Echoes and Reverberations: You Shoot, We Score
Texas music looks great.
It provokes the imagination and illustrates the intangible. For years, we've been providing the necessary flavor to help filmmakers tell their stories.
It's what we do; we're obviously good at this kind of thing.
And it goes both ways: Movie soundtracks are the kind of thing that can break an artist or spark a career.
The late Elliott Smith and his musical contributions to the film Good Will Hunting provide a good case in point. Honestly, had anybody heard of him yet at that point?
The song "Stay" was featured in the film Reality Bites and subsequently introduced the world to Hockaday's Lisa Loeb. Director Ben Stiller's enthusiasm for the song helped spark a bidding war to sign her to a record deal.
We've also provided the odd cameo or stunt band.
When Oliver Stone filmed Born on the Fourth of July here in 1989, he hired two Dallas-based artists to appear onscreen: Edie Brickell covered Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall"; Shallow Reign cranked out a crappy bar-band version of CCR's "Run Through the Jungle".
On the phreak tip, Erykah Badu appeared in Blues Brothers 2000 and The Cider House Rules.
Chick-flickers might remember that a live performance by the Old 97's in a Chicago nightclub was key to the pivotal scene in the Vince Vaughan-Jennifer Anniston snoozer, The Break-Up.
Since the music industry is still desperately scrambling to find new and different ways of generating revenue, I figured this would be a good time to invite a cross-section of our creative peer group to share their experiences in licensing their music to television shows and film projects--especially since, in theaters right now, you can hear area rock outfit Macon Greyson's song "Blacklight" in the Mickey Rourke comeback hit The Wrestler.
So strap in and put on a helmet. This could take a while. Lots of boots and panchos 'round the campfire this time...
Josh Alan Friedman (writer/singer/songwriter): "Since the '70s, movie soundtracks have served primarily as a kickback racket for studios. Songs that have nothing to do with the film are shoehorned in, or given a couple of seconds onscreen. The studios use bands from their subsidiary record labels or publishers, in effect circling the money back to themselves. The large mechanical fee might bypass the band, serving as payback toward their interminable advance. So the system shuts out the vast majority of musicians. Of course, there are exceptions, and that said, soundtrack fees are humongous. Use of a hit song can easily command a hundred-grand license fee. Even in an indie film, a few seconds of your song coming out of, say, a jukebox in a bar onscreen, can mean 500 bucks. Most soundtrack albums sell nothing, but if a film hits big, careers are catapulted, like with Lisa Loeb, Dick Dale or Simon & Garfunkel in 1968."
Bubba Kadane (The New Year): "We have experience with the main two types of music use in film: placement of an existing song and scoring. Licensing a song for TV or film doesn't involve much additional labor if the song doesn't have to be re-mixed. But the payoff can be good and can, for example, offset being over-budget [in] making records. As for scoring, my brother Matt and I were asked to write original instrumental music for a movie called Hell House, a feature-length documentary about an elaborate church-sponsored haunted house. We saw early clips of the film and really wanted to be involved, and in spite of having premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on the morning of September 11, 2001, the film continues to do well."
Carl Finch (Brave Combo): "My first opportunity to contribute music to films was when David Byrne of Talking Heads was here shooting True Stories. I wrote and performed the Muzak throughout the movie, and recorded the marching accordion band. Jeff Barnes, our woodwind player, also contributed music to the film. Brave Combo had two songs on the Fools Rush In soundtrack; recent songs on TV shows like Ugly Betty; and the soundtrack to an Academy Award-winning documentary called The Personals. Recently, we've scored a documentary on the Texas State Fair called A Fair to Remember and a short-lived PBS animated series about the Car Talk guys, Click and Clack. Overall, we've probably contributed at least 100 tracks to movies and television shows; from big hits like Madagascar and Envy, to little movies like Lloyd Bridges' final film, Meeting Daddy."
Amy Talkington (Writer/Director): "The Night of the White Pants is, in part, a love letter to Deep Ellum, where I discovered music (amongst other things) as a teenager. Since the movie is set partly in the music scene of Deep Ellum, it only made sense to use local Dallas bands. Every band in the movie is from Texas and most are from Dallas. Clint Phillips was in a band called The New Style American Boyfriends, and they had a song called 'The Night of the White Pants' which inspired the title of the movie. Obviously, we had to get that song. I also used tracks from old friends like Earl Harvin and Peter Schmidt. I had seen The Riverboat Gamblers and The Golden Falcons playing around Dallas and knew I wanted to use them. We used several Golden Falcons tracks including the final credits song, 'After Party'. My friend Donna Pearce (who lived in Dallas and now does A&R for RCA in NYC) acted as a Texas music consultant and turned me on to Young Heart Attack and Max Cady."
