capture the Flag” was for Rosenstock, he pointed out that it was it was still very much a taxing creative process with the kinds of roadblocks all artists end up facing when they’re trying to bring something to life. Annoying as those hurdles can be, Rosenstock said, finding that perfect sound makes it all worthwhile.
“Of course, this all came with the usual level of frustration, beating myself up for not finding the right notes, arrangements or tempos, not being able to play something good enough, falling down, getting back up again, etc etc,” Rosenstock recalled. “That’s just part of it though. It’s a quest to find the right sounds and it’s super satisfying when it feels like everything melds together.”
Craig of the Creek is now streaming on Stan in Australia.