“If you’re out on the road, feeling lonely and soo cooold.”
You know the line, you know the song, you know the show. The cultural appreciation and obsession with Gilmore Girls has been well-documented many times over by people far smarter than me (hello New York Times!) so I’ll keep this brief. A mere 10,000 words. Nothing crazy.
You probably know the story. It was the year 2000, a little show about a young single mother and her daughter premiered on the WB with little fanfare or critical acclaim. It ran for seven seasons staying mostly that way. It was later, after years of syndication and Netflix picking up the show that new generations discovered the gem that is Gilmore Girls and a worldwide obsession broke.
You also most likely know the creators, Amy and Dan Sherman-Palladino. Taking on the monstrous duty of producing, directing, and music supervising, the husband and wife duo embedded themselves entirely into the show. The witty dialogue, quirky characters, and niche music choices primarily came from them and have stayed prevalent in their shows since then such as Bunheads and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
So, let’s talk about something you probably don’t know. The perspectives of the musicians involved in the show. Unlike The OC’s Bait Shop, band appearances on Gilmore Girls were subtle, without any signage or “Are you going to the [insert band name] concert tonight?” (minus the Bangles and, slightly, PJ Harvey, although she never actually appeared on the show) plotlines.
Grant-Lee Phillips strolled through the streets as the Town Troubadour without ever making a big splash and Sonic Youth’s appearance was less than 30 seconds of the Gordon-Moore family jumping on a grassy lawn. It was a wink-if-you-get-it tactic that helped viewers feel similarly seen when they recognized the Shins playing a stage at Rory’s spring break or Yo La Tengo wistfully strumming on a Stars Hollow street corner.
James Mercer: I think that the Palladinos are just kind of rock fans. You can kind of tell that from Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. You know, they're just into music. And, I guess at that time, there was kind of this whole sort of energy surrounding indie rock. And also, the characters that they were writing for were young college kids, so you had to get the sort of college CMJ bands in there.
Thurston Moore: We would watch Gilmore Girls, we were fans of it and we came into contact with Amy Palladino and her partner, Dan, in L.A. and some mutual friends of ours put us together. And, we were asked if we wanted to visit the set of Gilmore Girls. And, of course, we were [interested] and a lot of it was in the context of Coco, who was a teenager, pre-teen at that time. That show meant a lot to her, especially the young people in the show that she saw. The daughter, Rory, was really kind of an interesting, intelligent, intellectual person for a young woman to have on-screen. So, I appreciated that for my daughter at the time to sort of have that kind of character who was sensitive and imperfect and just intellectually engaged with the world through the prism of her own community. I just thought that kind of context was really well written in that respect. It had a very serious yet playful feminist-consciousness written into the scripts. I was very enamored by the writing.
Grant-Lee Phillips: They reached out to me, you know? One of those kinds of things that just doesn't happen every day. It only happened to me once. And, yeah, it was pretty incredible. They were fans of Grant Lee Buffalo; they were following me. I was just kind of getting to set out on my own at the time when I go back home--to see if (I'd be interested in them) and I had no idea that it would snowball like that
Sam Phillips: I had been on the road for about a decade, 10 years straight, and really hadn't watched much television, to tell you the truth. And, Amy and Dan came to one of my shows in Los Angeles during that time. And I think that Amy had initially really wanted Carol King to do all the music and Carol didn't want to do the score. She just said, "I'll do the theme song but I don't want to do the score." So Amy said, "Okay." And then, I happened to be out to dinner with my then-husband, T-Bone Burnett. Amy and Dan were at the same restaurant, and I think that maybe just made her think, “What about Sam?”
James McNew: They approached us to use the song in the pilot. For reasons I do not remember, we declined. But the Kit Pongetti version closed the episode and it was beautiful. I think I started watching in the middle of the first season.
Thurston Moore: So, we had heard that Amy Palladino and Dan were Sonic Youth fans, and we connected that way. And I remember going to the set and seeing a taping and then writing to Coco, who was back in western Massachusetts where we lived, that we had done this. And she was just amazed. We went out to dinner with Amy and Dan and sort of palled around with them a little bit, they're cool people.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Oh, goodness. You would have to ask them, I suppose. “What other choice did they have?” would be my answer. [laughs] But no, I think they had come to a show. In fact, my recollection is, they caught a show – Robyn Hitchcock and I had done a tour together around that particular time, and we had done this loopy show at the Troubadour. And it's one of those great nights where everything just goes off the rails from, you know. And so, it was quite the improvisational, comedic night. And, I think, maybe that kind of opened up their eyes to the potential that I might be game for diving into the pit of hell – you know, taking a leap. And I certainly was – and it was fun.
Sam Phillips: Amy putting together that show, was really interesting. She wanted a lot of women. There were women who were producers, and then having a woman do the score, it still isn't that typical in Hollywood you know, in the television world. It's getting more and more typical, which is great, but at that time – and I hadn't been watching television, let alone, thought about doing the score. So, I went to meet her and she was just the greatest character. She called me up and said, "Would you do this?" And we met and I just loved her, I thought she was great.
Thurston Moore: You know, Amy Palladino had created another show after that called Bunheads. Her character's name was Coco. It was a nod. It was a really sweet nod to Coco.
James Mercer: I did speak to [Amy] on set and stuff, and she was really warm and seemed like a really nice, sweet person. And they're in the middle of all this hubbub and running it all. Pretty impressive.