Tim DeLaughter (Tripping Daisy/The Polyphonic Spree): "Tripping Daisy was invited to be part of a soundtrack for the film Basquiat by James and Rose Dowdall (A&R for Island). We were asked to cover the PIL song 'Rise', and we said 'Sure, as long as we could explore it in our own way...' Director Julian Schnabel loved our take on it, and the rest is history. The next film soundtrack for TD was for a film called The Craft in 1996. 'I Got A Girl' was all over the radio at the time. The music supervisor for The Craft was Ralph Sall, whose publishing career was taking off from having the knack of taking baby bands and putting them on soundtracks. (Of course they took off--the bands were all over the radio and the soundtracks were getting lots of third-party marketing.) We covered 'Jump Into the Fire' by Harry Nilsson, which I wasn't too crazy about."
Vaden Todd Lewis (The Toadies): "Both of our soundtrack appearances we arranged through our publishing company. The Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy used the song 'Unattractive'. We had been playing it live and took a few days off during a tour to record with Paul Leary, the guitarist of Butthole Surfers. In addition, Basquiat used 'I'm Not In Love' (the Talking Heads song) which we also recorded with Leary. You can't really hear either song in each movie, but both were on the respective soundtrack albums. Neither hurt us, and a lot of people have mentioned they love those songs. The immediate up-shot was a shit-ton of cash, although it just went into the gigantic hole called 'recoup'."
Toby Pipes (Deep Blue Something): "Trey Parker and Matt Stone from South Park contacted Interscope Records and wanted something that could be used as a 'sports anthem thing' for the end of their film, BASEketball. The song appears at the end of the film when they win the game. So, anyway, we got together in my living room and wrote a song called 'Tonight'. We were getting ready to record anyway at the time, so we just recorded it with everything else and then sent it off. They liked it and put it in the film. It all actually went down pretty easily."
Bruce Corbitt (Rigor Mortis): "In 1987, our A&R rep Rachel Matthews and Tom Whalley (then-VP of Capitol Records) met with filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. Penelope was making a follow-up to her 1981 punk rock documentary, The Decline of The Western Civilization. The sequel was going to focus on the metal years. Rachel thought the soundtrack should be more about what she considered metal to be at the time; which was more thrash and hardcore. Penelope wanted the focal point of the movie to be about the Sunset Strip groups, hair bands like Ratt and W.A.S.P. They disagreed and argued about it for a while; the only consensus coming from the meeting was that Rachel was able to get a couple of newer, more obscure artists on the soundtrack. That's how "Foaming At The Mouth" landed on the soundtrack of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.
James Hall (Pleasure Club): "In late 1999, we were approached by Todd Sullivan, (our A&R person at Geffen Records) to do a cover of The Sonic's 'Psycho' for the film American Psycho. After running through it in the rehearsal space a number of times, we realized that we weren't really bringing anything new to the table. As we were packing up, I remembered that I had long been a fan of the Talking Head's 'Psycho Killer'. A few weeks later, I was demoing and meeting with the label staff in L.A. While sitting at producer Tony Berg's poolside studio, Todd approached me again with any ideas on the soundtrack. I told him I could potentially do 'Psycho Killer, probably from memory alone. He asked me for a quick mock-up of the track. Two hours later, Tony and I had completed the version that appears on soundtrack album."
Jaret Reddick (Bowling For Soup): "With film and TV songs, each situation is different. We get hired a lot to do cover songs and make them sound more modern. My favorite story is about doing the Britney Spears song 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' for the film Freaky Friday. I met with the music supervisor and she said they already had music temped in, a slow and acoustic version by the band Travis. I laughed and said, 'OK, let's do it.' We tuned down to drop D and played it at a really slow tempo, and our version sounded like it worked on rock radio. It was so heavy and dark, which made it even funnier! We still do that song live."
Mike Daane (Ugly Mus-tard): "Back in '96, Ugly Mus-tard had a minor radio single called "High". Our label at the time managed to get it a spot in a movie called Shadow Conspiracy, which starred Charlie Sheen and Linda Hamilton. We went to see it when it came out to listen for the song, but we couldn't hear it. It was either buried in a car chase scene or just cut altogether. We were, however, in the credits, and honestly, that was good enough for us. We still get a check for $2.74 when the movie plays on cable in Hungary."
Tim DeLaughter: "I believe the first one for The Spree was 'Light and Day' for Michel Gondry's film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He also did a video for the song for the DVD. We have let many independent filmmakers use our music for documentaries; one was about autism, another about fair trade. We also had a song in Murderball, about quadriplegics who play wheelchair rugby. And there was a UK documentary film about organic farming that used 'Light And Day'."
