Inside the ’90s Alt-Rock Sound of Yellowjackets, the Most Thrilling Show on TV Right Now

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Ahead of this weekend’s season finale, we talk to that dog.’s Anna Waronker and Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren about their sinister score and theme song for the Showtime survival drama.

yellowjackets cast young
The younger cast after the plane crash. Photo by Kailey Schwerman/Showtime.

On the instant cult classic Yellowjackets, high school trauma devolves into a surreal horror show. The year is 1996. A plane carrying a girls soccer team crashes into the remote Canadian wilderness, leaving the survivors stranded for 19 months. The psychological warfare of adolescence slowly, painfully gives way to madness and then… cannibalism. As the first season of Yellowjackets reveals what went down in those woods, it flashes to the present-day lives of four team members, now in their early 40s and battling their demons. But much of the show’s aesthetic pulls spiritually from, and nods to, the 1990s: the casting of alternative “it” girls of the era, like Juliette Lewis and Christina Ricci (in a total reinvention), as grown-up survivors Natalie and Misty; the way Hole, PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, and Belly needle-drops just feel right, or how the characters keep their sanity by dancing to a cassette of Montell Jordan’s high-school dance staple “This Is How We Do It.” The opening credits even make VHS static feel edgy again.

That last part may have something to do with the show’s grungy theme song, “No Return,” written and performed by two actual ’90s vets: Anna Waronker of the bubblegum alt-rock group that dog. and Craig Wedren of the glammy post-hardcore band Shudder to Think. Both have worked as film and television composers for years—Waronker on projects like Josie and the Pussycats and Wedren on everything from School of Rock to GLOW—but after meeting through a mutual friend in L.A., the pair teamed up to do the music for Hulu’s Shrill in 2019, followed by the CW drama The Republic of Sarah earlier this year. “Each of our projects is like an album for our special side band,” says Waronker. If Shrill was the duo’s pop album and The Republic of Sarah a Radiohead-style art-drama, then Yellowjackets is their angsty goth record, with a side of the supernatural. “The show goes from drama to weird comedy to pure horror to existential dread—a kaleidoscope of tones and genres,” adds Wedren. Which is to say, it’s never a boring day at work.

Nearly every episode in season one features some kind of shocking revelation, with the upcoming finale promising a major jaw-dropper. Waronker and Wedren crank up the tension with an original score that adds an eerie undercurrent to a wide variety of nightmarish scenes, including one in which a teenager gives birth to a rotisserie chicken. But the ideal showcase of their talents remains “No Return,” one of the show’s few original compositions with vocals. The song—which sounds a little like a haunted, organ-heavy Breeders track—recently made its way to streaming services, with a Yellowjackets soundtrack on the way. “Everybody keeps asking for a full-length version,” says Wedren, “but a theme song is like a hardcore track: you’re fitting a full arc into between 30 and 90 seconds. You gotta get it all in and move on.”

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