Thurston Moore: Yeah, that was sweet. But that show didn't really last so long. But, I got to say, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel...So good! I mean, my God, it's one of the best things, some of the best writing I've seen on television in ages. It's fantastic. Beautiful show. And so, I'm just so looking forward to the next installment, and I just hope there is one... And I haven't had any communication with them at all since around that time. I remember running into Dan in the parking somewhere in Los Angeles; of all the parking lots in Los Angeles! [laughs] And he's such as a great down-to-earth, funny guy.
Sam Phillips: I think some of the times when I laughed the hardest was when we were working – spotting music in the early days of the show, the first few seasons – because she actually would come to the spotting sessions and we'd laugh a lot and then, take way too long.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I mean, they all obviously – Amy Sherman-Palladino, Daniel Palladino – they really care about the music. So, they have strong opinions about it but we quite often were just in this sort of mind-lock where we would hit upon similar things. I mean, case in point: we did a reunion show for Gilmore Girls a couple of years ago and they said, "Here's the idea. We're going to do four episodes; each one is a particular season. You're in the winter season. So, let's talk about music." And I go, "You know what? I've got this song, 'Winterglow,' that I wrote." And, it was just the perfect fit. How does that kind of thing happen? And, sometimes they would say, "We want you to cover 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.' And, I would have to learn that Wham! Song.
Sam Phillips: That was completely Dan and Amy's thing. They love music, like I said, and really wanted to incorporate that in the show. And, that's shown up in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. That score, those are their choices. And, I think they've done just a fantastic job on that; walking that line of picking songs from the 50s, maybe Broadway, that people know, but also some really interesting, odd choices that people don't know, and exposing like a whole generation to this other music in the 20th century that a lot of people haven't heard.
Thurston Moore: They kind of relocated to New York City for a while and I tried to sort of help them out a little bit, but they were just not having it. I think after a while they were happy to go back to Los Angeles. I think New York was just too much; it was just too much chaos in a way that just kind of frazzled them. The only message I got from Amy and Dan at that time was, "Why are New Yorkers so obsessed with cupcakes?" I thought that was a great perception. Of all the things to see in the Big Apple, it's like people queuing up outside of the fucking cupcake place every morning.
James McNew: The show’s producers, particularly Helen Pai, really love music and know a whole lot about it, and do excellent work.
Sam Phillips: There are a lot of great jokes around music, as well. They really cared about that. So, I just was delighted at their choices.
Amy, what I loved about her watching her through all these – I guess, wow, 20 years now – I think that she and Dan were fearless, and they were just gonna direct. They were going to, you know, write a joke-song or they were going to be there, in terms of the score and the music supervision. They were going to supervise all of it, and I think they weren't afraid to make mistakes. And, most of all, I think they were coming from a place of just making sure that that vision that they had, or that Amy's vision, was realized. And, I really admire them for that, because you get afraid.
You're afraid you're gonna get canceled. You're getting pressure from the studio. They've given you notes. Amy was always really kind to me. I never got any notes from anyone but her, and I appreciated that. I think that's again – she was sticking to her guns, she was going to have what she wanted. And I'm so thankful that I didn't get caught in between that, you know, with what the studio wants, as opposed to what the artist wants.
Thurston Moore: They invited us to be on their final episode. And so we took Coco out of school – she was in high school – and flew her to L.A. to do this. And Coco had to, by law, have a tutor on the set. But when she was on the set and seeing all the iconography that she had seen on TV, like the mailbox in the town square, she was just in seventh heaven. It's funny, at the same time, she was also very much into this show called Freaks and Geeks that was happening. And so Coco was coming of age at that time where she was also very much relating to the young woman in Freaks and Geeks who always wore an army jacket on the show. So Coco actually got a green army jacket because she was relating to that character, to the extent where she was wearing this army jacket. So when we were performing on Gilmore Girls, she wore that jacket. So Coco was kind of referencing Freaks and Geeks in the context of Gilmore Girls.
James Mercer: It's so weird. So, our thing was we went up there and we recorded the song. We actually did a live version of the song, which was way too fast as I recall. And so we had that in the can. Then we had to go up there a couple of hours later and just basically pretend to do the song. So, it was like Top of the Pops, but to a song you just recorded like a half-hour ago. And while they're doing this, you're pretending to play the song, and you can barely hear it in your ear. Oh, I think they had it ambient in the room, so you could just barely hear it. But, what you could hear more prevalent was the sound of people's footsteps as they pretended to dance. [laughs] You know, it's just weird, really awkward. It really reveals how many awkward moments are required of an actor.
James McNew: It was a fun day. Walking around on the set of Stars Hollow was deeply surreal. Reality took a savage beating that day. I got up the nerve to introduce myself to Ron Mael of Sparks and we talked about sneakers for a few minutes. Time stood still.
Thurston Moore: You know, we did “What a Waste,” I don't know why we chose that song, if it was contemporary to our new record at the time. Maybe Amy had asked for that song to be played. That I don't remember, but I do remember meeting Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks for the first time; that to me was completely thrilling because since I was in my teens, Sparks was big news for me. The records they did in the 70s, like Kimono My House and Propaganda, huge records for me.
And so, to have to meet the two brothers – and they were just the sweethearts – they're really nice, and we kind of connected to the point where all these years later, I'm living in London and they were playing here. It was just the two of them at a small little chapel, a Unitarian chapel. They found out that I was on the list to come and they wrote to me and said, "Will you play 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us'?" And I went with my guitar that afternoon, and Ron and Russell showed me the rudiments of that song. I played it on my alternatively tuned electric guitar, and went out and played that song. Talk about a highlight of being a musician and, certainly, that was great. So when we were on that show, it was heartbreaking knowing that it was like the final show.