Darius Holbert (dariustx/composer): "I just did a session to write a '20s style crooner tune' about smoking weed for the new Bobcat Goldthwait film, featuring vocals by the guy who does Spongebob. Just saw the picture at Sundance; it's called World's Greatest Dad, stars Robin Williams, and it's totally kickass. The best part about the session is that I had a
'Lame-Off' with Bobcat. (Me: "I musical directed Kevin Federline on The Tonight Show". Him: "OK, I was in Police Academy 4") PBS' RoadTrip Nation just picked up a tune from my solo project, dariustx. I've also scored a number of international features and countless shorts. Had a couple of films at Sundance and SXSW this year. One of the shorts, Treevenge, has won a couple of awards already. I've been really fortunate doing this stuff, now that I think about it..."
God knows our musicians also have a twisted history on the Idiot Box. Ashlee Simpson's short career came to a screeching halt on live television. Lisa Loeb and Vanilla Ice each had their own reality shows for a few minutes, and Flickerstick beat each other up on some painful VH1 battle of the bands thing. Kelly Clarkson killed on American Idol. Drowning Pool's "Bodies" was a regular staple on pro wrestling pay-for-view broadcasts.
Going way back, '80s haircuts 4 Reasons Unknown won a record deal with CBS by setting up a phone bank at the Fast and Cool Club, and rigging a call-in contest on MTV. But it wasn't all weird.
How many fly-over motherfuckers discovered The Toadies, Rev. Horton Heat, Pantera or MC 900 FT Jesus while doing bong hits with Beavis and Butthead? Meanwhile, Norah Jones, Erykah Badu, Old 97's, Rhett Miller, Ben Kweller, LeAnn Rimes, and Fair to Midland have all played Austin City Limits and/or the late night talk show circuit. The Buck Pets, Course of Empire and Hagfish received periodic airplay on MTV's 120 Minutes. Oak Cliff native Edie Brickell met husband Paul Simon after a New Bohemians appearance on Saturday Night Live. But that's not all...
Kenny Withrow (New Bohemians): "Believe in or not, we were on The Arsenio Hall Show. What was strange was, they always put some kind of makeup on you for TV, but they didn't stop at my face--they were putting this heavy brown stuff all over my neck and my arms. Then they were wanting to put it all over my hands... and I'm supposed to play guitar? I asked 'Isn't this a little extreme? It's gonna get all over my guitar...' I asked 'Why on the arms and hands?' The answer was kinda strange. They said it was in case Arsenio wanted to shake my hand; he did not want there to a big contrast in skin color. I thought they were joking. But no, for real, they darkened my skin up for the show."
Unfortunately, some of our people had to act on occasion, too...
Mark Ridlen (Lithium X-Mas): "In 1978, a high school garage band I was fronting heard that an agency was repping local talent for Cotton Candy, a TV pilot to be shot in Dallas. The director was Ron Howard in his solo directorial debut. They were searching for a group of guys to portray Rapid Fire, a flashy but talentless garage band. We aced the audition, and then filmed for three weeks in Mesquite and Lake Highlands. The script called for us to strut around looking cool with our peers, and then antagonize the crowds with our signature song, a lame rendition of 'I Shot The Sheriff'. The band leader was played by a character actor named Mark Wheeler. We were treated well while shooting with the Happy Days production crew. The NBC pilot received decent ratings but additional episodes were never made. A year later, I was shocked to see a paperback novel of the movie complete with cast photos of us frozen in the pose of our 15 seconds of prime time."
Tim DeLaughter: "The writer of NBC's Scrubs was a huge fan of the band, and he had written an episode about the band having a sick choir member. He wanted us to be in it and perform 'Light and Day'. We agreed to, of course. He asked if we had any actors in the band that could play the sick member. One of the girls in the choir (Jessica Jordan's husband Josh) had worked with us on tour, is an actor and needed a break, so we said he was in the band and they used him for the scene. The other TV show was Las Vegas with James Caan. Same type of deal--the writer was a fan. He had written a scene for the band and asked if we wanted to do it. The song was 'Hold Me Now' from our second release Together We're Heavy. I had an acting scene with Molly Sims; that was kind of a nerve-racking experience."
Mike Rudnicki (Baboon): "In 1996, a friend who worked on Walker, Texas Ranger called us and said that the script for an upcoming episode called for a 'long-haired, bare-chested, hard-driving band from the Guns 'n' Roses school'. We met with the director, who thought we looked too straight, and the writer, who thought that our music would work well. The director later acquiesced and we appeared in an episode titled 'Hall of Fame', in which a killer poses as our photographer and lures one of our unsuspecting fans to his studio on the promise of featuring her in one of our videos. We were paid as actors for the day's work, and they ended up using three of our songs: 'Thumbhead,' 'Master Salvatoris,' and 'Why'd You Say Die?' The publishing royalties came in very handy the following couple of years."
