Alexandra Patsavas, Musical Supervisor for The O.C.
Exclusive interview by Adam Swiderski, contributing editor
Alexandra Patsavas is the entire reason I started watching The O.C. Well, that's not entirely true, but one big reason I decided to give Fox's drama a chance is because I heard the selection of background music is amazing. And so it is. Patsavas, the show's music supervisor, and Executive Producer Josh Schwartz have made their mark by licensing tunes from a number of hot indie acts you normally wouldn't hear on network TV. They've also solidified music's importance to their show by creating the Bait Shop, a rock club where the characters go to see real-life groups like Rooney, the Walkmen and, soon, Death Cab For Cutie, perform. We had the chance to chat about all of this on the heels of the release of the fourth O.C. mix CD.
UGO: You've been doing the music supervision thing for a long time. How does one get into that line of work?
Alexandra Patsavas: I started, like so many college kids do, sort of either in the college radio or college promotion, and I booked music for my school. So that's how I first started in the music business. I moved to L.A. to work for the agency where I was able to make deals for most of the bands, then worked at BMI, and then started with Roger Corman. Are you familiar with him?
UGO: Very familiar.
Alexandra: (Laughs) So that was a great experience. I had five cents a movie, and was able to be really creative, and did about 30 or 40 projects, I believe.
UGO: You didn't work on his Fantastic Four, did you?
Alexandra: I did not. I came right after that. I worked for him, I believe, in '94 and '95, and I believe they were working on that in early '94 and '93. Many of my contemporaries at the time had worked on it, but I did not.
UGO: OK, so, from there, how did you end up getting involved in The O.C.?
Alexandra: Well, I worked on some other TV shows, Roswell and Boston Public, and I worked on a show called Fast Lane that McG and Stephanie Savage produced. And they introduced me to Josh (Schwartz, creator of The O.C.).
UGO: And when you were getting started, was the goal initially to come at the music from a different angle than we'd seen in other shows?
Alexandra: I think Josh, you know, from the show's beginning, was always interested in music being a character. And he and the other producers are big indie music fans, as am I. And so we had a very common sensibility, and worked really hard to find music that fit the episodes and fit the characters of the show.
UGO: How does the process work? Do you start from a script, or do you wait until a scene is shot?
Alexandra: It works in a lot of ways, actually. Josh sometimes scripts music, and so right when we get the first draft of the scripts, we start to clear music that he's thought of. Sometimes, the editors temp music in. Sometimes, we pitch for specific scenes when they're looking for music, well into the editorial process.
UGO: It sounds like there's a lot of input. Is that ever difficult for you, with all these different voices chiming in?
Alexandra: No, that's sort of the job. I mean, music is really emotional for people. Everyone has favorites, and sounds that they like and bands that they like, so, I mean, the job is sort of synthesizing all those opinions and trying to find music that works.
UGO: Do you find that it's generally easy for everyone to agree?
Alexandra: I think that, sometimes, the right song finds its way into the scene right away. And sometimes, it's a harder one. But once the right song ends up in the picture, it's evident.
UGO: Has there ever been any resistance, in terms of suggesting artists that are just too indie, or too unknown?
Alexandra: Nope, not to my knowledge. Josh would probably be a better person to ask that, but I think they give him a lot of freedom. So, no, not to my knowledge.
UGO: Given that the majority of the bands showing up on The O.C. are fairly independent, do any of them balk at being associated with a mainstream TV show?
Alexandra: I have found that the music community is very enthusiastic about the show. You know, we've had some bands on that traditionally have not been interested in television licensing, like Beastie Boys and Bright Eyes. So, I have found that it's been a great experience for me as a supervisor, because it seems like bands are enthusiastic about it.
UGO: How did the concept of having live bands on the show come about?