Sam Phillips: Well, it was so much fun for a lot of different reasons. And, one being, was that it was the last episode that Amy directed before she left the show. And we kind of tried to dog-paddle our way through half the season. But, it was quite a night. Sonic Youth was on and the group, Sparks. There were a lot of great guests, that was really fun
Grant-Lee Phillips: There was a particular episode where word got out that Stars Hollow was the place to be discovered if you were a troubadour. And so, they did this episode where there were just hoards of troubadours showing up on the doorstep. And, among them, Sparks, Sonic Youth. All of them coming to have their moment. That was quite surreal.
Sam Phillips: Somebody asked me once, out of all the places you've played, what was your favorite? And I have to say Stars Hollow. It was amazing and we really did...I recorded the playback outside on the lot a few hours before the filming. But, it was really amazing to be on that street corner and see Lorelai have those words with Luke and then come out onto the street. And I started singing. It was pretty amazing. It was a really interesting thing to be involved in.
James Mercer: Yeah. It was cool, though. It was a fun experience, you know, just hanging out on one of those proper Hollywood studio lots and just seeing all the crazy action going on. We were just new to all that. I remember afterward we went to a bar. So, I assume Alexis was old enough to go to a bar because she came out, we all hung out for a while. It was kind of cool.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I think it's kind of reflective of some of those actors themselves, Alexis Bledel, for instance. They would arrive at 5:00 in the morning and they would be given this thick script that comes through the mailbox in the late hours, and they would somehow master it. I don't know how they did it. So, they had to have that ability, and then in-between the shots, Alexis would be reading Tolstoy; just some casual, casual reading. Who is this kid?
James McNew: I’m very happy to have met Keiko Agena and Dave “Gruber” Allen. Who knows when I ever would’ve gotten that chance?
Grant-Lee Phillips: I think Keiko's actually a musician, yeah. I don't know that I got to be on set for some of those scenes; they always took place like in their practice room or something like that. But we would cross paths. So, kind of, as I was clocking in, Keiko and Sebastian Bach, they would just be leaving because they'd done their scene. Yeah, and Todd was on the show, he's a musician. Quite a few them, really.
Sam Phillips: I guess I shouldn't mention the margarita bar that happened after we left late that night. Secret margarita bar, because I don't think there was supposed to be a bar.
James Mercer: It was a popular show. It was considered hip, you know, which was nice.
Thurston Moore: In some ways, the only thing a lot of people know about Sonic Youth is that we were on The Simpsons. We never really had an agenda towards some high profile kind of existence in the music culture. We just kind of wanted to be a band that had the privilege and the graciousness of being able to sort of work. And we did. So we attained that pretty early on. And as it got more expanded upon in the 90s and our profile was higher, that was great. We were actually being catered to with a crew of people. That lasted for a while. But that was never really the agenda; the agenda was just basically to be able to not work day jobs while we had our vocation. And that was fine, you know, to pay the rent and pay the mortgage and then be able to afford having children; to start being able to afford these responsibilities. And that was cool.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Well, this is the time where a lot of networks were just sort of blooming. The WB, which became W network, all of this was rather new as far as I was concerned. And, it was as though there was a different world, (you know, the folks) that have followed independent music and followed bands like ours, and then a younger audience that was watching this television program. And, at some point, they kind of converged.
James Mercer: It does seem to me that just...that buzz, that was happening in the early 2000s where you'd have friends in another band and they'd get a gig on a show and it would be really exciting. Everybody would be talking about it. That stuff doesn't seem to be happening as much so, I don't know. As far as the music that I listen to, it seems like there's less of an influence from television and other media.
I remember my buddy, Richard Swift, had a really great placement in a show; Michael Kiwanuka had that bit. It's kind of the title track for... is it Pretty Little Lies or something like that? With Nicole Kidman in it? Yeah, that's really cool. I mean, when you see something that you are interested in watching and there's your friends doing something that's a part of it, I don't know, it's really strange... you definitely hear the song in a new light, and it's just really exciting. There's a buzz to it when you feel like the wider world is hip to something that you've been into for a while.
James McNew: I don’t know? I’m sure lots of people heard us (whether they realized it or not) who wouldn’t have otherwise.
Thurston Moore: Being on these TV shows, I don't think we ever really saw it as like we were going to have any sort of ulterior career. I always think we were kind of like square pegs in round holes when we were plugged into these shows because the creators of the shows – the people who sort of had the creative impulse – were obviously interested in more kind of avant-garde tendencies in their own art. And so to bring us in as this ...we were an avant-garde rock band; for better or worse, we were an experimental rock and roll band. And that wasn't something you necessarily would see on any television program, especially one that was a narrative television program.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Oh, goodness. I think it is important in that it very likely introduced an audience to music that they would not have been exposed to. I think it's kind of like if you – I'm the oldest of my brother and I – but if you had an older brother or roommate with a big milk carton full of LPs, and they could turn you on to all these weird bands; The Shacks, Sparks, and Sonic Youth and all of the stuff that a typical 14-year-old in the early 2000s might not be introduced to. I think it's kind of a wonderful thing and kind of a bit subversive in a way, considering that the network was a very kind of wholesome, family-oriented kind of network. Not that we're talking about anything that's really all that subversive, musically, but there were some very independently minded artists that were featured among that whole musical tapestry you're speaking of.