Bubba Kadane: "I think that the use of the one song ('The End's Not Near') in The O.C. raised the profile for The New Year some, but not a lot. The song they used is the most downloaded song of ours, and after Band of Horses covered it for another episode of the show, it became even more known as a song. But the band's profile did not increase too noticeably. We haven't experienced increased numbers of screaming teenage girls at our shows or anything."
Darius Holbert: "I grew up in Dallas, went to Arts Magnet, graduated from UNT with a degree in philosophy, history, and music composition; and since not even the Coast Guard has a use for that diploma, I moved out to L.A. and pretty much immediately started getting good work as a composer and producer. It's all I've had to do since I got here 10 years ago, so I'm one of the lucky ones. I've had my stuff in Lost and Grey's Anatomy, have a tune in the new Farrelly Brothers movie, a couple of cuts in a film called Deep In the Valley, and also did a remix of 'You Really Got Me' for Desperate Housewives for Hollywood Records."
As the music supervisor for NBC's Friday Night Lights, former KERA DJ Liza Richardson has utilized by music from many Texas artists. She's got good taste, too: Townes Van Zandt, Rev. Horton Heat, Spoon, James McMurtry, ZZ Top, David Garza and even Scratch Acid have all been heard at various times on the program.
"The show is set in Texas, " Richardson said earlier this week. "It's a perfect fit for recording artists from the region."
Richardson is also a big fan of Denton's Brave Combo, who were actually written into a episode of The Simpsons.
Carl Finch: "Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons) has been a Brave Combo fan and supporter for 25 years. He had us play at the The Simpsons' 200th episode party, as well as some other West Coast events, including his best friend's wedding. A few years ago, he told me that he wanted to work us into a show and would let me know. Months later, he did just that. The episode was called 'Co-Dependents Day'."
Jarret Reddick: "Our latest TV song is one we did for Disney. We got a call that one of the original guys from Family Guy had a new cartoon coming out. It was called Phineas and Ferb. They already had a theme song, but they wanted Bowling For Soup to take a 30-second song and make it into a three-minute radio hit. I had to go to the Disney corporate headquarters and take these meetings; I was so out of my element at the time. But we got the gig and it is the No. 1 cartoon in the world now. Not too shabby!"
Tim DeLaughter: "We recently did two songs for a film called Keeping up with the Steins. Mike Mills (the Director of Thumbsucker) approached me about scoring it. He came to a New Year's Eve show we did in LA. and said he was moved in a way that he wanted people to be when they left his film. He told me about how Elliot Smith was working on covers for the film, and that he had only done two before he died. I had never scored a film before, so he sent me a scene and I did what I thought was appropriate. He loved it, and I did the entire film. Since then, I've also done an indie film called Visioneers, and had a song called 'Tiny Boxes' in the show Weeds. I also did the theme song for Showtime's United States of Tara, which was created by Steven Spielberg and written by Diablo Cody, who won the screenwriting Oscar for Juno. I'm up for being the composer for the second season."
Amy Talkington: "The approach to the music for Night of the White Pants also made sense for the budget. We had no money and so we needed to find music that we could get for a good price. I definitely plan to use some of this music in future movies. I'd love to be able to give some of these bands more money than we were able to with White Pants. Everyone who sees the film comments on how much they love the music. I was pretty upset that the producer did not work out a soundtrack deal, so I got the DVD company to create an extra feature so that people can identify what song is by what band in the movie. The music always has to serve the movie, so it'll always come down to the project at hand. I'm currently trying to set up my next feature, Deeply Shallow and Really Fake, which is also set in Dallas. When we get that going, I'll be back!"
I've saved my own personal experience for last. As usual, there was marijuana involved. In 1987, Decadent Dub Team placed the song "Six Gun" on the soundtrack to the Dennis Hopper-directed film Colors. Jet-lagged and delirious in Los Angeles one night, I bummed a joint from a lawyer representing another act who was already on the album. Some random pot conversation led to me slipping him our new demo tape. He dug it, and a week later we were somehow on board.
Kim Buie (our A&R person at Island Records) sealed the deal, and was also trying to sign teenage gangsta rap NWA at the same time. As a gesture of good faith to them, she offered a 19-year-old Dr. Dre 500 bucks to remix our song for the film. It was his first ever remix-for-hire. And even though the record was plastered with New York artists who had nothing to do with the West Coast subject matter of the film, the soundtrack album still sold almost a million copies. Every time I see that plastic Gold Record hanging on the wall, I think about how badly I really needed a joint that night in LA.
As far as that royalty check from BMI for one cent? I figure maybe one day I'll get a buck for it on eBay. And, if you've made it this far in reading this, well, that's what it feels like to sit on a movie set all day and wait for your close-up...
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