Barely two seasons old, The O.C. has become a quiet phenomenon for indie rockers and hipsters everywhere. Drawn to the show for its trashy So-Cal plotlines and good-looking faces, the show has become as well-known for its sophisticated soundtrack and indie rock namedropping. From the posters in Seth’s bedroom (Death Cab for Cutie, Atom & His Package) to the bands dropping in at the Bait Shop (Modest Mouse, Rooney, the Walkmen), the O.C. staff have cleverly packaged their lowbrow content in cutting edge trappings. As documented by Emily Zemler’s excellent article, “The O.C. Effect”, indie bands have reaped their fair share of rewards due to O.C. exposure, while executives of the show have smartly packaged the music into three official O.C. mixes, with a fourth one due in April.
However, on March 10th, 2005. The O.C. quietly stopped cribbing from the indie rock hot list, and set out to write it themselves. Not only were Seth and Summer finally back together (eeeee!!!!!!!), but the episode featured the debut of five new Beck songs and the prime time debut of the trailer for Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith. The movie trailer debut was simply smart marketing, but the premiere of new Beck tunes was truly an interesting gambit. I wondered how it would be possible to debut these new Beck songs without completely overshadowing the show. However, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas deftly weaved Beck’s tracks into the show without distraction and in the process established The O.C. as the place to hear tomorrow’s next big thing. The day following the “Beckisode” I spoke to Ms. Patsavas about the episode, working on The O.C., and having one of the coolest jobs ever.
PopMatters: How did you get into music supervision and how did you end up working on The O.C.?
Alexandra Patsavas: Well, I’ve been music supervising for the past ten years and I’ve had my own company (The Chop Shop) for the last seven. I was the classic story of the college promoter. I booked shows for my college and in my senior year I went out on my own and had my own little promoting business. I was in school in the very late eighties so I specialized in indie rock of the time. Then I came out to L.A. to work for the booking agency that I brought so many of the bands from. went to work for BMI after that and then found myself working for Roger Corman. I was a music coordinator/supervisor for Roger Corman and did about 30 or 40 projects on really low budgets.
PM: What steps brought you to The O.C.?
AP: My first television show was Roswell and I’ve been doing TV music supervision for five seasons. But I had worked with [writer/producer] Stephanie Savage and [director] McG, and the two picture editors Matt Ramsey and Norman Buckley on Fastlane, and so they introduced me to Josh [Schwartz, creator of The O.C.].
PM: When you met Josh, was there already an idea of the kind of music they were shooting for?
AP: Josh always from the show’s inception was really interested in making music a character. [He is] a big indie music fan—Spoon, the Doves—and I happen to have a very similar sensibility, and so we just were able to work together to define a sound for the show.
PM: Obviously the show is doing incredibly well. Did you ever think it would take off the way it has?
AP: I guess you always have high hopes and I love the scripts. I felt really lucky to part of Josh’s show. As far as my little world, which is the music part, I was just so thrilled that the audience seemed to pay attention to the music and feel an affinity for it.
PM: The music has certainly become a huge part. For the production of each episode how much lead time to do you have to get the music together?
AP: We started producing this season in July, we came back to work on July 5th, and our first airdate wasn’t until November. So we had a tremendous amount of lead time, [but] as the season draws to a close these schedules get tighter and tighter and tighter. Sometimes we might have a couple weeks between the time the episode is locked and the time that we dub. TV schedules are always a tiny bit frantic because, and as well as the creative part, there is the legal process that has to be fully finished before the show is mixed and then aired.
PM: Most of the music is indie rock, and I can’t remember a show anytime in the past couple of years that has boosted indie music the way The O.C. has. Has that been a conscious decision?
AP: I have to say that honestly it’s not been our motivation. It’s been interesting, it’s sort of ascribed to us that its not as expensive and we really have focused on what music works for the show. More than anything it’s important to serve the pictures and the characters. And it just has seemed to be the perfect fit for Seth and Summer.
PM: Last night’s episode had five brand new Beck songs. Do you see your job becoming a bit more difficult in that it could set a precedent? Next season there might be another artist where you’ll have to pick and choose off their new album. Does it make your job harder in that sense when those sorts of things happen?
AP: Does it make my job harder when we have a “Beckisode”?
PM: Do you think: “Now I have to use x-number of songs by this artist, will it work? Am I compromising [the integrity of the show]?”
AP: We were able to hear the music really early. We heard it before it was mastered, and Josh didn’t want to use just one.
PM: So Beck’s people didn’t come and say, “The O.C is great, he has a new album, let’s have an episode.”
AP: No. It happens the other way around. We knew that Beck was open to a multiple-use situation. They were interested in being on the show, and Josh was interested in not just highlighting one song. We’re fans at a very basic level and I think we approach the music on the show like fans do.
PM: I think there’s a tenuous line where you just don’t want it to be an hour-long music video.You want everything to sort of seam together….
AP: It’s about the show. It’s about what happens in the show and the music is part of the experience. And it’s been great fun for me to line up all the on-cameras and all the details that are part of making that happen.
PM: When you sat down for the first time when The O.C. was pulling its stuff together did you have a specific musical guideline for each character?
AP: No. That’s the Peter And The Wolf style of music supervision [laughs]. It’s about the episode as a whole and what’s happening in the scene. We mix it up quite a bit. Characters get into different situations and we might use Sufjan Stevens in one situation for a certain character and Mark Langean for another or Martina Topley-Bird or Modest Mouse.
PM: Speaking of Modest Mouse, the live performances have also become a part of the show. Do you ask them what they want to play or do they come in and say: “This what we want to do”?
AP: We decided well in advance.There is a tremendous amount of clearance work that has to happen before the episode shoots.
PM: You’ve done work of movies and now for TV. Is the experience more of less the same or is it harder for one or the other?
AP: What I love about television is that it’s episodic. We have the choice and the chance to spotlight music every week and be incredibly current and try a lot of things because you don’t just have one 90-minute shot. This year we have a 24-episode season and are averaging about eight to ten songs per episode.
PM: Has there been any music that you’ve wanted to use that you haven’t been able to?
AP: No, we’ve been really lucky. We’ve been able to clear bands that have traditionally shied away from television opportunities, like the Beastie Boys and Bright Eyes.
PM: For you personally this must be a dream gig. You love the music and it’s working out very well.
AP: The producers are amazing and the editors are really musical. All that makes for an enjoyable, creative, and great work environment.
Indeed, in our conversation, Alexandra continued to drive home the tremendous working collaboration she has with Josh Schwartz. The scripts often arrive with song ideas written in and each week Alexandra creates a compilation of new music that is sent around to the producers to see what will fit the next episode. As we closed our conversation, and as Alexandra spoke excitedly about attending Coachella with the cast and crew, it became apparent that The O.C. wasn’t just clever lifestyle marketing on the part of the producers. Alexandra and Josh are at heart music fans, and during our conversation there was a palpable reverence for some of the music that enters each episode. And if that means Joanna Newsome or the Arcade Fire or Boom Bip back Seth’s next fight with Summer, or Ryan’s next flirtatious outing with Marissa, indie rockers can be assured someone just like them is making their guilty pleasure that much less guilty.