Jason Lytle: I definitely didn't watch any of the shows where they referenced Grandaddy. But I would always hear something where somebody would post something. But that usually comes down to like there's like a music supervisor and they get it in there and like the poor girls – actresses – they didn't know who Grandaddy was and they're like, "Oh my god, what are you listening to?" "Oh, it's the new Granddaddy." "Oh my gosh, this is so cool!" [laughs]
Thurston Moore: You would see us on, maybe, David Letterman or something. And even then, it was just like we were kind of a weirdo band to be on David Letterman. So to be on something like Gilmore Girls, which was a very sort of Middle American dynamic going on... and the show was radical in its own respect, but it wasn't so far out that it couldn't coexist with sort of like just contemporary values of Middle America. It was sort of pushing the buttons and pushing the limits a bit, but not so much where it was creating too much damage. You know, it wasn't like the Smothers Brothers or something, when you think about kind of crossing a line where you're sort of offending potential viewership.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I have found that I gained a lot of new fans through Gilmore Girls, and it was like the parents – the mother might have been a fan of, Grant Lee Buffalo's. But the daughter may have discovered it through the show, you know. So, they could kind of meet in the middle and go, "What!" And then, they could come to the show and have that shared experience. A multigenerational kind of phenomenon.
Sam Phillips: Whole new generations!
Grant-Lee Phillips: And, Gilmore Girls, because it went into syndication, it's finding a new audience all the time. I mean, once it arrived, it kind of never went away. I think in some ways it seems to have picked up even more steam over the last few years.
Sam Phillips: It was beautiful to see a couple of the songs, like “Reflecting Light,” I've gotten a lot of notes, people telling me that they got married to the song; they came down the aisle to the song; it was the first dance at their reception. That's really amazing because it was not written as a song that was really romantic or had anything to do with weddings.
James Mercer: You know, at that time, I was like thirty-one years old, or so. And so, I wasn't really hanging out with young people who would be watching the show, like fans of the show. But, like I said, my nieces noticed and thought I was super-cool from then on. I think it validated Uncle James in their eyes. Vouched for.
Sam Phillips: It's interesting because I am really close to my daughter and it's funny, she didn't really want to know anything about what I was doing, or even music, until she got into her teens. and really until she was in her early 20s. I remember, she was sick one weekend and she binge-watched the whole series; she had never...she kind of heard it in the background, but she'd never seen it, and she fell in love with it. So, it's interesting that it's been something that has lasted that long and related to people because I think they're great writers. I think Amy and Dan are... They do what they do really beautifully. And there just isn't that much, they call it, dramedy anymore. And, especially, not exactly what they do.
James Mercer: The only licensing we had done by that time was probably a skate-video called Sight Unseen. "Caring Is Creepy" was in that. So, yeah, that was early on. That was very early on. It was right around that time we were on tour and I was in the van driving down the highway, and I got a call that Zach Braff was doing a new movie and they hadn't cast for it, all that stuff. Yeah, that was right around that time where we learned about Garden State.
Thurston Moore: Licensing revenue is really desirable for bands and musicians because it became like the one way where you can actually sort of get a healthy paycheck if a film production licenses your music. And so, again, it's a completely competitive world.
Sam Phillips: You know, it's interesting. We've gone through a lot of different incarnations of that kind of thing. There were people that made a lot of money by telling musicians and artists, "Hey, I'm going to put your song in a TV show and you're gonna get exposure, but I'm not going to pay you anything." So, that probably wasn't good because that set a precedent for things that weren't that good, and it really ended up not being a whole lot of exposure because there were so many shows and so many people. But then, I think it's come around to a different time.
James Mercer: I mean, that was a great time for licensing cool bands. I had a lot of friends who were...like, Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse were on The OC. And, it was a big deal to us because it was like mainstream big primetime shows were giving a shit, you know?
Jason Lytle: Well that was that era though too. That was like that little window of time where it was kind of the only way for musicians or bands to make any money, it was just to get like, you know...I mean, it's funny, there's a lot of people who were really resistant to that. And it was like that whole, like, "sellout thing." I was like, "Nah, I'm sorry dude. These are like new rules." Like the only way to actually make money anymore is to, like, get placement.
James Mercer: Right, because that was a big narrative back then. I think other bands had done stuff like that, like being on a hip show. So, I don't know, it felt like it was appropriate. It was the new thing, that you could kinda branch out into that sort of thing and not be called out as some sort of sell-out. I mean, there wasn't the punk ethos that had really existed really heavily back then; maybe right around when Nirvana came out, you know, it became really hardcore. Everybody had a real opinion about everything like that.
Thurston Moore: I remember when I first started, like when Sonic Youth would put a new record out in the 90s and you would sit down in a room full of music supervisors in Los Angeles and you'd play your record from beginning to end, and they'd all sit there and listen to it. That was a thing where the record company and your management would set this listening up at a studio, and they would invite music supervisors and they would cater to them. There would be food and drinks and good company. And everybody would sit down and they would spend an hour of their lunchtime listening to the new side by whoever, in this case Sonic Youth, and go like, "OK, cool. Thank you, everybody." It was basically you just putting it in their ear. And as they'd leave, they'd get the CD and they would go and they would put it on top of a stack of 400 CDs on their desk.
Sam Phillips: It was really interesting because the record business at that time – the label that I was signed to New York – when I told them I was going to do this, they were not really happy about it. They didn't say I couldn't do it, but they were just kind of like, "Well, those people that listen to or that watch that show, they're not gonna buy records. And they're not going to buy your records." So, it was really interesting. And, I was making darker, weirder music at that time. So, maybe that was sort of true, but I thought it was...looking back on it now, I think it was short-sighted and it was odd that they felt that way.
