Zoë Kravitz & Nick Hornby on the Music That Inspired 'High Fidelity' Hulu Series

Phillip Caruso/Hulu
Zoë Kravitz on High Fidelity. 

Devotees of High Fidelity might find the notion of a TV series based on this vaunted source material worthy of a top five 'bad ideas' playlist.

Turns out Zoë Kravitz -- star and an executive producer of the Hulu project that drops Friday (Feb. 14) -- initially was one of them. That compass, along with the blessing of author Nick Hornby, music guidance from Questlove and a storyline that's both deferential and modern, has made all the difference for this deeply gratifying cover song.

"When there's something so beloved that's been handled so beautifully already, it can be nerve-racking when you hear people are going to recreate it," Kravitz tells Billboard. "So being a huge fan, one of those people who would say 'uh oh,' was actually a helpful thing for the process of creating this show. If something felt off, that would help guide me. I've always loved Nick Hornby, and the way he writes characters and the way he thinks. It's funny and heartbreaking all at the same time."

In an effort to draw in Hornby, who was not involved in ABC's short-lived reboot of his About a Boy, Kravitz sent the London-based author a playlist. On it were tracks by the likes of Alice Coltrane, the Clash, Darondo, Betty Davis, Donny Hathaway, Mazzy Star, William Onyeabor, Shuggie Otis and Tierra Whack. It worked.

"Through her playlist I could tell this was pretty precise, and there was a depth of music I hadn't really expected from her and what was to be in the show," Hornby, who signed on as an executive producer, tells Billboard. "And when we talked it through, I thought this could be really good. She wanted it to be more like the book and the movie than the original iteration they had. I gave notes and observations, and we sent each other a lot of playlists."

Hornby's first dispatch back included tunes by Songhoy Blues, Car Seat Headrest and Sheer Mag, among others. In a joyful liner note, he and Kravitz continue to share playlists across the pond and riff about music obsessions over the occasional lunch.

Hornby is undaunted by characterizations that his novel, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, is untouchable -- citing the 2000 feature film, directed by Stephen Frears and featuring Kravitz's mother Lisa Bonet, as exhibit A. "They said that about the movie. They were mad about the movie being moved to Chicago, and then they forgot about that. And now we're in Brooklyn."

Aside from another location change, the biggest departure is that the cool, commitment-fearing, past-obsessing, self-involved but lovable central character Rob is now a woman. Much like the original, she's pining over a particularly gutting recent breakup and embarks on a journey of self-discovery with input from pals Simon and Cherise, played to perfection by David H. Holmes and Da'Vine Joy Randolph.

Rob is unquestionably the character of Kravitz's career thus far, and the one with whom she most profoundly connects. "Yeah, I think she is very close to me," Kravitz says. "A lot of my friends who've seen the show say it's the first time they've actually seen me in a character. I'd like to think that Rob, in terms of where she is emotionally, is maybe me five years ago. Not that I don't get lost and confused sometimes or that I won't be lost and confused again in a new and different way."

Hornby's a big fan of the gender swap, and the show's modern aesthetic. "I love it. The characters and the situation now allow you to talk about Spotify and Shazam. And all these things that weren't around when I wrote the book can just be absorbed right in there; I think that's fantastic," he says.

High Fidelity the book slid into the popular culture not long before the mass digital distribution of music -- a reality the show embraces less with nostalgia and more with straight-ahead acknowledgment. When desperately seeking the whereabouts of one former lover for example, Rob turns to (where else?) Instagram.

It's an era Hornby embraces as well. "To now have the access to listen to every piece of music ever made on something you carry around in your pocket… it's the dream, isn't it?" Hornby says. "The opportunity to read about something and listen to it straight away, whether it was made in 1933 or just came out last week. So much of your consumption used to be bound by what you could afford to listen to and how much you were willing to commit to something before you'd spend the money on it."

Hornby says he's "usually on a jag" that sends him down various musical wormholes. "I have been trying to teach myself about jazz for about the last three to four years but at the moment it's big band, mostly Duke Ellington. And I'm loving that ride, to be able to go down all these little channels."

Working with Questlove, who provided musical expertise alongside the Aperture Music team of Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe and Alison Rosenfeld, enabled the show to go down an array of musical channels that both surprise and satisfy.

"Of course we wanted his general input, and because he's such a vinyl head we would just ask him questions all the time. He's the OG," Kravitz says of the Roots' drummer. "For one episode we needed to figure out what would be a really coveted record that was hard to get, expensive, and why it was special -- and he just had it, the perfect record."

One artist you won't find on the High Fidelity soundtrack is Kravitz's father. "I thought would be distracting," she says. Fair point, but that doesn't mean Lenny Kravitz's influence didn't seep in.

"He's seen a few episodes he was really stoked about the music we have in the show," Kravitz says, citing in particular the Paul McCartney & Wings song "Arrow Through Me." "He introduced me to that song. It was Christmas break and we were all together and he started playing that song on repeat and we were so into it. When he saw the show and heard that song in there he was like, 'It's so great you got it into the show!'"

Growing up, Kravitz says she and her father engaged in constant dialog about music, not entirely unlike the riffing on repeat at Rob's indie shop Championship Records.

"We didn't really get as heated as some of the conversations you see with Cherise and Simon, but there's always a lot of passion there," Kravitz says. "We tend to be on the same page. Usually it's him schooling me, telling me about things I didn't know about performers. 'Oh, the trumpet player on this song is this guy, he also played on the Bowie record.' He knows all the specific shit I would never have known, so he gave me such great insight into that world."

Although music is the connective tissue of the Hulu series, Kravitz is quick to note it's not the end game. "The show is about being a human. It's about love and relationships and heartbreak and self-discovery and self-sabotage. That was the most important thing -- the show has to have heart and it has to be human. That's all I cared about at the end of the day."

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