Alexandra: It was something that our executive producers came up with, and wanted to have a live club. And so, when I started the second season - we started last July - I knew that they were building the Bait Shop. So, our first band, The Walkmen, was sort of our inaugural Bait Shop band, and since then we've had the Killers, and Modest Mouse...Rachael Yamagata, the Thrills...it's all about story, really.
UGO: You don't see a lot of shows that incorporate live music. Is that a challenge for you?
Alexandra: It is a challenge, but I love it. It hearkens back to my promoter days, because it's very much a similar challenge. Oftentimes, the bands we have on are touring and supporting their new releases, so it's working with the labels, and arranging flights and hotels and clearing the songs in advance. It's all the things that go into a live show, into making the song seem live.
UGO: Was there ever any hesitation with that in terms of ending up compared to something like the Peach Pit from 90210?
Alexandra: I love the Peach Pit! I mean, I saw the Flaming Lips at the Peach Pit. I don't know. It's not such an unflattering comparison.
UGO: The O.C. seems to utilize a wide range of artists, from those that might be only regionally known to someone like the Beastie Boys. Is that something you strive for, to include those undiscovered groups?
Alexandra: Yeah, I mean, I know Josh and the editors...we've always been, at heart, music fans, and into indie music. But more than anything, we're working on finding songs that fit the characters and the episodes and the scenes.
UGO: Is that something that you've found it easier to do as the show progresses and the characters become more defined?
Alexandra: Yeah, I think so. You know, some scenes, again, the right piece of music seems to appear magically. And sometimes you try 30 things, and finally the 31st thing works. But I do think we've sort of developed our sound. And, you know, we definitely have a lot of submissions to select from.
UGO: In terms of the CDs, with the fourth one out now...is this something that was always planned, or did it come about as a result of people noticing the music you were using?
Alexandra: We always intended to do a series, from the very first one.
UGO: It seems that everybody involved is pretty attached to the music. So when it comes down to choosing 12 tracks for a CD, how difficult is that process?
Alexandra: (Laughs) It was pretty difficult. We only use music that was on the show or, in some cases, will be on the show. Like, we might know, for example, with Beck...the Beck song aired last night, but the track listing was released before it actually aired. The Futureheads' "Decent Days and Nights" is going to air, I believe, in April. But it is difficult, because we get attached to so many of the tracks.
UGO: How do you settle it if there's a dispute? Rock/Paper/Scissors?
Alexandra: (Laughs) No, no. I think it becomes clear with repeated listening which songs both are an interesting soundtrack listening experience, and also represent an important part of the show. More than anything, they are a companion to the show, and for the fans to enjoy.
UGO: I just know that arguments between music fans can get pretty heated.
Alexandra: Yes, indeed. But, for instance, there was no fight about "Champagne Supernova" being included, since it's something we created specifically for the show. It's actually our third one - we did two last season, both on Mix 2: "Maybe I'm Amazed," that Jem covered, and Nada Surf's "If You Leave." So, it's really enjoyable for us, but in all three cases, the song was decided on long before the artist was. They were songs that Josh had focused on and was interested in having covered for specific moments.
UGO: Is there anyone out there that you're dying to work with, to bring into the show, that hasn't yet?
Alexandra: Well, I know a couple of bands that are going to be on that haven't aired yet, like LCD Soundsystem, and the new Spoon...although we used Spoon off the last record. But we're excited to be licensing it again.
UGO: Given that so many shows are licensing music now, and that it's becoming a big part of producing a TV show, do you think that the era of the original TV theme is over?
Alexandra: I think that, at the moment, licensed songs and bands seem to be speaking to producers as far as really representing what they want their shows to be. But I think that a composed theme can be a really incredible, powerful thing. It maybe just depends on the show. But I think today's executive producers have grown up with music, and are often really enthusiastic about certain bands.
UGO: If you could have super powers, what would they be, and why?
Alexandra: Hmmm...that's an excellent question. Can I think about that and e-mail you?
Sadly, she never did. But we still love Music From the O.C.