James Mercer: It's funny. Like, the super-slacker sort of aesthetic had lightened up and you were allowed to kind of experiment with, "Hey, maybe we'll wear uniforms onstage". You know, that wasn't considered corny. But, in the 90s, you were supposed to really just not give a shit at all. And, that was the pretense, you know, instead of the pretense of, like, wearing something nice or combing your hair a certain way.
Jason Lytle: I did some weird [placements]. I did like a Macy's commercial, like Macy's Mother's Day. And I did like a Honda Civic Hybrid [commercial]. I did a Coca-Cola commercial which is weird. I mean, but the thing is, all that stuff is gone. Like there are not those opportunities. I'm glad I kind of scooped them up because they got me through those lean years.
James Mercer: You know, it probably felt like, “Oh, people will be exposed to us and maybe that means bigger shows or more record sales or something.” Yeah, that probably was somewhere in the back of my mind. It does seem like you're somehow reaching out to a wider public through the crazy tentacles of TV and stuff.
James McNew: I think it is inescapably pervasive. You can run but you can’t hide.
James Mercer: I don't really understand the sort of... I guess there's some sort of ethical stance that certain young people take that, there's some sort of list of requirements before they'll consider you a real band. And doing a goddamn TV show is not on that list.
Sam Phillips: What I love most is seeing really interesting, different choices like, The New Pope. I don't know if you watch that, they had some amazing musical choices in that. There are so many shows where they take risks and they do different things, different covers and different artists singing other people's songs. And, I love that. I think that's really beautiful. So, I guess, what I think about that is, if it's a really great choice, in terms of using someone's score or getting composers that are more interesting or getting songs or artists that are more interesting; if the director or the people that are making those musical choices are really on their game and they make great choices, then I think it's really powerful.
Thurston Moore: Oh, I think the two disciplines can work together completely in tandem. That doesn't happen all that often. I mean, what I hear happening in a lot of soundtracking on television now is really exciting. And I hear a lot of really interesting avant-garde and electronic music happening in television and film more so than ever.
Sam Phillips: Not everybody knows music that well. Not everybody knows how to do music and picture. It's not really that easy. And I'm saying that from a standpoint of certainly not having that down by any means. So, I think it can be impactful if it's the right choice and if it's a great piece of music and a really good or a good performance. I think it can be really impactful. Otherwise, it just becomes noise. And, I just think that's across the board with art, life is short. Why make something that is just not interesting and striking and different?
Thurston Moore: And sometimes it's just a bunch of licensing going on, where the music supervisor is basically finding cool stuff to go with their TV series. Which is okay. I mean, you see that like on Killing Eve, which is really effective; there'll be a scene change in Killing Eve and you'll be in Paris, and then the music supervisor will just slam in this kind of like really hip 60s Ye-Ye Paris song. And it's so good, so powerful, and it's really loud and it's like... I mean, to do that artfully and with a certain aplomb, it's like there's something to that.
Sam Phillips: I think I initially just said if they needed incidental music, like a jazz combo or things that were out of my area, I just said, let's keep that separate and have other people do that. Now I wouldn't be as hesitant but at that time, yeah, I was concerned. Especially when I watched some of the other shows on that network and just what was going on in general. The scores were very stock. They were very normal, kind of late '90s, early 2000's scores, you know, they all sounded like the same thing. And Amy, to her credit, really wanted something different. She wanted my score to be the music that was in Lorelai's head and Rory's head. She explained it to me as being a third character, another character. I thought that that was great.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Quite typically I would get a call, and a conversation would go like this: “We have a situation where Lorelai is having a relationship issue. What do you think? What do you got?” And I might say, “Well, you know what? Maybe…” And then we would have that conversation and I would cast out an idea and they would mull it over and we would go from there. And, it was interesting how many times we would be in sync that way.
Sam Phillips: We also had similar tastes in music. And I think Warner Brothers, the network and the record company, were one at that time, were still under the same umbrella. They were pushing to have a lot of their latest songs, whether they related to Gilmore Girls or whether they were appropriate or not. They just wanted to cram those songs into the series. And, I love that Amy was very adamant about putting music in that she loved and that she wanted. She and Dan both love music and know a lot about music, which is also a delight to work with when you're working with an executive producer or a director. It's amazing when they actually know what they want and they like things that you like. It was really a wonderful, crazy thing that I stumbled into.
Grant-Lee Phillips: When I first went into it, I had no idea that I was going to do any more than a cameo. And as the years went on, they began to craft the story – I don't know if I could say, around my character – but it was part of the larger story.
Sam Phillips: Yeah, there was a lot of back and forth, a lot of misses. At that time, I had come from doing more just '90s pop music. I was evolving into a darker, more sparse kind of music in my own work. So, in the beginning, I started with a lot of acoustic instruments that were maybe a little more folky... My husband at the time was a producer, did the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and that was kind of our world at that point. It was a few banjos and some other acoustic instruments, and I put some of those in there and some of the initial cues, and I think that everybody said, "No, no, no, that's not the Gilmore Girls!" But, it was interesting to try to find what the Gilmore Girls, what was the sound.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I had some acting experience when I was a teenager, doing local plays. I was interested, in a little period, where I was going to film school when I first moved to L.A. So, I have that curiosity about that world. But there was something more immediate about being able to write a song and take whatever I was visualizing and realizing, in that form of storytelling.
Sam Phillips: Amy wanted me to use my voice, and so I tried a few things with lyrics. And, of course, because she's writing dialog that is hilarious and fast and furious, lyrics didn't work. So, I went back in my mind to shows that I'd seen as a little kid growing up. And, one of my favorite singers, Harry Nilsson, did, I think, some of the score and also the theme song for a weird little show called The Courtship of Eddie's Father. And, it's just funny. It wasn't like the greatest show ever, but Harry Nilsson, he's an amazing singer and songwriter. And he did some of that. He did some background vocals in some of that score. So, I kind of took that inspiration and turned it into my version of that for Gilmore Girls, and tried to make melodies. You know, that's the other thing that's different, too, because score usually isn't that melodic, for the most part.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I think it was enough of a challenge for me to play slower and walk faster at the same time. And then, stop singing, but keep lip-synching like I am singing. And then, pick it up after Rory and Lorelai exit the scene. There was so much of that, where it really was like a high-wire act, where the camera never stopped rolling for like five minutes--these long, long tracking shots. And it was fun, but it all had to go like clockwork. And, you just did not want to be the one who missed your beat or just forgot where you were.
Sam Phillips: Usually I would get a copy of the show, not the final edit, but one that was kind of roughly put together. A lot of times or quite a few times, Amy would ask me for a certain... She would give me a scene and she would say – either tell me or she would give me the scene that they'd shot and she would say – "I just want music under this, composed specifically to this." But, because we were doing so many shows, we forget; there's so many shows of the Gilmore Girls and it was a weekly thing. We had air dates. We were going so fast. What we decided to do, what was easier for her and for the editors, was to create a library of Gilmore cues. So, I just started making these little bits of music – happy ones, sad ones, fast ones, slow ones – that I felt covered the emotional mood of the show.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Oh, I think [Our Little Corner of the World] is one of those beloved soundtracks, especially among the fans of the show. And that's some nice tall corn to be walking amongst; Sam Phillips. Sam – we are not related that we know of – she's a good friend. She did the music for the show in terms of the score. And then, there are really nice songs on the soundtrack by Sam, as well.
Sam Phillips: That soundtrack was just Amy and Dan and that was very early on. And I would love to...I think, just for the fans, because I've gotten so many requests for the little pieces, the la las, for the little pieces of score, and I don't own those. And so, technically, I can't really give them to people, let alone, sell them to people. That ball would be in Warner Brothers' court and, also, Amy and Dan's. But, at some point, it would be fantastic if we could take a lot of those pieces and get them to the fans. It wouldn't be [and] it's not necessarily a monetary thing for me. It would be more for these people that want those little pieces of music.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I had met Sam some years before. At some point in the 90s, I was at a club in L.A. and I met Sam and I saw her perform, and I was quite taken with it. You know, with her performance, she's riveting. And she's got this incredible melodic knack where if you come anywhere near a song of hers, it'll be stuck in your head. It will permeate your dreams. Like the song "Reflecting Light."
Sam Phillips: I had met Grant before but I do remember the conversations. They wanted a troubadour at the time for Stars Hollow and there were there a lot of names going around. And when I heard them mention his name, I said, "Yes, great!", because, you know, we all love Grant. He's just, he's amazing. He can sing anything. He writes beautiful songs.
Grant-Lee Phillips: But I really got to know her going to the after-show parties for the Gilmore Girls. And then, some years later, her and Eric Gorfain became husband and wife. Eric is a violinist and string arranger who I have worked with many times before. So, yeah, it was all quite like a small family there in Los Angeles. People I miss a lot. I'm in Nashville now.
Sam Phillips: I've always been very flattered and honored that people actually paid attention to the music, and that it meant something to them, and it helped picture a little bit because it's a big job. You've got this beautiful picture and words and story and acting, and it's a little daunting to look at that and, you know, just do la las. But, luckily, I just jumped in and it worked out.
Grant-Lee Phillips: I think probably I would go back to that episode, I think it's called “Love, Daisies and Troubadours” [as a favorite], where we had to take the situation to court, so to speak. Another Troubadour had moved in on my turf, played by Dave 'Gruber' Allen, who you would know from Freaks and Geeks and some other shows; Naked Trucker. He's a comedian in L.A. So, the scenario had to do with him sort of challenging me. I had to kind of kick it to the powers that be to getting kicked out of town. [My character has] always had this kind of dark side. I was always a little bit uncertain about that, like, "Really? Seems like I have a bit of a temper and I'm about to fly off the handle. What am I projecting here?"
Sam Phillips: But, I was really honored that Amy decided to put some of my songs in the series. That wasn't my choice either, which I'm very happy to be able to say. I didn't put my own music in the series. When she put "How to Dream" or "Reflecting Light," that was her choice. And, I'm still honored that that became Luke and Lorelai's final, their wedding song.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Yeah. I'm quite grateful for that opportunity. It opened up doors for me, quite certainly, and it was just such a blast to do.
Sam Phillips: But, I have to say, the night when we were doing the Netflix, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, that night when they filmed the wedding montage with the dancers and everything, we were on the lot at Warner Brothers. And I hate to say this, it sounds trite, but it really was magical to watch because it was a cold spring night and everyone was gone from the lot; we filmed it overnight. And I got to the playback, they had big speakers, and so, the song was going out, into the big lot. And the dancers were dancing. And Lauren looked so beautiful. And she was doing her thing. And it was one of the most amazing experiences. And to see Amy so happy with it, too. She was really... It was just it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to see. So, I'm so glad we got to do that. I am, however, sad that we left Rory in such a dark place.
James Mercer: I had watched it. Yeah, I had. I had seen it. I knew what they're talking about when they said Gilmore Girls. Yeah, it was a popular show. But also, everything was so crazy for us right then. You know, there was no really sitting down and watching a show.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Oh, yeah, definitely. Although, there are lots of episodes; I'm sure there are some that I've never seen and others that I've seen at 2:00 in the morning when I come in from a club in Germany. And there it is! Wow, it's on my little TV and it's all dubbed in another language.
James McNew: I sure did [watch the show], from about the middle of season one until the end.
Sam Phillips: I want to say one thing. This is so sappy, but I genuinely love the community and the people that love Gilmore Girls. I genuinely...you know, I'm not just a Hollywood composer that phoned it in or just is detached from it. I, actually, became so involved as a single mom in the show and the storyline and really love it. It's got a very – I know, sounds corny – special place in my heart. It really does. And I love the people. So many people reached out to me over social media and just told me how much it meant to them. And, I can't tell you how much those notes and that feedback meant to me; really meant so much. So, I guess my last thing would be to say, I just love you guys out there that love the Gilmore Girls. And that's it.
James Mercer: Well, I'm a kid who grew up in the 70s. So, what I'm thinking right off the top of my head is that movie, Convoy. It was all sort of the thread running through the soundtrack was this character, Disco Duck. And there was a hit at the time called, ‘Disco Duck.’ So, it was a bunch of silly disco songs and stuff like that. And then about that time, Star Wars came out and that was like, every young kid wanted to have that playing in their room. Close Encounters had a really cool soundtrack. So, it was things like that. It was less pop songs, but Convoy had a bunch of country songs and stuff about truckers.
Grant-Lee Phillips: Oh, boy. Yeah, so many of them! I feel like film music really had an influence on me in ways that are as meaningful as listening to records, you know. Even something like Jaws, for instance. Oh, man. I was quite certain that that was my favorite song once I heard it--those two notes...Yeah, Star Wars, the theme song, all of that stuff.
And then once I got older, the music of John Barry from Goldfinger and then Paris, Texas, the soundtrack that Ry Cooder played. That had a huge influence on me because of the mood and the space that you can create with one instrument, one acoustic guitar and this sort of rattly slide. That had a huge influence on my taste, I think, and probably more than anything found its way into the Grant Lee Buffalo, you know.
James McNew: I can’t discount Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Zoom. Seeing bands play on SNL and “Fridays” totally blew my mind. Devo’s appearances on both shows were extremely important to me. On “Square Pegs,” too.
Thurston Moore: I remember when Love Story came out, the Love Story theme being such a huge piece of music in the culture. I always remember watching that film with my father, who was a piano player and he taught Music Studies at the university. I was pretty young and sitting with him watching Love Story and he said, ‘Listen to this music; that Love Story theme is constantly being introduced with different variants, various variables of that theme, and different instrumentation introducing it.’ And so, that really stuck with me; my father's hearing of that and sort of informing me about listening to the music, how it was being worked in a film, that really stayed with me. So when I'm watching a film, I'm always listening to the narrative of the music and how it plays with the film, how it defines the film or just how it interacts with the film. And there's such a dynamic of ways in how that works with different filmmakers.
When Gus Van Sant, who I've worked with through the years, when he does his films he just sort of takes these kinds of aleatoric, abstract kind of electronic compositions that are rather vintage. They're like music, concrete' pieces that got recorded in the 60s in France. And he basically just drops them on top of the films, like Elephant. And they're really kind of weirdo, kind of like electronic minimalism pieces, and they're abstract. And he just used that as his soundtrack; he just dropped that on the film. It's a bit of a chance operation and it kind of makes that film a bit more curious; it gives it a whole other patina beyond its straight narrative. So I was really impressed by that. I talked to Gus a bit about that. There are not too many filmmakers who are that conscientious with, I think, their music. A lot of it has to do with their relationship with music supervisors and finding the right, "songs." And I think some filmmakers are far more hands-on than others.
I think Spike Lee is really hands-on with that; you can tell just what songs are being used and what parts of the films that he makes. They're really effective. Like when he did Crooklyn; there's a scene in Crooklyn where a little girl is asked by her parents to go down the street and get some groceries. And she's really young and she just has a few dollars in her hand. Ahe's in Brooklyn, it's the early 70s and she walks out onto that street and there's this incredible image of this little girl walking through Brooklyn streets, and Spike throws down the Five Stairsteps, that song, "Ooh Child." [Sings] "O-o-h Child, things are gonna get easier." He just throws it on the soundtrack, like really loud. It's just this great, thrumming, song. Like deejay, boom! Put the record on. And there's this little African American girl walking through Brooklyn. It's just fantastic, it's bone-chilling. The hair on the back of my neck went up. I was like, "How beautiful is that?!" So having that kind of effect where you're in music supervision, I think, is really, really artful. And I love hearing it. I love hearing it!
Sam Phillips: You know, I remember a lot of the score[s] from old movies that I grew up with, and there were some amazing composers. One of the things that I think is mind-boggling, and it's interesting – because when I met my current husband who's a violinist and arranger – I remember one day saying, ‘God, have you ever listened to the Bugs Bunny cartoons? Like, have you ever listened to the orchestras?’ Because, in a five-minute cartoon, they play maybe a hundred or fifty songs...just like parts of fifty songs! And if you listen to them and they were all cutting live – you know, this whole orchestra is cutting live to the cartoon in those days – and it's pretty amazing. And I know it's jokey, but when you listen to what the musicians are actually doing, it's astounding. I don't know if they could do that today. It's pretty amazing. Yeah, next time, listen to some of those old, I don't know, go watch a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But seriously, it's pretty amazing and stunning.
But, I think that the thing that I love about film – for instance, I was talking about my ex-husband and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou – exposing a lot of people to some of that bluegrass music, whether you like it or you don't. A lot of bluegrass bands exploded after that and so many young artists came up doing that kind of music. I think that was really interesting that the Coen Brothers film brought that to people's attention. I remember hearing a Nina Simone song in a movie in the 90s, and I had heard her, sort of knew her music, barely. But that song was used so beautifully that it really made me go seek out, look up all of her recordings and all of her career and everything. So, when that happens, again, when the thing is right and it's really impactful and it's a great choice, I think it can open up worlds of music to people that they hadn't heard before.
It can change everything. Including, hopefully, making the picture better. You know, I love Wes Anderson and the way he uses a lot of music. I think he does it so beautifully, including, Alexandre Desplat – his score, I think it's a brilliant use of music all the way through. So, I think he would be one of my tops that the use of music with the needle drops, and the score in his movies would be pretty much close to the top, at this point.
If you've made it this far then I send you my congratulations and suggest it's time for a stretch. I know I should end it here. Trust me, I know. But, I did too much research for too long that I am having a very difficult time stopping here.
You see, this plucky [read: completely unhinged] writer decided that the six interviews conducted over the past eight months might not be *quite* enough to encapsulate the sheer genius of the writing of Gilmore Girls and surmised that the only way to properly prepare for this piece would be to rewatch the entire series from the beginning and note every single band/artist reference.
The problem is, there are just too many great ones and they couldn't all be included! They need to be documented! So here are just few more, at the bottom of this already mammoth piece of writing, alongside a short essay about why Lane Kim is one of the most important television characters of all time. Oy with the poodles already...
"And the amazing thing is that all these girls are screaming and none of them are getting the joke! He’s playing the character of a rockstar. I mean Beck is a genius and all these stupid girls are screaming just because they’re buying into the rockstar image. I love Beck. I understand Beck. And the Foo Fighters - gods. I mean, have you heard the acoustic version of ‘Everlong’? I can’t even talk about it, ya know? Hey, you know who I’ve really gotten into lately? The Velvet Underground. Oh, and Nico - she is amazing! Depressing, German scary chick. I have the CD if you want to borrow it sometime. What kind of music do you like?”
This quote by the character Lane Kim appears in the first season of Gilmore Girls, encapsulating the passion creators Amy and Dan Palladino have for music and the trust it placed on its mostly young audience (at the time) to sit through an entire monologue about bands they may or may not be familiar while finding it entertaining and perhaps even inspiring. You’re rolling your eyes at Lane’s date, who shrugs when asked about his favorite music and has no idea that he’s wearing a Fugazi shirt, rather than this girl who’s completely geeking out about music.
Geekiness is the core of Gilmore Girls. Watching it makes you want to be smarter, know more, be able to pull references out at the drop of a hat. While Rory might have been best-known for loving books, her music references were top-notch as well. Belle and Sebastian, Arcade Fire, PJ Harvey, Bjork. She was even listening to the Shins before Zach Braff deemed them the band that will “change your life.”
Lorelai’s loves, as someone who was a teen in the 80s, skewed older with a deep fondness for David Bowie, The Bangles, Blondie, Metallica, and U2. But, it was Lane Kim, the repressed music-obsessed Korean girl who, in my opinion, got dealt a few too many bad hands over the course of the show, that inspires me most. Toting around a copy of Mojo, her encyclopedic knowledge of every genre under the sun still, to this day, makes me want to know more, read more, listen more.
Which is why I’ve decided that Lane Kim is one of the most important television characters ever created. What she did for girls, and especially Asian girls, who geek out on music and want to play drums in a band is probably impossible to be quantitatively determined exactly but I figure if I state it on the internet, then it basically becomes true. Anyway, here are some more personal favorites from the show.
LANE: Yeah, some of the food’s not so bad, and then my cousins were actually pretty interesting, and the best part, Korea is bootleg heaven. I totally scored in Seoul. Elvis Costello at the Marquee in 1978. A barely coherent Nico doing Doors songs in 1974, and even more barely coherent, Iggy Pop doing David Bowie songs naked in 1981.
LORELAI: What’s a road trip without tunes? Never been in this car for any extended period of time without playing AC/DC. I need my “Highway to Hell”! Nothing on the radio but Top 40 and Christian Rock. Christian Rock - there’s an oxymoron for you.
DEAN: Neil Young looks cool because he’s Neil Young, not because he’s wearing a tux.
Thurston Moore released a new solo album By the Fire in September, The Shins recently unveiled a new single titled "The Great Divide," Grandaddy released The Sophtware Slump...on a Wooden Piano this month, Yo La Tengo dropped the Sleepless Night EP in October, Sam Phillips shared the single "Too Many Light Years (From You to Here)" over the summer, and Grant-Lee Phillips released his latest full-length Lightning, Show Us Your Stuff in September. Watch his 2016 KEXP in-studio performance below.
Jasmine Albertson delves into The O.C. soundtrack in an attempt to dissect the impact it had on the artists featured on the soundtrack, as well as the overall cultural music landscape.